Ayumi Hamasaki’s 2011 concert tour, originally named ayumi hamasaki ARENA TOUR 2011 A ~HOTEL Love songs~, was changed to ayumi hamasaki ~POWER of MUSIC~ 2011 after the natural disaster that strike Eastern Japan in March. This isn’t the first time that Ayu had made sudden changes because of an unexpected event. Back in 2001, Ayu had the design for the album I am… all planned out. But after the 911 event, she opted for a more simple version that we see today. The new concert theme and tour goods are a big indication that Ayu really wants to reach to everyone through her music. Whether they are people that were affected by the disaster in March, the people who had reached to help, and international fans from all over the world.
The stage for the show was very simple, almost too simple for Ayu’s standard. There was a walkway that connects the backstage to the main stage which was circular and positioned at the centre of the arena. The main stage can be seen as a circle that is made up of 3 rings. The centre circle has the ability to move above and below stage level, this was mainly used by Ayu to enter the stage. The ring around the centre piece is simply a part of the stage, it doesn’t rise or move. The second ring, is a revolving pathway that was used by the dancers and Ayu to give the audience equal attention. The band and a mini orchestra are positioned around the main stage, at the most outer ring.
Even before the arena went dark everyone in the audience had already pulled out the tour uchiwa (traditional Japanese round fan) and glow sticks, brightening the concert hall in a sea of pink. The concert started with the dancers entering the arena, each holding a glowing ball that looked a lot like a planet. As the curtains rose, Ayu was standing in the centre ready to dazzle the crowd with the first song, forgiveness. She dazzle the crowd alright as the smallest movement from her made the crowd go crazy.
A MC session followed, and for the first few minutes Ayu kept sipping her drink from a plastic bottle between talks like she was just having coffee with a friend. If any other artist did that, I’ll immediately bash out how unprofessional it was to do that. But when Ayu did it, it’s just so cute I can’t help but laugh it off. She then attempted a short a capella of MOON with her backup singers but she messed up and had to stop midway through. They made another attempt and managed to get through it beautifully. After that the full band joined in again as blossom was performed.
From here onward, the concert was divided into different “themes”. Each time a new theme began, the title was shown on the big screen. I’ve written down the set list in accordance with the theme that it falls under.
The set list for the 5/28 concert was as follow:
- MOON a capella
3) BLUE BIRD
- Dancer introduction (their names were shown on the screen and each got some solo time)
6) A Song for XX
8) NEVER EVER
9) walking proud
10) part of Me
- Carnival style music with performance by 3 of the dancers.
13) Far away
- Dancers and Ayu interact with the audience through clapping, chants and dances.
15) Bold & Delicious
16) Mirrorcle World
18) Boys & Girls
To Be Free
19) Born To Be…
- Ayu introduces the orchestra, band, dancers and thanks everyone for attending the concert.
- VTR with a piano acoustic version of Daybreak playing in the background.
20) A Song is born
Ayu’s concerts are famous for its spectacular show quality with lot of costume changes and high budget stage setups. Although this time around there was no flashy costumes or stage, a lot of details and surprises made it a very delightful concert. Take the Smile theme for example: instead of getting a performance from Ayu,3 of the dancers took the stage as circus clowns and performed numerous aerobic and mime acts. It was very random, but an enlightening and entertaining act that everyone in the audience enjoyed. The clowns made a return to the stage along with the other dancers for the Joy! theme. They challenged the audience to a few rounds of rhythm clapping game. After awhile, Ayu reappeared on stage and joined in the fun. The clapping quickly turned into a chanting game with Ayu as lead. And let me tell you, Ayu wasn’t shy in getting everyone to chant her name and replied with “thank you” and a big sweet smile.
To some people the set list might be a disappointment because there isn’t many songs from the Love songs album. But I absolutely love this set list because it’s a dream come true to hear the live version of some of the older songs like M and SEASONS. Not to mention I finally had the chance to participate in the Boys & Girls shouting match and sing along to evolution with Ayu. I also like how a lot of the songs were rearranged beautifully, just like the MY STORY Classical album. It made each of these songs more interesting and it really goes back to the theme of the concert: the power of music (how the arrangement of a song) can change things.
To be honest, I was wary about attending this concert at first. Ayu was the first Japanese artist I fell in love with, and this was the first time I was seeing her live. I do enjoy her new materials but I still prefer some of her older and dare I say it, more classic songs. And not to mention there are a lot of times when I find myself complaining about how she over does it with her vocal, especially on TV and in concert performances. But I am really glad I decided to attend this concert in the end. It seems Ayu is one of those artists that sound a lot better when heard live. And who knows, part of that might have to do with her stage presence, something that can’t be explained or felt through a monitor or stereo. I’m also kind of glad she changed the tour title and theme because while ~HOTEL Love songs~ might had more glamour costumes and stage, I probably wouldn’t had enjoyed it as much on a musical level.