This awe-inspiring staging was made possible by assembling the set in an actual building that is currently being constructed in the spot where the Shinjuku Milano movie theater used to be located. This is where the concert got its name — KEEP OUT THEATER — and the special stage made for a truly unique experience unlike any studio or concert venue could provide.
Not only that, but this setting had meaning and context in terms of the basic concept of YOASOBI, which is to produce music inspired by stories. The pair’s debut single, “Yoru ni kakeru” (“Running Into the Night”) was based on an original short story called “Thanatos no yuuwaku” (“Seduction of Thanatos”) that mostly took place on the rooftop of a building. And the act’s initial key visual had been an illustration of a girl staring ahead in a squatting position before a pinkish “YOASOBI” neon sign overlooking a city at night.
In other words, staging YOASOBI’s first-ever concert in a building under construction wasn’t just an offhand idea, but rather, it served to bring to life the images that the duo had presented through illustrations and animated music videos when it first burst upon the scene.
The live performance continued with “Harujion,” “Tabun,” and “Haruka.” Ayase and Ikura seemed a bit wound up at first, but gradually loosened up as the evening went on, with some laid-back moments in between songs as they read out comments from fans being sent in and toasted with the mugs that each member had brought onstage.
Halfway through the show, the mood became more intense with the band’s performance of “Kaibutsu.” Smoke enhanced the song’s aggressive tone, and the band built up momentum for the last leg of the set featuring the mega-hit single “Yoru ni kakeru” and the duo’s latest hit number “Gunjo.”
After the group’s relatively short but sweet live performance of eight popular tracks ended, Ayase and Ikura signed their names on a steel pillar. The camera then displayed the names of the band members and crew scribbled on various places around the set like graffiti, bringing the successful live-stream to a satisfying end with this cleverly choreographed ending credit sequence.
The above is how the Valentine’s Day stream went down, which was impressive in itself, but the uniquely innovative nature of this event that expanded the potential of virtual concerts came after the show ended.
YOASOBI had encouraged fans to share KEEP OUT THEATER concert reviews through the Japanese media platform Note. Anyone with an account at note.com who submitted an essay with the hashtag #YOASOBIfirstconcert (“first concert” written in Japanese) was eligible to participate in this project. What’s more, viewers were allowed to freely take screenshots during the show and use them in their submissions.
An official rundown on the livestream was also released by writer/novelist Masahiko Katsuse, who had full access to the band backstage and during rehearsals. This piece was also made available on note.com, so the official and fan-generated concert reviews were displayed side-by-side on the same platform.
As of Mar. 4, a search of the hashtag on the site turns up over 130 concert reviews. YOASOBI’s official note.com account currently displays 12 fan submissions alongside Katsuse’s report with the comment: “We read all the submitted articles, and took the liberty to select some that impressed us based on our biased opinion.”
Considering that YOASOBI got its start as a project by the online creative writing site “monogatary.com,” the group’s compatibility with writing collaborations is understandable. Another merit of this concert review project is that people can connect by sharing their personal experience. Fans who attend real live concerts can actually feel the heat and enthusiasm in the venue, but it’s difficult to share excitement with others for virtual shows because they are experienced mostly individually through a screen. Encouraging people to share their personal take of the livestream allows others to relive the emotions they felt during the same show.
What this music writer was forced to reckon with through this project was the basic question of “What exactly is a report of a virtual concert?” Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a concert review generally meant an article written by someone like me that was published in the media. With real live shows, this would include not only an evaluation of the act’s performance onstage but also the overall atmosphere and what was going on in the space itself, including the reaction of the audience such as cheers and applause. There was a point in writing about what the concert looked and felt like from the back of the venue where the entire space was visible, as opposed to what fans were experiencing firsthand near the stage in the midst of the excitement. Likewise, there was a point in taking dynamic photos of the performing artists from up close.
But with virtual shows, there are no differences in viewpoints. In YOASOBI’s case, aside from Masahiko Katsuse — who was on the scene — everybody else experienced the concert through a screen. Every screenshot taken by a fan was a dynamic photo of the performing act. This is why a concert review written by a fan using such screenshots serves as a more effective document that allows others to re-experience the thrill and emotion of the live-stream, more so than a random article published in the media.
It could be said that this project only worked because the livestream was by YOASOBI. But for this writer, the first-ever concert by the breakout pair turned out to be an opportunity to re-evaluate what it means to write reviews of virtual shows.
This article by music journalist Tomonori Shiba first appeared on Billboard Japan.