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Mylene Night #04 Report: The Politics of Music

© Chie Kajiura

© Chie Kajiura

The fourth and final of Chie Kajiura’s birthday concerts for Macross 7’s Mylene Flare Jenius was many things. It was a recap of the previous concerts for those who might have missed them. It was the end of an event which had seen its numbers increase year by year. It was the beginning of a new type of semi-regular gig for Chie. Most importantly, it was a glimpse into the politics that go on behind the scenes of the Macross franchise. This did not make for a particularly good concert. What followed it, however, did.

In retrospect, the signs that something wasn’t quite right had been there for a while, but I’ll get back to that in a moment. Only three months after the hugely successful 3rd Mylene Night, Chie dropped a bomb on her blog. The omnidimensional barrier had blown. The fourth Mylene Night would be the final one. Why? Chie’s only comment was that there were…’circumstances.’ She didn’t want to end the annual event because as long as there were fans who wanted to listen, she was prepared to sing. But large anime properties were protected by various restrictions while she was merely a solo freelance artist. The wording was obviously purposefully vague, but one thing was made clear. This would be the final Mylene Night we would get.

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Soon afterwards, it was also announced that the concert would be split into two this time around. The first part would be Mylene Night, and the second would be Anima-nia 01 – a new sort of concert where Chie would apparently sing covers of anime songs. This pattern was not unusual – Chie usually did things in a similar manner for her own birthday concerts. But this was the first time it had been done on Mylene Night. And, strangely, the tickets for Anima-nia 01 cost considerably more (5500 yen) than the Mylene Night Tickets, which were surprisingly cheap at 3500 yen.

Things got stranger still. Tickets went on sale way back on August 18, much earlier than was normal and, of course, sold out quickly. The planning for concert also lacked the sort of transparency it had had in the past. There were no longer special backstage rehearsal tickets available or a meet and greet. Special premium tickets came with a bunch of swag, but much of it was leftovers from previous gigs, as if Chie was trying to clear out the last remaining stock. Nor were there any email or blog updates about the theme of the show or who the special guests would be.

So, when February 2nd (Mylene’s -17th birthday) rolled around, no-one was really sure what to expect. Not that this was anything out of the norm for Mylene Night.

We gathered at ‘Garden’, a small, underground (literally) live house in Shimokitazawa that could hold, at best approx. 200~300 ppl standing. For this gig it held even less, as chairs had actually been set up in front of the stage – enough for approx. 2/5’s of the crowd.

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Chie came out on stage and immediately kicked things off with SWEET FANTASY and it became clear that something unusual was going on. There were instruments set up, but no band members. Chie was basically singing to pre-recorded backing, Karaoke-style. This continued for her second song, KIMI NI TODOKE, until she took a break to talk to the audience. From where I was sitting in the third row, it was obvious that she was on the verge of tears. Something was very wrong here.

Whether Chie’s usual band weren’t on stage due to behind the scenes politics, or whether the cheaper Mylene Night ticket price meant that she simply couldn’t pay them, we may never know. And as for Mylene Night itself being shut down, Chie herself admitted that even now she really didn’t understand the reason why. What she told us though shed at least some light on the matter.

The directive to stop holding the event had apparently come down not too long after Mylene Night #03 the previous year. Chie probably shouldn’t be holding a fourth one but felt, she said, obligated to do something since she had promised her fans she would. As such, the best she could do without further upsetting the powers that be, was what ended up being a 90minute recap of previous Mylene nights, with a scant 5 songs (all solo with pre-recorded backing) to bookend it.

After the initial two songs, Chie reminisced for a good 15 mins or so with the crowd about the previous gigs.

As a music fan, the main thing I took away from each Mylene night had been how Chie continued to grow as an artist – adding new Macross songs to her repertoire while refining and trying new takes on her original Mylene stuff. The first time she tried ‘Do You Remember Love’ she caught the audience by surprise. When she did it again the following year, she had gotten her own take on it down perfectly. The fact that she tried something as recent as Diamond Crevasse was similarly surprising – the fact that it was an amazing rendition was simply the icing on the cake. And when she decided to put her own spin on Macross Plus – it seemed as though she couldn’t help but top her own performance each consecutive year.

But hearing Chie tell the story cast the past Mylene nights in a very different light. It dawned on me that while the annual event had grown in popularity and musical complexity each year, the scope and scale had actually diminished. Mylene Night #01 had featured Tomo Sakurai on stage, video interviews, and all-new artwork from both Haruhiko Mikimoto and Hidetaka Tenjin. Mylene Night #02 had Yoshiki Fukuyama come out to do 3 songs, and some video interviews with Aya Endo and Tomo Sakurai. Mylene Night #03 had a guest DJ to open the gig and … that was it.

I had been focused on the music too much to realise that each year the number of guests and collaborators had actually decreased. While this is pure speculation, one could be forgiven for thinking that people had actually started distancing themselves from the event … well before the axe fell.

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The first video played was an interview that Hidetaka Tenjin had done with Chie in her home for Mylene Night 1, followed by a pair of quirky, home-made music videos featuring Chie, Sakurai, and the band cavorting about in a recording booth and, later, at a park. The final video was from Mylene Night 2 and was made up of a two-segment talk between Chie, Tomo Sakurai and Aya Endo.

It should be noted that at some point in-between videos, Chie’s all-important, lyrics iPad apparently froze up, meaning some more chatting instead of more songs. So while we were probably due to get a couple more than we did, ultimately the video’s were capped off by a mere three tracks – FRIENDS – JIKUU WO KOETE, MY BEAUTIFUL PLACE, and MY FRIENDS. MY BEAUTIFUL PLACE was the only new song for Chie and she pulled it off well enough, although naturally I would have preferred to see what she could do with her own original take on it rather than the karaoke version that we got.

MyleneNight04_Setlist

And with that, Mylene Night #04 was over and Mylene Night itself was no more. It seemed like such an unbecoming end to an event which had fast become an annual highlight in the calendars of many Macross fans. People looked confused. The floor was awash in questions as the staff gingerly herded everyone outside.

There was, after-all, only an hour and a half to prepare for Anima-nia #01.

While Mylene Night had sold out, Anima-nia, being an unknown quantity, hadn’t (with the seats being removed from the front of the hall, there was room for more people too). Quite a few people had opted for Mylene Night and forgone Anima-nia, especially since it was also a more expensive ticket.

Unfortunately, those fans missed out. Big time.

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© Chie Kajiura

When the curtains raised again it was a much cheerier Chie that greeted everyone.

And who then, with a grin launched straight into VOICES from MACROSS PLUS.

Ani-mania was supposed to be a new type of (what will hopefully be a) regular concert where, according to the explanation on Chie’s blog, she would sing anime songs that she liked.

You know what anime songs Chie REALLY likes?

MACROSS ones.

Yes, it turns out that Anima-nia was basically a re-branded Mylene Night. Chie is no longer able to call the event by its old name (presumably because it could be confused with an official Macross event which would need approval from applicable stake-holders), and can claim it ISN’T a Macross event as long as she doesn’t focus solely on Macross songs. As long as she mixes things up a bit. Like by singing ONE non-Macross song in a 15-song setlist.

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© Chie Kajiura

The song in question was LUM’S LOVE SONG from URUSEI YATSURA and was actually a lot of fun – the crowd really got into it – leaving me hoping that she tries songs from a wider variety of anime next time. The rest of the inaugural Ani-mania however, was primarily a rehash of parts of Mylene Nights 2 & 3 – not that that was a bad thing. No, getting more MACROSS PLUS live is never a bad thing!

Chie’s renditions of VOICES was a little more refined this time around (personally I think I preferred the previous version), IDOL TALK was more or less unchanged, while THE BORDERLINE benefitted by much better use of the Theremin (Chie’s band had obviously been practicing). While, sadly, original Macross/DYRL music wasn’t represented, we got a fairly balanced mix of songs overall: 3 from MACROSS PLUS, 3 from MACROSS FRONTIER, 5 from MACROSS 7, and 1 from DYNAMITE, FB7 and RE:FIRE! respectively. Following their popularity from the previous year, two songs were performed on iphone synthesizers this time, NINJIN LOVES YOU YEAH! (very cute) and the aforementioned LUM’S LOVE SONG. Other highlights were, without a doubt, DIAMOND CREVASSE and AIMO – both of which had been slightly tweaked and were utterly terrific. With her Macross Frontier repertoire expanding, maybe Chie will be able to pull in some more of the Frontier generation without relying so exclusively on the (admittedly fairly large number of) diehard Macross 7 fans, many of whose familiar faces I see turn up every year without fail.

Animania01_Setlist

Anima-nia #01 ended with PILLOW DREAM and it was a much happier looking Chie leaving the stage than the one who had greeted us hours earlier. The secrecy and, eventually, disappointing manner in which Mylene Night had ended after four years was a shame – the previous events will no doubt remain a high point in the memories of the fans who were fortunate enough to experience them – but Anima-nia promised a new beginning of sorts. While we have yet to see where Chie takes the event musically it is comforting to at least know that she will be performing Macross music in some shape or form on an annual basis in the future.

Mylene Night is over. Long live Anima-nia!

© Chie Kajiura

© Chie Kajiura

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The following is a review of Mylene Night #04 by forum regular and translator extraordinaire, Gubaba.

Okay, I’ll come out and say it…

MYLENE NIGHT 04 SUCKED.

Yep, sucked. Big time.

I wasn’t planning on going… Mylene Night always seems to slip past my radar until it’s too late to get tickets. As such, I was just puttering around the house, listening to Slapp Happy, when I got a text from Save at about 3:00: “You working today?” I replied, “No. What’s up?” He answered, “John’s got an extra ticket for Mylene Night if you want to come. It’s in Shimokitazawa” (which is relatively close to my house).

“Cool,” I wrote, mentally beginning to estimate how quickly I could take a shower and get out of the house, “what time does it start?”

“In half an hour.”

Uh-oh.

As Garth Marenghi always sez, “I didn’t have time to grab a shower, so I had to do with a quick rinse around the key areas.” I rushed out of the house and made my way to Shimokita, meeting Save and Renato there with about five minutes to spare. We went into the club (which was pretty packed, sold out show, and all that), and I paid John the ¥3500 for the ticket. Oh, and at the door, there was an obligatory ¥1000 charge, which got you two drink tickets.

Luckily, the show started promptly. The lights went down, Chie came out. There were instruments on stage, but no band members. A prerecorded backing track of the Gift 25 version of “Sweet Fantasy” started, and we were off. She sounded good, but she had to pause to cough at one point. Then she sang “Kimi ni Todoke,” also with a prerecorded backing track.

Then a screen descended in front of her, and we were treated to a video interview from Mylene Night 01, with Tenjin interviewing Chie and Tomo Sakurai. There were a few cute music videos, with Chie, Tomo, and Chie’s band miming to some Fire Bomber tracks in a park, but it was nothing spectacular. Then the screen went back up, and Chie was going to sing some more songs, but her iPad was busted. She she talked a bit, and then the screen descended again, and we had the conversation among Chie, Tomo, and Aya Endo from Mylene Night 02.

When that finally ended, Chie came back out and (again with prerecorded backing tracks), sang “Friends ~ Jikuu o Koete” and “My Beautiful Place” (which was arranged much like the Mylene Jenius Sings Lynn Minmay album).

Then she talked some more, thanked us for coming, and introduced the final song, “My Friends.” Then it was over.

Her performances were fine, but… only five songs!? WHAT THE HELL, CHIE!?

Well, it was now 5:15, and at 6:30, the doors would open again for the first of Chie’s “ANIMANIA” concerts, which is what’s replacing MyleneNight. No one really knew what to expect, except that it was supposed to be just a general “anime” themed show, rather than a specific Macross show. Everyone was wondering, What’s she gonna sing?

So I went and bought a ticket, since THAT show hadn’t sold out, only to discover that it was quite a bit more expensive: ¥5500. And we had to spend an extra ¥500 which netted us a single drink ticket.

Man… I’d just spent over a hundred bucks for what so far was turning out to be a pretty disappointing affair.

(Need I add that, since it started at 3:30, it wasn’t exactly Mylene NIGHT…? But I guess “Mylene Afternoon” just doesn’t sound as good.)

So we all went out to dinner (well… most of us had dinner… Tochiro just had cake and soda, like a kid at a birthday party).

Then we dutifully filed back in, unsure of what to expect.

Things looked more promising right off the bat, since her band had finally shown up. The lights went down… and she launched into “Voices.” This was followed by “Idol Talk” (now featuring a couple of pretty searing guitar solos).  After that, she introduced Animania001 by explaining that it’s just an anime night, and she’s just doing a selection of anime songs she likes, and that there’s no other overarching theme. Oh, and the fact that it happens on February Second (Mylene’s birthday, of course) is in no way relevant.

Then the Fire Bomber hits came out, one after another… “Koi no Maho,” “Plastics,” “Ready Go,” “Remember 16″… Her three-piece band became augmented by a three-piece, all-girl horn section (saxophone, trumpet, and trombone) for “Plastics” (and later, “Dakedo Baby” and “My Friends”) and they were great. Honestly, I need an all-girl horn section in my life. It would make the bad times much more bearable.

I thought “Remember 16″ was especially good… very similar to the arrangement on Acoustic Fire (but without the steel guitar), and lighting made it look like everyone was sitting around a campfire, just singing an old favorite.

Then the guitarist put away the guitar and started playing the theremin (!!!) and she sang “The Borderline,” followed by “Diamond Crevasse.” Truly amazing stuff.

Then everyone put their instruments away and pulled out their iPhones, which they used to play “Ninjiin Loves you Yeah.” Chie forgot one of the lines, so she had to fill in “NAnanaNANANANAnaNANAnaa,” which was beyond adorable. Then she said, “Well, we’ve also got a new song tonight…” and sang “Lum’s Love Song” from Urusei Yatsura, which was weird, because I’ve for no particular reason been thinking about the UY music a lot recently. It was also, um, the only non-Macross song of the night.

A few more songs (including “Virgin Story,” with her bassist singing the Basara parts), and the show ended with “My Friends.”

Everyone shouted for an encore, and so they came back and did “Aimo ~Tori no Hito~” and “Pillow Dream.” People started cheering for ANOTHER encore, but then the house lights flicked on, so no chance of that.

So yeah… I have no idea what kind of politics led to the death of Mylene Night and why she had to change to a new thing… but Animania001 was DAMN AMAZING!!