What a night (!!!)
September 7, 2018 will come down as one of the most memorable dates in my twenty-something years of existence, with me having had the opportunity (finally) to see SCANDAL live and in-person as part of their US & Mexico “SPECIAL THANKS” Tour. I once wrote about how it would be my dream to see one of my favorite J-Music acts perform live. In my shortlist of bands that I’d want to see, surely SCANDAL would be at the top of it no doubt, but in all honesty I never thought this day would ever come.
SCANDAL has been doing their thing for close to ten years now so I’d already come to terms with the idea that they might call it quits well before I can feasibly go to one of their shows. BUT, alas, the stars aligned and for the next couple of minutes or so I’ll be talking to y’all about this crazy wonderful experience that I had (xD)
I was coming off of work for this day but it was alright since the show wasn’t until 8PM and I got out at 5, which meant I had plenty of time to head back to our apartment, take a quick shower, and head out again. The Regency Ballroom was right around SF JapanTown; not terribly close to where I live, but a reasonable enough distance to cover at about a 30-45 minute drive (and that’s with traffic slowing to a crawl for a majority of the trip). I was also gonna meet my older brother there so just in case there was a line or something the earlier that either of us got there the better.
I arrived first and the line was already across the street from the actual venue (I estimate about 50 or so people already there ahead of me), and immediately the thing that stood out to me the most was how varied the age groups were. There were people in their early-to-late twenties like myself and my brother, some people who looked to be in their thirties, and there was even a greying old dude (I’d say that’s a flag raised right there, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, lol). Anyway, my brother arrives around ten minutes after I do and we proceed to wait it out until doors opened at 7.
The venue was pretty chic and kinda artsy even with its architecture but it was more or less what you’d expect from an auditorium: hardwood flooring, an elevated stage, and a balcony seating area (tickets were standing-room only though, so that part of the ballroom was left unused for the duration of the concert). The organizers were selling band merch near the entrance so, like, how could we resist right (xD). Queuing up for shirts however meant relinquishing precious real-estate in terms of where we were gonna stand as the hall continued to fill up while we were stuck in line.
Now, being 5″7 had never really been a problem for me in the past but boy did I feel short (like really short) for the first time in my life. People in front of us were generally half a head taller than me, with some just dwarfing me altogether. Luckily, after some maneuvering we managed to find a good spot, albeit behind the only people in the venue who brought lightsticks (some of ’em I even saw at LL!SS!!/Aqours DLVs, HAHA!). Suffice it to say I knew enough wota culture to know how it was gonna go down for these boys and the people around ’em but alas, my brother and I were caught between a rock and a hard place, and we decided this was the better alternative (I mean, at least the lights won’t be as obscuring as the back of someone’s head).
Soundcheck started at about 7:30 and, not gonna lie, I felt like I was going to faint (xD). At the very least I was feeling light-headed in a sort-of giddy way as the reality of getting to see SCANDAL in the flesh started sinking in. Doubly so when the technicians brought out HARUNA’s and MAMI’s iconic guitars from the back. I’d know those guitars anywhere, having become familiar with what they looked like for the better part of six years now, and I just couldn’t help but be taken aback at how surreal it was seeing AND hearing those very same guitars being tested out in front of me.
The stage crew didn’t take all that long to set things up and before we know it the announcer’s booming voice blasts through the speakers telling us all to not record stuff (I shouldn’t have obeyed, lol). Afterwards, the lights dim except for the ones pointed at the stage; a precursory track plays in the background, and the girls make their entrance.
The first thing I realize right off the bat was how gorgeous they all were, and while I did think they all looked fairly attractive in everything that I’d seen them in prior, it’s true what people say when you compare it to seeing your idols in person (HARUNA with short hair aaaaaaa-). It helps too that they went out stylish as hell (xD)
Now, I won’t recap each and every song they played (they went for 16 including the encore) as this post is running pretty long already (lol) so I’ll just be pointing out some stand-out moments for me while I run you through the setlist.
Awanai Tsumori no, Genki de ne
Your song (English version)
I was actually anticipating a different setlist going in to tell you the truth. I thought this was still part of the HONEY Album Launch Tour so for the days leading up to the concert I had said album on loop to prepare myself (as these were songs I wasn’t all that familiar with). So you can imagine my surprise when they went and did the opening riff to Shunkan Sentimental all of a sudden. Hot damn, Shunkan Sentimental; as a starter no less! I had goosebumps. The reason being that ShunSen is such a good and iconic song for SCANDAL, but also partly too because ShunSen was for many years the “song of ruin” for SCANDAL and vocalist HARUNA in particular.
ShunSen is the song that a lot of fans (including myself) attribute to HARUNA’s eventual “breaking” of her voice back in 2011. Of course, it’s not just ShunSen in the literal sense, but because it was one of the first songs that they released that had the most in the way of vocal exertion — which meant that it was that much more noticeable whenever HARUNA’s voice would just give out on her whenever she did try to sing it, prompting her at times to defer to bassist TOMOMI to take over some parts, or leaving it to the audience to sing for her. It got so bad that the band at one point stopped all activities for a good while as they waited for HARUNA to recuperate.
HARUNA would never be able to reclaim the voice of her youth; burned out by a mixture of overuse and (as some fans have speculated) misuse. However, in the ashes of her fiery start as the burgeoning lead singer of Japan’s fastest rising girl band in the modern era, we saw the birth of something more majestic. In lieu of the uncanny power and depth in her already unique vocal quality was an even deeper voice bearing the smoke and huskiness of a singer that went through hell and high water to sing. It was this voice; born of ruin, being used to sing this song again… and it was absolutely beautiful. There was no burning out even on the toughest parts of ShunSen anymore. No. HARUNA was the flame, and she was so on fire that night.
Suffice it to say I took that as a VERY positive sign for the things yet to come (as it would have just broke my heart if I saw her struggling on ShunSen), which again, I was completely in the dark in because I prepared for the wrong setlist. In hindsight though I’m glad I got it wrong because the surprise factor was totally worth it (xD) Awanai Tsumori no Genki de ne is a VERY solid track and one that I always point to and bring up whenever I talk about SCANDAL’s sound as a girls rock band. Your Song and Stamp! I thought were some very curious song choices at the time, and it wasn’t until I saw the setlist after the live that I realized what they were doing. You see, Your Song is the only SCANDAL song sung in full English, and Stamp!’s PV was filmed entirely in Guam so…. *wink wink nudge nudge* to all the Western fans.
Another standout performance to come out of this set though was SCANDAL BABY and not without good reason. SCANDAL BABY was, and still remains to this day, SCANDAL’s “anthem” track. It’s a song filled with their earnest dreams and convictions for the future and, even as they live the very future that they imagined for themselves (often they would say that what they’ve achieved thus far is even greater than anything they could have ever thought of), SCANDAL BABY remains both to them and to their fans as a pleasant reminder of everything the band has been through over the years.
Which is why I thought it odd that they’d pull this one out as early as the first set. In their earlier shows they’d save it for the mid-set or even as an encore song to go with the peaks of emotion running through the crowd. But this first set, aside from catering to Western fans specifically, in hindsight looked to also appeal to long-time fans of SCANDAL in general. SCANDAL BABY is the opening track to SCANDAL’s first major album release BEST SCANDAL way back in 2009. It wasn’t an A-side, nor a B-side single, and knew no other notoriety other than what I’d just illustrated just now. Meaning, fans who knew the history of this song and its being played would also be the ones to understand and appreciate the sentiment that it carries.
This is best exemplified during the bridge towards the end of SCANDAL BABY which is traditionally left to be sung unprompted by the crowd. Now, I don’t know about my fellow attendees, but I sang my heart out for this (and nearly lost my voice as a result xD). HARUNA stepped away from her mic, stood up on one of the elevated platforms on the edge of the stage, and put her left hand to her ear as if to say ‘Let me hear it!’. I used probably the loudest voice I’d ever used in my life to let her hear, whilst reciting these lines I’ve known by heart for years, and by the end HARUNA gave out a curt “Thank you” as she got back to sing her part. It wasn’t a thank you to just me, but with that, I had now been part of that long-standing tradition; that history, that I was only able to see and not experience first-hand until now, and that was such a fulfilling moment.
HARUNA did most of the talking for this relatively short MC break (and yes, they sang five songs straight, lol). Mostly she just greeted the crowd, introduced everyone to the tour, and got everyone fired up for the rest of the show to come still. Interesting to note though is that she spoke all of it in about 85% English. It wasn’t the cleanest, and she occasionally slipped in some Japanese here and there, but it was pretty darn good.
The middle set was pretty much for the “newer” fans, or at least the fans who came in to SCANDAL through their most recent albums; with Platform Syndrome and OVER for instance being the first and second tracks of their latest album HONEY (2018); FREEDOM FIGHTERS is a rockin’ fan-favorite track from self-titled ‘Best of’ album SCANDAL (2016); Morning Sun and Departure are tracks from YELLOW (2016) and HELLO WORLD (2014) respectively.
While the first three songs for this set are absolute bangers, it was only a matter of time until the energy needed to die down, and Departure was just the perfect song to bring us back to reality for a bit. It may come as a surprise to some of you who are reading this but there’s never really been any shortage of “emotional” tracks from SCANDAL despite not being most known for ’em, but they do have that in their back pocket and it’s always nice to hear it come out every now and again. Departure is a song that just gets to me for some reason. It’s not an overtly unique song theme-wise as they’ve already made songs with similar imagery in Sakura Goodbye and Harukaze prior.
However, the beauty of Departure has always been its take on this theme of separating. Sakura Goodbye talks about people going their separate ways after graduating from school during the spring. Harukaze is a song about lovers parting in the pursuit of their respective dreams marked again by the blooming of sakura petals. Where you could put these two songs in a sort-of chronology (with Sakura Goodbye being “High School” and Harukaze being “College”) one could see Departure as “Adult Life”, wherein we acknowledge both the comings and goings of people in our lives yet still holding their memories in our hearts. A song where we don’t “say goodbye” in finality but rather just “see you again”, in the hopes of meeting again.
So with all that in mind, I really almost just bawled during this part of the live (xD). Emotions were high but the hands-in-the-air energy from the past couple of songs had now receded into a gentle sway. Which in turn made for a moment of reflection on my part. I realized that I was there, seeing them perform, live. I thought about how to the me of six years ago that was such a pipe dream because, well, what are the odds right? I mean, sure they tour a lot, but it’s not like I can go to any other country (or state even) just to watch them. Yet here they were singing about meetings and partings; about how we don’t say goodbye in finality but rather just see you again, in the hopes of meeting again; as was the silent prayer in my heart.
The second MC break wasn’t all that much different from the first one with HARUNA doing most of the talking still and generally just asking the crowd again how we were all doing. They did mention something interesting here in that they say it’s been ten years since they last set foot in San Francisco (dating back to their first US Tour). They talk about how they couldn’t really roam around as freely as they did now with MAMI noting that they were all still essentially kids at the time.
Take Me Out
HARUNA offers up Sisters to San Francisco as a show of gratitude for the crowd’s intense reception to them ever since the live show started. They follow it up with Koe which was just all sorts of hype (mostly because it’s MAMI doing the singing this time around :3). Koisuru Universe was the most misplaced track in the entire setlist in my opinion in that it didn’t really play off of Koe all that well. Not to say it’s a bad song or anything (though I do have my qualms regarding Koisuru Universe’s sound), like, I actually think Koisuru Universe sounds waaaay better performed live compared to the studio version.
If anything it really was just meant to transition to Electric Girl, which conversely might’ve been the biggest surprise for me (barring of course my initial surprise to the entire setlist), with how good it was. This was arguably my favorite track off of HONEY coming in and because it was an album exclusive I didn’t really expect they’d play it outside of the launch tour where generally only the A-side single tracks make the cut to regular setlist rotation with very little exception. Either the reception for Electric Girl was good during the HONEY Tour or they just like playing it. Whatever the reason, I’m glad they went with it.
The hype was back to where it was from the first set, and it was now time to deal the last couple of blows. Take Me Out is a mad riot already as a studio track (I mean, you can’t tell me you don’t feel like jumping around when you hear this xD) but that’s just cranked all the way up to 11 as a live performance. Like, the crowd clapping along to the verses while TOMOMI hopped all over the stage was perfect. There’s also a part during the chorus that literally just goes “PAPARA~ PAPAPARA~” and instead of the girls doing it (like they do on the studio version of the song) they left it up to the crowd to sing those parts and that was so much fun. I didn’t know how much of my voice was left at this point, but I yelled anyway.
LOVE SURVIVE as the closer was unexpected, not because it wasn’t a staple live song (to which it most certainly is, and has been for many years since the song first came out), but because it was typically a mid-set pump-up song like where you see FREEDOM FIGHTERS here. As the last song of the final set though, I couldn’t help but feel a vague sense of closure, if not catharsis. LOVE SURVIVE was from the band’s third album BABY ACTION and, the idea that they now have what I would call legacy songs from that really does put into perspective how many songs they actually they’ve actually released up to now. I felt the exact same way back when Everybody Say YEAH! was promoted (so to speak) from a starter song to a pump-up/hype song. It’s a weird feeling of being proud for these songs that they’ve since been elevated to what they are now.
The “Encore!” chants began before the girls even had the chance to get off the stage which I thought was both funny and a little bit out of touch on the crowd’s part. I mean, I dunno how the band took it (like maybe they thought this was just a crowd mimicking what a Japanese audience would do) but encores are generally called for after the performer exits the stage, not before or during. A minor pet peeve if you will but I guess it’s also just a showing of how much we all didn’t want the night to end just yet (which I totally get). After a while the chants evolved to “SCANDAL!” which I thought was cool.
It actually took a good 15 minutes or so for the band to come out (kudos to those who carried on with the “Encore!” chants for the entire duration of that) following a change of clothes (they were now sporting their tour shirts). HARUNA again thanked everyone for coming out and made it a point to acknowledge how the crowd had a “big voice” and how they didn’t expect such a good audience reception at a part of the world they haven’t been to for ten years. She ends their final MC by saying they hope to be able to come and see us all again in the future.
Where the First Set catered more to Western fans who’ve been fans for a while and know what’s what, this Encore Set is for the die-hards. At the top of their encore performance was Shoujo S; a true SCANDAL classic in every sense of the word. This was (arguably) the song that put them on the map as a band to watch being their primary foray into anison in 2009. In the time since then Shoujo S has actually gone through very minute to major adjustments as the band continued to develop and grow and as an encore song it has now become an avenue for them to show-off their skill for a bit. The band extended the final bridge to Shoujo S and added in some instrumental solos for each member. A highlight here would be RINA who just slayed her drum solo for however long it lasted.
The final final song was the eternal follow-up to Shoujo S, DOLL. Where SCANDAL BABY is SCANDAL’s anthem, DOLL is the quintessential SCANDAL song. Now, traditionally (and I realize I’ve been throwing this word a lot), a live performance of DOLL is met by towel twirling by the fans during the chorus. Normally TOMOMI would prompt the crowd by pulling out a towel of her own and instructing the crowd on the proper technique to use. If you’d remember I bought a shirt before the show started, and I was prepared to use that as my towel for this (they were selling towels, but I figured I wouldn’t be able to use it as much outside of twirling it in the air, lol).
However, there was no towel twirling instructional from TOMOMI sadly, and HARUNA instead just had everyone clap their hands as the start of the song. Kinda weird I thought, but I reckon it’s because they would have had to speak Japanese to properly instruct people on what to do, and they were just playing it safe so no one in the crowd gets hurt (since they can’t really assume that everyone would know this practice anyways). You can bet I twirled that shirt in the air still (xD).
Afterwards, with the band doing that all too familiar final riff, the show has now come to an end. The girls lined up on stage, said a few more parting words (which the crowd answered with heart signs with their hands which I though was nice), before introducing themselves a final time. If it wasn’t all that apparent, I’m a huge fan of HARUNA’s, and I must’ve shouted her name like six times when her turn came up. A final bow would close the show. An exit track plays (SCANDAL Baby) as the band make their way off the stage, waving and making heart signs along the way.
The show ended around 10:30. Exiting the ballroom and actually talking for the first time, I was unsure whether I was struggling to produce sound or I just couldn’t hear myself speak. I popped my ears (y’know, like you would after climbing up altitude, lol) and confirmed that it was the former. With my tour shirt in hand (I regretted not getting a keystrap as well right as we exit), my brother and I get home at a little past 11.
The day after my throat physically hurt from all the shouting (which was a first for me). My voice was hoarse. The soles of my feet ached with each step. My right shoulder felt like it was made of goo. I got up at around 5 too because I had work still so I was dead tired. Good thing it was a Saturday which meant there wasn’t a whole lot to do and that I was alone in our office. After doing some filing for about two hours I took a load off (lol) and just put up a random SCANDAL playlist off of YouTube as I sat in a moment of reverie of what just happened. What a night that was, I thought, as I instinctively sing along to ShunSen as it plays despite my voice being what it was.
What a night.
tl;dr I had an absolute blast geeking out over a band that I have held very near and dear to my heart for all my years of listening to Japanese music (xD)
Initially, I planned on ending this write-up with a list of songs that I personally wanted to have been included in the setlisr, but seeing that this is now over 4000 words long, I figured I’d save it some other time *cough-monthlyroundup-coughcough*. If you did read through the entirety of my dramatic retelling of this wonderful night that I had then you are awesome (:3) and I would like to offer my sincerest gratitude for your time. I see this post as my way of saying thanks to SCANDAL not only for the performance that they had, but for everything leading up to me seeing them perform. My “special thanks”, if you will.
I don’t know if any other bands that I love would be making their way down here again (a post for another time) so I can’t say for sure when’s the next time you’ll see me doing something like this again (or if I ever do it again), but eyy, I’ll be on the lookout for sure now that I know that it’s a possibility (xD)
Till I see ya next!