Kicking off local tastemaker radio station KCRW's World Festival 2011 summer concert series, L.A.'s Hollywood Bowl hosted "Big In Japan" on Sunday, a Japanophile's dream come true featuring taiko drumming, kabuki, karate, kimono, and origami demonstrations; sake tasting; and rare performances by Tokyo's Buffalo Daughter, former Deee-Lite DJ Towa Tei, reunited NYC duo Cibo Matto , and the first Los Angeles show by Japanese electropop legends Yellow Magic Orchestra since 1979.
While Bowl spectators ranging from indie kids to elderly Japanese ladies in full traditional garb snacked on sushi and soy beans, Cibo Matto's Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori, playing their first major concert venue in 10 years, entertained with their many songs about food, food, food ("Beef Jerky," "Birthday Cake," "Know Your Chicken," "Sugar Water"). The cavernous Bowl seemed to swallow them up (no pun intended), and their set ended just as they were gaining momentum as Buffalo Daughter's Jesse Murphy and Yuko Araki joined them onstage. But Cibo's skewed pop still sounded fresh and relevant, so it was still great to get to re-know my chicken after the duo's long absence.
Thankfiully, YMO (with original members Ryuichi Sakamoto, Haruomi Hosono, and Yukihiro Takahashi, plus Cornelius guesting on guitar) played a much longer set, full of epic pieces that ranged from Kraftwerkian computer-rock, to dreamy proto-Air prog-pop, to brass-enhanced Chicago-goes-to-Mars space jams. YMO's virtual bento box of styles and sounds made it very clear just how far-reaching their influence has been.
Unfortunately, their set was a little marred when "special surprise guest" Yoko Ono bizarrely hopped onstage at the very end and proceeded to perform a thoroughly unlistenable "It's Been Very Hard," which basically consisted of her yapping and yelping and hooting and hollering like a wounded animal while YMO bluesily wailed behind her. To make her the final Big In Japan act seemed a little disrespectful to YMO's legacy and much-anticipated comeback...and while there have been a few good tunes in Ono songbook, let's face it, "It's Been Very Hard" was never one of them, so this was an odd booking.
But then all was forgiven when all of the Big In Japan participants joined onstage, "Do They Know It's Christmas?"-style, for a linked-arm singalong of the Beatles' "Hello Goodbye." Yes, it was a little hokey, and not really all that Japanese, but as paper lanterns swayed in the Hollywood Hills breeze and the sake kicked in, it was a feelgood moment nonetheless.