I got up early the morning of February 8, 2010 after getting only four hours of sleep. The anticipation for the events to follow the next day was just too great. After eight years of being a pretty hardcore Utada fan, being completely and utterly shocked that she announced an American tour, getting out of school early to order tickets, and doing absolutely nothing but anticipating the show for the following five months, I couldn't believe the day was finally here!
I left my house to pick up my companion, Rosita, and then headed to the Pittburgh International Airport around 8:45. Upon arriving at the airport we got our boarding passes and headed straight for gate C56. Our flight began boarding at 10:00 and I got a good seat by the window. This was the first time I had flown in almost ten years and I didn't remember what it was like at all, but it was much less stressful than I anticipated and the flight was smooth and scenic from our take off at 10:26 all the way to our arrival at 11:55.
When we entered the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, it finally hit me that I was far away from home and that I would actually be attending the final show of Utada "In The Flesh" 2010's American leg. The epiphany was overwhelming and the adrenaline pumping through my system made it extremely easy to navigate through the airport and hail a cab without any problems.
The cab ride seemed to be an eternity, even though it was only about half an hour before we arrived outside The Fillmore at Irving Plaza. When we got in line at 1:00 there were already about fifty or so people in front of us, but I was relieved that there weren't any more than that. Our place in line was right next to a Chinese restaurant and right behind two Canadians called Shane and Emily. Rosita and I were very thankful that were able to eat Chinese and use the bathroom without using our place in line and by the time the doors opened up at 7:00 we had become pretty good pals with Shane and Emily!
There were camera crews outside filming the entire line which stretched behind me farther than I could see. It was insane and definitely the most multi-racial event I'd ever been to. At the point when the doors finally opened, I couldn't feel my feet anymore so getting inside The Fillmore was definitely a treat. We had to check our coats and bags because the event was strictly no photography or videography allowed. I didn't want to risk getting thrown out over trying to sneak my camera in, but I was able to bring in my iPod nano which has a built in video camera.
Rosita and I stayed with Shane and Emily as we filed up into the room with the stage. Excitement from everyone around was all that could be felt in the atmosphere of the old, legendary venue we were in. I was not at all shocked to the see a big group of people who flew in from Japan for the show. This would probably be their only chance to see her this close up and intimate because in Japan she sells out entire arenas and domes.
It took much longer than expected to get everyone inside the venue and check their coats and bags so the show began later than scheduled-- DJ Mike Rizzo, Utada's opening act didn't take the stage until 8:00 and that's when Utada was scheduled to begin. The crowd was a bit impatient but still cheered loudly for the DJ and managed not to freak out before Utada came on. The last song Mike Rizzo spun before leaving the stage at 8:45 was a remix of Utada's song "Dirty Desire" which from the lyrics she got the title of the tour-- "In The Flesh."
After the DJ left the stage, the lights dimmed but we could all see Utada's instrumentalists taking their places on the stage and the tech crew rushing around to make sure the sound system was working properly. Then it happened-- "Crossover Interlude" began to play from the loud speakers and lights illuminated the giant tour logo in the middle of the stage. We all sang along to the familiar interlude from Utada's 2004 debut American album, "EXODUS."
Once "Crossover" ended the lights on the stage went crazy and the music to Utada's song "On and On" began in full force. For the first time in my whole fandom, I was able to see my idol in person, less the twenty feet away from me. She looked exactly the same in person as she does in all of her pictures-- if not cuter! Her voice was absolutely stunning too. I can't describe the way I felt when she first took the stage but I'll never forget that feeling ever.
The audience sang along the the catchy song, "On and On" and erupted into cheers after the lines "Honeys, if you're gay, burn it up like a gay parade!" and "Honeys, if you're straight, pump it up, take it all away!" It was like I had stepped into another dimension where nothing mattered but Utada and her music and I was loving absolutely every second of it.
After "On and On" ended the piano introduction to "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence - FYI" (titled so because the song samples Ryuichi Sakamoto's composition from the 1983 David Bowie movie) began and for the first time Utada spoke to us!
"Are you with me, New York City?!" She yelled and we cheered in response.
"We're going to have a good time, right?!" She asked, and we again burst into cheers.
"FYI" is one of my favorite songs from the 2009 American album, "This Is The One." It's a gorgeous song which really shows off Utada's vocals, but live it was on a whole different level entirely. It was during this song that I think it really dawned on me that Utada was so close, performing for us! She held the microphone out over the audience so we could all sing the "Whoa, whoa" that follow "NYC, NYC" and "Tokyo, Toyko" in the lyrics of the refrain. The final refrain of "FYI" was definitely one of the highlights of the whole night. The way she sang was just amazing-- showcasing her vocals so much more than in the studio recording. It left me totally in awe.
"Poppin'" followed "FYI" in the set list which is a really fun dance song which sounds like it was inspired by 1960's spy movies. The audience joined in singing the "Hey! Hey! Hey!" part of the refraining and when Utada sang "Girls, you know we have it better than the boys!" every female in the whole place went absolutely crazy and yelled "Yes!" in unison with Utada. It was so funny.
When "Poppin" ended Utada thanked us all for the very warm welcome we gave her and seemed a little shy up on stage. It was almost as surreal to hear her speaking voice in person as it was to hear her singing voice. I was living my dream being at this concert, and I loved it. After she finished greeting us, the acoustics of the title track began, "This One (Crying Like a Child)" began and the crowd again went crazy. At this point, I pulled out Rosita's cell phone and quickly dialed my friend back home, Jennifer's number. She was absolutely crushed that her parents wouldn't let her go to this concert and since "This One" is her favorite song, I wanted her to hear it live with me.
"This One" was simply beautiful live-- and the crowd might have hit their loudest point during this song after Utada sang "You've got me crying like a child and the crowd is going wild, this one, this is the one, come on, and give it up~" I may or may not have cried a little during this song. I'm having trouble remembering much except how amazing it was to be seeing Utada live! Her presence on the stage and the music were all that mattered to me at the concert.
After "This One" was over Utada asked us if we were ready to hear some of her Japanese songs and we cheered like a group of crazy people in response. Then before she finished talking, she switched over and began talking in Japanese for the native Japanese that came all the way to see her. I had no idea what she was saying but still cheered every time there was a break in her words. She mentioned how a lot of obviously non-Japanese people were cheering when she said things in Japanese and even pointed at one audience member and said "You're not Japanese!" It was really amusing to the audience and Utada.
The first Japanese language song of the night was "Passion" which was the theme to the video game, Kingdom Hearts II. It wasn't sang totally in Japanese though because after the bridge she switched languages and sang the English version of the song called "Sanctuary." "Passion" and "Sanctuary" are so musically different from anything else I've ever heard in my life. They are so mellow but so high energy at the same time and hearing them live was absolutely entrancing. The refrain of both "Passion" and "Sanctuary" include reversed lyrics which say "I need more affection than you know." and Utada actually sang the reversed lyrics too! Sometime before the song was over too, she switched back into Japanese to finish it up.
After "Passion" and "Sanctuary" Utada explained to us that she was going to play the piano while she performed the next few songs as that's where she composes all of her music. She'd never actually played the piano live before, so she also explained how she was nervous to be doing this and excited at the same time. We cheered to encourage her and I heard a few people yell "Good luck!" and "Ganbatte!" (which means 'good luck' in Japanese.)
"SAKURA Drops", another Japanese song, was the first song she played on the piano, but Utada had altered the arrangement a little so we didn't recognize it until she began to sing. Simply Utada's voice and the piano was the most haunting thing ever. I got chills because it was just so beautiful. "SAKURA Drops" was definitely another one of the night's highest points.
After "SAKURA Drops" she remained on the piano for yet another Japanese song called "Stay Gold." It's a bit more upbeat than "SAKURA Drops" and the band joined her again so it wasn't quite as haunting, but it got the audience going as it's rarely been performed before. "Stay Gold" is another song that really shows off Utada's vocal range and it was just so pretty.
When "Stay Gold" was over Utada told us that she was going to start singing some songs from the first English album, "EXODUS" and we all got really excited. The first song she sang from "EXODUS" was "Devil Inside" which was also the first dark, rock number of the night.
The live arrangement of "Devil Inside" is a lot less loud than the studio version at first-- but it's so haunting, especially as Utada sang "They don't know I burn." and "Maybe there's a devil inside me." again and again before the band kicked in full force for the refrain. A lot of really famous people have held concerts at The Fillmore East, but I know that known of them could have possibly captivated their crowds the way Utada captivated us during "Devil Inside." It was also really cool because the band got to really show off how good they were during this song, especially the guitarists. I forget what Utada said his name was but I do remember that she said he was from Brazil. He was an awesome guitarist!
The next song, "Kremlin Dusk", began immediately after "Devil Inside" ended. "Kremlin Dusk" has Edgar Allen Poe inspired lyrics and is just as dark as "Devil Inside." It too starts out really slow and builds up later to a fierce rock sound. "Kremlin Dusk" also has some really hard-to-hit, high notes that Utada hit perfectly and held for such a long time. If there was any doubt it my mind about Utada being one of the best vocalists I've ever heard, all that doubt vanished during this song.
"Kremlin Dusk" didn't really end-- the music at the end just got more and more fast paced and then all of sudden the band just broke out in "You Make Me Want To Be A Man." The transition between the two songs was almost my favorite part of the whole concert. That would come later on in "You Make Me Want To Be A Man." The crowd just went absolutely insane when "You Make Me Want To Be A Man" began. We jumped up and down and the lights on stage turned red and flashed all over the place.
The best part of the entire concert was the ad-libbing at the end of "You Make Me Want To Be A Man." The way Utada just screamed was unlike anything else: "You make me, you make me, yeah! You make me want to ahh!" I felt like I was witnessing history, like it was 1969 and I was watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon or it was 2009 and I was one of the thousands in D.C. watching President Obama be inaugurated. I don't think that feeling will ever be reproduced as long as I lived. I can't imagine another situation that could make me feel like that, ever.
Once "You Make Me Want To Be A Man" was over Utada began singing a cover of a song called "The Bitter End" by the band Placebo. It was the last of the hard rock songs to be performed and got us all head banging and jumping one last time. I'm not really familiar with "The Bitter End" or the band Placebo at all so I didn't sing along to this one, but it was still a really good performance and Shane, one of the Canadians we were with freaked out when she sang this because he really likes the band Placebo. Emily and Rosita were in the same boat I was though and just enjoyed the song.
I was expecting another talk session from Utada at this point but she began to sing another song from "This Is The One", "Apple & Cinnamon." "Apple & Cinnamon" is a catchy pop song on the album, but live it transformed into a bittersweet rock ballad. After "Apple & Cinnamon" she talked to us again. She talked about how she was born and raised in New York City and it felt great to be back in her home town. She also mentioned that she had some family at the concert in the upper level, in particular a cousin.
After the talk session she sang the lead single from "This Is The One," "Come Back To Me." During this song, I called another friend, Nicolette. She was actually supposed to be at the concert with me but weather prevented her from coming as it did with the fourth person who was supposed to be there, Megan. I was really feeling bad for Nicolette and Megan at this point, but I calmed myself down pretty quickly because I knew they'd want me to enjoy the concert of my life.
We all sang along and clapped to the melody of "Come Back To Me" and all I could think about was how a year ago at this time it was just being released. It was the first English song Utada had released in five years and it felt so good to hear her in English again. I never dreamed in a million years when I heard "Come Back To Me" and fell in love with it for the first time that I'd be seeing Utada live in a year's time. This dream come true was to amazing to even dream in the first place for me.
When "Come Back To Me" was over I hung up with Nicolette and called Megan because Utada began to play one of her biggest Japanese hits, "First Love" and that's one of Megan's favorites. She stayed connected in my pocket for the remainder of the concert. I sang all of the words to "First Love" in Japanese along with the rest of the crowd and cried a lot during this song. I could see tears in Utada's eyes too. It seemed that she was overwhelmed with all the love we were giving her and I think she was really warmed by how much we not only enjoyed her English music, but her Japanese music too. "First Love" is the title track off of the best selling album in all of Japanese history so hearing it live was a pretty surreal experience.
"Can You Keep A Secret?" followed "First Love." It's another older Japanese one and it's really R&B heavy. It got the crowd going again as we all clapped with the beat and sang along. "Can You Keep A Secret?" was such a fun song live!
After "Can You Keep A Secret?" she played her debut Japanese single, "Automatic." We all continued to sing along and at this point, I began crying again when I could definitely see tears in Utada's eyes. "Automatic" is another R&B heavy song and it was also really fun live. During this song I also pulled the cell phone out of my pocket and swayed it back in forth in the air to assure that Megan could hear it really well since it's her favorite song. I actually have a lyric from "Automatic" engraved on the back of my iPod, "It's automatic."
When "Automatic" was over Utada talked to us again. She talked about a lot of things that ranged from how multiracial the crowd there was and how at all the other cities that seemed weird but in NYC it felt right, how we were much louder and more intense than the crowd in Las Vegas was and how that surprised her, and sadly about how the next song would be the last song of the night.
The last song in the set was another English one from "This Is The One," "Dirty Desire." It's the song that she got the title for the tour from and it's also the newest single from the album. Continuing with the trend from earlier, we all sang along and screamed our lungs out after she sang the lyric the tour's name came from: "And you can't wait to see me, to see me in the flesh!" The energy was insane. The kind of energy that filled the room made me feel like I was just one with everyone else there and everything that was going on. It was awesome.
When "Dirty Desire" ended, Utada disappeared and the lights went really dim. Almost as soon as she left the stage, we all began cheering for an encore.
"Encore, encore!" The crowd cheered and after a few minutes nothing changed.
Then we began clapping, cheering and whistling. Still, nothing.
"U-TA-DA, U-TA-DA, U-TA-DA!" We all cheered in another attempt to get her back on stage and still she didn't come!
We then began clapping and stomping and screamed as loud as we could. Finally, after so much work, she came back on stage!
"Thank you for calling me back! I take it this means you all want to hear some more songs?!" She yelled out and we all screamed at her return.
By this point in the show, my throat was killing me. I had screamed so much and so loud that it literally felt like my throat was filled with sand and on fire, but I just ignored the pain because the first song Utada sang for the encore was the first song I'd ever heard from her and it still remains one of my favorites.
Hearing "Simple and Clean" live was seriously so stunning and surreal. I started crying again, pretty hard. I sang along and clapped with everyone else and screamed so loud for Utada during this song. It made it so special too because she'd never even performed this song during a tour before, not once. I really can't put into words how special it was to me to get to see Utada Hikaru perform "Simple and Clean" live. I don't think many things that happen to me in the future will be able to top that. It's something that as long as I live, I'm positive I will never ever forget it.
After "Simple and Clean" ended I knew that no matter what happened next, I couldn't be any happier than I was at that moment, but I was wrong. First Utada introduced her band and asked to applaud for them, and we did. Then she sang the second and final song of the encore, "Me Muero" which she told us was her favorite song from "This Is The One." It's a spicy, Latin-flavored song and it's got somewhat dark lyrics but still manages to maintain an upbeat feeling.
The big thing though that happened to make my experience complete and ten times more amazing than I thought it would be though happened while the band continued to play an extended outro for "Me Muero." Utada thanked us and told us what a wonderful crowd we were, but before saying goodbye she threw a dozen signed balls with personalized illustrations on them into the crowd... and I caught one! I couldn't believe I caught one. I was definitely not expecting to at all and it just made the night that much better.
Once it was over, I was really sad but so satisfied and starstruck that it didn't matter. Rosita and I showed off the signed ball we had and some Japanese tourists asked to take pictures of it, we let them. The first thing we did was grab bottles of water. Then we got our bags and coats out of the check and before heading back to the airport, Shane and Emily convinced us to go to Times Square with them. They said there was no way we could not see Times Square while we were in the city, so we went and walked around Times Square, bought some souvenirs, took some pictures, and ate a McDoanld's with them and the hailed a cab to go back to the airport.
It was about 1:00 in the morning when we got back to the airport and our light wasn't until 8:00 so we just walked around the airport aimlessly, bought some more souvenirs, and ate again while we waited for our flight. The whole trip was so crazy I'm still having trouble believing it actually happened. It was definitely the best night in my seventeen years of living, that's for sure and I'll be eternally grateful to Utada forever for that!