which the soul alone understands
but which the soul can never translate
The forgotten pioneers here are Shonen Knife, a 3-girl indy-style group still in business who used to open for Nirvana in Los Angeles back in 1990 before anyone had heard of Nirvana, much less JPop. Since then, they have toured relatively extensively throughout the U.S. and thus are probably the best known "Japanese band" amongst the general American population.
On July 3 and July 17, 1999, respectively, Youko Kanno performed rather informally at the Otakon convention in Baltimore and at the AnimeExpo convention (the largest in the Americas) in Anaheim. Kanno-sama is easily the most prominent anime composer there is and arguably the finest living composer of any kind anywhere. When an old-timer spins a yarn of being there on one of those hallowed days, the room still falls to a reverent hush.
Otakon brought in BOA to play on August 4, 2000. BOA is actually a very English band featuring a brother-sister combo who are half Japanese. They somehow stumbled onto a Japanese recording contract. Neither of them speak Japanese and haven't to this day even been there (I could be wrong). One of the songs recorded under this contract was selected as the opening theme for what turned out to be a very successful anime ("Duvet" for Serial Experiments Lain).
BOA triumphantly returned to America for a mini-tour of Los Angeles in April 2001 and ending up playing at AnimeFEST in Dallas in August, lauding the "good Texan beer".
On March 18, 2000, an indisputably genuine JPop band, Puffy, performed for the 1st time in the United States, not at an anime convention, but at the famous South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, the "live music capital of the world".
Puffy is a company-created supergroup of 2 women, Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura, who, under legal pressure from Shawn Comb's gangsta legal staff, are forced to operate in America under the name of Puffy AmiYumi. They have gained recent American fame from doing the theme song for TeenTitans. They are definitely big in Japan, with their own TV show as well as toy and fashion franchises.
In the last couple of years, innovators, especially in Texas, have been instrumental in setting live JPop entertainment as a new standard for anime conventions. A-Kon has been very active in the presentation of JPop to the American public. This musical tradition continued with A-Kon 15 again bringing some of the most interesting musical artists in Japan to America for the first time.
Crowd management is a whole story in itself. Although a volunteer organization, these folks have a lot of experience in handling the masses.
The beautiful Grand Hall of the Adams Mark Hotel Conference Center was the most luxurious venue for waiting in line that I have ever experienced. Indoors with plush carpeting and perfectly functional air conditioning, one could comfortably sleep in line if desired.
How long were the line-ups? Well, maybe an hour at most. The prime issue was not the time, but rather the ~2,200 person capacity of the Dallas Ballroom. So you had to get in line early enough to be one of the select. Not too hard for the dedicated, really.
On Friday, the organization was downright vicious. The line was constantly swept by the volunteer staff, combining the ruthlessness of SS camp guards only lacking the dogs ("Single file means single file! MOVE!"), and the arbitrary pointlessness of airport TSA screeners. The line banter was, being in Dallas, about cattle chutes and electric prods.
Each person was systematically searched for cameras and recording devices. When one was discovered, like mine was, it was confiscated, labelled and sent off to a storage area for later retrieval.
On Saturday, the contrast was stunning. The line was laid out in optimal patterns, with breaks in all the right places to allow for traffic flow which was efficiently managed by staff. Everyone was comfortably seated on the floor exactly in his spot as assigned and monitored. Many entertainers were in constant attendance, giving out small trinkets and keeping everyone amused lest some poor soul get restless.
What could account for such extreme mood swings in crowd management? Well, I credit volunteer staff with long experience at an annual event lasting only 2 days. The 1st day is chaos, but by the 2nd, it's all coming back and the dogie-herders are comfortably back in the saddle. That's my theory.
3 bands were scheduled for Friday evening: Psycho Le Cemu, Camino, and Do As Infinity, appearing at 2 hour intervals starting at 2030. Psycho Le Cemu started about 1 1/2 hours late, so it was decided to bump Camino to last so that folks could see the headliners without waiting until 0200. I didn't stay for the late show.
About 2,000 people stood in attendance at each of the performances. I felt sorry for the excited 10 year old girls in the crowd who couldn't possibly see anything.
The big event on Saturday, and of the whole convention and every other anime convention, was the CosPlay. Nami Tamaki was scheduled to perform at the half-time of this event, but in fact appeared at its conclusion. Good choice. These A-Kon people are nothing if not flexible.
Saturday was a sit-down affair. I saw the most amazing organizational feat here. There was a dance immediately following this event, so the Ballroom had to be quickly cleared of all the chairs. How do you quickly clear a large ballrom of 2000 chairs? Ask everyone to carry his chair to the far wall and neatly stack it. The place was clear in under 5 minutes. Brilliant! Experience shows once more.