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Utada Live Report – January 19, 2009 – House of Blues Sunset Strip

It’s automatic—from her first step onto the House of Blues Stage, to the first chord strummed by her guitar player. From the smile stretched on her face to the first note that she sings, Utada is a crowd pleaser. It had been a rainy week in Los Angeles. Raining in Los Angeles is equivalent to there being a hurricane in most cities around the world—people do not want to go out, and the roads are not meant to be driven on.

 

Let’s face it; Los Angeles is not built for rain. This night was different, at least for over 1,000 fans that packed the House of Blues for the sold out show. This was her long anticipated U.S. tour where her fans would get to see her in a club setting, rather than a big arena where the only way to see her face would be on the enormous LED screen.

The energy level in the room was through the roof, even before the curtains were open. The crowd erupted as the curtains opened and Utada finally walked on to the stage, grabbed the mic and did what she does best. The evening opened with the first track from her first foreign release, "Exodus". Could there have been a better way to kick off the night? Utada is one of the top singer-songwriters in the domestic market in Japan, and not surprisingly is also the top selling international artist in the foreign division in Japan as well. Her international releases are all re-imported in Japan and distributed to her loyal fans.

This being her first headlining tour in America, the opening felt like a strong way to mark her presence in this country. She is not just an icon in Japan, she is a worldwide singing sensation. "Good evening! It’s my birthday!" Utada shouted upon completing the opening song and without further ado, went on to perform two songs, "On and On" and "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence", off her latest English album This is the One. During a short set change interval, the crowd didn’t hesitate to use the opportunity to sing "Happy Birthday" to her.

Part of what made her show so memorable was her ability to engage with the audience. We all know she is bilingual, but the interaction was not possible simply because of the communication ease. It seemed easy for Utada to put her personality out there and have a friendly conversation with the crowd. It didn’t feel as if you were at a concert hearing the band MC between songs, but more like an intimate dinner show where the band, audience, and atmosphere all play off of each other. "Are you guys ready to hear Japanese songs?" Utada asked and with that, she performed the hit song from the game Kingdom Hearts II "Passion"—also known as "Sanctuary"—but singing the Japanese and English renditions back and forth.

As the piano was brought out, Utada proceeded into a stripped down version of "Sakura Drops" and "Stay Gold". It was after this that her band played "Happy Birthday" to her and a staff member brought out a birthday cake. Upon blowing out the candles, she finished the last phrase of the birthday song singing, "Happy birthday to me…" which definitely scored more charm points. She says that she is "slowly getting there…" because she is 27 years old, and got some giggles from the crowd.

During the live rendition of "You Make Me Want to Be a Man," we witnessed a drum trio with the drummer, percussionist and Utada herself. This was followed by a cover song, "The Bitter End", by rock band Placebo, which was an interesting mix and saw some Utada head banging. The bitter sweet track "Apple and Cinnamon," and Top 5 Billboard dance track "Come Back to Me", both off of This is the One, were also performed. The crowd exploded into the loudest peak of the night when the piano intro to her hit ballad "First Love" resonated in the room. Surely, there were many fans, especially the old timers who had been with her since her debut, that were aching to hear some of these classics. "Can You Keep a Secret", another hit Japanese tune that was tied up with a popular drama series, and her debut single "Automatic" followed. "I wrote that song when I was about…fifteen? I can’t believe it’s been twelve years! That’s about…three Olympics [worth of time]," Utada joked.

Of course, Utada and the band were called back for an encore and played "Simple and Clean." "Say something in Japanese," a fan shouted from the crowd. It’s not very common that an artist standing on stage is able to make out what each individual is saying, but Utada responded to the request. "Oh, I haven’t done that yet at all tonight!" and introduced the band in Japanese. "Is there anyone that came out from Japan? I’m going to make sure that this show is worth all the travel fees and ticket price that you had to pay!" The night ended with her Latin style number "Me Muero" and she threw a few autographed balls into the crowd. She took a long bow and exited the stage. Whether you were a fan since the beginning, discovered her through Kingdom Hearts, or from her U.S. English releases, Utada made sure her show was special to everyone. From here on, she will perform at a few more cities in the U.S. and cross the Atlantic to London.

1.Opening
2. On and on
3. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
4. Poppin’
5. This One
6. Passion / Sanctuary
7. Sakura Drops
8. Stay Gold
9. Devil Inside
10. Kremlin Dusk
11. You Make Me Want to Be a Man
12. The Bitter End – Placebo cover
13. Apple and Cinnamon
14. Come Back To Me
15. First Love
16. Can You Keep A Secret?
17. Automatic
18. Dirty Desire

Encore:
1. Simple and Clean
2. Me Muero

Live Report by: Akiko M.
Edited by: Kia