Otakon 2013: Yoko Kanno “PIANO ME” Concert

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yoko kanno piano me otakon 2013

When it was announced that Yoko Kanno would be the headliner for the Sunday concert at Otakon 2013, I became deadset on being there. For those with more than a passing familiarity with some of the more emblematic anime series of recent years, the name itself is nearly synonymous with terrific music and song production. From her work in acclaimed series like Cowboy Bebop, The Vision of Escaflowne, and Macross Frontier, Kanno has established herself as an adept at multiple genres of music and thematic storytelling.

I was able to speak to a few concert attendees prior to the show, to get an idea of the types of fans seeing the show. At Yoko’s booth in the dealer’s room, CDs and songbooks featuring her work had sold out by Saturday morning. At the show, Shannon B., 19, and Zandra B., 24, traveled from North Carolina and California, respectively, to attend their first Otakon simply because of Kanno. Jonathan, 24, an aspiring filmmaker, traveled from New York City explicitly for Kanno. He waited for 16 hours to get one of the very limited autograph passes and succeeded in getting his shirt, which he wore to the concert, signed. “My dream is to have her score one of my films,” says Jonathan; he provided Kanno with a DVD featuring footage shot with Kanno’s compositions as inspiration at the autograph signing.

Returning to Otakon, she had previously attended as a guest in 1999, Kanno has chosen to debut her new one woman-one piano show, PIANO ME. Utilizing visuals projected onto her piano that react to her performance and reactions of the audience, Kanno has created an intimate, reflective, and altogether one of a kind live experience. Starting with a crowd pleasing rendition of Tank!, Kanno played a few instrument-only tracks before transforming her piano into a canvas for light and effects. For this next set, she added vocals and a memorable audience sing-along for fan favorite Gravity, the ending theme for anime Wolf’s Rain. Continuing her performance and culminating in a standing ovation, she would return to the limelight to perform; in a tip of the hat to Baltimore, Otakon’s home since 1999 and the home of the National Anthem, a memorable Star Spangled Banner rendition. After playing a credit sequence and thanking the audience, a standing ovation brought her back out for a Tank! reprisal.

As the concert came to a close, I was struck by how awe-inspiring and unique an experience the concert turned out to be. Though audience participation was encouraged, I would constantly find myself stunned into silence just by the deft and skillful playing and beautiful music; at times, I was nearly moved to tears. With a talent that is difficult to put into words, Kanno’s work has the ability to take me places; whether to lands of fantasy, the far reaches of space, or just my own inner thoughts, there is a beauty to the music that is just timeless. While known primarily for her work in popular Japanese media, I would rank Kanno among the greatest living composers in the world. Her storytelling ability and creative flair has created, literally, legions of fans and I can’t wait to see what she works on next. A truly amazing performance and one I’ll remember forever.

A message for fans from Yoko herself post concert:

Japanese Version:

「私をステージの上で一人にしないでくれてありがとう。

一緒に音楽できてうれしかった。
待っていてくれた方、この機会をくださった方、
piano meを通じて出会えたすべての皆さんに感謝します。」

English translation:

Thank you for not leaving me by myself on the stage. I was very happy we could make music together. To the people who were waiting for me, to the people who gave me this opportunity, to everyone I met through “piano me”, Thank you!- YOKO KANNO

 

 

Official Setlist 8.11.2013

Tank!

Nomad Soul

Katarina

Innocent Green

Resonance of the Earth

Gravity ~Baltimore Special Medley

Fanelia

Monochrome

Apollon Blue

Rakuen

Power of the Light

Encore 1

Someday My Prince Will Come

The Real Folk Blues

Wo Qui Non Coin

Encore 2

Star Spangled Banner

Encore 3

Tank! (reprise)

 

Special Thanks to those who provided interviews and Otakon for providing images and bringing Yoko over for the performance!

About Author

Long time film lover and occasional writer. I watch anything and everything though I have massive love for the works of Shunji Iwai, Jackie Chan, Johnnie To, and Kinji Fukasaku. POP! POP!

5 Comments

  1. Great concert review. I was going to do one. Do you know if you captured her set list? I think you hit the major songs, but I don’t remember exactly all of them. There’s one song from ‘Uncharted Waters 2’, the song ‘Mast in the Mist’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_LfQUu7m6o) which I was pleasantly surprised she played since very few people would have heard it before. Most of her video game music is from the 16 bit era and earlier, but all of it is great too.

    One thing that I found out afterwords was there was a way to request songs for her to play via the Twitter hashtag ‘#pianome_song’.

    A few things I wanted to mention. One is I traveled from Seattle to attend, leaving my (pregnant) wife and (2 year old) kid at home for the weekend. I felt a bit guilty, but I have been a fan since watching Macross Plus, so she understood this was an event I could not miss.

    If you come across the full set list, that would be great to see.

    • I’m so jealous of those of you who managed to snag tickets! The simulcast was great but just not the same as being in the same room. I’ve been looking for a set list of what she performed as well.

      I also only found out after the fact that we could tweet what we wanted her to play. I definitely would have put in a vote for Turn A Gundam if I’d known.

      I also would be really happy to see a set list.

    • I had heard the rumor about Mast in the Mist, but I was pretty familiar with the song and was sure I didn’t hear it.

      Anyhow, good review. I also traveled from Seattle and also left my wife behind with a toddler and an infant. And she also knew what this concert meant to me.
      Like others, I traveled to Baltimore solely for this concert, and having flown in Sunday morning, was extremely lucky to get a concert pass shortly before the show began.

      Cesar summarized pretty well how her music affects me. I sense we all have a similar connection to her music. I am certain I would not be who I am today if it wasn’t for her music.

    • Sean, it seems we ought to meet up sometime in Seattle, if only to compare notes. Or perhaps our wives should?

      I did find a bootleg recording of the concert, which I’d be happy to share if you message me. It’s not great quality but you can at least confirm or not confirm which songs were actually played.

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