Yoko Kanno’s Sunday concert at Otakon 20 is and likely will remain the best concert of my life. This is saying a lot given that I have seen over a hundred bands, big and small, per year for the past few. Yet I am confident in my statement for a simple reason. Piano Me redefined the concert experience but let’s start at the very beginning.
My colleagues and I were incredibly confused. For one, it made no sense to hold Yoko’s concert inside one of the rooms of the BCC when HMK/TMR and even the Masquerade had the pleasure of the First Mariner Arena. For another, even though the choice in venue severely limited seating, the ticketing system implied that there are no plans to fill up to capacity. Conversations with staff suggested that 700 tickets were distributed on Friday and Saturday plus another 200 Sunday morning which totals to 1600. Otakon announced that secret staffers would reward certain Otakon members who performed good deeds during the weekend. Then there are VIP seating as well as the press. However, the sum of all of the above still puts the number of tickets distributed mysteriously shy below Hall D’s capacity of 2500.
Why would anyone leave empty seats at a Yoko concert??
In the dimly lit hall, the crew revealed the snow white piano beneath the dust cover as Yoko hopped on stage fittingly with bunny ears perched atop her head. She paused to accept the standing ovation that greeted her entrance before taking her seat on the bench and firing off a few notes to excite the crowd. She exchanged pleasantries by addressing all angles of the audience with her smile. Then she got to work.
I could review her playing but that would miss the point. At the end of the sixth? song, in a mysterious turn of events, she scrambled around her instrument, attached a cover of sorts to the front legs before attempting to lift the lid. One can’t help but wonder if it was a gross oversight on the part of the crew. She returned to her bench, fluffed the coat tail like a bunny much to the delight of the audience and play resumed.
I didn’t notice it as first, trying to make out Yoko in the darkness. The light over the piano started to shrink in a peculiar way. It slowly turned into a shape of a…. rhino!
Just as slow, the beast disintegrated and faded into the darkness. It didn’t last long before two yellow lighted dots appeared like search lights. They danced about, sometimes coming teasingly close to shinning onto the subject of everyone’s admiration before colliding together, one on top of the other. One of the dots grew a beak while the other grew two feet and the amalgam gave birth to a baby chick!
A collective consensus of cuteness cooed from the crowd. It crescendoed as the baby chick started to walk and skip and hop across the piano. Laughter followed as we watched the chick jump along the edge of the piano drawing an invisible barrier in the process. In another way, it was like a film of a birdy trying to clear a wall to reach Yoko.
After that, white dots started to fall onto the piano and collected at the legs until they filled up, threatening to burst, turning the piano into a marble jar of sorts. The marbles transformed into falling snow. Then they melted away to be replaced by adorable pink hearts. Like marbles before them, the hearts quickly filled the piano, each one trembling in excitement, no doubt mirroring the hearts of everyone in the audience.
Never before has a concert unfolded in this fashion. Coming back down from the unexpected magic I just witnessed, the performance reminded me of Animal Collective’s ODDSAC several years ago. It was a project to attempt a new medium in which film and music influence and reflect each other. While laudable in ambition, it ultimately failed as it was overwhelmingly considered an overtly long music video.
Yoko took this opportunity to speak to us.
“Are you happy?”
The reader can surmise the crowd’s reply.
“If you are happy, then I am happy. I am very grateful to you,” Yoko stretched her arms out like one receiving a hug.
Then it dawned on me. The music video is arguably the last innovation in music entertainment pioneered by none other than the King of Pop. The video for Thriller proved wildly successful and Michael decreed the medium an integral part of the musical experience. This remains true almost thirty years later. On Sunday, Yoko wrote her own page in history. Her concert not only defied conventional expectations of an anime con concert, she completely redefined the concert experience by adding a dimension never seen before or imagined.
She had one last surprise for us when she played Star Spangled Banner. I consider it a political song so was puzzled to her intentions but @gendomike pointed out afterwards that it was a fitting tribute to Otakon since the song takes place in Baltimore.
In a way, Otakon, not entirely to blame, proved a mediocre mind that hampered Yoko’s brilliance. Rumors suggest that Yoko originally desired only two hundred in attendance for the concert. The effectiveness of Piano Me is an inverse relationship to its attendance. Yoko recognized that but there might have been murder had she gotten her way. That said, could the revolution have been more pronounced? Perhaps but Piano Me remains a triumph and shall be emulated henceforth.
For setlist and a statement from Yoko, please click here.