The best things in life are pleasant surprises. Nirgilis, a band I’d never heard of prior to this year’s Anime Expo, is one of them.
There has been a band called Nirgilis since the 1990s, apparently. None of the current band members—Acchu, Yuki, and Kuri—were part of the original incarnation, though, and in the current phase, they are best known for anime songs for such series as Deadman Wonderland, Eureka 7, D. Grayman, and Birdy the Mighty:Decode 02. That’s actually quite a few songs. But, honestly, they are not that well-known, compared to the other musical guests appearing at the convention: Kalafina, Maon Kurosaki (maybe), but especially the one who isn’t even real, Hatsune Miku.
Perhaps that is why they seemed so relaxed, both in our interview with them (coming soon) and on stage. They weren’t surrounded by layers of paternalistic management, like the female stars so often are. They apparently went to several shows by themselves and attended a few dance parties, not much different from any other attendee. They came on stage to the strains of nothing less than “Thus Spake Zarathustra” (better known as the 2001: A Space Odyssey intro)—a gesture as tongue-in-cheek as it was grandiose. One could tell how comfortable Acchu in particular was around people and on stage, from the way she bantered and playfully cast a curse on our interviewer to the way she led the crowd in the show in a call and response of “SEX! ON THE BEACH! SEX! ON THE BEACH!” (Which was preceded with “PIKACHU!” and “ONE PIECE!” and various other anime titles.) Look at the way she bounces around on stage in the concert excerpt below—she is truly a free spirit:
Acchu is not the most precise, versatile, or even in-tune, of singers. Not that that is ever entirely necessary in rock music—or else Patti Smith or, as she has been sometimes compared, Sixousie, would have gotten nowhere. A live show is not just about technical precision (though there was plenty of it in the rhythm programming and DJ work from both Kuri and Yuki); for me, a live show gets its worth in part from the differences between a live rendition and its studio original. Listening to the studio versions of some of their anime songs was actually a shock. The studio arrangements of such songs like D. Grayman’s “Snow Kiss” were often more traditional rock arrangements, rather than the intense electronica that filled the club the night of the concert. Limp arrangements by comparison, to boot: shifting them to a danceable, electronic mode improved them. An old rocker like me is loathe to admit that, but it’s true.
It also has to be said that it was nice to see a band on stage at Anime Expo with actual instruments—granted, the instruments being a keyboard, some computers, mixers, and electronic drum pads—but in every other show it was just singers singing to a backing track. I know that this is standard with many Japanese pop and anime singers; I know that the amount of money, effort, and time it takes to bring a whole live band over is probably prohibitive. (I’ve worked in live audio for a while now, so believe me, I know…) But there is a definite difference to the vibe when the people on stage are playing instruments of any kind vs just singing and dancing. Kalafina and Maon Kurosaki both gave impassioned performances, to be sure, and Miku’s live musicians were just a sideshow for the hologram up front, but Nirgilis was a band. I’m not sure how else I can explain it.
In short, what the Nirgilis show lacked in vocal mastery was more than made up for by great electronic arrangements and an actual concert vibe, no doubt helped by the lack of weighty expectations on them. In a way Anime Expo does its greatest service by inviting guests of this sort to the convention: we get to be introduced, rather than rehashed. And if the first introduction and impression is good, it sets the stage for a truly enjoyable show.