I didn’t really know what to expect . I bought tickets for something called “LA Idol Fest“, but there wasn’t much of a web site and little information about the scheduled acts. Tokyo Meru? Chii Sakurabi? PASTEL CALLA? Never heard of them. I knew the coming weekend was Anime Expo, so I thought I would gamble and start the weekend off a little early. I took care to avoid listening to the groups before the event, which is a bit like avoiding the trailer of an anticipated movie. On July 2, I went to the Nirvana Bar in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo and sat back expecting the worst.
I got there a bit early since I never know if set times are respected (this varies from venue to venue, act to act). The talent was still around conducting their preshow sound checks. Everything seemed professional: no one actually performed their songs and sang just enough to make the critical adjustments to monitor and sound levels. Thankfully, viewing the sound check did not spoil the performance.
The first act was PASTEL CALLA. This group of three high school girls, Maron, Ayaka, and Myu impressed me immediately. PASTEL CALLA is a well-composed vocal and dance unit in the vein of Fairies or Tokyo Girls’ Style. The first two songs performed were re-mixes for the anime opening songs to “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and “Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann“. As expected, PASTEL CALLA updated these songs to fit a vocal and dance unit in 2014. At this point, I didn’t know if the girls were a new unit or if the girls tailored their set to fit the Anime Expo crowd. The motivation for including these three songs was probably a combination of those two theories. Although the group was well-rehearsed, they seemed really new and a bit unused to live performances. As an added bonus, I high-fived all three girls on their way off the stage.
Tokyo Meru performed at the end of the night. I took a quick look at her waiting in the wings. First impression: she has purple hair! The tiny girl I saw wore hot pants and a midriff baring vest with wide lapels. Everything was sequined silver. Seeing her, I whispered to my friend, “She looks like she’s ready for a Hello! Project concert!” And, SURPRISE! Tokyo Meru’s first song was a cover of Fukimoto Miki’s “Romantic Ukare Mode“. Miki’s shadow falls long and harshly on this particular song, and performing Miki-sama’s song in cover is nothing to take lightly. Although Tokyo Meru doesn’t have the voice of Fujimoto (who does?), she is a great performer. I would probably compare her vocal work to Kusumi Koharu or Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (KPP’s “Tsukema Tsukeru” was among Meru-chan’s covers), although I think Meru-chan has a much better voice than Miracle-chan. Meru’s ability to work with the crowd and draw her audience impressed me greatly. At one point in her performance, Meru beckons a lucky audience member to the stage, holds his/her hand, and sings to the lucky person while looking into his/her eyes. It’s an incredible moment where the world stops for that lucky person. Did I mention how cute she is?
What do we do after a great night of idol performances? We stalk their booth at Anime Expo, of course! Stalking is too strong of a word. I did visit their booth (#1633) at the AX dealer’s room multiple times just to see both Tokyo Meru (and her purple hair) and PASTEL CALLA. This is how I got wind of another event in Little Tokyo on Saturday July 5 with both Tokyo Meru and PASTEL CALLA. This was my next destination.
The July 5 sun bore down on the Frances Hashimoto plaza in Little Tokyo. With no shade for the audience in sight, Tokyo Meru and PASTEL CALLA performed their first sets at around noon. Meru-chan started things that afternoon by giving me a balloon! She pulled in a few people to her performance through sheer will (and the power of kawaii). Even though there were not many people around the plaza, Meru drew most of the attendees and even some of the booth workers to watch her performance. Amazingly, PASTEL CALLA seemed to have gotten better over the last three days. Although they performed the same set as Wednesday night, the girls sharpened their movements and their vocals. When compared to Tokyo Meru, PASTEL CALLA’s vocal and dance talent were superior, although Meru-chan’s charisma and idol presence far out measures PASTEL CALLA’s stage presence. To summarize, PASTELL CALLA’s talent impresses while Tokyo Meru’s idol persona entertains. Two different strategies.
I stuck around for their second sets. Both acts changed outfits, as expected. Even though PASTEL CALLA performed another brilliant set, the afternoon clearly belonged to Tokyo Meru. Tokyo Meru drew an even bigger crowd for her 2:45pm performance. Like her other two performances, a rotation of cover songs mixed with her original songs. Although many of the audience did not seem to understand the idol ascetic, everyone was entertained and had a great time participating in the show. Most of the audience had a look that said, “I don’t know what I’m watching, but I’m having a great time!” It was amazing to see this slip of a girl start with no/little recognition visibly grow her fan base over the course of just a few hours. Some highlights of this performance: Meru-chan sang to the little kids in the audience, Meru-chan sang Kusumi Koharu’s “ Happy Happy Sunday!” , I got a chance to sing with Meru-chan again.
After the performance, I got another chance to talk to Meru-chan again. We got to express our love of Hello! Project and Morning Musume; she regrets not being able to perform MM songs as a solo artist. She expressed how much seeing a regular face (mine) at her lives lifted her spirits. I hope I properly conveyed how much I enjoyed her performances. Those days of following PASTEL CALLA and Tokyo Meru around Los Angeles and seeing their performances really highlight a year of incredible idol happenings in the US. I got a small taste of what it must be like to see idols on a regular basis, and I am going to miss seeing them both. But, don’t cry for me too much: next weekend I have Tokyo Girls’ Style, Itano Tomomi, and May’n on my agenda!
If you have the opportunity, please check these great idols out!