I know I’m a little bit late with this post, but I think it’s quite clear that I haven’t exactly been on top of updating my blog on a regular basis.
On top of that, Otakon 2010 wasn’t too different from previous years.
It was crowded with otaku, costumes and loot. There was shouting, singing and dancing. There was even a concert or two.
Well, that wasn’t the concert I was thinking of, but yes – KK Slider was there on Saturday night as well, to give his usual concert. I wonder if it takes a long time to travel from [your Animal Crossing village]?
The concert I had in mind – and the thing that stood out for me this year – was the performance by The Yoshida Brothers on Friday night. For those who aren’t familiar, the Yoshida Brothers play the shamisen, a traditional Japanese instrument that has a sound similar to a banjo, but is played much differently – both in terms of technique and musically.
The performance they put on was amazing. One complaint I’ve always had about Otakon was that the rooms of the Baltimore Convention Center (where Otakon is held every year) are not designed with ideal acoustics in mind. Videos, speeches and concerts always sound hampered by poor room design, and over-compensation with microphones.
Amazingly, though, this didn’t seem to hamper the performance by the Yoshida Brothers. While I feel their music would have been better served in a true arena, it still sounded great. The focus of the concert was, of course, the two brothers. Both were dressed in traditional clothing (kimono, I suspect), and sat at the front of the stage, ten feet or so between them. The brothers would either play together, or separately – as they did so, spotlights would illuminate whoever was playing at the time, with a color that would suit the melody or song. In addition to this, they had a drummer set up behind them, who had a full complement of rhythmic instruments, and his own set of spotlights. All together, it was a feast for the ears and the eyes.
At the end of the concert, the Brothers were kind enough to sign CDs for about an hour. They also had an autograph session the following afternoon, but it made sense to see them after their performance – especially since it was also difficult to know what else would be going on during the second signing session, and how busy it would be.
The following morning, they had a Q&A session. Well, it was titled a Q&A session. What it actually ended up being was part presentation, part lesson, part acoustic concert and part Q&A. The first part was a presentation about their history playing the shamisen, and what some of their recent projects have been. They showed a video with the full band they tour with in Japan (similar to the Otakon concert, but instead of just a drummer, it was a full compliment of instruments!), and a collaboration with a dance DJ.
The second part was a lesson on how the shamisen is actually played. While you could sort of figure it out by watching the Brothers play, they are so skilled and so quick in their movements, that it is difficult to follow exactly what it is they’re doing. So the lesson about what their shamisen are made of, what is used to play it, and the basic principles of how to play it, was very interesting. The most amusing thing was their comment that the material used behind the strings on the shamisen is very sensitive to moisture, and become fragile in high-humidity environments – which made me immediately wonder why they were playing in Baltimore in the middle of summer!
The third part was a brief acoustic performance to demonstrate the techniques they went over during the lesson. We had pretty good seats up front for the Q&A, but they allowed everyone to crowd up front for the concert. I mention this because I recorded the first part of the performance with my iPhone. It would have been perfect if it weren’t blocked with people, but oh well. I wish I had recorded the whole thing, but I wasn’t sure how long the performance would last and I didn’t want my phone to run out of space. Anyway, enjoy what I managed to capture:
The final part was the Q&A. It was fun to hear them answer the questions that people had, although it was arguably the least compelling part. Overall, however, it was the perfect follow-up to the concert, and the Yoshida Brothers’ visit. Without a doubt, my favorite con event this year :)