July 25, Yebisu Garden Hall
By Mariko Lochridge
Photos by Akira Matsumoto
Two thumbs up to B.O.B. aka Bobby Ray for his exceptional performance
Sunday. Two thumbs down to Creativeman for their dismal promotion.
B.O.B. is not just a talented rapper. I was pleasantly shocked to
discover his versatility as an artist and a performer. He started the
evening off with crisp lyrics and the distinctive voice that has had him
compared to Outkast's Big Boi.
Jumping around stage with so
much energy you'd never know he'd been jetsetting from Atlanta to New
Zealand to Australia to Osaka and finally to Tokyo, Japan in less than 2
weeks. Playboy Tre who was there either as a hype man or opener (I'm
still not sure) looked awkward on stage trying to match Bobby Ray's
boundless energy. Something like Busta Rhymes meets a pixie stick his
genuine enthusiasm had me bouncing around like a 7 year old on a pogo
stick in time with his beats.
However, Bobby Ray brought more to
the stage than his energy. There was a freshness in his attitude and
obvious effort to connect with the audience. Unfortunately this is
normally not the case with many big American acts (particularly in hip
hop) when they travel to Japan. Luckily for Sunday's audience it looks
like B.O.B. has yet to adopt the 'I think I'll enjoy my Japan vacation'
attitude. He rocked the stage well past the alloted concert time with a
generous encore of nearly 30 minutes.
Starting the night off
with a few hype tracks that showed off his lyrical ability as a rapper
best showcased on his 2010 mixtape "B.O.B. vs Bobby Ray"; he then
cleared the stage and with only a guitar and spotlight sang an
angst-ridden "Letters from Vietnam". It was something reminiscent of
60s folksinger Joan Baez and while it could have ended up being
something corny or trying too hard it came off as sincere. In the
beginning I was unsure whether or not the artist, well-known for his
carefree attitude and rapid fire lyrics, was joking and about to break
into a satirical verse with a comedic twist 30 seconds into his
singing. Yet by the end of the song it was clear that this was also
B.O.B., another side of him that has so far not been accessible via his
prodigal (1 million dollars and counting) promotion by music label
Not surprisingly he performed the joint that launched
him into crossover mainstream fame 'Nothin on You'; Bruno Mars never
uttered a word to sing his part- the audience knew the chorus word for
word. And as part of his encore he reprised recent #1 radio hit
'Airplanes' which turned out to be a letdown as a finale. The lyrics
are gimmicky at best. The song lacked the B.O.B. stamp of innovation
that had dominated the mood of the rest of the show.
familiar with his talent as a producer (personal favorites include
'Already There' and the more popular 'Satellite') I had no clue he could
play the guitar and the piano with that level of finesse. Something
like John Legend meets Outkast with a new innovative electro sound on
many of his tracks that can only be aptly B.O.B.-described as 'not of
this world'. Atlantic will certainly continue to be happy with the
investment they have made in B.O.B.
I have only two complaints
with the show: one being that I wish we'd had a little more Bobby Ray
communication with the audience. I felt like shouting, don't be scared
Bobby Ray! Talk to us! It might be Japan, and you might be from outer
space but if you talk we will listen! And the other biggest
disappointment was the audience. With Quattro in Osaka filling to an
optimistic guess of 300 and Yebisu Beer Garden only having the front
third of the hall filled with cheering fans (the empty space in the back
was hard to ignore) it was clear that Creativeman had done little to
promote the party.
Most of the audience looked suspiciously
like music industry types, label members, music website managers and
distributors. At least 50 or so had received their tickets for free
last minute and the rest had either stumbled upon the event by accident
or were so hardcore in their love of B.O.B. that they had navigated
through mostly English websites to learn about his tour to Japan.
someone that frequents Yebisu beer garden 3-4 times a week and reads
Japanese hip hop magazines and blogs daily I knew that Creativeman had
invited an All-Star hip hop cast to the annual outdoor concert event
Summer Sonic. However I had no clue that they were bringing the artist
with the number one CD in America to Japan until a friend in Patchwerk
Studio in Atlanta (B.O.B. records there) told me. And it's a shame
because I already own the album 'The Adventures of Bobby Ray' and my
girlfriend (who'd never heard of B.O.B. before the concert) now owns it
too. Two thumbs up to B.O.B. for a great Sunday night experience and
two thumbs down to the promotion for not giving more Tokyoites the
opportunity to travel out of this world with Atlien Bobby Ray.