For long-term Shiina Ringo fans, the last few years have been quite a slog. While her commercial success and market relevance are of no question, it’s been very testing for some of her followers to stay on-board. Having to survive on only little breadcrumbs or tastes of her music in the form of CM tie-ins or songs written for other artists, the test of faith in the fandom has been an arduous one to say the least. However, finally something has come along that’s more than just a nugget of material- a new DVD/Blu Ray set that offers TWO discs of live footage- and let’s face it- at the current moment in time, Shiina Ringo’s live work is the closest semblance of what Shiina Ringo fans know and love.
Shiina Ringo last week released her newest major addition to her catalog, the DVD/Blu Ray of “Shiina Ringo to Aitsura ga Yuki Hyakkiyako 2015” and without going too far ahead- is the most worthwhile –if imperfect– release from the artist in years. The first disc is an extended, re-edited version of the Kanagawa Kenmin Hall show broadcast on WOWOW just over a year ago. It features all the songs from that plus an additional four, Yume no Tochuu, Kirakira Bushi, Sakasa ni Kazoete and the biggest one of them all for fans- Kyogenshou. This was recorded in December of 2015. The second disc is an unreleased recording of a short, ten song private session at the same venue in February of 2016.
First up- the most important part of it all- the performances. Shiina Ringo here is sexy, well presented, sounds great (those rolling ‘r’s are present!) and ever so slightly hints at those punk rock roots. After dabbling for quite a long while in jazzy, cabaret and pure pop pomp arena style shows, it’s great to see Ringo hit a kind of middle ground. She never fully goes rock or jazz here, and never really overdoes that showmanship that came to an embarrassing high (that would make even Ayumi Hamasaki blush) on Ringo Expo ’14. Here it all seems more natural, fierce and less phoned in. There are still a few moments that this reviewer scoffed at- but in a more playful way, rather than a cringe.
Her backing band (named MANGARAMA) is still quite large (an 8 piece outfit)- but not uncomfortably and distractedly so. Every member is wonderful and play off each other well. Long time collaborators HZM and Ukigumo take a lot of the spotlight throughout- and the brass section backing up the rock is all held tightly together by drummer Tamada Tomu. It’s loud, bombastic and energetic. However, pop in the second disc- and it’s a very different affair. The same members are all there, but this time it feels far more intimate- they are playing to themselves, and you are peering in. This really shows the talent that Ringo has behind her- and quite often they outshine the star.
Costume aficionados will be pleased to know that Ringo has a very wide variety on display here, yet never do they feel overly pompous or distracting. Mixing a blend of traditional Japanese with Western attire, there’s always something quite breathtaking to look look at. Even making that nod to her most iconic image- she dons a nurse outfit akin to her classic “Honnou” music video for part of the show. She looks good throughout both discs- the second being all the more intriguing due to how laid back her outfits are, where the main obvious changes come through the different hats she is wearing, stemming from a sleek top hat to a Sherlock Holmes-esque cap. One would dare use the word ‘simple‘ if comparing them to the more brash retina burners from her Expo events.
The song choices on both discs are mostly strong, and present quite the mixed bag of older gems, massive hits and more recent singles. For this reviewer, seeing so much representation of the often underappreciated 2009 album “Sanmon Gossip” is really something special. Being a release from Ringo’s latter career, it is expected of course, that Ringo would include such vapid crowd-pleasers such as NIPPON and Nagaku Mijikai Matsuri, but to the band’s credit, they breeze past and don’t cause too much discomfort for the listener. These songs do, however, exhibit their weaknesses quite obviously compared to the giants that surround them.
Major highlights on the first disc are the fiery rendition of Keikoku, energetic Mayakashi Yasatoko which arguably trumps the studio original, adorably dopey Kirakira Bushi, surprising Togatta Teguchi and show staple Tsumi to Batsu (where Ringo reaches some of the best vocal peaks she has in quite a while). The second disc, while tamer, has one of the most gorgeous renditions of Ariamaru Tomi she will likely ever perform, a very sweet Onna no Ka Wa Daredemo, a soulful Shun, and even an outrageously good rendition of a track from hit-and-miss album Hi Izuru Tokoro, personal favorite Chinchinpuipui.
On the technical side- the audio on the main disc is definitely a step up from the WOWOW broadcast in general. It sounds like a blanket has been pulled off the entire presentation, and despite a few niggling bits of audible clipping – an unfortunate trademark on most Shiina Ringo related material – it’s quite pleasing. The second disc, however, is where things really shine: with less going on and a more focussed audio track, things sound warmer and more comfortable to the listener here; it’s the most beautiful Shiina Ringo live recording since “Toutaikai Heisei Nijuu Go Nen Kamiyama Chou Taikai”, and hardcore fans will be drooling over this one.
The picture quality (in regards to the Blu Ray), like most of Shiina Ringo’s true HD releases, is superb: truly deep blacks accentuate the shadows and mood of the stage, the lighting effects come through quite strikingly, and shades of deep blue and crimson greatly come through without bleeding into one another. Close ups too are very detailed, and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of flicker throughout the entire show. The second disc is slightly softer in detail but given the nature of the show, it is completely fine. It’s a brighter looking set, and generally feels almost like a video of a rehearsal than a full live event. Either way, both discs pack a punch on the video side and are pleasing to the eye regardless. Again, a step up from the previous WOWOW broadcast on pretty much every level.
Ultimately, if there’s one true niggle; it’s the overarching feeling that what true excitement could have been had is slightly quashed by the fact that the bulk of material on this new Blu Ray is almost two years old. Couple that with the fact that the bulk of the main disc has been broadcast on television previously it leaves a slight hollow feeling after viewing it. The new disc is a wonder albeit a little on the shorter side. Perhaps if it didn’t take Universal and Kronekodow so long to get onto this show it would have seemed more of a major release. Still, as it is- it’s definitely a must have for the majority of Shiina Ringo fans- particularly with that short, sweet second disc. One can only guess what Ringo will be aiming for next, but for now, it’s something to hold onto.
Certainly a more rewarding live release than whatever Ringo Expo ’14 was, “Shiina Ringo to Aitsura ga Yuki Hyakkiyako 2015” is heartily recommended even if you’re iffy on her current output. No-one’s gonna claim it’s her best live recording ever- but it’s certainly her best rock show since Tokyo Jihen‘s 2010 release “Ultra C“.
Get on it.