March 31 found Maaya Sakamoto celebrating her birthday in the Budōkan with a 15th Anniversary Concert: Gift. This report covers this spectacle of a concert, with its sensational surprise guests, heartfelt comments during interludes, first attempts, and brilliant climax.
On March 31, 2010, her 30th birthday and release day for her best-hits album “everywhere”, Maaya Sakamoto performed for the first time at the Budōkan with her 15th Anniversary Concert: Gift. In this concert at the intersection of various timings, Maaya gave a strong, honest expression of what she has experienced over her music career since she was 15, and the identity she gained as an artist during that time.
Her charm as a singer came through vibrantly right from the opening number with “Gift”. For this tune she donned a cute dress with a “gift” motif (later in the concert she commented during an interlude that the dress “made her into a gift”). In her adorable outfit, she sang in the midst of the celebratory mood spreading through the arena with a truly charming voice. An innocent girlishness, combined with a resolute and powerful tone, and perfect pitch—this depth of vocalization overpowers one in a moment.
“Good evening, everyone. Maaya Sakamoto is 30! Today, March 31, is my 30th birthday and the release date for my best-hits album ‘everywhere’. I’m so happy I can spend this special day with all of you.” After this interlude, she went on to perform boldly colorful songs one after another: “blind summer fish”, with its refined strains joined with a classical aura, “Hemisphere”, with a rhythm drawn from drum ‘n’ bass, “Yucca”, a track that evokes the sounds of UK rock from the 90s, and “30minutes night flight”, which expands into a floating melody from a beat carried on the footsteps of a refreshing sprint. “I’ve been blessed with meetings, and from those I’ve learned much. While I sing I reflect on what a joy it is to be surrounded by people I love.” Introduced by these comments was “Remedy”, followed by a lonesome, lyrical rendition of the “end of a love” in “Black Tea”, the up-tempo “SONIC BOOM”, which strikes the heart with its message of “changing thoughts into reality”, and after a solo from Yasuo Sano (drums) and Izumi Misawa (percussion), a performance of “Sea of Miracles”—a ballad with an impressive melody that captures a South American atmosphere—the vocals for which had tremendous beauty beyond words. One rarely comes across a singer whose powers of expression are this varied.
The midpoint of the concert formed around a core of such velvety, soothing songs as “gravity”, “Weathervane”, “Daniel”, and an acoustic guitar version of “Daniel”. Here Yōko Kanno stepped on stage (to an eruption of thunderous applause and cheers from the audience) and performed a piano medley with Maaya. It goes without saying that Kanno, who was Maaya’s producer from 1996 to 2003, has a huge place in the heart of Maaya Sakamoto the singer. Starting with the intro to “I Don’t Need a Promise” and transitioning through “Ring -23 carat-”, “Active Heart”, “Alkaloid”, “Dawn Octave”, “Tell me what the rain knows”, “tune the rainbow”, “Chocolate and Courage” (a commercial jingle for Tyrol Chocolate—with the last line changed to “birthday at the Budōkan”), “Triangler”, and “I Don’t Need a Promise”, the medley, while being the highlight of the concert, illustrated the high quality of the music the two had created.
Maaya herself took up a red Telecaster and with a reverberating power chord opened “Get No Satisfaction!”, which she followed with a series of up-tempo tracks with “Mameshiba” and “Private Sky”, drawing the atmosphere in the arena to a peak. Her hopes to “live my life without forgetting about love” even while facing solitude rang out from “Let There Be Light” and left a powerful impression.
Finally, before singing “I.D.”, the last number on the slate, she began to speak of her memories from the last 15 years. Of her CD debut that came without warning when she was 16. Of how happy she was to hear praise for her work when she thought she was a plain girl with no special talents. Of the fear she felt as the name Maaya Sakamoto spread throughout various media and people she didn’t know formed their own ideas of her. Of her struggle to somehow put her vague feelings into words as she first started to write lyrics for her album “DIVE” and came face-to-face with herself. Of her wish today to turn to her teenage self and say, “Don’t worry, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
In the 15 years since her debut, Maaya has confronted the theme of “Who am I?” And today, having turned 30, she has proof of her existence as a singer as she sings before a vast audience songs that could well be called universal. Her course of expression that began with “I.D.” is set to bear fruit on this Budōkan stage—bringing forth an abundant surge of emotion that promises to be a blessing for her future.
The impressive scenes continue into the encore. For “A Jet Waiting for Wind”, Shōko Suzuki, the song’s composer, appears on stage, and after singing “Happy Birthday” with the audience (a happily surprised Maaya shouted, “You said there wouldn’t be any surprises!!”), participated in the performance on drums. Following this was a piano-accompanied version of “everywhere”, a new song included in the best-hits album that conveys an earnest message of, “People were born to be loved.” And finally, “Empty Your Pockets”, featuring both Yōko Kanno and Shōko Suzuki. With the joined harmony of the audience filling the arena and Maaya’s words of, “Tomorrow your normal, everyday life begins. Find joy in your life as you live, and let’s definitely meet again,” this jewel of a concert came to a close.
Maaya Sakamoto has clearly taken the sum of the 15 years since her debut and used them to elevate her music to incredible heights. After a Budōkan concert to remember, she again sets out on a new journey. What kind of songs will Maaya, who says that she “wants to enjoy her life more from now on,” bring us in the future? One can’t help but look forward to them.