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On February 27th, 2016, Morning Musume。’16 performed their first solo concert of the year as the main guest of Anime Matsuri in Houston, Texas. It’s been approximately a year and a half since their last concert in the United States, and fans were extremely excited to see the girls back on their home turf again.

After the initial VTR introducing the members, the panels to the sides of the central monitor lit up, and the lights began flashing red, white, and blue. The members came onto the stage as One and Only began to play, greeted by the enthusiastic cheers of fans and con-goers alike.

Being the sole Morning Musume。 song with lyrics completely in English, many fans could sing along, and I heard a good amount of people happily doing so around me. Next up was Oh My Wish!, a personal favorite of mine from last year’s releases. During this song, I made sure to keep an eye on the three member dance group of Fukumura Mizuki, Ikuta Erina, and Ishida Ayumi, since I was curious about the dance formation changes after Sayashi Riho’s graduation last year. As expected, the adaptation to member changes was flawless, and not a single move looked out of place.

After the initial two songs, the members introduced themselves in English! It was obvious that they worked hard to remember their introductions, and even during the few slip ups, fans greeted them with warm cheers of adoration. When Nonaka Miki began her introduction, I could hear cheers from all around the audience, even people further back in the crowd screaming, “Whoa! She speaks English!!!” and “Welcome back!!!”. She was met with lots of support despite being injured and performing while seated. When it came time for Suzuki Kanon’s self-introduction, the audience broke out into loud cheers. This time, they were even more enthusiastic than they were for her reception in New York, due to her upcoming graduation.

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After the introductions, we were led back into the concert with Endless Sky. Quite a number of fans teared up when the members sang the last chorus in unison, a part that was originally Sayashi Riho’s solo. It was clear that this song held a meaningful connection to both the members’ and fans’ hearts. This was followed up by Renai Hunter and Sukatto My Heart, both songs that are special to the western fans, as something they bonded around.

Next was a number I didn’t expect at all: Love & Peace! HEROga Yattekita。

I’ve always wanted to see this song live, but have never gotten the chance to, as it’s rarely performed these days. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to finally see this in person, especially  since it’s quite a change from the formation dance that’s been prominent these days. The choreography in this song leaves a lot of freedom for the members to mess around on stage! Kudo Haruka and Ikuta Erina were playfully acting out the lyrics while several members would run around Nonaka Miki, engaging her in their antics.

After this, the members went backstage in teams of 6 to change while we were treated to an English MC led by none other than 8th generation OG of Morning Musume。, Mitsui Aika! The members answered questions asked by fans taken before the concert, and they also taught everybody in the crowd Japanese phrases to remember!

When the MC was over, the girls reunited on stage in black outfits from last year’s Prism tour, outfits I really loved for the surprise they held! They came out and began the medley of classic Morning Musume。 songs in their updated reincarnations. During Renai Revolution 21, the girls revealed the transformation of those black dresses one by one, unveiling a beautiful white outfit hidden inside! Furthermore, the white dresses were adorned with American flags on the skirt and various Houston badges on the tops! The fans were ecstatic to see an outfit customized for the American performance once again.

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After the medley, it was time for the next MC, which included a photo session to capture all the members and the audience! The girls then showed off their new customized outfits while a “USA!” chant broke out and got everyone revved up even more!

Following this was another 5 consecutive songs. A truly beautiful performance of Tsumetai Kazeto Kataomoi, followed by The Matenrou Show, Aino Gundan, Wagamama Kinomama Aino Joke, and What is LOVE?. At the beginning of each song, cheers would break out in the crowd, each fan showing their enthusiasm when their favorite song came up. Some never got the chance to see their favorite song performed live before, while some were just glad to hear them, no matter how many times they already have. Regardless, each song was tons of fun to follow along to, and the crowd just couldn’t get enough!

After What is LOVE?, the girls retreated backstage, and encore chants broke out. Soon enough, these calls of “encore” morphed into calls of “Zukki”, with the fans eager to show some extra love for the girl who’ll be graduating at the end of this year’s Spring tour.

Finally, the lights dimmed before the intro of How Do You Like Japan played, and Ishida Ayumi came out on stage, followed by the other members! This song got everyone going crazy, as it’s a fun rock-infused number meant to be jumped along to! Morning Musume。 performed this song at Anime Expo in 2009 once, and maybe since it was the first time for many fans to see them live back then, the crowd reaction was a bit lacking. This time, however, almost felt like a revenge for American fans, as nearly everyone I could see around me was jumping along to the beat and the girls would come to the edge of the stage to pump everyone up even more! It was a great song to get the remaining energy out of the fans before the next and last MC.

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Fukumura Mizuki, the current leader of the group, expressed the members’ gratitude in an English letter addressed to the fans. Everybody listened carefully, and finally cheered as the leader ended her speech with a cool “I’ll be back!”.

Finally, we were met with the last song of the concert: crowd favorite, One Two Three! Despite just using so much energy in How Do You Like Japan, everyone enthusiastically jumped along to the chorus, calling out the iconic “One!”, “Two!”, and “Three!”.

As the song came to an end, the members said their final thanks and goodbyes as they returned backstage.

Ending Thoughts

This setlist showed both the strengths of current Morning Musume。’16, as well as the history of the group leading up until now. Production-wise, the quality of stage effects were excellent, and I would not hesitate to say that it’s been the best Morning Musume。 concert in the U.S. yet. The lights, monitor graphics, and side panel monitors came closer to replicating the quality of their Japan concerts more than ever. On top of that, there were even airborne cameras that you’d see footage from every once in awhile on the big screen.

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Even though I frequently visit Japan to catch Morning Musume。’s Spring and Autumn tours, every performance in the US is also a must. It’s a whole nother sensation, an experience vastly different from what you get in Japan. It was truly a pleasure to see the girls for the first time since last year, and to be able to witness the growth of the members as well as the strength of the group as a whole. With this concert, they not only impressed the fans who came to see them, but must’ve also made lots of new fans out of the many con-goers who decided to check it out!

SET LIST

Opening VTR
01. One and Only
02. Oh My Wish!
MC1 Member introductions
03. ENDLESS SKY
04. Renai Hunter (updated)
05. Skatto My Heart
06. Love & Peace! HEROga Yattekita。
MC2 Mitsui Aika’s corner

Medley:

07. Souda We’re ALIVE (updated)
08. LOVE Machine (updated)
09. Renai Revolution 21 (updated)
MC3
10. Tsumetai Kazeto Katamaomoi
11. The Matenrou Show
12. Aino Gundan
13. Wagamama Kinomama Aino Joke
14. What is LOVE?
ENCORE
EN1. HOW DO YOU LIKE JAPAN
MC4 Final MC
EN2. One・Two・Three (updated)