On Saturday and Sunday, February 11 and 12, 2012, Buono! was in Paris, France, to hold their first overseas events ever (a concert and two autograph sessions.) I was present at each of these events. Read on to see how it all went down!

For some background, read my previous article, Buono! in Paris: Concert Preview

Saturday: autographs at the Kawaii Café

Buono!’s first public appearance in Paris was on Saturday afternoon at the Kawaii Café on Rue de Nemours, not too far from Place de la République.  This was a one-hour autograph session limited to 100 people. To get in, one needed to register there in person starting at noon, and then return at 4 PM for the actual event.

Due to the large demand, the limited spaces, and the fact that the Sunday post-concert autograph session was already filled, people began lining up very early on that particularly cold morning. By 7:30 AM, there were already 60 people in line; and if you arrived after 8:45, you were too late.

I myself didn’t line up in the morning because, through some sort of miracle of inter-continental network connectivity, I was lucky enough to have gotten my name on the list for the Sunday session.  But I did head down there for the event, hoping to catch my first glimpse of Buono! in Paris.

I found the place around 3 PM, and as the hour of Buono!’s arrival drew near, that little street filled up with about 200 very excited fans.  When the staff began clearing the sidewalk from the corner to the door of the café, we knew Buono! would be here any minute.

Buono!’s van let them off on the cross street, and they slowly walked toward the corner.  Wearing their neon-pink Hatsukoi Cider outfits, they were a striking vision as they suddenly came into view, and the fans cheered and waved wildly.  The girls smiled broadly and waved back enthusiastically as they walked down the sidewalk, clearly excited and happy about the outpouring of emotion from their international fans.

After Buono! entered the café, ecstatic fans, some in cosplay, crowded around the windows and chanted, “Buono! Buono! Buono!”  Airi was delighted, and she laughed, clapped her hands, pumped her fist, and flashed peace signs to the crowd.

Fans began filing in to have their special edition “Buono! Paris Collection” CDs autographed. I was not among them, but I heard that the autograph session was very relaxed, not at all rushed. People were able to take some time to talk to the girls, and some even got handshakes from them.

As the autograph session was going on inside, an impromptu Buono! block party was underway outside. Buono! songs were playing from a car stereo, and some fans were doing the chants and practicing a few wotagei moves. Others were still trying to peer inside the windows to get another precious peek at their favorite idols.

After an hour went by, and all one hundred sets of autographs were received, it was time again to clear the sidewalk to prepare for Buono!’s departure.  People lined the opposite sides of both streets along their path.  As Buono! exited the café, Airi couldn’t contain her joy at having met so many of these enthusiastic fans for the first time, and she jumped up and down, waving both arms in the air.

The girls walked out to their van, smiling and waving excitedly all the way, in appreciation for the loud cheers of all who were gathered there.

Here’s my video digest of the day’s events; I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Sunday: Concert at La Machine du Moulin Rouge

The next day, Sunday, was the day of the big concert that over 800 fans had been eagerly awaiting ever since it was first announced three months earlier.

As usual, some folks arrived early in the morning to be at the front of the line and assure themselves a spot near the stage.  Fortunately, the weather was not quite as cold as it had been the previous day.

When I got there a little before noon, there seemed to be about 150-200 people in line already.  Another 200 or so showed up over the next couple of hours.

Buono! arrived sometime around 2 PM, pulling up to the front door in their white van, and giving the early arrivers at the head of the line a well-deserved treat.

The doors were scheduled to open at 4:30, and as that time approached, the excitement and anticipation kept building.  Shouts of “MIYAAAAA!”, “MOMOKOOOO!”, and “AIRIIIIII!” became more and more frequent.

The doors may have opened at 4:30, but I didn’t get into the place until maybe 5:20, and I really wasn’t all that far back in line. I don’t know if they were actually trying to check IDs at first, like they said they would, but it would have taken all night to do that for 800 people. By the time they ushered me in, it was just a matter of having your barcode scanned, and if the machine beeped, you were in.

I found a spot on the right side of the floor, about 5 or 6 rows back from the stage.  There wasn’t a large gap between the first row and the stage – no “photographer’s pit” – so I was actually very close, and this would turn out to be an excellent vantage point.  The video cameras were set up a bit further back.

Before the concert started, there were H!P music videos playing on a large screen at the back of the stage:  Kikkawa Yuu, S/mileage, Buono!, Berikyuu, etc.  The crowd was cheering and singing along loudly with each video.

To introduce the Buono! concert, they showed excerpts from the video where Buono! first learned they’d be playing in Paris, intercut with Buono! music video clips. And on each song clip, they showed how high that music video ranked on J-Top (a weekly J-Pop Top Ten show on the French cable channel NoLife.)

Then Buono! hit the stage and gave a great performance of Hatsukoi Cider to open the show, accompanied by a strong “1-2-3-4” countoff by the audience (who obviously had seen Buono!’s instructional video on that subject.)  In fact, the crowd was very loud and enthusiastic throughout the show, and glow-sticks were in abundance (provided free to those who didn’t happen to bring their own.)

Here’s the set list they used for the concert:

01. Hatsukoi Cider
02. We Are Buono!
03 .Nakimushi Shounen
MC 1
04. Rottara Rottara
05. Honto no Jibun
06. Kokoro no Tamago
07. Minna Daisuki
08. Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!
09. Independent Girl
10. Deep Mind
11. Juicy He@rt
12. Bravo★Bravo
13. Renai♥Rider
14. Warp
MC 2
15. Rock no Kamisama

Comparing this to the set list of their current concert tour in Japan, “R•E•A•L”, the first four songs are identical; and the last eight songs are nearly identical, except that Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! was moved up before Independent Girl.  From in between those two sections, only Honto no Jibun and Kokoro no Tamago remained, and Minna Daisuki was added.

I have no complaints about this set list.  It comprises a nice mix of classic Buono! songs of both their lighter “cute/anime” style and their heavier “rock/punk” style.  And it also includes their two latest songs, Hatsukoi Cider and Deep Mind.  For a 90-minute concert, this set list gives a good representation of Buono!’s song catalog, and makes for a very enjoyable show.

The girls started strong with the first three songs, and the audience was ecstatic to finally see Buono! perform live.

The first MC segment was hosted by a local woman who acted as a translator between the audience and Buono! The girls introduced themselves as they normally do. After Miya’s turn, the audience chanted, “Miyabeam! Miyabeam! Miyabeam!” and she was happy to oblige by “beaming” the delighted crowd.

During this MC, the girls talked about their time in Paris, and also about the meaning of some of the words in their names. Momoko showed off her “yurushite nyan.” Some fans in the front row held up a big banner for Buono! that read “Welcome to France / We love Buono!” in Japanese. And finally, the girls taught the audience the “Rottara, rottara, rottara!” dance move, which led into a performance of Rottara Rottara.

After that, they performed Honto no Jibun and Kokoro no Tamago.  Then, they only took about forty seconds before going into Minna Daisuki, followed by Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! Then another 40-second break before launching into a six-song block that they performed virtually without interruption.

So, starting with Rottara Rottara and ending with Warp, they performed eleven songs in a row with very little downtime in between.  That was an ambitious effort, and certainly enjoyable for the fans.  However, I think the girls may have been getting a little tired toward the end, as their vocals were a bit off during Renai♥Rider. But they rebounded after that with an energetic rendition of Warp.

After Warp, the girls began speaking to the audience in French. My French is not very good, but I think they said, “We have prepared a letter. We are going to read it.”  It got off to an amusing start as Momoko read a few words that no one seemed to understand.  But she tried again, and the crowd responded with cheers.  Each girl took a turn reading a portion of the letter. In part, I believe their letter said something like, “We are happy to have our first overseas live in France! The weather is cold, but you have warmed our hearts! We hope to return soon!”  The audience loved it, and responded with loud chants of “Buono! Buono! Buono!”

After that, they performed Rock no Kamisama as their last song, said goodbye, and exited the stage. The house lights remained off, and the crowd began chanting for an encore.  After a while, the girls came back onto the stage, not to do another song, but to say thank you and goodbye again, in a sort of “curtain call.”  They exited again. Still, the house lights remained off, and the crowd continued to chant for an encore. This went on for maybe another five or ten minutes. Finally, the host from the earlier MC came onto the stage to tell everyone that the concert was over and they needed to leave, whereupon she was roundly booed.

So what happened here?  Reports I’ve heard indicate that they simply had never planned to do an encore.  They were given a 90-minute time slot, so they planned a 90-minute show. But then why leave the house lights down after the end? Perhaps there was some miscommunication among the various staff and crew.  Reports are that someone in the control booth was making an apparently urgent telephone call during this time.  In any case, there was clearly quite a bit of confusion behind the scenes.

It’s a shame that this great event had to end with such a screw-up. These days, an encore is standard procedure at pop concerts. Whatever one might think of this practice, the fact is that it has become a tradition, and is expected by audiences as a matter of course… especially if you tease them by letting them chant “Encore!” in the dark for 15 minutes. When a tradition is ignored, some unpleasantness can result… such as booing at a Buono! concert.

Alternatively, I think if they had simply announced ahead of time that the concert would be 90 minutes, and there would be no time for an encore due to scheduling issues, most people would have understood and accepted that.

While this was certainly the biggest glitch of the night, the show had a few other problems as well.

From where I was standing, near the very front, the sound was not very good.  It was quite loud, and heavily dominated by bass; so much so, that I had trouble recognizing the musical intros for a couple of the songs.  The sound quality may have been a bit better further back, according to what I’ve heard from other attendees.

Another issue was in the visual presentation.  The whole show was just the three girls on a bare stage, along with some white and colored flashing lights from overhead.  After a while, it just started to feel a bit barren.  It would have been nice if they had dressed up the stage a little, or used the video screen behind the girls to add some interesting visual elements to the show.

And finally, I for one really missed Buono!’s backing band, Dolce. One of the things I love about Buono! is that they play their concerts with a live band.  If you watch their concert DVDs, you’ll see they usually perform the first part of their show with recorded music, but then Dolce will join them in the second half for the more hard-rocking part of the show. When they do, you can really feel the energy level get a big boost. It becomes much more of a party atmosphere on stage.  The band rocks out, the girls interact with the band members, and they all feed off each other’s energy. Unfortunately, the absence of a live band in Paris meant that extra spark was missing.

Still, if the purpose of this show was to finally bring Buono! together with their overseas fans, so that each could personally express their love and appreciation for the other during an evening that none would ever forget… then it was a smashing success. For proof of that, one only needed to listen to how loud and enthusiastic the audience was from start to finish.

After the concert: autographs at La Machine

For me and 99 other concert attendees, the best part of the evening was yet to come, because we would be meeting Buono! after the concert for an autograph session. I was going to have them all sign the back cover of my Rock ‘n Buono! 4 Visual Book.

We were told to wait in the bar area until the concert hall cleared out.  Then, we lined up, and were sent upstairs in groups of five or six at a time, where we had to wait again at the top of a staircase. From there, we would be sent into the upstairs lounge, where the event was taking place.

After having to wait on a dark, dingy staircase for five minutes, it was a dramatically uplifting experience to enter that bright, lovely lounge area, where all was quiet except for the talking and laughter of the Buono! girls.

Airi, Momoko, and Miyabi had freshened up and changed into their own clothes, and they all looked happy, relaxed, and radiant.

Momoko was first in line.  I said hello to her, and told her that I had seen her in Seattle, pointing out my Berryz Kobo wristband from Sakura-Con. (BK sold the wristbands there in support of the tsunami relief effort.) She said, “Oh, Seattle? Oh!” first with a look of surprise, then with a smile.

I watched her carefully draw her “Momochi peach” signature, and when she was done, I told her, “For me, you are bigger than Tom Cruise!” (referring to when she recently met Tom Cruise at an event in Japan.)  She got all excited and bubbly over this, and words just came spilling out of her. I don’t even remember everything she said, but the gist of it was that she appreciated my comment, and in fact she thought I was absolutely right! The last thing she said was, “I am happy!” (This is something she also said to me in Seattle, by which she basically means, “Thanks, that’s nice of you to say, that makes me happy.”)

Miyabi was next. I couldn’t really think of much to say to her, because I was still reeling from Momo’s reaction, and also anticipating meeting Airi for the first time (which I was very excited about.) So I also told Miya that I had seen her in Seattle, and that I will be seeing her in New Jersey. I don’t remember much about her reaction; I think she just smiled and nodded. But after she finished signing and handed back my book, she made me very happy by extending both her hands toward me for a handshake! So we smiled and shook hands, I thanked her, and then I moved on to Airi.

When I turned to Airi, I said, “Hello!” and she said, “Oh! Hello!” as if she was surprised that I was speaking English instead of French. So I told her that I was American, and I said, “It’s very nice to meet you.” She said, “Nice to meet you, too,” and began signing my book. Then I told her, “I like your sense of humor.” She asked, “Humor?” and I got the impression she didn’t know the word (she actually pronounced it more like “yumaa”.) So I said, “Humor…. Funny.” And she seemed to get it. I continued, “…Like your High-Tensionオウム.” She laughed and said, “Oh yes! High-Tensionオウム!” Then she looked at me, kind of surprised, and asked, “You know that?” And I nodded and said, “Yeah!” and we smiled at each other.  Then she handed me my book, and held out her right hand for a handshake. We shook hands, I thanked her, and then we said “Bye” to each other.

This encounter made me an even bigger fan of Airi than I already was. She was so nice, friendly, charming, and easy to talk to.  So… genuine.  Throughout our conversation, she was looking into my eyes and smiling warmly.  She seemed quite comfortable conversing in English, and she didn’t even have much of an accent.  She just continues to impress me in every way, and I look forward to watching her progress over the coming years.

And that is pretty much the end of my Buono! in Paris story.  It was a terrific weekend, and I hope we can all do it again somewhere, sometime!