I hadn't realized this until last night, but the pop band Round Table is a somewhat different entity from the group known as Round Table Featuring Nino. The latter merely adds the female singer Nino to the former, but the two release albums on different labels (Featuring Nino is on Victor Entertainment, while indie Happiness Records is Round Table's label), and Featuring Nino is also a big producer of anime soundtrack songs, something that Round Table itself is, as far as I know, not that big on. In addition, whereas Round Table plays live fairly frequently, mostly in Shimokitazawa, Nino almost never does—in fact, I found out later that the Round Table Featuring Nino show last night was only the second gig ever since Nino joined the group in 2002 (Round Table proper has been around since 1997).
The show was at the Daikanyama Unit, and it was supposed to be a 'secret', free gig—it wasn't listed on the club's schedule or the band's website, and you got tickets by sending in an e-mail to the Round Table website or something. I'm not sure how the process worked exactly because, Japan Live being a Major Player in the Tokyo music scene these days, I was invited to the show...well, no, joking, I just knew someone who could get me into the gig as a guest. The guests had their own section on one side of the floor, divided by a fence, that you got into by flashing your guest pass at the staff and walking a narrow space between the main floor and PA booth.
It was a queer experience watching the show from the segregated 'guest' section. On the other side of the fence, the floor was jam-packed, mostly with people that appeared to be male anime fans; the guest section wasn't crowded, and was mostly musician friends of Round Table, both male and female. And we had a nice view of the stage, something that the main floor guys could only get if they lined up before the show to secure a good spot. But it was they that were really having a great time, despite being herded into a tight, hot, sweat-stinking space—many of them must have been Nino fans for years, seeing her live the first time, finally, so they were excited. I read later on 2 Channel that some of those fans came from places far from Tokyo, a major domestic trip just to see an hour-and-a-half gig, but it was probably worth it for them, because they characterized it with the otaku adjective kami—a 'divine' performance. And they were a super-enthusiastic crowd too, clapping en masse, singing along to the sweet pop ballads, and during the applause before the encore, one of the guys shouted 'so-----re [a call before starting something]', and then, spontaneously, everyone started shouting 'En-core! En-core! En-core!' together. It blew my mind.
For us in the guest section, on the other hand, this was just another free gig thrown by friends, and while the guests must have had fun and enjoyed the music, you felt this sort of social pressure to not go too crazy, to limit yourselves to polite applause, while being free to offer whispered commentary about the show from the point of view of a fellow musician insider.
Nino was good looking, with long, brown, 'shaggy' hair and angular facial features. She didn't exactly take full control of the stage—this was only her second gig, after all—but she did have presence, helped by the audience's overwhelming support and approval of everything she did. The voice was soft and high, and the performance solid, benefitting from the skilled musicians of Round Table. They played about a dozen songs, including for the encore Nino's first hit, “Let Me Be With You”. The gig didn't knock me out like previous Round Table shows, but it was a pleasant affair, especially viewed from the comfortable confines of the VIP section, where we could rattle our jewelry rather than clap along.
Bringing me rapidly down to earth after the gig was the Unit's authoritarian policy of not allowing audience members to stand outside of the club for even a single second to wait for friends to emerge. Supercilious staffers shouted at people to move along, like sheepdogs yapping at their herd. I know the Unit isn't alone in doing this, and I know there are reasons for it—they're afraid that if they let people loiter, they might make noise and annoy the neighbors—but while understanding that, couldn't they be, perhaps, nice about asking people to disperse, rather than acting dictatorially like they have some god-given right to chase people away from a public space? I mean, maybe it's just a job for them, but couldn't they handle things in a way that doesn't immediately dispel the magic of the show?