When I walked into the standing-only audience section of The Troubadour, I immediately knew I was in for something pretty special. The room was buzzing with anticipation and excitement as fans eagerly awaited the arrival of Japanese pop-rock band, CHAI. The stage had been set-up following the performance from the opening act, Kingsbury and a small, brightly-lit CHAI sign rested on top of one of the amps. It would become apparent later that CHAI really didn’t need flashy decor or imposing signage to deliver an energetic, out-of-this-world performance.
The performance began with dimmed lights as the band ran onto the stage amidst chants of C. H. A. I. All four performers—vocalist Mana, guitarist Kana, bassist Yuuki, and drummer Yuna—were dressed in matching bubblegum pink outfits and sneakers. They immediately began with the first song on their album, “Choose Go!” The guitarist and bassist broke out in a choreographed dance (one of many that night). CHAI continued to play a number of their hits including “Fashionista” (which can be found on their album Punk). Mana danced, sang, and harmonized with her twin sister, Kana, while her bandmates expertly played their instruments. I was in absolute awe of the raw musical and performing talent that was displayed on stage. Each band member had a unique way of connecting with the audience and in turn, they held everyone’s full attention. As I looked back, I saw many heads swaying, bodies dancing, and phones in the air attempting to capture a short souvenir.
Mana and Kana did their version of the song “Karma Chameleon” while dancing and waving a picture of their album cover around. Following that, Mana spoke to the audience and delivered a speech that sits at the root of CHAI’s message/musical philosophy—body acceptance, feminism, and loving yourself. Although CHAI’s image plays strongly with Japan’s kawaii (or cuteness e.g., Hello Kitty) culture, they bring that a step forward in a sort of neo-kawaii fashion. Yes, they are cute, wear pink, and sing happily and high-pitched, but they are also very confident, know themselves and are strong believers in the notion of girl power.
The foursome ended the night with an encore and performed songs including “Family Member” and “Curly Adventure.” What I enjoyed the most was when the bassist switched instruments and started playing the keyboard. In fact, all four performers showed that they had talents far beyond their primary instruments. It was a performance with unending energy, likable members and a band who can masterfully connect with an audience even if their first language is Japanese. It really shows how music really is an international phenomenon and it’s nice to know that people can come together and connect without even speaking the same language.