Onitsuka Chihiro – HOTEL MURDERESS OF ARIZONA MY GUN

March 29, 2012 at 7:38 pm (Onitsuka Chihiro) (, )

  1. Sweet Rosemary
  2. Aoi Tori (青い鳥; Blue Bird)
  3. everyhome
  4. Kohaku no Yuki (琥珀の雪; Amber Snow)
  5. Time After Time(Cyndi Lauper cover)
  6. The Rose(Bette Midler cover)
  7. Hotaru (蛍; Firefly)
  8. Arashi ga Oka (嵐ヶ丘; Wuthering Heights)
  9. EVER AFTER
  10. Watashi to Waltz wo (私とワルツを; Waltz with Me)
  11. Storyteller (ストーリーテラー)
    Encore
  12. NEW AGE STRANGER
  13. Beautiful Fighter

It’s more or less pretty well known that Onitsuka Chihiro’s condition is deteriorating, and fast. Despite having regained control of her voice after her vocal surgery after what must have been years of tough vocal training, she seems to have lost much of the power in her voice leaving her with a wispy shadow of what it once was. Her most recent album, Ken to Kaede featured interesting new styles from Chihiro, some of which were not amazingly well received by fans. Despite these, Chihiro announced that she would embark on a three-date tour; the first she’s held in ten years. HOTEL MURDERESS OF ARIZONA was advertised as having a full band led by her producer Sakamoto. Later, “ACOUSTIC SHOW” was tagged on to the end of the title, leaving just Chihiro to sing with Sakamoto on piano. This relieved some of the fears about some of the strange antics she might have displayed with a band, but it also raised other concerns about what might have caused the change. Regardless, Chihiro went into the tour with heavy expectations from fans.

The three dates were moderately received. Some fans raved about the performances, while others seemed to have been completely horrified by her performance due to her vocals, forgetfulness of lyrics, and her…well, antics. The songlist was also quite short, leaving much to be desired in that aspect. Still, the DVD was announced at the dates (original having the title HOTEL MURDERESS OF ARIZONA VOLUME OF MY GUN), although it was later delayed for a month past its original release date.

Now that the DVD is out, what do I think of it?

The concert starts off with a soft piano intro to “Sweet Rosemary”. She sings it well enough, but it is clear that her voice has not improved. She hits all of the notes decently, but there is much shakiness in her voice. Her dress is nice though, and the flowers in front of her are interesting. It’s hard to shake the image of a bunch dead bodies when seeing them from afar. Anyways, the song makes an interesting transition to piano, sounding more lighthearted than the album version. I like the new adlibbing that she does too.

“Aoi Tori” would have been our first powerhouse song. Unfortunately, the weakness of her voice particularly shows here, but at least she is very much into the performance. Her awkward dancing seems to have changed now too; she moves more around the stage, flinging around her dress. Again, the piano arrangement works well in converting the song, and it also gives it more dynamics that the original didn’t have. It’s funny that you can clearly see the shakiness in Sakamoto’s fingers, yet he plays flawlessly.

I was particularly worried about “everyhome”, but actually, she fared quite well. She doesn’t go overly off tune, and she manages to give her voice some power here. But she seems very distracted, looking down often. It turns out that she actually has a screen hidden behind the flowers displaying the lyrics. And it seems like she really needs it. One might find that hard to believe since each song seems to be so personal, but…we’ll see later. And what is this? Chihiro interacts with the audience for a bit at the end? And makes them chuckle? She actually does this for most songs during the night. Such a change from the silent Chihiro we saw during NINE DIRTS.

“Kohaku no Yuki” might’ve been a cause of worry too, featuring some pretty high notes. Thankfully, they actually transpose the song down a tone or two, so she is able to hit most of the notes, albeit weakly. The piano fits well with the simple arrangement though, and overall she does give some song some power where the album version was a little more subdued. It’s a passable performance. Missing from the third date (which was the date recorded for the DVD) is “An Fhideag Airgid”, which was actually only sung on the first date after “Kohaku no Yuki”.

Next we have two English covers, starting with Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”. It’s a nice song, but there are some times where her voice sounds pretty bad (that adlibbing at the end…what happened?). Not to mention her accent is also something that has not improved. You can get used to it after a few listens, but it definitely is pretty rough. Bette Midler’s “The Rose” is more of the same, a little worse actually. Anyone still excited for her upcoming English album?

“Hotaru” segues us back from the English songs. Actually, on the dates, “Gekkou” was the segue, but it is mysteriously missing from the DVD. Shame, since it was reportedly one of the best performances of the night. Thankfully, “Hotaru” was one of the other highlights. I’m quite fond of this arrangement, which sounds so much more reflective than the album version. With the piano alone, Chihiro really takes her time with the song, and her body movements compliment the performance well. Her voice isn’t perfect, but I can endure it for the arrangement.

Something in Chihiro seems to shift for the next performance of “Arashi ga Oka”. Maybe she was feeling confident from the last few songs, or it may just be what the song means to her. Whatever it was, Chihiro went into the song with clearly lighter spirits, smiling often with a perky dance between verses and the chorus. This might all sound like a good thing, but the song isn’t a particularly happy one, and the great piano arrangement definitely doesn’t change that. And what’s worse, is here we see her really mess of the lyrics for the first few times of the night. And it’s not like on NINE DIRTS where you almost don’t even notice it, but it’s jarringly obvious as she mumbles and fumbles the words. It really mars the performance, which wasn’t exactly getting points for her voice and dancing. And I was really looking forward to this one…

“EVER AFTER” is a little better. At least her mood fits. There’s this odd glittery effect that they put on the DVD though, and while it’s not the most well done, it’s at least easy enough to ignore. Not like the effects they put on Koda Kumi’s shows…anyways she bounces a lot here, hurting the steadiness of her vocals, and she screws up the words a few times here too…but she’s having fun, and appropriately.

Coming back to form, “Watashi to Waltz wo” sees Chihiro get back into her serious mood. Like “Hotaru”, the new piano arrangement spaces things out, allowing Chihiro to emphasize each word and movement. I also love the stage lights, which quite literally seem to kill the flowers in front of her. It’s a powerful and passionate performance, and I’m particularly taken by the expression on her face during the arm sweeping motion that she does before the second chorus.

Ending the regular portion of the concert is “STORYTELLER”. This might’ve been a great performance with the piano backing; the arrangement is almost haunting at times. Unfortunately she tried to recreate the voice she used during the recording of the song, but it comes off sounding overly nasally and quite annoying. She screws up the words again quite often too. She does well with the adlibbing at the end, but that’s about it…

The duo take their bow and leave for a minute, only to come back for the encore. Chihiro is now sporting a too-big-for-her-petite-body ACID T-shirt and leggings. She chats with the audience for a bit and even gives a member a small trinket before starting into “NEW AGE STRANGER”. This is probably the only song where the arrangement falls flat, lacking the spirit found in the album version. She does this really strange awkward dance, which I can only imagine is meant to imitate marionettes. Vocally it’s not a horrible performance, but it’s not good either. It’s definitely interesting to watch her…

A little more chatting and then her younger sister Momoko comes to bring a mic stand for Chihiro so she can play guitar to “Beautiful Fighter”. The audience claps along as she plays through the song, and as worried as I might have been, it could’ve been much worse. Her voice condition is similar to the previous song, but she is more clearly having fun here. It’s interesting through when the piano comes in at the middle of the first verse. It makes me wonder if this might’ve also been a powerful haunting performance somehow if she wasn’t playing guitar. A few years ago, I would not have put that sort of thing past her.

After the credits go by silently, we’re treated to a short bonus clip depicting Chihiro’s interacting with the fans before the concert (or maybe it was after; seems to bright outside for that). She seems to do a lot of hugging, and definitely seems personable. Not really something I expected but nice. There’s also a good range of people who came; really young and really, really old.

As for the rest of the DVD, there isn’t too much. I quite like the outer box, but the insert is pretty bare, the the “backstage pass” that comes with the DVD is fairly lame. The biggest offender of the DVD is the fact that it is not region free, as all of her past DVDs have been. It’s region two, and there is so far no announcement of an overseas version, region three or otherwise. It’s a real shame.

So final word? It’s definitely not stellar like NINE DIRTS was. Her voice is very rough for every song, and the forgetting of lyrics is very clumsy. She does have some new dance motions though, and while I didn’t say much about it I actually love the stage and lighting. She even has a fan to blow her hair back for dramatic effect. The new arrangements are very satisfying, and people who love her older more organic works like Sugar High should feel right at home with the sole piano accompaniment. The songs aren’t powerhouse performances as they have been in the past, but they’re now very reflective, giving a new sense of vulnerability and sadness.

Although this release is pretty borderline in quality, I do look forward to her next releases, still hoping that she will work on her voice to match her songwriting and music, which still stands out here at being topnotch.

 Vocals – will definitely make you cringe in places, but it can be passable, even good at a few points. She still needs to work on her English massively.
Spectacle – great stage set up and lighting, which work well with her dress and billowing hair. She moves around a lot more now too, giving you some new dancing to look at.
Setlist – definitely very short and leaving a lot to be desired, but the old songs get enough of a makeover with the piano-only accompaniment.
Quality / Editing – other than that odd glitter effect on “EVER AFTER”, the angles and editing are quite good. Better than her older DVDs (but not NINE DIRTS. That was immaculate).
Extras – just the short clip of audience interaction. The backstage pass is pretty lame.
Check out a few clips before you decide get it, or at least try to get it cheap.
Oh, and for those wondering about the odd title? Reportedly, “HOTEL MURDERESS OF ARIZONA” was the title for (or at least, words in) an upbeat song that Chihiro wrote. Maybe we’ll hear it one day.
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