Arts, Events, The Muse

After a decade, Utada in the flesh at the Paradise

With a line that stretched nearly to Agganis Arena by 6 p.m., it was telling that last Friday’s show at the Paradise was someone big &- only it wasn’t, because Utada Hikaru is probably not even five feet tall.

With a career that has spanned over 10 years, Utada is one of the best-selling female artists of all time in Japan. She has sold over 70 million records worldwide and her debut album, 1999’s First Love, remains the best selling album of all time in Japan, having moved over 8 million units.

Still, Utada remains fairly unknown in the U.S. She has released only two English language albums, 2004’s Exodus and last year’s This Is The One, neither of which have translated to major sales. She is perhaps most well known for her contribution to the Kingdom Hearts video game as the singer of the game’s theme song.

However, with a small but loyal following, when Utada announced plans to tour America for the first time last year, she had no problem selling out her eight-date In The Flesh Tour.

Flocked by a band that was almost too big for the Paradise’s small stage, Utada appeared on stage to the whimsical chimes of the “Opening” from her Exodus album before launching into “On and On,” an R&’B-heavy track from her latest album.

For This Is The One, Utada said she wanted to make a strictly pop album and enlisted the help of uber-producers Tricky Stewart (Rihanna’s “Umbrella”) and Stargate (Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable’). While less experimental than any of her other music, it’s an undeniably infectious album that translated well on stage.

The set list was heavy on tracks from One, as Utada carried on with “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence &- FYI” and “Poppin’.” With a crowd that was 10 complacent, probably due to the fact that it was anyone’s first time seeing Utada on stage in ten years, she didn’t hesitate to comment on how nervous she felt being so close to everyone who was watching her.

In between songs she took ample time to chat &-&- in both English and Japanese &-&- touching on academia (she thinks Boston is a very creative city because of all the students), food (she had horrible soup at a Boston restaurant) and shopping (she presumably cruised Newbury earlier that day).

The rest of the show consisted of more new tracks as well as an offering of some of her biggest Japanese hits &-&- “Passion,” “Sakura Drops” and “Automatic.” The highlight, however, was a three-song segment in the middle of the show featuring “Devil Inside,” “Kremlin Dusk” and “You Make Me Want To Be A Man,” three stand-outs from her Exodus album.

And although Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore, who played drums on the studio version of “Kremlin Dusk,” was absent, seeing Utada literally rock out to the song live was worth the price of admission alone.

Her encore was brief, closing with her Kingdom Heart’s theme “Simple and Clean” and her hit “Me Muero,” but the two-hour-long show left diehards more than satisfied &-&- and hopeful that it won’t be another decade until they see Utada in the flesh once again.

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