J-pop idol Koda Kumi is dynamite on stage

Koda Kumi shows off powerhouse vocals in a frothy summer beach party atmosphere.
Koda Kumi shows off powerhouse vocals in a frothy summer beach party atmosphere. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

It has been a long 15-year wait for Koda Kumi fans to catch their idol's first solo concert in Singapore. With so much fervid anticipation, the Japanese pop singer did not disappoint as she sang and danced with explosive gusto in front of a full-capacity crowd at The Ground Theatre last Saturday.

In between one of Kumi's six costume changes, the audience were treated to clips of her past concert tours - dramatically elaborate productions of a younger, baby-faced Kumi emerging from a water-filled aquarium like a mermaid and brazenly swinging from a rope in the air a la Tarzan .

For those who were expecting acts of a similar grandiose scale, there were none last Saturday. Like some of Kumi's previous stops in Japan for her recently concluded 15th-anniversary arena tour, the set at The Ground Theatre was kept to a bare minimum save for a big screen to air video projections.

Not that the lack of embellishments mattered. Dubbed the Queen of Live, the singer captivated the 700-strong crowd of mostlymiddle-aged working professionals who would have been there since the start of her career in the new millennium.

Her high-octane performance was commanding and dance routines energetic throughout the two- hour concert. She powered through a 20-song set list made up of singles from her latest album Walk Of My Life and older songs, delivering hit after hit, all on-key in her rich, husky voice.



    *Scape The Ground Theatre/Last Saturday

It was a more mature showing from the sex siren, known for her provocative dance moves and skin-baring style in her music videos - perhaps even the dawn of a new age of sorts.

After all, at a press conference with the media on the eve of her concert here, the mother of one hinted at a desire to move on from her sexy image and instead be regarded as a "strong and independent female" by her fans.

The opening of the concert was one of the few times fans got to catch a glimpse of the singer's playful sex appeal.

Flanked by a five-man dance crew, Kumi kicked off the evening with a string of fast-paced, catchy tunes such as Pop Diva (2011), House Party (2015) and Poppin' Love Cocktail (2011). Clad in a colourful neon two-piece swimsuit underneath an oversized coat (which she later removed), the atmosphere was akin to a frothy summer beach party as she shook her hips wildly on stage and danced with beach towels.

It was on the slower emotionally fuelled numbers where her powerhouse vocals shone. Gracefully striding across the stage alone in a full-length gown, she passionately belted out hit love ballad Ai No Uta (2007) and the searingly intense Walk Of My Life (2015) with raw conviction.

The singer then returned in various edgy, punk-rockeroutfits to get the crowd pumping again with tracks such as the hard-hitting dance song Taboo (2008) and the poppy Real Emotion (2003), theme song of video game Final Fantasy X-2.

Midway through the concert, one lucky fan was invited on stage and handed a book by Kumi herself to choose any song of hers. It was an intimate and sincere gesture from the artist, who proceeded to serenade the clearly overwrought female fan seated beside her on a white couch.

The highlight of the night indisputably came towards the end when the singer returned on stage for an encore. With English subtitles flashing on the screen behind her, the Japanese-speaking artist was visibly emotional as she addressed the 15th-anniversary milestone of her career and thanked her fans profusely for supporting her all these years.

"'You're never going to realise a big dream like that.' I've been on the receiving end of those words many times to the extent that I've had times when I actually had thoughts about quitting," she said as she struggled to hold back tears.

"I'm sure for everyone here, there are times when you wonder what other people think, but your life is yours and I hope you will not be wavered by someone else's opinion," she added to rapturous applause.

It was strikingly symbolic that the singer chose to come full circle for her final song: a rousing rendition of the single Walk from her debut album (2002).

As Kumi raised her arm towards the crowd emphatically, there could not have been a more fitting way to close the show.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'Dynamite on stage'. Print Edition | Subscribe