Archive for May, 2023

A Tale of Two Tours: CNBLUE and One OK Rock In Japan

CNBLUE Calling, Zepp Nagoya, 2023. photo: Glenn Auve

A special guest post by CNBLUE fan Glenn!

I was in Japan for a bit over a week in April 2023 and in that time was lucky enough to attend shows on tours by two different veteran acts – CNBLUE’s Calling Zepp tour and One OK Rock’s Luxury Disease stadium tour. Very different in their size and scale, but both exceedingly worthwhile.


I suppose since I am Valerie’s guest here I should introduce myself. My name is Glenn and I am a 55-year-old man who lives in the DC suburbs of Northern Virginia. So, not exactly in the typical CNBLUE demographic. I first saw  CNBLUE on the old MNET America cable channel about 8 years ago and I was immediately captivated by their music (and good looks). Until then I had only really been exposed to KPOP dance groups, so the idea of a real band playing their own instruments was fascinating. I dove headlong into their story, watching every youtube video and collecting as much of their back-catalog of CDs and DVDs as I could. Luckily, the many, many tour DVDs do a good job of capturing what the band is all about. Shortly after my intro I discovered that the WHITE Spring 2015 tour was going to be happening. In those days getting tickets was difficult but there was a fairly straightforward way to get them via secondary sources. So with that in mind I used one of the many little companies that work on behalf of foreigners to get a ticket to one of the Yokohama shows. I also became aware via the CNBLUE International Fans group on FB that someone had an extra ticket to the other Yokohama show. After an easy paypal transaction I had secured tickets to both and made my plans for a whirlwind weekend in Yokohama. It’s nice to have the tour DVD of a show I attended. So those are my general bona fides.

Shibuya, Tokyo, 2023. photo: Glenn Auve

For the 2023 CNBLUE Calling Zepp tour I had already booked a trip to Asia before the tour was announced that included about a week in Tokyo for the first week of April.  Given the byzantine world of Japanese concert ticketing I expected it would be difficult to get tickets since the initial lottery was only open to Japanese BOICE. which seems to basically require you to live in Japan (or be close friends with someone who does). Luckily when the winners of the first round of the lottery were announced several BOICE with extra tickets were advertising them on Twitter. Thanks to Valerie for making me aware of this! I contacted a few and was able to fairly quickly line up a ticket for night 2 in Nagoya and night 1 in Sapporo. Both were extremely helpful to me and I sent payment by PayPal, then had to go through the process of figuring out how to get a Japanese phone number to be able to use the electronic ticketing system. This also proved to be stressful but fairly straightforward.

With all of that out of the way, let’s (finally) get on with the show!

When this tour was announced I was initially a bit baffled. Why was a band that’s been playing arenas for years scaling way down to a tour of Zepp live house clubs? From what I can gather it was a chance to rebuild their audience and to reconnect with their biggest fans after being on hiatus for military service and after the loss of a band member.

Lined Up, CNBLUE Calling, Zepp Nagoya, Glenn Auve

I arrived in Nagoya a few hours before the second night’s show. I had seen the set list posted from the first night so had some idea what to expect. Zepp Nagoya holds about 1800 people. Signs were posted around the club and around the block for every 100 people. Everyone lined up by their ticket reference number. My number for this show was 1062. Around 5:30 I walked across the street from my hotel (Strings Hotel Nagoya – highly recommended if you’re going to a show here) to the club to see where I needed to go. Once doors opened at 6 PM the ticketing app made the tickets active and the line eventually started moving.

Inside, CNBLUE Calling, Zepp Nagoya, 2023. photo: Glenn Auve

Despite my high number when I got inside the club I managed to be one of the last people to squeeze into the area about fifteen rows deep from the stage. Anticipation built as the 7 PM show time approached with audio of past CNBLUE shows playing over the club’s PA. Shortly after 7 PM the lights went down and Kang Minhyuk was first out to his drum kit. Now that they are a trio Minhyuk’s spot has moved to the front of the right side of the stage with bassist Lee Jungshin in his customary spot on the left and of course frontman Jung Yonghwa in the center. The sound is filled out on this tour by three extra musicians—two guitar players and a keyboard player who mostly were kept off on the fringes of the stage.

The show was arranged in short blocks of songs, the first of which was the “Rock” block that opened with IN MY HEAD. The sound in the club was a bit bass-heavy so having concert earplugs made a big difference in filtering the sound. Yonghwa’s vocals were loud and clear and Jungshin’s takeover of former band member Lee Jonghyun’s vocal parts was pretty seamless. It also felt like having Minhyuk that much closer to the audience really made the drums even more immediate. The block finished out with ONE TIME: RYU CAN DO IT, WHERE YOU ARE, and one of my favorites, TIME IS OVER. It was quite interesting to see how the set was constructed with some real out-of-left-field choices. I’m not sure I would have expected TIME IS OVER  but I’m glad it was there.

Kang Minhyuk, CNBLUE Calling, Zepp Nagoya, 2023. photo: Glenn Auve

Then it was time for the first MC block. Since I don’t speak Japanese I don’t know exactly what was said but it was the usual introductions from the three of them welcoming everyone to the show and riffed on the word “Calling.” Yonghwa also mentioned that IN MY HEAD was their major label debut single.

Second was the “Dance” block that opened with FACE TO FACE (with Yonghwa mugging for the crowd), THIS IS, and SHAKE SHAKE. That was followed by the next MC block with a recap of the SHAKE SHAKE choreography.THIS IS also seemed like a pretty deep cut.The guys were all extremely relaxed with lots of laughter and gentle ribbing of each other.

Next was the “Emo” block that kicked off with SUPERNOVA—yet another track you wouldn’t have really expected. This part of the show was very strong, however I felt like at the end of this song the drums got a little out of sync with everyone else. It definitely sounded better at the Sapporo show. That was followed by one of the real highlights of the show for me which was ROYAL RUMBLE. I feel like this song is really underrated and Yonghwa really gets to exercise his vocal talents. The additional musicians also allow him to just sing this song without having to worry about anything else. The section closed out with MOON, with the very excited crowd enthusiastically clapping along.

Food talk, CNBLUE Calling, Zepp Nagoya, 2023. photo: Glenn Auve

The following MC section was time for Food Talk, a staple of every CNBLUE performance.

The next section has apparently been dubbed “Powerful” by YH and included LET IT SHINE, TRIGGER, and BETWEEN US. Again the crowd seemed to really enjoy this section of newer material followed by another MC.

And the main set closed out with the crowd-pleasing “Final” section that included some of their best-loved audience-participation songs: LADY, WAKE UP, COFFEE SHOP, and I’M SORRY. Honestly, these are probably four of the best live songs ever. Because they’ve played them so many times and are free to play around a little it’s really a joy between Yonghwa goofing around during LADY, followed by all of the various “Wake Up, Wake Up” call-and-responses that can really be played with. Since the club is small Yonghwa several times called for silence from the crowd and did his call without a microphone, which worked well in such an intimate setting. And then he coached Minhyuk in a couple of rounds of the same thing. For my money COFFEE SHOP might just be the perfect song. It’s just so fun in the live environment and the whole club was really dancing along. I’M SORRY will always be a crowd favorite, with Yonghwa’s overhead arm thing that looks like a little kid asking a truck driver to blow his horn.

Of course the band returned after a brief break to change into the tour t-shirts. Yonghwa delighted the crowd by telling everyone it was ok to get out our phones to take photos and videos of TRY AGAIN, SMILE AGAIN. As someone who’s been to lots of shows in North America over the years I have to say that the prevalence of smartphone photography has largely detracted from the concert experience. So being in a place where photography is strictly forbidden is kind of refreshing since it allows everyone a chance to concentrate on just enjoying the show. But for one song I guess we could all be distracted by trying to get as many good pictures as possible. After that we had time for thank you’s to the extra tour musicians and I presume to the tour and club staff and of course all of us for being there.

The show closed with GLORY DAYS, which I guess seems to be the new traditional closer. After that they took their bows and it was all over.

The show in Sapporo was basically exactly the same but with different Food Talk. The queues were organized slightly differently and I was number 485 for this show. Once inside I got the almost identical spot to the previous show. Zepp Sapporo holds about 2000 but I think this show was not quite sold out and there was a little more personal space on the floor which I really appreciated.

Lee Jungshin sitting pretty, CNBLUE Calling, Zepp Sapporo, 2023. photo: Glenn Auve

If I could suggest one thing to the band it would be to change up the set from show to show to make them all different. They have such an extensive catalog now that it would be easy to switch out at least four or five songs every show. I get that they like everything to be well-scripted, but my favorite artists over the years like James or REM always played a different show every night. So if you went to multiple shows it was always fresh and it kept the band on their toes. On a tour like this where there is no big video or light show it would be somewhat easier to do.

I had wondered how the smaller stage would affect Yonghwa’s manic energy and his running all over the place, but in general he was focused and had plenty of chances to get out his energy. He’s always been the consummate frontman and in a venue this size he’s really able to connect with everyone.

Exciting, CNBLUE Calling, Zepp Sapporo, 2023. photo: Glenn Auve

The chance to see the band in a venue this size was really exciting and I still can’t quite believe how lucky I was to see them twice on this tour. A huge thank you to the two Japanese fans who sold me the tickets and were so nice in looking after me to make sure I got the tickets and knew where to be. In such a crazy world these days it’s great to see that there are still people who are happy to help a complete stranger.

One OK Rock, Luxury Disease, Tokyo Dome 2023. photo: Glenn Auve

One OK Rock at Tokyo Dome

Sandwiched between these two shows I had a chance to see One OK Rock at Tokyo Dome. On a bit of a whim I checked when I arrived in Japan to see if there were any tickets available in the Pia website and sure enough there were. I had no idea where the seat was located but it was easy enough to buy my ticket.

Tokyo Dome shows are very well-organized. I found the appropriate entrance and asked if I was in the right place. The staff member tapped on my phone and then another person applied a little NFC device to the screen to verify my ticket and I was in. One of the nice things about shows in Japan are the early start times. CNBLUE was doors at 6 PM, show at 7 PM. One OK Rock was doors at 4 PM, show at 6 PM. I had arrived a little after 4 PM, which was obviously quite early. It turned out that my seat was in the outfield bleachers with a generally obstructed view of the stage and no view of the big video screens. I couldn’t even see Kanki Toyoma but could just see the front of his drum kit.

I will admit that, while I really enjoy their music, I am not as intimately familiar with their catalog. But I knew this would be an interesting experience. When we entered everyone was given a radio controlled LED bracelet. These were certainly an integral part of the overall light show.

The band were fresh off a North American arena tour opening for Muse, but of course they are so huge here in Japan that they can sell out consecutive nights at the biggest stadiums in the country. I believe Tokyo Dome holds about 50,000 people for concerts and the place was packed full by show time.

One OK Rock, Luxury Disease, Tokyo Dome 2023. photo: Glenn Auve

The lights went down a few minutes after 6 PM and the opening strains of WONDER hit the crowd, but only Tomoya was on the stage so everyone was a little confused. Then spotlights hit two raised platforms around 1st base and 3rd base with Yamashita Toru and Kohama Ryota atop them playing before eventually coming down and running to the stage. And then Moriuchi Taka was raised up to the stage extension in front of the stage to start singing. I am not really a fan of stadium shows but the band are veterans of big shows like this and know how to make BIG movements and grand entrances. There is clearly a lot of work that goes into putting together a show on this scale. They really brought out all of the pyro, fireworks, and dry ice aided lasers.

I won’t do a song by song of the show, but they played 25 songs over the course of nearly 3 hours including some quite long MC sections. Here’s a link to the set  Apparently this show was recorded for the eventual live DVD.

The show was quite a spectacle as I expected. Once the bracelets got activated the whole audience became a giant mood light. Everyone was REALLY into the show with most people singing along to everything and most arms in the air. Permission was granted for everyone to photograph the encore.

One OK Rock, Luxury Disease, Tokyo Dome 2023. photo: Glenn Auve

Taka is another fantastic frontman who loves being dramatic with lots of grand gestures. They’ve played lots of very large venues through the years so he’s clearly had time to hone his craft and play to a venue this enormous. For such a little guy he really has a large presence in addition to his huge voice.

Among the interesting contrasts between these events was the breakdown of the crowd. At the two CNBLUE shows I attended I’d estimate that I saw a total of ten other men (besides the band, crew, and venue staff) and I think the average age was probably in the area of forty. At One OK Rock I think it was about 50/50 women to men with the crowd skewing younger to their twenties – although I did see one businessman in a suit who was probably in his sixties. I’m not really sure why CNBLUE doesn’t have much of a male fan following. Are they just too handsome?

Overall it was three great shows by two excellent bands. I’ll always prefer a more intimate venue, but the OOR stadium experience was worth doing.

CNBLUE Yunika Vision video billboard, Tokyo, 2023. photo: Glenn Auve

Practical Information

Valerie (again!) suggested a company called Mobal ( which will provide you with a Japanese SIM card and real Japanese Softbank or DOCOMO phone number. Just make sure your phone is unlocked. You can either pick the card up when you arrive in Japan or they will ship it to you for free. The cheapest short term plan is currently about 8000 JPY for thirty days which includes a phone number for calls and texting as well as 7 GB of data.

Once you receive the SIM you can request a specific date to activate your account and they suggest that activation may take up to a couple of days so getting it activated right before you arrive is a good idea.

You will need a Japanese phone number to create and verify your account with the Ticket Pia site ( and their service called Cloak which allows you to receive ticket transfers from other users. Because I had never used this before and couldn’t actually register until I arrived in Japan there was some stress about whether I would be able to get it working. But the worry was unnecessary as I was able to register no problem. As part of the process you call a toll free number from your phone number to verify it. Once I had that set up I was able to receive the ticket transfers. Until I actually got into the show though there was still some question over how it worked. But just showing the ticket screen to the venue staff was all I needed to do and they quickly clicked the link they needed to and I was in.

For the One OK Rock show however I also needed another app called MOALA to use this ticket. The Google Play store told me this app wasn’t available to me (presumably because it’s a US phone even though I had my Japanese SIM installed), but I managed to install a sideload version that worked fine. Just search for something like “How to install the MOALA app” in your favorite search engine and you will find the apk to download and install.

May 15, 2023 at 6:05 pm Leave a comment

Summum bonum: 2023 SFFILM festival

Sound and silence, The Tuba Thieves, 2023

The 2023 edition of the SFFILM Festival took place this year in mid-April , with in person screenings in San Francisco and the East Bay. This was a streamlined version of the festival, with just two or three screenings of most films and taking place at just three venues, the Castro and CGV Cinemas in San Francisco and BAM/PFA in Berkeley, plus one show on Opening Night at the Grand Lake in Oakland. The number of programs was down from 105 in 2023 and 130 in 2022 to 96 this year. It was a bit trickier catching films but I managed to see three excellent non-fiction films, each of which challenged documentary filmmaking conventions.

Exploited, King Coal, 2023

With King Coal, director Elaine McMillion Sheldon creates a poetic elegy to Appalachia, at once dreamlike and hard as nails. The film is a stylistic departure from her earlier verite-style films Heroin(e) and Recovery Boys, both of which looked at the opioid crisis in the region where she was born and raised. King Coal blends observational filmmaking with several staged, unscripted sequences featuring two young girls and was shot in the heart of the heartland where coal mining was the backbone of the economy for decades. The film is a fascinating hybrid that sympathetically portrays the plight of a region that has long been exploited for its natural resources, at great human cost. King Coal does make the case that white working class people are victims of capitalism, which may skirt a bit too close to arguments about “economic anxiety,” ignoring the presence of white privilege. But McMillion Sheldon’s cinematic vision is so compelling and so lyrically realized that in this case I’m willing to overlook a little bit of societal myopia. 

Boom, The Tuba Thieves, 2023

In The Tuba Thieves director Alison O’Daniel, who is hard of hearing, creates a film that questions the presence and absence of sound from the perspective of  mostly Deaf characters. As might be expected from its title, the film takes as a jumping off point a series of thefts of tubas from Los Angeles area schools over the span of a few years, but its scope is wide-ranging and only tangentially touches on those events. The Tuba Thieves consists of several short vignettes that look at sound and silence, including a dramatization of the premiere of John Cage’s 4’33” to a somewhat bemused audience in upstate New York, archival footage of the organizers of Prince’s 1984 concert at Gallaudet University (the famous institution for Deaf and hard of hearing students), a recreation of a concert at the legendary San Francisco punk venue The Deaf Club, and parallel narrative threads focusing respectively on a Deaf drummer and a hearing teenager in a marching band whose tubas are among the stolen items referenced in the film’s title. O’Daniels’ film makes creative use of open captioning, creating poetically descriptive titles that enhance and embellish the sounds and dialog in the film. 

Another particularly telling element is the recurring discussion of sonic booms, which are created when an aircraft travels faster than the speed of sound. Instead of including the actual sound of the phenomenon, O’Daniels instead shows pictures of planes breaking the sound barrier. In these ways the film privileges the perceptions and points of view of the Deaf and hard of hearing community. The result is a fascinating take that draws attention to what most hearing people take for granted—the way that sound interacts with the environment and with daily life.

Convoluted, Milisuthando, 2023

Milisuthando, Milisuthando Bongela’s semi-autobiographical eponymous essay film, is a long and dense look at South Africa just before and just following the end of apartheid. Comprised of much archival and broadcast footage, personal reminiscences, some sit-down interviews, and the filmmaker’s own astute observations in voiceover, the film explores South Africa’s fraught and convoluted history of race relations. Milisuthando examines a multitude of topics including Nelson Mandela, white guilt and white privilege, school integration, and the perils and pleasures of interracial friendships, among many others. Bongela allows many passages in her film to run a bit longer than may be comfortable to viewers accustomed to the rapid pace of most commercial films, a technique that works to good effect in both stimulating introspection and creating discomfort. It’s a good film and one that I plan to revisit to tease out more of its nuances.

NOTE: SFFILM had most of its San Francisco screenings at CGV Cinemas (formerly the AMC 14), an outpost of the huge South Korean cinema chain, which opened in 2021 in the middle of the pandemic. The theater was my go-to whenever I wanted to see a blockbuster Hollywood or Korean movie all by myself and the handful of times I saw a film there there were usually about a half-dozen other customers in attendance. Once or twice I was the only person in the entire theater (and possibly in the entire multiplex) and for some reason the venue either didn’t have or never turned on the air-con, which made it much less appealing to go to. For whatever reason, business has continued to not be good and in late February CGV announced that it would be closing the San Francisco branch as of March 1, with sporadic events such as SFFILM continuing in the space. With the future of the Castro Theater still in limbo and the closure of the last movie theater in downtown Berkeley in January 2023, big-screen moviegoing in the Bay may be very limited in the future. 

May 4, 2023 at 4:56 am Leave a comment

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