Music

A rush of sugar to the head: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s Melbourne show reviewed

Photos by Anthony Smith

Between the rampant, colour-soaked cuteness of the set and the eager cosplay of many fans, watching Japanese pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu make her Melbourne debut reminded me of Yo Gabba Gabba for grown-ups. That parallel was sealed by DJ Mushroom, a masked fungi-themed figure who danced in the back but didn’t so much as push a button to trigger some disembodied air horn.

That’s no real surprise, seeing as the sound setup was just a forceful playback powering Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, four dancers, and her trusty faux DJ. Nobody was there to watch people play actual instruments: the songs and dancing were more than enough to plunge us all down a rabbit hole for a couple hours – with hyperactive songs about creatures and candy every bit a digital-age pied piper.

 ‘5ive Year Monsters’ sports almost drum ‘n’ bass breaks, while the ballad-y ‘Candy Candy’ (https://youtu.be/UoK8DaJRDaM) brandishes a wheeling keyboard hook. With songs this catchy – built on short, tight, razor-sharp repetition – it doesn’t matter to Western audiences than only the title phrases are usually in English. A few cuts are welcomely more intense, like the churning ‘Fashion Monster’ and the acid-fried Nutcracker allusions in the Halloween-themed ‘Crazy Party Night’.

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Missing the high concepts and elaborate costumes of her viewed-by-millions videos, though, certain songs became less psychedelic. But the music itself is plenty dizzying, grafting the sugar-powered ricochet of cartoons and videogames to the blinding pop hooks and proud synthetic edge of electronic dance music. Impossibly perky and ambitiously busy, the songs are still so accessible, engineered by producer Yasutaka Nakata for maximum ecstatic impact. Each tune ploughs ahead like a futuristic bullet train, all high-speed modern luxury.

As for Kiriko Takemura, the 23-year-old face and voice of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, she softened the songs’ brasher edges every time she opened her mouth. Yet her playful dance moves and doll-like innocence were as integral to the performance as her airily chiming singsong vocals. Ticking all the boxes of computerised pop but leaving out sex almost entirely, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a marvel of squeaky-clean niche-pleasing. Even when her dancers edged into more suggestive routines, the star stuck to the script and kept up her trademark poise. (Before turning to music, Takemura was a top model and fashion blogger.) She would simply mime air guitar and air trumpet – even air bagpipes – while the loyal dancers spun in whirls of perfectly choreographed euphoria.

Festival Hall was only about half-full for the show, yet animated fans armed with bright wigs and glow sticks kept the energy level high with their bubbly love of song-specific dance moves learnt from the videos. Alcohol sales were relegated to a cold downstairs bunker so that the venue’s floor could be open to younger fans – the same fans would might fork out $85 for a limited T-shirt or over $100 for a CD box set with their idol’s face moulded in three dimensions on the front. Takemura changed costume just twice, limiting the aesthetic variation in comparison to her videos, but that’s expected from a smaller-scale show in a country where she hasn’t yet ascended to the arenas that her music is made for.

Playing only Sydney and Melbourne on the Aussie leg of a rather selective world tour, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is pushing a new greatest-hits collection, KPP Best. That’d be the ideal place to start with her addictive ear candy if it weren’t for those videos, which inflate her giddy charm to mythic proportions. When she returns to Australia, let’s hope it’s as accepted pop royalty rather than quirky visitor. And maybe DJ Mushroom can be trusted to let fly with an air horn or two.