Flashback Friday Moment of The Week: 5/1/2015

by Just Juan
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Being here in the shadow of the nation’s capital this weekend, my plan was to hang out in the Adams Morgan and Chinatown night spots but I was quickly reminded of how much I truly disliked Washington during my 2-year residency so I scrapped those plans. All wasn’t lost though. I got to hang out with Latisha for a while. We enjoyed great food and even greater conversation at Yard House in Springfield. And I got a rare treat that I’ll chalk up to good timing: a Will Downing concert. He performed at The Birchmere in Alexandria earlier tonight and he put on a really good show. The atmosphere in there was electric and it wasn’t too deep because of the set up. It reminded me of those glory days in 2008, 2009, and 2010 when I frequented the best concert venue in the world to see some of the best talent in the world. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: Billboard Live Tokyo.

How I first came across this moment? It wasn’t long after I got back from that deployment to Iraq that I discovered Billboard Live Tokyo. While taking my 3 weeks of compensatory time, I got really comfortable with Tokyo. Pretty much for that entire time period I didn’t have to go to work after that deployment, I spent navigating the big city…learning different stuff, exploring new areas, getting back in the know with the train system. In my travels, I remember stopping by Tokyo Tower and while I was waiting in a ridiculously long line on a Tuesday, I grabbed one of the copies of Metropolis Magazine, Japan’s #1 English magazine. No lie, it’s really #1. In that particular January 2008 edition, I saw in the Arts & Entertainment section that En Vogue would be in town for an evening performance on St. Valentine’s Day. Me being an undercover Cindy Herron groupie, I figured this was my best shot at seeing her perform and actually meeting her. The magazine listed Billboard Live Tokyo as the venue. I had never heard of it but it was a number listed as well so I called. Surprisingly, they spoke really good English and I was able to reserve a spot. After some research later that evening, I found out that it was a rather vibrant performance venue on the top floor of the Tokyo Midtown Galleria. Further research revealed that there was a subway station—the Toei Roppongi Station—directly underneath Tokyo Midtown. I was locked in. On 2/14/2008, I made got on the Toei Ōedo Line for the first time ever deep in the underground at Shinjuku Station and rode it out to Roppongi. A trip up the escalators and I was making my Tokyo Midtown debut. A ride up the elevator to the 4th level and there I was…at Billboard Live Tokyo. I gave them my name, they confirmed my reservation, and I paid the ¥6400. Once inside, I quickly realized that I found a spot where I could chill and listen to world-class artists without all the commotion that comes with high capacity concerts. Roughly about 300 people could fit into Billboard Live Tokyo, giving it a rather intimate feel. It was split into 3 levels: (1) the floor, where you were thisclose to the stage talent, (2) the mid-level, which provided excellent food service, and (3) the rafters, which actually offered the best sightlines at the cheapest price. I had arrived about 40 minutes before En Vogue’s set began so I listened to their band doing their sound checks and stuff. And then, I remember it like yesterday. It was 9:04pm Japan Time. The light dimmed and the Billboard Live sign illuminated. From that point, it was a match in heaven.

What it meant to me then? For the 2 ½ years I remained in Tokyo after discovering Billboard Live Tokyo, I thoroughly enjoyed the performances there. I joined the venue’s club—Club BBL—and picked up the benefit of being able to get first pick of seats at certain shows, free food, and admission to special events held there. But more than the benefits were the acts that came through. In all, I attended 22 shows at Billboard Live Tokyo. It all started with that St. Valentine’s Day performance by En Vogue. After that performance, I actually got a chance to meet Cindy Herron and talk to her for a couple of minutes…even got a kiss on the cheek. The last show I saw there was The Brand New Heavies in February 2010, where I realized that N’Dea Davenport is the living, breathing definition of a MILF. In between those two shows were, in order: Jody Watley, Amel Larrieux, Lalah Hathaway, Norman Brown, Esperanza Spaulding, Keiko Lee, Byron Cage, The Roots, Take 6, Hall & Oates, Mos Def, Eddie Levert, Me’Shell Ndegéocello, Soulive, The Three Degrees, Laura Izibor, Atlantic Starr (or a group covering Atlantic Starr), Faith Evans, Eric Benét, and SWV. I had plenty fun at Billboard Live and spent plenty cash on those performances but I always left satisfied. My favorite show of the pile was that Laura Izibor set. It was her Japan debut and she was unknown to me but she brought the thunder and she rocked out the house…one of the all-time great performances.

What it means to me now? Looking back on it, I don’t think there is a spot in the United States that compares. The closest would be The Birchmere but it certainly ain’t Billboard Live. Good acts but the atmosphere is maybe half of what I got in Tokyo. When I make my way back to Tokyo in a couple of months, I’ll have to stop in for a show.

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