Perfume's Sweet Reframe

Perfume's Sweet Reframe | Random J Pop

Perfume and team decided amongst themselves that I don't need a wig, and should enter 2020 looking like One Punch Man.

What edges?

I wasn't the biggest fan of the first Reframe. I liked the concepts and what the team tried to do, but there was something about it that just didn't click with me. Even now, I have to be honest, I don't completely see what the full purpose of Reframe is. Not that this really matters. But I'm keen to see the evolution of it, if it's something that Perfume continue to do. Even if I don't get the purpose of this show, I appreciate that it exists and the benefits of it for pretty much everybody, over a large scale show in a dome or an arena.

Perfume's large scale album tours haven't been great for a while. LEVEL3 was all about "Enter the sphere" and "Party maker". Cosmic explorer wasn't about...anything. The only thing that really wowed me about the Future Pop tour was Perfume dancing through 3 songs in 3 layers of dresses. Their non-album tours (Gurun Gurun, 3:5:6:9) were far better because of the setlists not being tied to an album (albums which have declined in quality) and the sense of freedom there was in regards to visuals and concepts. Reframe falls under the latter. But the step down in venue size is critical for an act who rely on technology to the extent of which Perfume do, because a smaller venue reduces variables and provides greater control. Perfume and their team are able to do things creatively in Reframe that they wouldn't be able to as effectively in a large scale performance space. But of course, there are elements that they can pick out, refine and work to scale. So I guess this could be the purpose of Reframe from a behind-the-curtain creative perspective.

The concept of Reframe bringing music, dance and technology together isn't new. Rhizomatiks and ELEVENPLAY tour a show which sees all manner of crazy setups from Daito Manabe's team of ridiculously talented creatives, programmers and engineers, married with Mikiko's unique choreography. It's as amazing as mesmerising as you'd expect it to be. And some of the stuff that they do is then carried over to Perfume's shows and visa-versa. But Reframe gives the Rhizomatiks and Mikiko a history, a legacy, established songs and the reach of Perfume's global popularity to mess around with.

Perfume's history is the narrative of Reframe 2019 and this framing of their history is part of what makes this show better than the first. It makes sense from a promotional perspective, given that Perfume's last release was a Best album and their latest single at time of writing plays on their history also. But it gives Reframe a bigger context than just 'Perfume and technology'.

The setlist for Reframe 2019 spans Perfume's career, which was a smart choice and further reinforces the narrative of Perfume's history and their journey through it. The setlist features one song from each of their albums starting from Game. The one exception was Cosmic Explorer, but we can file "Display" under that.

The setlist wasn't all that different from Reframe 2018 though. 80% of it was the same, which may disappoint those who saw Reframe last year. But it was cool seeing the ways in which these performances were tweaked and updated, as each song that was performed in Reframe 2018 has had its stage production refined a little more.

Perfume's Sweet Reframe | Random J Pop

The thing that I admire about Perfume and team is that when they switch up their performances of songs that we know and are familiar with, they REALLY switch it up; which isn't always easy to do with a group who never perform different renditions or mixes of songs, and whose choreography for each song is never changed over time. The creative team have to out-do themselves and work extra hard to make an old song and performance new again, because there's no other way to do it with everything else being fixed.

"Display" was the only instance where I rolled my eyes at not seeing something new. Every other song got a performance which had some new element to it which made it feel fresh, even if it was only the visuals or better lighting. It felt like watching new interpretations of songs that we were familiar with, but also performances taking on traits and elements from another Perfume era. They were being Reframed.

Okay. I think I'm getting it now.

"Display" was neither here nor there. I think it's a shame that more hasn't been done with performances of this song. When Perfume performed it for the first time at Gurun Gurun, it was cool to finally see the full choreography, but the outfits and the visuals were so basic. The visuals in the TV commercial are so vivid and dynamic and none of that was carried over into the live performances. And let's just be real. "Display" is just too boring and repetitive as a full length song and should've just stayed the length it was in the commercial. Reframe should have opened with a better song. Not just because "Display" isn't that great, because because Reframe opened with it last year too. But as a bare minimum, it at least looked cool. Although it was certainly the weakest part of the show.

Perfume's Sweet Reframe | Random J Pop

"Fusion" is a song that I'm tired of. I don't want to see it any more. Much like "Story", it's not a song I ever listen to on its own, because it's so strongly defined by the performance it debuted as part of, that if I HAVE to hear it then I have to see it too. As much as I'm ready for Perfume to give "Fusion" a damn rest, this was their best performance of it. A smaller scale stage and a far smaller set of displays, and yet this shit looked better than when they performed it in a dome for their Future Pop tour with monolithic displays which were ten times the height of the girls. The issue with the Future Pop tour performance of "Fusion" is that the screens drew too much of your attention to the point where you kinda forgot that Perfume were even a part of it. And whilst the scale was impressive, "Fusion" started off an a pretty intimate performance setup, which was part of its charm. So to just simply scale it up and make it bigger doesn't necessarily make it better. This was the first performance of "Fusion" where the girls were centred as they were with their debut performance of it as part of NTT DoCoMo's Future experiment and it was better for it.

Perfume's Sweet Reframe | Random J Pop

"Edge" is not a song that Perfume perform often. But bitch, when they do, it's always a spectacle. And unlike a performance like "Party maker", I never feel like something is lost because the setup isn't what we saw the first time around. Sure. Seeing the girls emerge from boxes as though they are avatars coming to life was cool as fuck. But their creative team always find ways to make the performance pop and serve a spectacle in different ways when the stage setup doesn't allow them to recreate the original setup. And with the Reframe stage they actually could have replicated the original setup. But they didn't. What they did was far more elaborate, trickier and downright mind blowing. I will say this however. Watching it all gave me headaches and made me feel sick. Age be creepin' on my ass. There was so much going on visually and the lighting was doing the absolute most. But bitch, if I'mma have an elliptic fit, let it be to a Perfume banger. "Edge" looked amazing and felt brand new despite so much of it being familiar. The logistics of the visuals blows my mind. No matter how many times I re-watch and rewind I can't make full sense of it. It's insane.

"Voice" was...a choice. I get why they performed it, due to it being able to transition from the 'Record' segment; but they should've picked a different song regardless, because the shift in vibe felt stark and really odd. The "Koe" interlude which came before it featured a stripped, slowed down version of "Voice" which the girls sang live. a-chan milked the shit out of this moment and gave us perfect pitch, tone and vibrato. She wanted everybody to know that how she be sounding on the records is by a choice that's not her own. But going from this vibey version of "Voice" into the regular version of the song felt abrupt. Like somebody snatching the curtains and killing you with broad daylight when you're try'na be in the dark and let depression hold you for another 10 minutes. "575" would have been a far better choice of a song if they needed a song from JPN to transition into. Or we could have just had the girls sing the whole of this emo take on "Voice", because it sounded really nice, and it's rare that we get to hear different versions of their songs, much less sung live.

Perfume's Sweet Reframe | Random J Pop

"Secret Secret" is one of Perfume's best songs and it's always a joy watching them perform it. Visually it was nothing special. Just them serving the choreo whilst screens show a super-cut of all of their live performances of it. "Secret Secret" has never been given a special form of setup or visuals. The most we've seen be done visually with it was probably for their 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Tokyo Dome performance, where they danced under ultraviolet lights in UV glow dresses. It's always just Perfume doing the routine. As fine as the performance was, I would have liked to have seen this performance revamped in some way. "Challenger" falls into this bracket also. I love the routine. But there definitely should have been some visuals on the screen as they performed it, especially given the history of the song and what it represents for them. Having a montage of them from their earlier years moving through to the present would have been a nice way to cap the story being told across the show and then end it. To come out for an encore with such a jubilant song in such basic lighting and nothing else was an odd creative choice to make.

Perfume's Sweet Reframe | Random J Pop

"Dream land" was a surprise and a pleasant one. After all of the motion tracking, gizmos and crazy visuals, it was nice to see the show end in a low key and simplistic manner, but still serve a whole visual. The fabrics and the display showing an Aurora borealis was such a nice touch. "Dream land" was a highlight from their LEVEL3 tour, so it was nice to see them recapture the tone and visuals of that performance here, because it worked so beautifully back then. The only thing that would have made this performance better were if they sang it live. Especially after Chaka ka-chan came through with that "Voice" solo.

Perfume never put a foot wrong when it comes to their performances. They hit their marks. They deliver the choreo. They sell the songs. Even the shit ones. But even so, my favourite parts of the Rferame show were the interludes and segmenta between the songs. The best part of the show for me? Pose - Perspective. This was an updated version of Nocchi's section of the original Perfume na oikite where Perfume run through each of their singles, introducing it via a pose. I loved this back then and still love it now. It's a testament to Mikiko's choreography and the visual consistency and brilliance of Perfume; that you can distinguish a song of theirs based on just a pose. As with the original Perfume na oikte, this section came with a new piece of music courtesy of Yasutaka Nakata and it was great. Strangely ominous and dark, but still fitting and entirely mood setting.

Perfume's Sweet Reframe | Random J Pop

Each performance was great. And the real feat was that despite the insane logistics of what was at play, it all looked so effortless. Perfume hit every mark. Every visual was cued. Every screen was where it needed to be. There was never an 'Ooo, shit' moment. The seamlessness of Reframe is a testament to all involved, and Perfume's ability to go out on stage and deliver each and every time. Sometimes I watch them and wonder if Perfume grasp what exactly it is they're in the midst of. Dancing on stage is one thing. But with all manner of lights, visuals and remote control screens moving around you!? Insanity. I could never. And neither could your fave.

There's a 'but' y'all.

There's always a but.

It was shot like ass. Perfume's concerts are never wonderfully shot. Perfume are captured. We see what we need to see, but there's never any real finesse to how their gigs are shot and edited. Beyoncé and Hikaru Utada have spoiled us with the direction and cinematography of Homecoming and Laughter in the dark, and I need Perfume's shit to be on that level. Perfume have been in this game too long and have too much talent in their visual and creative team to be giving us bog standard shot concerts. I get that they don't want the audience to see somebody running around on stage with a camera, and maybe having Go pro's dotted around the stage may fuck with tracking and all manner of other visual going ons. But they could find alternatives. Reframe was such a spectacular show visually, that it deserved to be shot with some of the best cinematography, and it wasn't.

And there's more.

Perfume's Sweet Reframe | Random J Pop

Reframe was a flex. Perfume are at a point in their careers where they don't really have anything more to prove when it comes to the shows they put on, and yet there is a complacency about the way in which they do. The technological feats during Perfume's show get bigger, slicker, more advanced and evolved. But Perfume themselves stay stationary within it all. The versions of songs that they perform are the same. The routines are exactly the same. Reframe was entertaining to watch and flawless in its visual execution. But the best part all of the visual excellence, was hearing Perfume sing a different version of "Voice" in their natural singing voices with nothing but a purple light and a black backdrop, because it was something I hadn't seen nor heard from them before. It added a whole new texture to the show because it was a respite from us getting PERFUME THE DIGITAL AVATAR ROBO-GIRLS and having a chance to enjoy them in a different way which didn't involve pure spectacle. Also, they can sing. Well, Kashiyuka can't. But a-chan and Nocchi have decent voices. It annoys me that we still get songs where the girls sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks, when we've got Chaka ka-chan and Nochhetha Franklin with good singing voices. I also wish we got them singing whole songs live. I would have loved for "Dream land" to have been live given that the girls didn't dance during it. "Dream land" is one of my favourite songs from LEVEL3, but hearing it live with Nocchi and a-chan serving their natural singing voices would elevate it ten-fold. There was also a section in the show which featured a megamix, mash-up, clusterfuck of a bunch of their songs, which presented one of the few occasions where I got to hear Perfume's music in different forms.

Perfume's music hasn't popped the way it used to, but we got original compositions in Reframe and they all sounded great and of the quality we used to get back in the day. The music for their Pose and 'Lylic' analysis segments were amazing. You best believe I ripped those bitches for the iPod.

I just wish that Perfume's live renditions of songs evolved in the same way that their stage creatives do.

Reframe was amazing. It should be shown in schools. It should be in the MoMa. It should be on streaming services like Netflix for the world to see. But I want the same boldness that Perfume's team put into visually reinterpreting the music to be placed into the music itself. Reframe what we hear, not just what we see. Revisions. Remixes. Whatever. Just give me more than somebody backstage pressing play on Apple Music.

🔔 A review of Perfume's P Cubed tour will be posted next week.

📝 Perfume album reviews: Game | | JPN | LEVEL3 | Cosmic explorer | Future pop | The Best "P Cubed"
🔊 Playlists: The Rest "P Cubed" | Perfume Pussy Poppers
🎛️ Remix: Nananananairo (featuring Khia)