The second concert slated for this year’s Anime Boston was something that seemed interesting on paper, to say the least. Raj Ramayya is a Canadian singer-songwriter that makes up half of musical duo Beautiful Losers. He’s won numerous awards for his scoring work, including Best Soundtrack at Saskatchewan Motion Picture Association’s “NextFest”, for his contributions to documentary Cosmic Current. Among anime fans, he’s best known for his vocal contributions to Cowboy Bebop and Wolf’s Rain. Ol’ga Vital’evna Yakovleva, better known by her stage name Origa, is a Russian vocalist best known for her contributions to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex in America. She’s contributed her talents to a number of prominent properties, including Turn A Gundam and Final Fantasy XIII-2, and much of her music is performed to undulating electric rhythms. To place the two together, one could surmise, would be like mixing oil with water, as the artists’ different sounds would be too disparate to really “work” together.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Ramayya took the stage clad in a plaid shirt, black jeans, and a pair of sunglasses. He opened his acoustic set with Strangers, from Wolf’s Rain. As he played, Ramayya’s lyrics rang with a soulful, somber tone that seemed to meld with the melody of his guitar. He would follow this with a rare acoustic rendition of Strawberry Rainbow, a sweet musical tale of someone who travels from San Francisco to Japan, and back again. Ramayya allowed his playful side to surface in this particular piece, as he began beat-boxing in the final moments of the song, causing a wave of laughter to erupt in the audience.
Between songs, Ramayya offered interludes, explaining the background of the next song, or a playful anecdote. The interludes, like the music, were often thoughtful and funny, as Ramayya’s natural charisma shone through. Whether it was the tales of Strawberry Rainbow’s difficulties releasing in America. Nearly every song had a story, and every story had a good reason to be listened to. Some of these breaks, though, were simply for a bit of fun, as he led the audience in bouts of “gang bowing”, and hosted a miniature trivia contest.
His next song, Aphrodisiac, was infections, if not biting and just a tad risque. The melodic tale of a love-hate relationship sent ripples through the audience, as it dredged up memories of relationships past. His natural jokester still managed to surface, though, as Ramayya broke down into over-dramatic (and obviously fake) sobs near the end of the song, eliciting a number of chuckles that could be heard above the ambient noise. After a brief intermission, which included a short break for a trivia give-away, Ramayya began Musical Therapy. The tune was simple and short, but Ramayya’s delivery was fantastic. His voice and his tone seemed to carry the raw emotion of the song itself.
To change the pace a bit, Ramayya allowed the audience to decide what the next song would be. They would toss out three words, which Ramayya would compose a song about on the spot. The audience’s response? “Raunchy Toaster-Strudel Mecha.”
I’ll let that sink in for a moment.
Anyway, with this in mind, Ramayya managed to craft a song that worked. It was goofy and silly, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t fun. He used the song as an outlet for countless gags, and managed to get the audience laughing.
Ramayya concluded his set with Ask DNA, from Cowboy Bebop: the Movie. His performance, which included a number of call-backs to the audience, was a charming finish to his set. The audience was riveted through the entire song and, by the time it ended, it was clear that nobody wanted the performance to end. It felt almost like a tease, a tantalizing morsel that could have easily gone on until the sun hung low over the horizon. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, and Ramayya was sent off with a well-deserved standing ovation.
When Origa took to the stage, the mood seemed to instantly change. Where Ramayya was laid back and thoughtful, Origa was bouncy and upbeat. Origa’s vocal stylings, with their undulating tones and syncopated tempo, gave hints of a modern-day Enka, as they complemented the thumping electronic beats. And, with the change in pace came a change in the energy of the room. Those who were seated and thoughtful just moments ago were suddenly up and grooving to the music. Unlike Ramiyya, Origa instead flowed from song to song, with only the occasional break to address the audience.
Personally, though, I felt that her performance was most effective in the few cases that she broke from the electronic back beats. Origa’s a capella performance of Inner Universe was incredible, and allowed her voice to really shine. Likewise, her performance of a traditional Russian folk song was soulful and heart-felt, as the emotions in her voice spread through the room like a virus.
Origa’s performance lasted until the early hours of the morning. And, as she made her final bow for the evening, there was a palpable sense of regret. It was clear that they wanted the party to continue. As the crowd flooded out to the Hynes, one could feel the energy scatter to the winds. The fantasy had ended and, even if it were only or a few hours, those within were given the chance to escape from the Boston landscapes to a world of music and imagination.