Japan's first actual full-blown concert at
Southern California's Wiltern Theater that started their
first North American tour put on full display the iconic
Japanese band's expertise within the rock (Japanese
version of heavy metal) and classical genres that
has allowed them to reach legendary status in their home
country of Japan and throughout Asia. The band's passionate
and dedicate followers personally witnessed "up close
and personal" the band's multiple skills that included
Yoshiki's (Yoshiki Hayashi) piano compositions
and outrageous technical skills on drums, along with Toshi's
(Toshimitsu Deyama) vocal abilities.
band's devoted multi-ethnic (though
mostly Japanese) fans - many in cosplay outfits, dolls
in tribute of the group's late guitar player - "hide"
- gathered at the Wiltern Theater hours ahead of time in
memory/tribute/influences of X Japan's 1993 mini-album Art
of Life, 30 minutes of melancholic piano interludes to bone-crushing
guitar sounds - with violins and other instruments that
Yoshiki - to their other albums such as "Vanishing
Vision" to "Blue Blood" (breakthrough
CD) to "Jealousy" to "Dahlia"
(last major release) to memories of the late hide's
(Hideto Matsumoto) guitar magic.
Japan has regularly played in front of crowds
between 20,000 to 50,000 people (selling out the 50,000
capacity Tokyo Dome 18 times) with their normal three
hours long concerts while selling 30 million CDs/albums
by 2010 throughout Asia. Many consider them the originators
of visual kei - style of Japanese hard rock that incorporates
elaborate and gothic-styled imagery within their performances
that often include black leather, skulls and crosses. In
addition, there were many members of X Japan's American
management/production/supporters that gathered that night
to see X Japan's first official entry into the American
to their performance, someone would shout
"We are" and much of the audience would respond
with "X" - often people would raise their arms above
your head and cross your wrists to form the letter X. Many
fans were saddened that clips from "Yoshiki History Through
X Japan" or that a fashion show featuring clothes from
Yoshiki's clothing line with N. Naoto were not played during
the 60+ minute intermission between the opening act and X
Japan. Many others bought exclusive X JAPAN tour items including
multiple t-shirt styles, the Yoshikitty doll, key chains,
a hoodie and more at merchandise tables during the intermission
time and after the concert
Japan started their performance with a high
energy version of "Jade" and "Rusty Nail"
(both songs off their latest CD) - with a backdrop
filled with lights of ever-changing colors. Their reputation
as a stadium band was highlighted by the production that
included LED lights, pyrotechnic elements, smoke machines,
costume changes and "tried and true" classic "rock
and roll" choreography that hinted of the production
values at their stadium shows. Despite X Japan being handicapped
with the sound mix that didn't provide the greatest opportunities
to consistently hear the band's individual musical talents,
though it was better than the one given to the opening band
(see below for the review of "Vampires Everywhere"),
many devoted followers were satisfied to just to see and
hear their music heroes perform live.
the first two songs,
followed by their performances of "Silent Jealousy"
and "Drain" - Toshi seemed dedicated to evoking
the vocal memories of legendary rock singers such as Ronald
Belford "Bon" Scott and Brian Johnson from AC/DC
fame to Guns and Roses' Axl Rose. The "Violin and Piano
Interlude" provided momentary and fleeting inspirations
from diverse sources such as Mahavishnu Orchestra's violinist
Jerry Goodman/Jean-Luc Ponty to the playful interplay exhibited
by Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson.
Toshi and the other band members - Pata
(Tomoaki Ishizuka) and Sugizo (Yune Sugihara)
and "Heath" (Hiroshi Morie) - played
with fury other highlights of their long career. These selections
included songs such as Kurenai that provided the first explosive
responses from the audience to the Bon Jovi-like rock anthem
song Born to Be Free (from their latest CD) that
included an extensive drum solo that ended with Yoshiki
drenched in water and water bottles being tossed out to
the audience in a fashion soliciting memories of vintage
arena rock and roll shows from days gone by. The ending
songs I.V. (song featured in the movie Saw IV)
and X brought the audience to an even greater frenzy befitting
their adulation of their gods of Japanese rock and roll.
encore songs included a passionate version
of the ballad Endless Rain and a musical highlight that
started their great success - Art of Life. During this time,
the band acknowledged the importance of this show and Yoshiki
spoke emotionally about "hide." Despite hide's
deathin being more than a decade ago, shortly after the
band breakup, he remains an integral part and ever-present
"spirit" that remains within the soul of X Japan
and their fans - as noted by various members of the audience
dressing nearly identical to him. Yoshiki then went on to
say that he has been living in L.A. for about ten years
now, that the city has become, in many ways, his "hometown."
As a result, it was significant that the band chose L.A.
to kick-start this new era of X Japan.
band also used the time during the encore
to acknowledge the importance of this show, L.A.'s impact
on Yoshiki and of the never-ending legacy of their late guitar
player - hide. At the close of the show, Toshi and Yoshiki
led the "We Are!" cry and the devoted fans responded
with the passion their response of "X" in response
to seeing their favorite band. It is noteworthy that the band
took great pains and preparations (i.e. extra financial
considerations) to provide their fans an extended encore
section to meet the needs of their devoted followers.
Media Records' Vampires Everywhere,
night's opening band for X Japan that was seemingly
inspired by the success of "Twilight," provided
great energy and skills born of dreams of being an
arena rock bandUnfortunately, they were penalized
by a sound mix that made their songs appear to be
one great massive unchanging wall of sound where any
existing textures, dynamics and words were not discernible
to any first-time listeners such as myself.
selections - that included Bury Me Alive, Kill The
Chemicals, The Embrace, Undead Heart, Ashes To Ashes,
Children Of The Night and Immortal Love - appeared
appropriate for the genre, though the mix made it
difficult to accurately gauge the band. It would be
interesting to see them at a rock festival with their
own sound person to maximize their creativity and
how the band utilized effects such as "Auto-Tune"
in their live performances.
the past, Yoshiki has asked "So why
can't we have different dimension in the music?" Given
their past demonstrated abilities and their goal(s)
to incorporate current rock segments performed that have
become staples of recent tours of many high-profiled rock/speed
metal/thrash bands - the band might have missed an excellent
opportunity (along with disappointing some fans)
of displaying a different dimension in their music that
would have been on display within in an acoustic "Unplugged"
section of their performance. The band has successfully
done this in the past. Even an intimate "bar performance"
segment devoid of any lighting distractions midway through
their performance - that has been done by large American
stadium bands such as The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith -
would have highlighted their respective musical skills that
might have been hidden and/or unknown. These musical journeys
could have elevated their reputations of musicians with
amazing technical skills on their respective instruments
while further separating themselves from other Japanese/Asian
rock bands while continuing the trail-blazing paths of pioneering
rockers such as Cui Jian.
Japan's concert at the Wiltern Theater is
part of the strongest attempt by a Japanese band to capture
the American audience ever, that included a X Japan appearance
at Lollapalooza and a new album almost entirely in English.
It will be interesting to see the results of the tour after
X Japan completes their tour stops at Seattle's Paramount
Theatre (8:00PM with a capacity of 2,300 people),
Toronto's Queen Elizabeth Theatre (12:00AM - for Asian
fans and 7:30PM with a seating capacity of 6,200 people),
Chicago's Riviera Theatre (8:00PM with a capacity of
2,500 people) and Toronto's Massey Hall in Ryerson
University (8:00PM with a capacity of 2,800 people).
X Japan's communicates Yoshiki's words
"My inspiration is that music should be free, no boundaries"
and "Music doesn't have to come from one country or
two countries. . . It could come from all over the world"
could be strategic in deciding if the group will join the
ranks of iconic American rock's royalty (past and present)
such as White Stripes, Guns and Roses, Slayer, Rage Against
the Machine, Led Zeppelin, System of a Down, Clash, Nirvana,
AC/DC, Radiohead, Black Sabbath, The Who, Megadeath, Anthrax,
Queen, Mettalica and many others. Will X Japan will have
a distinctive musical voice and rock anthems that will resonate
in today's highly diverse rock scene to American audiences?
It will be fascinating to see what other styles Yoshiki
(along with the other band members) will bring
from a person whose interests include David Bowie and KISS
with influences from Queen (via working with Roger Taylor)
and George Martin.