X Japan – Oakland – September 28th, 2010
When I first started listening to X Japan, never in a million years did I think they would reunite, let alone tour in the US. These legends easily sell out giant stadiums and festivals in Japan, so for them to take a step back and play at relatively smaller theaters in an untested market for them, is an absolute honor. There was going to be no way I was going to miss out on their first push into the American music scene. J-rock here is a pretty small niche, so I honestly wasn’t sure what kind of turn out there would be. X hasn’t even had a proper album release here, so nearly everything is word of mouth. Fortunately, the fan response was enormous. The line was huge and there was a infectious energy flowing through the crowd once the show got started.
So, despite no mention of any opening bands, we were graced with the presence of… Vampires Everywhere. They even dressed in all black and vampire-y. Lots of screaming lyrics and also mumbling by the lead singer in between songs. They played some fast paced and aggressive riffs and their drummer was wild behind his kit, while their keyboardist was quite… animated. Unfortunately were met with a lukewarm reaction to the crowd. Most of their big cheers came from asking the crowd if they were excited to see X Japan. I was hoping for just one big set from X Japan, and if not that, perhaps an upcoming J-Rock band. Though we had to settle for what was on stage, and they sure played their hearts out. But then again, if you were opening for this musical super-power, you’d better be putting on the show of your life!
X Japan brought that same amazing energy that they’ve instilled in all the J-rockers back home in Japan. Even though they didn’t have a giant stage, big video screens, or an elaborate stage show, they still gave the same caliber performance as if they were playing at the Tokyo Dome for 100,000+ people. All the 6 of the guys gave it their all and were genuinely happy to be there. The smaller stage set wasn’t a problem as they were still very mobile and energetic. Toshi was quite demanding of the crowd, forcing us to scream louder and louder for them. He also seemed to have shaken out the cobwebs from his voice as he was sounding great nearly all the time. Heath was very much grooving to the songs, not even breaking a sweat. Pata, although not as energetic as the others, would break out in a big smile every now and then. Sugizo is an excellent addition to the band, very graceful and all over the place, but never missing a note. The soft spoken Yoshiki, was in a word, amazing. He was frantic on the drums, gentle on the piano (for the most part), and at all times, deeply humble for the energy and support. Although there were only 5 musicians visible on stage, it would be a huge mistake to deny the presence of hide amongst all of us that night.
The music before and after the opening band were all symphonic pieces taken from YOSHIKI‘s Eternal Melody and Eternal Melody II albums. Specifically, I remember hearing Forever Love (Classical Version) before the show and Without you (Classical Version) during the changeover. I’m pretty sure there was one more, but I can’t quite recall which one it was, though I’m inclined to say it was either Tears or Say Anything. With the lights down and no band on stage, the crowd did what any good crowd should do: cheer and chant! We were even treated to two videographers coming out and recording our antics, presumably for a tour video or documentary. Not too long after that, the lights really dropped and we were treated to a new orchestral intro with a sort of angelic choir singing over it (personally, I was hoping for Amethyst). It was slow and kind of ominous. Suddenly, there was movement on the stage. Silhouettes in the dark blue light contrasting the bright red X Japan logo fading in and out on the large screen. The unmistakable figure of Yoshiki stands tall on his drum throne, staring down pensively at the screaming audience. Then out of nowhere, a familiar female voice talks to us:
“Welcome to the show. We have been looking forward to this moment. Thank you for being here. We’ll show you the place where dreams and life become one. Memorize this moment we will spend together, and keep us in your hearts. Introducing… X JAPAN.”
By this time, a huge X Japan logo was on the screen. Those of you familiar with that female overdub intro will know that upon saying “Japan,” it’s almost like she breaks down and just starts repeating “Japan” over and over. All the while, the big logo starts vibrating and shaking like crazy. A very brief pause after the last “Japan” is said with everyone holding their breath until…
●Jade (Staring off with one of their new tracks. From the get go it has a driving beat, with a low and kinda grinding riff. During a short pause in the music, Toshi simply exclaims, “Jade!” to instant screams from the crowd. Green lights starts filling as it’s only Yoshiki and Heath playing along with Toshi. The verse keeps growing, adding in Pata and Sugizo as Toshi starts singing higher, until it resolves into the more uplifting sounding chorus. The tempo is just right to get people’s arms up in the air moving back and forth. I must say that this song really showcased Toshi’s range. We also got a taste of Sugizo’s excellent guitar skills, proving he fits right in with the band. After the familiar mid-song breakdown, we were treated to more awesome chorus. They topped it off with Toshi holding a nice long high note while the rest of the guys rocked the outro. Then they treated us to some formalities like “What’s up Oakland!” and “Are you ready to rock?”
●Rusty Nail Toshi commands us to scream as the lights start flashing right in time to the keyboard intro. You gotta love this upbeat, energetic song. It was a surprise when Toshi sang quite a bit of it in English, if not the whole thing. Plus Yoshiki was blasting away perfectly up on the drums. Very fun song.)
●Silent Jealousy (Yoshiki takes his first trip of the night, 5 feet away to his clear piano. After a little bit of free styling, he starts segueing into the piano intro. After that, he leaves it to Toshi to sing the chorus a capella, with the crowd singing along too of course. He shows off a little, sustaining the note on the phrase “midarete” perfectly. Naturally, he got much applause for it. Not too long after that, we’re thrust right into the fast paced, X Japan classic. It was definitely one of the fan favorites of the night, the crowd moving to the beat and singing along on the chorus, despite being almost all in Japanese. Sugizo nailed the guitar solo without even trying and synced up perfectly with Pata during their unison parts. They ended with a grand ending, with Yoshiki pretty much tumbling out from behind his drum set.)
●DRAIN (Sugizo and Yoshiki disappear for this song, leaving Pata, Toshi, and Heath to dominate the stage. It was an interesting change of pace. We got to see Heath in action on our side of the stage. Pata really tore it up on guitar, playing both guitar parts combined. Not really my pick for a song in their setlist, but I did find myself humming the chorus later on in the night. The best part was hearing hide singing right along with Toshi, followed by his raspy shouts of “Drain!” Unexpected!)
●Violin Solo / Piano Solo / Violin & Piano Duet (As the three guys walked off into the shadows, Sugizo pranced up to the piano in a dim spotlight. He not only played gracefully, but moved gracefully as he played as well. I like that he worked in the main theme of LUNA SEA‘s Providence very slyly. Eventually, Yoshiki appeared from the shadows and took over on piano, literally stealing the spotlight. He astounded us with some very intricate classical piano work. Yoshiki paused briefly to gracefully count Sugizo in and share the spotlight. The duet ended up being a very beautiful arrangement of the intro to…
●Kurenai or 紅 (After the chilling intro (and a little piano bashing by Yoshiki) they launched straight into it with the stage bathed in crimson red lights. Once again, Toshi sang some new lyrics in English. Some good interaction between Heath and the guitarists during the instrumental section. Toshi headed up to hang out with Yoshiki and kinda played hide and seek with him. Then, just like nearly every other performance of this song, they demanded the crowd sing along to the chorus, with Toshi not even singing at all during some parts. I think we fared pretty well for an English speaking crowd!)
●Born To Be Free (Another new track for us, this one I had never heard before. It was a very rocking song with such a driving force. It actually sounded very American influenced, kind of a departure from their more metal songs and their ballads. A lot of good moments for Toshi to initiate some crowd chanting as well as jumping during the chorus. The chorus was actually pretty simple and catchy, with some sort of female backing vocals saying something. The bridge had this very aggressive thrashy riff followed by a Sugizo solo. Then two X Japan trademarks back to back: female voice dubbed over saying some sort of poem type thing, and a mid-song piano breakdown! Toshi even held the last note long enough for Yoshiki to dash back to the drums. I’m excited to hear this on their upcoming album.)
●DRUM SOLO (The other guys depart and Yoshiki starts wailing away on his drums. Toshi announces, “On drums… Yoshiki!” The double bass kick was pounding away and he was going crazy all over the rest of the set, taking a brief break in between complicated patterns. Then, out of nowhere, Yoshiki stumbles over to his piano. Toshi, not missing a beat, announces, “On piano… Yoshiki!” A little dose of Fur Elise to much amusement of everyone. Then right back to the drums. “On drums, uh, Yoshiki!” Another crazy drum pattern, then right back to the piano. “On piano? Yoshiki?” )
●I.V. (Toshi makes his way back out as Yoshiki slowly shifts the music to I.V. Toshi helps the crowd to get into karaoke mode, by having everyone sing the backing vocals. I don’t know how many times we sang “In the rain” and “Find the way.” The other guys dropped in and out, adding a little extra oomph. At one point Toshi was making Sugizo help lead us while he filled in the rest of the chorus. Eventually, Yoshiki hopped back onto drums and Toshi finally got around to singing “I will give it straight from my vein,” followed by a high pitched scream while the others started the song. During the first verse, they added that weird effect to Toshi’s voice to make it sound like the album version. We also finally got to see Heath and Sugizo sing some backing vocals! And somewhere in there, Sugizo pulls off this cool spin in the middle of a chord. The song definitely sounded great live!)
●X (With this song, they closed out their set. It was a very high energy song though and is as exciting to hear live as one would expect it to be. They surprised us with giant pillars of smoke shooting up from the center of stage. As cool as the verse was, it was nothing compared to what happened when we reached the chorus. The whole pit and a good part of the next tier up went crazy, jumping and forming the X with their arms. At the end of the solos section, Toshi did the band introduction. “On bass, Heath! On guitar, Pata! On guitar, Sugizo! On guitar, hide! On drums, Yoshiki! On vocals, Toshi!” Another energetic chorus, then the long drawn out part of “WE ARE!” “X!” over and over, not that anyone really minded! Eventually we got some gong crashes and then Yoshiki and Toshi switched, with Yoshiki yelling at us and Toshi slamming on the cymbals. It ended up being a big blur of events, but after a while, we were eventually left with a dark stage.)
After an extended break, the guys finally reappeared. Yoshiki addresses us before they start. First off, he thanks us for being here on their second show of their first North American tour and they had been dreaming about it for a long time. After breaking up over 12 years ago, he say us that it was hide that brought them back together. That statement brought screams from the entire crowd, followed by a resounding chant of “hide! hide!” Yoshiki simply responds, “hide says he can’t hear you! Can’t you fucking scream?!” Followed by, “Well, he loves you too, and we love you too.” At this point, it sounds like Yoshiki is ready to cry. He thanks us again for being supportive. He then tells us that they are all determined to make it big in North America. “Please help us and support us.”
●ENDLESS RAIN (Heath, Sugizo, and Pata headed over and took a seat on the stairs leading up to Yoshiki’s drums, Toshi was center stage, with Yoshiki at the piano. It was the one ballad for the night, so it really had to count. So naturally, they picked Endless Rain. The mood on stage was very relaxed and very mellow. As they got closer to the end, the other three guys started dropping out, leaving only Yoshiki accompanying. From there, the song really took off on its own. The crowd took over with a little guidance from Toshi, repeating the chorus over and over. It was an amazing moment, Heath and Pata just sat there, watching all of us, eventually joined by Yoshiki. After what could have been 5 minutes of singing, Toshi helped us finish it off.)
●ART OF LIFE (Absolutely unexpected! Easily my favorite song, ever. It was absolutely thrilling to see them play it live, even though it wasn’t the entire thing. As the stage was cleared, Sugizo reappeared with his violin, playing a somber intro. Soon he was replaced by that familiar, gentle, repeating piano pattern of Art Of Life. Yoshiki soon reappeared and after striking a pose, he went right to work, layering his piano solo over the other piano playing. It started simple and elegant, but it only took a few minutes for it to devolve into his crazy off-key chords, misplaced patterns, and straight up bashing. Nothing but pure emotion flowing through him, funneling it all through the piano. Everyone couldn’t help but stare as Yoshiki poured his heart out. As the symphony slowly started to fade in, his playing became both more “normal” but also more frantic. At one point he was so caught up in bashing, he knocked the bench back and had to play on one knee. Eventually he collapsed onto the floor in front of the piano, slamming his whole arm onto the keys over and over relentlessly before letting the symphony finally take over. Somehow Yoshiki managed to get a second wind after all that energy spent on the piano solo, as they launched right into the remaining song, starting with some speedy drum fills. I can only describe the rest of the song as purely epic. The ending was very grand, leaving me with chills down my spine once the rest of the band dropped out and Toshi was left holding the phrase “life.” Epic.)
Yoshiki literally tumbles out from behind his drum set, collapsed on the floor, absolutely spent. Eventually he worked his way back to his feet as Forever Love (Last Mix) started to play over the speakers. The members gathered at center stage and got their picture taken with the crowd cheering behind them. Hopefully we’ll see that picture on their site somewhere! Upon taking their bows, they ended an amazing, energetic concert. After seeing them live, it’s easy to see why so many people in Japan rush to see them. They put on one hell of a show. Lots of energy, amazing music, and excellent showmanship. Although they’re not the first J-rock band to make their way through North America, these guys are the pioneers, the masters, the legends. It’s safe to say that the J-Rock Revolution has officially begun! WE ARE! X!