X Japan @ The ParamountPosted by Nick Larzalere
Fifteen years ago, everything about X Japan was huge: their musical style, their stage presence, fan base, and hairstyles. Only two main changes–Yūne “Sugizo” Sugihara replaced Hideto “Hide” Matsumoto on guitar after Hide’s untimely death, and thehair — has effected X Japan over the years. In fact, between Hide’s death and this month, X Japan has only released one new song, “I.V.”, which was the main theme for the movie Saw IV. Despite this inactivity, it is incomprehensible the level of popularity the band enjoys in Japan. They have sold out the 55,000 seat Tokyo Dome eighteen times, including massive turnouts for their reunion shows a few years ago. It’s only recently the band has begun touring internationally, this year marking their first shows in North America. Other than a few dedicated fans following the group across the country, it was an audience that only had seen X Japan perform on video.
Opening band, Vampires Everywhere!, did their best to get the audience of the Paramount pumped up and out of their sets, but halfway through their set only a handful of people were standing and cheering the band as entire rows of the main floor empty and much of the balcony remained empty. Shortly after Vampires Everywhere! left the stage, that quickly changed. Seats on the main floor started to fill in and a small mob started to form at the stage. Minutes before X Japan was set to take the stage, the users broke up the pit by the stage, and the entire audience was standing. Though the balcony was still only half full, the noise that the crowd was making made it seem like a packed house. As the crowd continued to chant “X!”, the stage was bathed in blue light, and the band’s logo–a giant “X” with “Japan” written below it–began to flash in red on the back of the stage. One by one, dark figures come on stage and strike a pose.
The lights flared up and the pounding drums and guitars of “Jade,” (one of the songs off their forthcoming album) kicked off the show.. While X Japan has always included a spattering of English lyrics in their songs, their latest songs are different by being largely in English. Drummer Yoshiki Hayashi admitted in an earlier interview with the Seattle P.I. that this was an attempt to gain more fans in America(they are also in the process of translating their old hits into English). After “Jade,” X Japan launched into “Rusty Nail,” and began the song in their traditional way: a large blast of pyrotechnics. The familiar dual guitars of Sugizo and Tomoaki “Pata” Ishizuka, along with the yearning voice of Toshimitsu “Toshi” Deyama, brought the audience into the show.
Yoshiki moved over to the piano set up next to his drum kit and started playing the intro to “Silent Jealosy,” another fan favorite. Yoshiki stayed on piano while Sugizo picked up the violin and performed part of the “Star Spangled Banner.” The pair were joined by Pata, who played the slow and gentle intro to one of X Japan’s most well known songs, “Kurenai.” With blazing fast guitars and an amazing solo by Sugizo, this is what X Japan is all about: bringing a bit of showmanship and glam back into metal. With Toshi leading the audience in the refrain and occasional spurts of fire from the stage, the audience is worked into a frenzy.
As the band started playing their unofficial theme song. “X,” the audience was shouting out their line, “X!” People were crossing their arms above their heads and throwing themselves forward as they shouted. The band gave everything they had to get the crowd worked up: they fired off several more pyrotechnic bursts and compressed gas as Toshi led several chants as the band started to wind down. Just when it seemed like they were about to play the last note, they jumped into one more refrain. The audience still throwing themselves forward with each shout of “X!” X Japan thanked everyone and left the stage.
After ten minutes of waiting, the band came back out and a mirror ball lowered from the ceiling. Pata, Sugizo, and bassist Hiroshi “Heath” Morie took a seat on the stairs of the stage, while Yoshiki again sat at the piano. Toshi thanked the audience again and explained their hopes for the rest of the tour and the near future. He then mentioned the band’s late guitarist, Hide, which brought a large cheer from everyone, completely drowning out Toshi. Yoshiki then started their first and most famous ballad, “Endless Rain.” The audience needed little coaching on the chorus, even the most casual fans of X Japan are familiar with the song. “Art of Life,” closed the evening; another new song that helped end the night on a positive note after the sadness of “Endless Rain.”
X Japan knows that they are starting anew in North America, and despite a rabid fanbase, it is nothing compared to what they enjoy in Japan. They are only playing seven shows in North America, testing the waters for any future tours. It’s difficult for foreign language bands to make it big in the US but X Japan has been around long enough and has enough dedicated fans to bring them back for more shows. Halfway through their tour, they are still as fresh and polished as anything off their live DVDs. Their new songs are stylistically similar to their older songs, but don’t come off as stale. So more than twenty years later, the founders of the visual kei movement have only changed their hair, but kept everything else that made them big in Japan. Hopefully it pays off in the US.