Concerts / Events
"We Are...X!": tokyohive covers X JAPAN's concert in Toronto!
When I heard that there was to be an X Japan concert in Toronto, my first reaction was skeptical, to say the least. “X Japan?”, I asked my friend incredulously. “Are you sure that it’s not some random indie group covering X Japan?” My friend assured me that the metal legends of Japan were indeed coming to Toronto. My Toronto. The city that rarely hosts concerts from Japanese artists, if ever.
X Japan has been active for around 30 years, and having suffered through the rollercoaster ups-and-downs which come with a legendary rockband status, they’ve finally made it to their first North American tour. The band purposely selected smaller venues, as a throwback to their earlier days. Playing in seven musically-key cities with the aid of an interesting opening act (Vampires Everywhere!), X Japan was ready to tackle their dream of debuting in North America.
[caption id="attachment_99110" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Photo by: Betty J. Wong"][/caption]
We got there a bit late, so I wasn't able to check out the full set of songs that Vampires Everywhere! had prepared. Still, they certainly roused some audience members, as I noticed various headbangers and moshers scattered about the hall.
After a few short songs, Vampires Everywhere! wrapped up their stint to polite applause and cheers before the lights flooded back on. Fans were granted a few minutes to mull about or grab some last-minute merchandise downstairs. Some rushed to the front to take a picture of Yoshiki’s drum set, others watched the stage doors intently to see if they could catch a glimpse of their idols.
Speaking with a few fans around me, I was surprised to hear how patiently they’ve been waiting for X Japan.
Absentmindedly twirling a glowstick, one fan confessed, “I drove from Charlottetown, P.E.I. to be here. It was a 17-hour drive. But it’s worth it for me – I’ve waited 13 years for them.”
When asked about his expectations for the show, he said, “I’m not sure what to expect really. I know that there’s a set list posted on the internet somewhere, but I want to feel surprised.” Pausing thoughtfully for a second, he shyly admitted, “I would like to hear “Kurenai” though. It would be a good birthday present for me.”
Just then, the lights cut out. Fans started screaming, and I lost the soft-voiced fan somewhere amidst the crowd. An aria began to play, softly at first, then louder, higher, until it reached a pitch so crystalline it resonated perfectly with the tension in the air. “Introducing…”, a female voice purred, “X Japan, Japan, Japan, Japan…”
Suddenly, the aggressive opening notes for “Jade” sliced through the Hall. Lights flared, and then there they were – Toshi, Pata, Heath, Sugizo, and of course, Yoshiki.
It seemed like no one registered they were really seeing X Japan until Toshi belted out, “’Til you feel alive/ ‘Cause you are beautiful’/ Your scars are beautiful, / Like the jade”. The girl across the aisle suddenly slapped her hands to her face, and I was momentarily distracted by how her body rocked with the sheer force of her sobs.
Sobbing fangirls? Yup. I was definitely at an X Japan concert. At the back of my mind, I wondered if the man I interviewed earlier was tearing up too, wherever he was.
The song ended, and Toshi screamed, “WHAT’S UP, TORONTO????? HOW YOU GUYS DOINGGGGGG-AH? TORONTO!!!!!!!! YOU GUYS READY TO ROCK? YOU GUYS READY TO ROCK??? LET ME HEAR YOU SCREAM!!!!! SCREAMMMMMM!!!!”
Toshi, you rockstar, all through the night, you wringed out every last drop of our adoration and you’d still somehow extract more.
A metallic trill filled the air, and the crowd yelled with excitement. “Rusty Nail” was up next, and the fans began to rock out to a more familiar track. Toshi grabbed a water bottle and doused some fans with playful jets, before tossing the thing into the masses somewhere. Interestingly enough, Sugizo and Pata switched places on the stage mid-song, causing fans to scream at the spontaneous interaction.
Yoshiki’s presence was fairly quiet in the beginning, allowing the spotlight to fall upon his bandmates as he supplemented their harmony with his drumming. But then the lights dimmed, the bandmates withdrew, and Yoshiki floated over to his piano, knowing that all eyes were on him; the crowd was waiting for the moment to scream out his name in full, and he was going to provide it.
He performed a mini solo on the piano, a powerful improv piece that trickled into the opening notes of “Silent Jealousy”. For the next two songs – which included “Drain” - the audience was transported into a feeling of nostalgia, as the classic favorites drifted through the air and into their hearts.
In the meantime, what about Sugizo?
I’ve been watching Sugizo throughout the show to see how his energy would work with X Japan’s. Standing in for hide is a daunting position to fill, but somehow, Sugizo molded his persona and his performance perfectly to fit over that vacuum that's been hurting the band for so long.
He played a rich, sonorous violin solo that quite literally stole my breath. Yoshiki slipped in after the final notes from Sugizo's interpretation of the “Godfather” theme melted away, and together, the duet introduced the melody for "Kurenai".
I silently wished my interviewee a happy birthday, and I hoped that wherever he was, he was savoring this moment.
"Kurenai, "Born to be Free", and "I.V." quickly slipped past me and before I knew it, Toshi was announcing the final song of the set, "X". Fans automatically crossed their arms above their heads into the iconic 'X'. Screaming, hollering, and crashing into one another, they dutifully jumped to the chorus: "X! / kanjite miro! / X! / sakende miro! / X! / kokoro moyase!"
Then all too soon, the set list was over and the band was thanking the audience for coming out. But we all knew that they were coming back for an encore. Quoting the words from a fan in front of me, "They have to. They have to. They are legends, they are X Japan. They won't let their fans down like this."
The audience chanted for X Japan ceaselessly. 10, 15 minutes went by and all one could hear was, "WE ARE...!" "X!" "WE ARE...!" "X!" "WE ARE..."
The band eventually re-emerged, and Yoshiki delivered a small speech in English that was touching in its simplicity. After thanking fans for their devotion throughout the years, he said that "hide was here as well", inciting screams for "hide! hide! hide!" Toshi came out with a Canadian flag and draping it over his shoulders, he thanked the Toronto fans for coming out that night. With the crowd still screaming for hide, Yoshiki began playing the opening chords for "Endless Rain".
If there was a highlight to this entire experience, it would be "Endless Rain". With Heath, Pata, and Sugizo sitting down on the stage steps, looking relaxed as they plucked through their parts, an air of intimacy fell upon the hall and wrapped around all those inside. Toshi incited the crowd to sing longer, sing louder, as the song neared the chorus. Shouting the words, he encouraged the fans to sing them back to him; the exchange went on for minutes, and the band even stopped playing in order to absorb fans' serenade. Pata and Heath looked pensive, Sugizo scanned the room with wonder, Toshi was smiling, and Yoshiki... well, Yoshiki had his face buried in his hands, and it truly looked like he was weeping. With every repetition, the bond between the band and fans deepened and became reinforced against the wear of years. The intensity of this moment, I've never experienced anything quite like it.
Afterwards, the band mustered up their last dredge of strength to belt out "Art of Life". Yoshiki really got into it, hitting his beloved piano keys with his elbows and eventually collapsing off the bench. Ah typical Yoshiki. Without regard for his body, he allows the music to control him, absorb him; his body is secondary to his desire to deliver that beautiful music he feels inside. Yoshiki fans, let me know if I'm getting this wrong. But judging by that neck brace he was rocking all night, somehow, I don't feel like I'm quite off the mark.
The concert was nothing short of phenomenal. Even the band members knew that they just experienced something unique and memorable, as Sugizo rushed off the stage to grab his iPhone and snag pictures of the group in front of a wildly cheering audience.
With their Toronto concert successfully locked down - or, as Yoshiki tweeted, "Officially Xed!!!" - X Japan left to prepare for their next show at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City.
I wasn't the most devoted X Japan fan when I went into the show, but I found myself wanting to grab every single and album that they had ever released just so I could relive that entire concert again and again. That concert has made a groupie out of me, and I'll be looking forward to their new album, scheduled to be released sometime in 2011.
X Japan, come back to North America soon. Your long-time fans and your recent converts are waiting for you.
After all, "We Are X".
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Photography by: Kevin Luc
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