X Japan performed its first show in Japan in over three years on Sept. 30 at Yokohama Arena.
One of the biggest Japanese rock bands ever, X Japan are responsible for spearheading the visual-kei movement in the early 1990s. The band is known for its classical-infused speed metal and ballads, a combination mostly attributed to drummer, pianist and leader Yoshiki Hayashi’s guiding sensibilities.
The three-hour show was day one of a two-day stint that served as a warmup for the band’s show at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
If the word “epic” belongs to any band in this country, it would probably be X Japan. This is in part due to a tumultuous history that includes the untimely deaths of guitarist Hideto “Hide” Matsumoto in 1998 and original bassist Taiji Sawada in 2011, the latter of whom left the band in 1992 and was then replaced by current bassist Hiroshi “Heath” Morie. Guitarists Tomoaki “Pata” Ishizuka and Yune “Sugizo” Sugihara (who is also a member of popular rock act Luna Sea) and vocalist Toshimitsu “Toshl” Deyama round out the current lineup.
Before Hide’s death, an event that had as much of an impact in Japan as the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain did in the West, the band broke up in 1997 when Toshl left the group to join a religious cult (he has since claimed that he was brainwashed). X Japan officially returned to the stage in 2007, and have performed shows on and off in Japan, and conducted a world tour in 2011. Sugizo joined the band as a full time member in 2009 to “fill in” for Hide (the band still recognizes Hide and Taiji as official members). While poised for a grand rebirth, several emotional and health-related roadblocks had postponed a full-scale comeback, until now.
“X Japan has finally returned!” shouted vocalist Toshl at Yokohama Arena, with that distinctive voice that defined for many the rock music in Japan in the early ’90s. Sounding just as good as ever, he took the crowd through the bands many hits, including rockers “Rusty Nail,” “Silent Jealousy” and “Kurenai,” while Yoshiki, who wore a neck brace to support his spine, pounded away like a madman on his “crystal” transparent drums, shirt off and hair flailing.
While the set focused mostly on older fan favorites, two new compositions were inserted into the mix — “Hero” and “Beneath The Skin,” the latter being a track penned by Sugizo. The guitarist, who reportedly had a guitar newly built for these shows in order to accurately replicate the sound of X Japan from the ’90s, did a stellar job at capturing Hide’s spirit, while at the same time leaving his own unmistakable mark. His presence connected the past and present, and at this point it’s hard to imagine anyone else filling in a position held dear by so many fans.
The band performed two encores, the first beginning with a lengthy piano and drum solo from Yoshiki, a staple of X Japan shows over the years. Switching from one instrument to the other, he impressed the crowd with virtuosic piano playing. The encore ended with the band’s biggest hit, the ballad “Forever Love,” which was set to a backdrop of images from the band’s early days, with heartfelt reactions of the crowd to pictures of Hide and Taiji.
At that point, Yoshiki took the mic and began a call-and-response with the audience: “We are!” he shouted, to which the audience replied, “X!” “Let Hide and Taiji hear us!” he screamed, lying down on top of his piano, his voice giving out slightly with each consecutive yell. The band returned for a second encore, performing the ballads “Endless Rain” and “Art Of Life.”
The evening was definitely an emotional one, especially for Toshl and Yoshiki. Friends from early childhood, the event came off like a celebration of their long history and how, despite everything that has happened, they are still performing together. Contrary to its image of being a band with anger, tragedy and destruction, the X Japan I saw that night was smiling, happy to be together and undoubtedly looking forward to Madison Square Garden.
Beneath the Skin
Sugizo violin solo
Born To Be Free
Art Of Life (piano)
Art Of Life (band)