The only way WagakkiBand could be more Japanese is if Scarlett Johansson was playing the part of the singer.
The eight-piece hit the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium for a pair of concerts that were its biggest yet, according to organizers. The Feb. 17 show, which I was at, was big, theatrical and dramatic. Lead vocalist Yuko Suzuhana glided onto the stage decked out in an elaborate kimono and waving a folding fan as the group launched into a performance of “Hanabi.”
I wasn’t too familiar with WagakkiBand before the show, but a friend told me she likes the way the group mixes rock music with traditional Japanese instrumentation. Sure enough, a five-song segment in the front half of the show provided the chance to showcase each instrument — koto, shakuhachi, Tsugaru shamisen and wadaiko drums.
During performances of “Yoshiwara Ramento” and “Senbonzakura,” I could see people in the audience squirming in their assigned seats, itching to start shoving each other into a mosh pit. Instead, a sea of purple lights moved simultaneously to the beat as Suzuhana pranced up and down the U-shaped extended stage that stretched halfway up the arena.
WagakkiBand isn’t understated — almost every song was accompanied by an explosion, flashing visuals or a smoke machine — in a piece titled “Setsuna — Hakuo no Yoru, ” Suzuhana even did a samurai sword dance (told you it was Japanese). Another highlight was “Episode.0,” in which guitarist Machiya took over singing duties and hit it out of the park.
In between songs Suzuhana mostly kept the on-stage banter to a minimum, but thanked the audience (drummer Wasabi even had a quick chat in Chinese with some fans). Even if you’re not a fan, there’s no denying the skill with which these musicians handle their instruments. If it takes flashy costumes and rock ‘n’ roll song structures to get people to listen, so be it. Come for the shirtless drummer, stay for some quality fun.
WagakkiBand’s new album, “Shikisai,” comes out March 22. The band goes on tour from April. For more information, visit www.wagakkiband.jp.
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