The line started wrapping around the Riviera Theatre in uptown Chicago early in the afternoon, the crowd anticipating an encore from X Japan after a short, but explosive, show back in August at Lollapalooza. The Hide dolls and Yoshikitties peppered the line and random chants of “WE ARE X!” could be heard as it got closer and closer to the opening of the doors.
This was a truly special day of the tour. Not only were they returning to Chicago for the second time in one year, but they were also playing a relatively intimate venue in the Riviera. With a capacity around 2500, many of these fans would be closer to the band than those in Japan have ever been. Just the fact that some in the crowd were likely seeing one of their favorite bands twice in the same year, after long thinking they would never even have the chance to, was enough to make this a truly special occasion.
The lights in the theatre dimmed ten minutes earlier than the posted 7:30 start time, and a short, merciful set was played by sub-par opening band Vampires Everywhere! About 30 minutes or so passed as Yoshiki’s drums were uncovered, Sugizo’s and Pata’s guitars were tuned, and the crowd anticipated the start of the show. Finally the lights dimmed, and the band walked out to the raucous applause and cheering of the crowd. The band wasted almost no time and drove right into one of their newest songs, Jade.
Rusty Nail followed next, another song that was included in the Lollapalooza set. But once the song finished, Yoshiki made sure to change things up for that part of the audience who had the good fortune to see them earlier in the year. He took a seat at his grand, pearl white piano, to the crowd’s delight. He started playing around a bit, but then the familiar, beautiful intro to Silent Jealousy started. The audience had quite a reaction to this with applause starting immediately. Toshi then came back to the forefront and began singing the opening lyrics, the crowd joining in as well. Then in a flash of lights and hits of the cymbals, the guitars roared in and Yoshiki furiously beat the drums and had the entire theatre jumping with his double kick pedals pulsating.
It was here however that it became evident the sound set up was a bit off. At times, through out the show, it was hard to make out the guitar, obscuring some of the solos, as well as the bass being a bit overpowering at times. The Riviera hasn’t always had the best sound, but that wasn’t about to be a deterrent to the fans inside.
As the show progressed, Sugizo took the spotlight for a moment as he started performing an eerie, yet beautiful violin solo. It was quite interesting when he started playing a charmingly warped version of The Star Spangled Banner, and then segued into the completely different tone of the theme from The Godfather. Sugizo was clearly having fun on stage, as was the crowd below as he was bombarded with roaring applause. Soon, Yoshiki came back out now sporting a coat to join him on the piano, and started some soloing of his own until he started playing a wonderful rendition of Kurenai’s vocal melody on the keys. The other three members came back out from the side of the stage and the full band erupted with Yoshiki back behind the drums again, bringing the rock back in full force. There was a moment where the band seemed truly in sync with each other, where during the guitar solo, Pata, Heath, and Sugizo and lined up side by side in the center of the stage, playing their instruments with a delicate finesse.
The band’s newest song Born to Be Free followed, with I.V. in succession. It was really an amazing thing to see how well the new songs held up in the set next to the rest of the old stand-bys and classics. The crowd never missed a beat, and sang along with them just as loudly as the old. As happened at the Lollapalooza show, the set once again finished with the song X, but this performance seemed even rowdier as the crowd collectively jumped each and every time Toshi screamed “X!” But this wasn’t the end of the show by any means. This time the crowd knew an encore would be coming, and the band delivered in spectacular fashion.
Yoshiki began playing piano again, Endless Rain now ringing from the speakers. The rest of the band joined him on stage, all sitting before the drum set with their guitars and bass in hand. Toshi moved to the forefront, and almost immediately the crowd began singing along with him as the band started to play. There were moments where Toshi would let the crowd take over on vocals, with only Yoshiki’s piano in the background. But on two occasions, even Yoshiki would stop playing, the collective voice of the crowd being the only thing heard through the theatre. Yoshiki appeared sincerely moved by the crowd’s love and adulation. His hands balled in fists covered his face, leaving one to wonder if he was crying tears over the outpouring emotion felt in the audience’s singing.
After the touching performance of Endless Rain, a very shortened version of Art of Life began, with the piano interlude strangely starting the song off. Yoshiki played at times with elegance, his fingers falling like raindrops on the keys, and at times he seemed like a man possessed, taking his fury out on the low end of the piano. But even through this shortened version, the band played a beautiful rendition of the song, and gave people a chance to see a truly classic song which has rarely been played live taking the band’s entire career into account.
The show ended with a recording of Forever Love playing over the speakers. The band took pictures of the crowd behind them, and Yoshiki staged dive into the crowd, allowing him to feel the embrace of his fans that had hoped to see him for so long. It was hard to believe what had just taken place. Everyone in the theatre had been part of something special. They were the lucky few that have been so close to the band during a performance. X Japan has been used to playing sold out places like the Tokyo Dome and Budokan which seat almost 60,000 people. But this… this was a most intimate performance in front of less than 3,000, the band being able to lock eyes with their fans only mere feet away, and focus entirely on the music, a true “back to basics”. Before the show ended, Yoshiki left hope for another tour sometime in the future. He mentioned he had not gotten to try Chicago pizza yet, perhaps meaning he had to make time to come back again. As was evident that night, the city of Chicago, as well as the rest of the continent, would no doubt welcome X Japan back with open arms.
Live Report by: Nick L., Staff Writer