It was the day many hoped would happen. It was the day many thought could never be possible. But after nearly thirty years, Japan’s most popular rock ensemble took the stage on American soil. Despite several cancellations, delays, and other unforeseen circumstances, X JAPAN was finally able to play a quick, but truly blissful, energetic, and uplifting set in front of thousands of fans at Lollapalooza in the middle of downtown Chicago, Illinois. For their U.S. debut, no one knew what to expect and as the date drew closer, domestic media began to catch on and wonder – who is X JAPAN?
The faithful fans of the band began trickling in, taking position in front of the stage hours before the band even appeared. By the time drummer and songwriter Yoshiki, and the rest of his band mates took the stage, the whole south side of the park was filled with fans lifting their arms up in sheer exhilaration in the form of an “X”.
Despite the temperature being somewhere in the mid-nineties in the afternoon sun, plumes of fire erupted from all sides of the stage as the band began playing, going straight for one of their most recognizable hits, Rusty Nail. One thing that was different though, was that the entire song was sung in English, as opposed to Japanese as on the album Dahlia. But if you were there, you wouldn’t even know the difference.
Much like the audience, it seemed as though the band could barely contain their excitement. Vocalist Toshi could be seen clearly smiling as the opening orchestral music erupted from the speakers. The new lead guitarist, Sugizo, rampaged through the song, with his fingers moving at a torrid pace, keeping all the integrity of the original. Yoshiki attacked the drums like a man possessed, but then, that is normal for him during X concerts. Heath and Pata were dominant and focused as well providing grooving bass lines and exceptional guitar licks, as the band sounded as tight as ever.
The next song Toshi introduced was Jade, a song written after the band’s reunion in 2007. The song echoed the hard and driving force of classic X songs, with fans still jumping around, fists in the air and hearts on their sleeves. A short interlude followed next, as the familiar string section of Kurenai started playing over the speakers. During this break in the action, the band members took time to pause and look into the crowd, with smiles on their faces. It was a bit odd, however, when the guitar intro started, and no one was playing guitar. But on the two big screens on either side of the stage came the image of Hide, with audio of him playing his guitar. Yoshiki and the rest of the band have always made it a point to honor their former guitarist, and it was nice to see a nod to him during the show.
The guitar intro finished and Yoshiki stood up from behind his transparent drum kit, put on his white robe and walked over to sit at his piano, and began playing a sweet and delicate improvisation of the Kurenai melody, and was soon joined by Sugizo, electric violin in hand. All eyes were on the two as they played furiously, and before anyone could realize, Sugizo got the guitar back in his hands, and Yoshiki his drumsticks as the band proceeded in melting the faces off the crowd with their sheer power and vigor. Sugizo flawlessly performed the guitar solo, his fingers hitting across the frets and strings literally at the speed of sound, leading back into Toshi screaming the chorus once again in unison with the crowd.
The last two songs of the set featured heavy involvement of the audience, as Toshi led everyone along to probably their best known song in the United States, I.V. He coached his audience to sing along with him, “In the rain… find a way…” Once the crowd seemed to get the hang of it, the drums blasted and the guitars roared yet again as the crowd went into an absolute frenzy. But even that was nothing compared to the set’s finale. As the outro to I.V. started to meld into the next song, Toshi demanded to hear the audience scream at the top of their lungs, followed by him leading the chants of “WE ARE…” to which the crowd replied as one, “X!”
Only one song could be coming next, the eponymous fan favorite from their 1989 album Blue Blood, X. The band played their hearts out as the flames erupted once again, Yoshiki repeatedly hitting the double bass pedals, and Toshi leading the crowd throughout the chorus of the song, with arms crossed in “X’s” as far as the eye could see. Pata showed his prowess on the guitar as he matched Sugizo note for note on the blistering, dueling guitar solo, followed by a brief interlude where Toshi and Yoshiki together joined the crowd in chants of “YOU ARE… X!” in show of appreciation to the fans. Then in a final blaze of glory, the band skillfully completed the outro in a wave of cymbal crashes and squealing guitars, with Yoshiki knocking over part of his drum set as only he could to end a show, giving one more big thank you to the city of Chicago and America as a whole, and left the stage to the cries of their fans.
The feeling to many in the crowd was that the main event had just ended, despite 7 hours remaining at the festival. With only an hour allotted and time only for five songs during their U.S. debut, X JAPAN’s performance had the feel of a unique and epic production, introducing this legendary band from Japan to the world.
As the roadies began packing up the gear, the studio recording of Tears played over the speakers. Though many began departing the outskirts of the stage area, more seemed not to move as they sang along to the soulful ballad. Cameras for the large video screens caught tears streaming down the faces of the fans, but they were, no doubt, tears of joy. At long last, a show almost 30 years in the making happened, and just like that, X JAPAN embarks into a brand new era, which one can only hope contains continued success.
Article by: Nick L.
Edited by: Ali W.