X Japan: First North American Tour, October 03, 2010, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver British Columbia, Canada.

Review by Kate Miotto, “JRockin’ Granny”, Guest submission

A Perfectly Imperfect Debut

X Japan has a formula for their First North American Tour: open with Vampires Everywhere, change the stage set, perform almost a dozen songs, leave the stage, make the fans damned near bleed from their eyes sockets waiting for an encore, return to the stage, play another couple of songs, then leave – for real this time. Formulae work, but X Japan wouldn’t explode our brains without three imperative ingredients: legendary talent, buckets of sweat, and, above all, Love; both from, and for the band. And Vancouver, Canada loves their X Japan! Their debut concert in Canada, the 4th of their Premier North American tour, proved that.

Before the show, a predominantly Asian crowd with a healthy cross-section of other ethnicities, and many ages, mingled and laughed politely in the lobby, striking up conversations with total strangers at the bar and in the merchandise line. Many were very disappointed that Sanrio’s Yoshikitty sold out so early on, depriving even a 10-year old fan of a much-wanted item.

When the tone sounded to be seated, some concertgoers took the opportunity to finish making purchases while X Japan’s opening act, Vampires Everywhere, performed. A young band out of Los Angeles, formed in 2009 Vampires Everywhere gave it their all, playing half-a-dozen songs to a politely forgiving audience. There were no cat calls and no flying bottles, but the encouragement and applause were half-hearted. Vampires Everywhere show some promise as a band, exhibiting glancing similarities to early ‘Dir en Grey’; but, unlike Diru, what Vampires Everywhere lacks is a message behind their inarticulate screaming. Each member of the band has undoubted talent, but, as a whole, their stage persona is weak at best. They’re less a unit; more just 6 guys who share a stage and a set list. It didn’t help them that the sound sucked.

Sadly, while a fine venue for Jazz, Orchestra, Ballet, and live theatre, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre is not outfitted well for Arena Rock. Even if X Japan has scaled down their sound system for more intimate venues, the QET’s acoustics, coupled with X Japan’s huge arena amps, translated the sound on the floor into a frequently muddied river of noise. The set list, consisting of three newer songs, Jade, Born to Be Free, and I.V., as well as older, beloved pieces such as Silent Jealousy, Drain, Kurenai, X, and Endless Rain, were too often morphed into a driving, basso, audio assault that lost much of the perfectly tweaked, crisp clarity that is synonymous with X Japan’s live performances. It was difficult to find the melodies or the individual threads of the instruments in the flow of music; and it appeared that X Japan was not unaware of the issue. Toshi, Sugizo, and Pata each checked with their techs or calibrated at their amps throughout the evening. The one instrument that was beautifully calibrated, however, was Toshi’s voice. Sounding even better now than 20 years ago, his vocals were consistently full and crystalline; flying over the crowd like a blessing.

The theatre filled to about 97% capacity, the crowd took to its feet en masse almost immediately after Vampires Everywhere left the stage, mingling and laughing during the set change, eyes on the stage, jonesing for a glimpse of the band. The atmosphere was so electrically charged my 10 year old companion, anxious with anticipation, threatened to bite something if X Japan didn’t hit the stage soon. I am glad to report that upholstery and flesh were both spared, remaining intact as her mouth became otherwise occupied with screaming as the band hit the stage.

Running close to schedule, when the lights went down, the decibel level went up, Vancouver screaming their love and welcome, glow sticks X’d, their hide plushies held high. X Japan was right there in the flesh, mere feet away, something some of us never thought we would see.

As soon as Yoshiki posed heroically on his drums, Pata, Heath and Sugizo taking the stage, the energy ramped into the red line, and when Toshi hit the stage the night became electric. Showing the band that: We Are X!, from that moment on Vancouver sang, jumped, and screamed ourselves hoarse, many of us getting misty eyed when, after returning for an encore, before playing Endless Rain, Yoshiki spoke gently about how the band might not have reunited without the love of the fans, and how X Japan’s deceased guitarist, hide, is always present with both band and crowds alike, watching down upon us eternally.

hide was sorely missed in Vancouver, but alive and vibrant, Sugizo seduced unearthly, ethereal and eerie sounds out of his violin, or shredded guitar and stage alike while Pata and Heath meandered across it in their usual laid back, virtuoso manner. Another seducer, Toshi held the crowd in the palm of his hand, pointing at individuals in the spotlights, smiling at them, and soaking a couple of young men so thoroughly with water that he actually asked them if they were alright when he returned to the stage for the encore. Enjoying the return to old antics in their new shows, Toshi smashed the drums and head banged with Yoshiki during X, any bad blood between them so obviously put to rest.

The wallflower of the evening, if one can call him that with any seriousness, was Yoshiki, leaving center stage to Toshi, Sugizo, Heath and Pata and kicking back for a short rest on top of his piano while Toshi sang. Playing drums and piano with his usual precise fervour, Yoshiki joined in screaming “WE ARE”, prompting us all to our usual, explosive “X” response, but his drum solo was uncharacteristically short and he appeared to be struggling through an even more drastically shortened performance of Art of Life.

Playing for an hour and a half, Yoshiki took another rest after Art of Life, this time on the floor, before pulling his seemingly aching body up to join the band gathered down stage center for group photos, Yoshiki taking one of them. The crowd at their backs, we all became a part of the band, our arms raised in the X Japan national salute.

Photo Op too soon over, the band then turned to face the crowd, their hands clasped as they bowed their signature X bow, swinging their arms over and over again before finally letting go; huge smiles on their faces as they sincerely thanked us and waved farewell to the crowd. All too soon the night so many had waited for so long, was over. X Japan had left the stage

…but no one was moving. Instead, we were just standing there, many of us arm in arm, singing along with a track of Forever Love, all of us staring at huge X on the LED screen upstage even after the final notes faded. Turning to survey the theatre I noticed that no one was moving; no one was leaving. If the staff hadn’t brought up the house lights, perhaps we might still be standing there, hours later, embracing one another, staring at the stage, absorbing the amazing magic of X Japan’s perfectly imperfect debut show in Canada, waiting for the next one that simply has to come.