Japanese music is like an alternate universe so near and yet so very far from our own. Imagine if Nirvana and grunge had never happened, and glam metal just kept right on going. That's the state of Japanese rock right now.
X Japan is like Motley Crue, Yngwie Malmsteen and Dokken put together. Definitely a virtuoso band in terms of musicianship, but with a lot of drama mixed in with party beats. They're massively popular in their home country, where they still sell out stadiums on a regular basis.
We were in section 107. Our section was kind of lame and the people in it pissed me off. The show started right at 8PM with no opening band (cheers to X for bringing this custom over from Japan!), and the people in front of us all just sat there. They didn't even clap, they sat completely motionless through most of the concert. I wondered why any of them were there. I would have loved to have gotten some closer seats if those people didn't care!
I tried sitting for a few minutes of the first song because I'm 6'4" and the tiny Japanese girls behind me probably deserved a chance to see (or maybe not, I don't know them), but it's just kind of rude to a band to sit there like an idiot. So I got up. This was a special show for them; I didn't want any small part in spoiling that.
The show itself was the mix of bombast and drama that you'd expect from an X Japan show, with plenty of pyrotechnics, a massive light show that the crowd ended up being part of (through electronically controlled LED bracelets), and a stage that extended all the way to the back of the arena. One thing I will say about X Japan is that they're pretty dynamic, and there was a good mix of soft and loud, slow and fast - that's all part of the drama, after all.
They sounded pretty good too, although they started off pretty quiet at first (and not just in quiet songs). We had a bank of speakers pointed directly at us and initially I was still able to talk to my wife at pretty normal volume - it was sort of like talking at a bar. This may have been calculated to make the crowd sound bigger for the upcoming DVD, though, because they actually got louder as the show went on. By the second encore, it started to get kind of ear-splitting - which is what you want from a show like this.
Of course there were the requisite solos, including a Yoshiki drum solo that took up a big part of the encore, during which his drum kit floated out to the edge of the extended stage pier and then rose up into the air. It was Tommy Lee-esque.
The band played two encores that ended up being about as long as the main show. To be honest, when they left the stage the first time I actually said, "that's it?" I checked my watch and it was 9:15. With a "normal" encore it'd still have been a very short show, but, you know, drama! A short show followed by two long encores makes for more of it... and they even played one more song after their announced "last song".
They played all the material you'd expect, plus two new songs from their newly-announced new album (it's new!), which, if I remember right, were called "Beneath Your Skin" and "Hero".
At the start of the second encore, Yoshiki played the American national anthem on piano, which made me strangely emotional. I'm not very patriotic and I text and Facebook my way through the boredom of the national anthem at baseball games, but something about this Japanese band coming to America and playing the American national anthem, and the crowd all singing it, got me a little verklempt.
They closed things out with a Yoshiki monologue about the band's history and a dedication to Taiji and Hide, their former members who died. Some American fans probably didn't get this (the Billboard show report thought it was just "schmaltz"), but this band's really been through a lot more than most. No, they didn't use the Hide hologram that they've employed at Japanese shows in the recent past, but they showed many pictures of the band's earlier days with him during the final encore. As a new fan of the band I might find this exploitative. But think about being a fan of a band from their early days, and one of your favorite members of that band dying. Wouldn't you want the rest of the band to pay tribute to that person any chance they get? So I understand it. It's different if you've been with them from the start. And Hide has ended up being sort of the Randy Rhoads of Japan.
Oh, and be sure to watch for the Yoshiki stage dive in my video above! I think he meant to crowd-surf but the crowd didn't quite know what to do! It was a very surprising moment - you can see my camera shake a bit because all I could think was "what?!"