X Japan are, without a doubt, Japan’s most enduring and influential rock band. And yes, even though they are, by the by, a Metal band, their sound, their aura, and their tendency to do it big and loud, is very much based in the kind of spectacle rock at its finest is supposed to create. Taking on Madison Square Garden was the band’s dream concert since they began to see their dedication turn into liquid success shortly before the untimely death of guitarist Hide, who is, in spirit, still considered by fans and the band to be part of the action.
Untold amounts of anticipation could be sensed around the venue, sitting atop the historic Penn Station in the center of New York. Fans milled around, periodically erupting into the signature call-and-response warcry of “We Are! X!”, and judging by how much X Japan merch and hide/80s Toshi cosplay was to be seen, nobody cared about being ‘that guy’. To date, Iron Maiden or Kiss can get away with that, is how huge X Japan is as a force of rock history. With every minute that wasn’t 8:00 pm Eastern time, I swear my heart crept closer to my throat as the symphonic rendition of ‘Amethyst’ played over the speaker. Upon the fateful hour’s arrival, the grandfathers of J-Rock themselves stepped onstage, glorious as they ever have been, kicking off with a one-two hit of ‘Jade’ and ‘Rusty Nail’, pyrotechnics included, mercilessly hooking the already engaged audience with the mighty power metal number ‘Silent Jealousy’, which certainly got heads banging vigorously as Madison Square Garden has probably never seen.
Following a new song entitled ‘Beneath The Skin’ from an upcoming album -which I’m sure will be off the charts- entertaining guitar/bass duel where Pata and Heath demonstrated the chemistry that enables them to time and time again wow the general populace of the world with both spur-of-the-moment innovation and precision mastery. Loosing the more standard hard rock number ‘Drain’ before an epic violin solo by Sugizo, the time was ripe for ‘Kurenai’, a piece as invigoratingly metal as it is tastefully composed. Another new song, ‘Hero’, had Toshi inviting the audience -and Yoshiki too, but he said “No fuckin’ way”- to sing along with the chorus, complete with words on the screen. The guys in X Japan are nothing if not interactive. After the appropriately titled ‘Born to be Free’, the band takes a well-earned intermission while Yoshiki, composer extraordinaire, took the stage hitoride to grace us with a piano solo featuring Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’, and even ‘Star Spangled Banner’ made an appearance at one point too. So meaningful was this concert to the band, and just being able to finally give American fans the show they were waiting for, it was impossible to see this as hackneyed in the slightest, and I’m unpatriotic almost to the point of treason sometimes.
Yoshiki’s mindblowing drum solo, complete with symphonic backing, was a whole show in and of itself. Reaching and maintaining heights of climactic power I could have never imagined while his drumset hovered about on a glittering platform, and select wristbands throughout the audience did the same, it was a testament to the amount of time the band has spent in perfecting their art. Speaking of art, I cried at last when, after a moment to let Yoshiki cool down after his time as a comet, the band played ‘Forever Love’, displaying images of old concerts, them just hanging out, and enjoying all that rock allowed them to as the massively creative individuals they are. The real tearjerker was arguably Yoshiki’s telling the story of the band’s trials and struggles over the years, of his and Toshi’s nearly half-century of friendship, and their gratitude for having fans and professionals that cared enough to bring to life the event of which I type. Restarting the rock with their comeback song, ‘I.V.’, followed by the endlessly anthemic rager ‘X’, and plenty of throat-rending shouts of “We Are!” by Yoshiki, always to a louder and more impassioned response of “X!” from the crowd, they took leave of the stage once again, but no one was fooled. They still hadn’t played ‘Endless Rain’ or ‘Art of Life’ yet.
I’m sure you can fill in the blanks from here.
Ending with an acoustic version of ‘Forever Love’ over the speakers as the band pelted the audience with roses -to say nothing of the confetti, streamers, and fireworks- and Yoshiki’s body itself -they weren’t ready for that stagedive-, I was left in emotional rapture. I’d laughed, I’d cried, I’d screamed like a barbarian, I’d cried more, and I sure as hell cried a little more. Literally a once in a lifetime concert, among the best live music events I’ve witnessed, and, come to think of it, the only concert I feel funny about calling a ‘show’; it would seem blasphemous to ever think of X Japan as a gig I decided to see. It was more of a spiritual obligation. After all:
We are X.