As the pioneers and grandfathers of the visual kei scene in Japan, it has been my life’s mission to see the country’s biggest band live in concert. They are super-talented musicians and put out remarkable visual displays in the live arena, but what I found at their one-off Wembley show was so much more than expected…
The occasion was to be a special one for X Japan, arguably the biggest band to hail from the Land of the Rising Sun in terms of sales and general popularity. It was to be the premiere of their in-depth documentary ‘We Are X‘, followed by a live-performance of epic proportions given it was to be their only show of the year. This was supposed to happen exactly one year ago before guitarist Pata fell ill and the band cancelled their much anticipated performance.
Given the way 2016 was progressing and the band’s general history with members, fans were very worried about what could happen. Alas, the band rescheduled. After the event it was quite clear why the band were determined to make this happen and why at Wembley, but more on that later.
On a rare occasion, this evening at the SSE Arena was to revolve entirely around X Japan. Legions of fans had been queuing outside the venue for hours before the doors opened, hoping to catch a glimpse of their Eastern heroes, catching up with other fans of this niche genre, or simply showing their dedication in a true Japanese fashion.
Before long the doors were open, and fans flocked in to the calm, blue-lit arena where all took their seats in eager anticipation of the documentary that finally would answer so many questions people have often struggled to find answers for in the English language. X Japan has quite the history – one that has propelled them to a cult status not only in their native country, but clearly the world as gaps between seats swiftly fill up. The documentary ‘We Are X‘ was beginning, to those who don’t understand why this band is so big, this would be the answer.
And it was everything I wanted it to be, answering some of the mysteries of the band that often shroud long time fans such as what really caused the break up of Japan’s biggest band, and some general insight into the band members thoughts on the death of iconic guitarist Hide. I wouldn’t want to to give too much away as I would highly recommend the documentary to any music fan given the brilliant threading together of X Japan’s history in the most coherent and entertaining fashion. It triggered emotions in so many people within the arena, with tears flowing from a lot of fans even surrounding the back areas where I was sat. It was quite unusual, but then again this is an extraordinary band.
But almost immediately as the credits fade out, the house lights go wild and a huge roar of anticipation blast through Wembley. X Japan take the stage in the most dramatic of fashions – from being an on-screen figure to a live idol. Each member is introduced on stage, including that of deceased members Hide and Taiji before crushing in to the opener of ‘Rusty Nail‘.
If the documentary itself didn’t already shoot signs that this was a different concert-going experience, the performance itself certainly did. The perpetual factor of presentation of the band was the most noticable trait of the evening – presenting this band as a cult of personality, almost deity-esque. There was a clear agenda for this one-off performance that struck more along the parallels of theatrical rather than rock show, and the fan involvement was something I had not seen before.
Every moment had a reaction from the audience that almost seemed like it was rehearsed – from the waving of glow sticks during the speedier tracks, to the absolute silence and attention given to drummer Yoshiki during his numerous classical piano interludes, to the tears and agony breaking out upon mention of late member Hide. It was all rather strange to myself, a man who frequents metal shows with the organisational standards of feasting hyenas, yet it was all rather fascinating.
The fan dedication is pure. It’s not something you see very often, and when you do it’s very impressive. Watching 20’000 westerners sing along every word of the Japanese language songs showed that, and every calculated response to each track such as the arm movements and jumping to the band’s trademark power metal opus ‘X‘. The extent of that dedication truly resonated in gaps between the two encores, where fans screamed their lungs out and stomped and clapped a storm for the better part of 15-minutes a piece. Any other band and most fans would have walked out.
X Japan is a remarkable band, but I truly did not expect this kind of experience from a metal show. The performance was something I went into believing the music and showmanship of these acclaimed Eastern musicians was merely to disclose a few curiosities and serve as sanctum for a handful of passionate fans. What came to Wembley was a sold out legion of truly dedicated X Japan acolytes who would follow the band off a cliff. The talent of this band is tremendous, but the true experience of X lies in sharing the occasion with the people.