X JAPAN at The SSE Arena, Wembley - Part 1

live report - 12.03.2017 07:15

A year later than planned, X JAPAN made up for lost time with a lavish main set.

In February 2016, visual kei progenitors X JAPAN were forced to postpone a long-awaited show at London’s SSE Arena, Wembley after guitarist PATA was struck down by a sudden illness. At the time of the postponement, the X DAY event was rescheduled to take place on almost the same date one year later on March 4th. To the delight of thousands, the band made it second time lucky.

Surveying the auditorium before kick-off, it was clear to see that for many, attending this show was an act of pilgrimage. Besides the sizeable Japanese contingent in attendance, there were fans with Russian, Portuguese and Slovak flags draped over their shoulders. There were also cosplays representing every era of X JAPAN’s career, including many sporting hide’s ‘pink spider’ haircut and yellow snowboard jacket.

As advertised, X DAY opened with a screening of a one-hour cut of “We Are X”. This abridged version focused on X JAPAN’s members past and present, and the band’s broader history. The transition from film to concert was handled masterfully. As the film ended, its title flashed repeatedly on screen, moving the crowd to begin chanting “We are X!” en masse.

Simultaneously, the synthesized intro of Rusty Nail began booming over the arena’s PA as the screen rose like a makeshift theatre curtain to reveal X JAPAN already standing on stage. YOSHIKI stood on a stepped platform with his drums and grand piano, while his bandmates lined up in front. Amid a storm of lights and green lasers, a frankly bizarre guttural voice introduced the band: “ToshI. HEATH. PATA. SUGIZO. TAIJI. hide. YOSHIKI.”

With the venue on its feet, the band launched straight into Rusty Nail proper. Decked out in his signature wraparound shades, a leather jacket covered in metal spikes and a shirt emblazoned with a rhinestone skull, ToshI literally glittered in the spotlight as he stretched the PA to its limits with a particularly sustained note during the bridge. During the outro, the singer stood with one foot placed authoritatively on his monitor, leading several thousand voices in repeated chants of “hoi!”

“What’s up, London?” shouted ToshI before the band immediately segued into Hero, a song originally produced by YOSHIKI’s side-project Violet UK for the film “Saint Seiya: LEGEND of SANCTUARY”. Although the song has a softer edge than many of X JAPAN’s heavy numbers, YOSHIKI still managed to lose himself in the outro, concluding an assault on kit with three almighty wallops on his cymbals.

“Finally we’re here, Wembley!” shouted ToshI. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long, long time.”

“Tonight we play with TAIJI and hide,” proclaimed YOSHIKI, stepping out from behind the drums to walk the stage. The crowd roared back their approval.

“London, let me hear you scream!” yelled ToshI while YOSHIKI retook his seat in time for JADE. Throughout this quite literally fiery rendition, pillars of flame shot out from the front of the stage at various angles. During the final chorus, ToshI stopped singing, had crowd sing solo, holding the mic in their direction.

“Are you okay?” said ToshI as everyone but he and his drummer vacated the stage. “Want to hear YOSHIKI's voice?”

“Where’s PATA?” asked the drummer as he walked down the steps of his podium wearing a silver trenchcoat over his bare chest, perching on ToshI’s monitor. “Can somebody get PATA?”

In due course, the more retiring of the band’s guitarists returned to the stage. It didn’t look like he’d been expecting the summons.

“So, he finally got well,” said YOSHIKI, getting up to embrace his bandmate. “You want to say something?”

“I’m back in London,” said PATA, giving a slight bow before handing YOSHIKI back his microphone and shuffling back offstage.

“We need to apologize about the album delay. I know it was meant to be out almost a year ago,” said YOSHIKI. “I promise you it’s really close. Like 99% complete. We’re just putting the finishing touches on it. Tonight, we’re going to record your voices, and ToshI’s going to teach you how to sing.”

“I’m your teacher,” said ToshI with a grin as YOSHIKI installed himself behind his piano. “Kiss the sky.”

YOSHIKI began playing, only to stop abruptly and reach for his microphone. “I’m sorry, I forgot to say it’s a song called Kiss the sky.”

“I told them,” ToshI assured him to much laughter.

YOSHIKI started playing again, only to stop for a second time: “ToshI is going to sing the lyrics for us, then you guys are going sing ‘whoa whoa whoa’.”

“They knew,” said the singer wryly. Bashfully, his bandmate started up a third time, and this time allowed his vocalist to lead the crowd in the ‘whoa whoa whoa’ refrain.

“You guys are amazing – now we can finish the album!” said YOSHIKI, initially staying at the piano while the rest of the band filed back on in the darkness for Beneath the Skin, a song originally composed by SUGIZO for his and YOSHIKI’s supergroup S.K.I.N.. Afterwards, the band ceded the stage to PATA, who moved to the centre for some old-time bluesy shredding. He then traded places with HEATH, who laid down some solos of his own while walking around the stage, looking positively dandyish in his lace crevette and cuffs. PATA returned and the duo traded licks until ToshI walked back out sans his jacket.

Then, with PATA standing to his left and HEATH to his right, the trio played DRAIN under a swirl of pink and blue lights. A mood change followed as the three made way for SUGIZO, who stepped out into the dimness wearing a Union Jack trenchcoat, violin in hand. A rare reverent hush settled over the arena as he played a solemn cover of David Bowie’s Life on Mars.

The new song La Venus followed, in which YOSHIKI was toing and froing between piano and drums. Meanwhile, behaving highly out-of-character, SUGIZO remained almost as immobile as PATA and HEATH for the entire song, even when fountains of sparks fired up at the onset of the second chorus. At song’s end, ToshI and YOSHIKI were left alone again to do another MC.

“Thank you so much for being here. As you know, X JAPAN has a very sad story, but because of you, we’re still here,” said YOSHIKI, moving to the steps of his platform as the audience cheered, understandably appreciative of the compliment. “By the way, have you listened to the soundtrack? ToshI, did you listen to it?”

“Yes, I bought three of them,” said ToshI. YOSHIKI then talked the singer through the three editions of the We Are X Soundtrack that’d be available after the show, with ToshI feigning fascination at each. YOSHIKI also explained they’d recorded a new version of Without You, which had the interrupted the album sessions.

“We try and come up with any excuse,” he laughed nervously, “but as we said, we’re going to release a new album. The day is get closer. ToshI’s part is done.”

“Really?” interjected the singer.

“I think so,” replied his bandmate.

“I hope so,” quipped ToshI as YOSHIKI moved back to the piano.

“For the next song, we want to try and convey the message that nothing is impossible,” YOSHIKI said, twinkling the keys. “ToshI, say something.”

“Say something?” replied ToshI. “Say Anything?”

“You want to listen to it?” YOSHIKI asked the crowd, appearing reluctant to start playing it. Nevertheless, a short sing-along of the popular ballad’s chorus followed.

“I swear to God that wasn’t in the set list,” insisted YOSHIKI, beginning the intro for Born to Be Free as the band rejoined them, rushing back to his drum kit to affix his neck brace in time for SUGIZO’s opening riff. Towards the end, HEATH and the two guitarists fell silent for the acoustic bridge, then resumed playing as a row of smoke bombs exploded in front of the stage, sending an enormous cloud into the rafters.

Thereafter, all lights save for ToshI’s spotlight dropped as the image of hide and his Fernandes “YELLOW HEART” guitar appeared on the stage’s screen. The Pink Spider’s cameo was greeted with cheers and several cries of “hide!” as he and ToshI performed the moody intro to Kurenai, just as they’d done at the Tokyo Dome almost 20 years before.

Kurenai!” roared ToshI as hide’s image faded, prompting a volley of streamers to be blasted over the crowd. Thousands of voices echoed the singer’s as he walked the stage, appropriately lit in varying shades of red. During the instrumental break, he wandered behind YOSHIKI’s drum kit, striking crash cymbals at random with a spare drumstick while SUGIZO and PATA reeled off their harmonized solos.

“Thank you!” shouted the singer as HEATH, PATA and then himself exited the stage, which was still bathed in deep crimson light. Next, YOSHIKI came down to honor the tradition of tossing his drumsticks into the crowd as souvenirs. Not to be outdone, SUGIZO waited for the drummer to pass before taking a run-up and hurling his water bottle into the audience.

No sooner had the guitarist slinked off stage than the chants for an encore began.

Read "X JAPAN at The SSE Arena, Wembley - Part 2" at http://www.jame-world.com/uk/articles-124807-x-japan-at-the-sse-arena-wembley-part-2.html.
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