KAMIJO at The Underworld, London

live report - 11.06.2018 19:01

The vampire prince holds court.

Many artists take on solo projects to scratch a different creative itch. Following Versailles going on hiatus in 2012, KAMIJO’s solo work has taken a step away from Versailles’s symphonic power metal to branch out into other styles. His fascination with 18th century France’s doomed aristocracy and vampire aesthetics remains undimmed and is the inspiration behind his latest Sang project. This show was toured around Japan earlier this year and now he takes it out for a swing through Europe. Tonight, the subterranean crypt that is Camden’s Underworld is the first stop on the six-country tour.

A voice booms from the venue’s speakers, at first seeming to alert the audience that the show is about to start, but instead it asks for a little patience. It’s all part of the show, even though things are actually running a little behind schedule, but that doesn’t stop the chants of “KAMIJO! Vive le Roi!” as the anticipation builds.

The disembodied voice, our narrator for the evening, returns. A mournful bell tolls, before the voiceover explains the backstory behind KAMIJO’ s Sang project and the émigré system, created by Louis XVII in an alternative history, that transforms human blood into energy.

While all this is going on, the band take to the stage. Guitarist Anzi, formerly of Matenrou Opera, and ex-GALEYD guitarist Meku are joined by KAMIJO’s regular Versailles bandmates, bassist Masashi and drummer Yuki. They’re decked out in matching dark coats and white ruffle shirts, like some sort of old school vampire house band. KAMIJO finally emerges, greeted by screams, and he takes his position at centre stage. Even as the star of the show his costume is a more restrained look than his Versailles incarnation. With his dark frock coat, shirt open at the chest and artfully tousled blonde hair he cuts a striking figure. Much like a vampire, he defies the years and still manages to carry off the look of the undead’s eternal youth.

The show kicks off with Theme of Sang, a mix of the live band over a backing track of the orchestral parts. The stage is drenched in blood red light as the opener merges into Nosferatu. KAMIJO’s rich, dramatic voice fills the venue and, ever the showman, he spins around, swirling his long coat like a cloak, which raises a scream from the crowd. Not to be outdone when it comes to showing off, Meku and Anzi trade lightning fast solos. These guys can shred with the best of them.

The violin intro to Emigre slows things down before bursting into a chugging metal riff and the crowd join in with an “Oi! Oi!” chant. With the irresistible charm of a vampire, KAMIJO has the crowd at his command and, following his lead, they wave their arms from side to side with blue rose penlights held aloft.

There’s a brief pause as the venue is shrouded in darkness. The voiceover introduces Count St. Germain to the story before Vampire Rock Star, the big hit of the night, and the place is soon jumping and singing along to this crowd-pleasing rock stomper. KAMIJO offers the mic to a fan in the front row and she gleefully shouts “Vampire rock star!” right on cue. Quite where this song fits into the storyline isn’t clear, but everybody is having such a blast it scarcely matters.

They rattle through Bastille and Sonata, which gives Meku and Anzi more opportunities to dazzle with their skills, duelling solos back and forth between each other. Anzi finishes off Yamiyo no Lion with some good old-fashioned Pete Townshend-style windmills and a high kick.

The narrator returns to introduce Napoleon to the story. While the voiceover is thankfully in English, keeping up with the story and different characters is not the easiest and maybe the video used in the Japanese version of the Sang tour could have helped. Of course, finances and logistics dictate that they can’t deploy all of the technology and pyrotechnics on the road. You can’t fault the outstanding performance by these superb musicians, but as a narrative spectacle it doesn’t quite hit the mark in this stripped down form.

The tracks Sang I and Sang II segue into each other in a ten-minute sprawl of rock opera before the narrator transports us to the pyramids for Sang III, which rounds off this trilogy in a lighter, gentler style. Illuminated blue roses sway in time to the music, and it's a refreshing change to watch a gig through a field of gently waving flowers rather than the screens of mobile phones. KAMIJO clutches a rose, before kissing it and flinging it dramatically into the crowd.

The lights go out as the band departs backstage and the violin and piano intro to Mademoiselle breaks the silence. It’s too early for the end of the set, so the instrumental serves as an interval. It’s a four-minute track, but somehow it seems longer when there’s nothing happening on stage.

After their quick breather, the band re-emerge from backstage followed by KAMIJO and they get things underway with Watashitachiwa Tatakau, Kinou Madeno Jibunto, which gets the crowd jumping again. KAMIJO is handed a Union jack flag from the crowd, with the European tour logo printed on it and covered in messages and signatures of fans. He caps off the song screaming “Thank you so much!” and the crowd screams back.

As the show approaches the end, KAMIJO takes a moment to greet everyone, shouting “Bonjour!” and the audience yells “Bonjour!” in reply Catching his breath, he takes a quick drink from a wine glass – not blood as far as anyone can tell! His fans are eager to hear him speak, but first he collects himself, saying “Wait, wait, wait. KAMIJO too tired.” He has a brief word about history and its mysteries, which leads into the set’s last song.

Mystery is a light and airy pop tune, and quite a switch from the power metal sound you’d normally expect of KAMIJO. Amidst the final cheers and applause, KAMIJO and the band members high five with the fans in the front row before they head off stage.

It takes a little while before everyone figures out that this isn’t another interval and they start up the “Vive le Roi!” chants for an encore. KAMIJO leads the band out and the narrator returns too, announcing that KAMIJO has an appointment with Madame La Guillotine. The sound of the blade dropping is the cue for the jazzy cabaret-style Moulin Rouge.

After that jolly number, the fast and heavy Dying-Table gets everybody revved up for the finale. KAMIJO shouts “Last song! Last song! I am a vampire!” and it all goes mental again as fan favourite Vampire Rock Star gets another outing. KAMIJO switches up his usual style for a wilder, raw vocal and it makes for a raucous finish to the night.

The Union Jack flag is draped across the drum kit and then the band line up together to make a synchronised leap into the air. KAMIJO gives his bandmates a name check, introducing each in turn as a vampire rock star, and they dish out more high fives with the audience before taking their leave for the night. KAMIJO lingers alone a while, soaking up the cheers and applause, drawing energy from the adoring crowd. Finally, he disappears in to the darkness backstage, leaving his fans drained but happy.

Set list

01. Theme of Sang
02. Nosferatu
03. Emigre
04. Vampire Rock Star
05. Bastille
06. Sonata
07. Yamiyo no Lion
08. Castrato
09. Sang I
10. Sang II
11. Sang III
12. Watashitachiwa Tatakau, Kinou Madeno Jibunto
13. Mystery


01. Moulin Rouge
02. Dying-Table
03. Vampire Rock Star
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KAMIJO 09/13

London - United Kingdom
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