Live Report: X Japan at Madison Square Garden

To say that X Japan launched a phenomenon back in the 80s would be an understatement, especially for any fan of Japanese rock music.

So when the group – inspired multitudes of rock/metal bands from the likes of Dir En Grey to B’z, the very ones to coin the term “Visual Kei” (which is thought to come from X Japan’s slogan “Psychedelic violence crime of visual shock”) – it was only natural that any Japanese rock fan would feel compelled to make the trek to Madison Square Garden with them and see them live. To be frank, I can’t tell you what I was expecting, only that I knew beforehand that whatever standards I had would be blown out of the water.

Let’s get this out of the way: Madison Square Garden is without peer in organization, logistics and the like, so it was a concert-goer’s wet dream regarding logistics and merchandising (read: shopping). The check-in process was smooth, and everything from Yoshiki’s branded Hello Kitty collaboration dolls to towels to DVDs of their Last Live was sold from every counter. But that’s not really what you go to a concert for.

Credits to Vlad Baranenko

It’s quite hard to describe exactly how incredible the entire show was. Yes, it was three hours – or so people say, but I felt like it went by like a flash. The show was over the top. An incredible amount of classical music was weaved into the performance and an even greater display of raw human emotion and passion. Not even the smallest amount of visual grandiosity was left behind – I’m pretty sure the band ran through every single trick in the book when it comes to ways to visually dazzle your audience. It was melodramatic! It was passionate! It was dramatic! In other words, it was an X Japan show, complete with the lavishness and over-the-topness that characterizes all Visual Kei music.

That’s not to say the show went by without a hitch. MSG isn’t exactly what I would call an “ideal” location for a classical performance by a long shot, and it was evident that the setup wasn’t optimized for it. There were a couple of technical glitches here and there, not least when part of Yoshiki’s drum setup fell off as he went down the walkway. There were moments when the band and the audience weren’t completely synched. Furthermore, for all that, I truly love and appreciate classical music even though I couldn’t completely wipe away the feeling that the concert was more of a mix between a classical music performance and an X Japan live, as opposed to a pure metal/rock concert. While that is completely my thing, I can appreciate that some people just don’t feel that way.

Yet, for all of this, it was grandiose and wonderful. Even through the slower-moving and over-dramatic ballads, the cheers were momentous, and the band responded in kind. The band’s virtuosity was amply displayed, from various solo interludes to something that could only be called a “guitar and bass duel” (or are we calling it a fight?). Not satisfied with one encore, the group went for two and ended on the masterpiece Art of Life with the second repeat of Forever Love. Many a seasoned concert-goer has titled this performance as being both crazy and brilliant, and I’m pretty sure my review shows how much I agree with them.

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