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West 52nd Street is home to the August Wilson Theatre, where the Tony-winning musical “Jersey Boys” is housed. There, the rags-to-riches story of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons unfolds. Right next door at Roseland on Sunday night, Japanese power-metal act X Japan made its New York debut, a story about a band that made it big in Japan and now wants to crack the lucrative American market.
With more than 30 million records sold, the impact of X Japan in its native country often is referred to as Beatlesque. X Japan — Yoshiki (piano, drums), Toshi (vocals), Heath (bass), Pata and Sugizo (guitars) — is so revered in its homeland that when beloved guitarist Hide died, there were copycat suicides. Grim, but telling.
Forerunners of the “visual kei” movement in Japan — emphasizing overt theatricality in appearance and performance — the band’s heyday was during the late 1980s and ’90s before calling it quits in 1997. They re-formed 10 years later and have been performing sporadically since, with an eye on breaking stateside.
Roseland was the final stop of the band’s seven-city inaugural tour of North America. The 3,200-capacity hall is a long way from the 50,000-seat Tokyo Dome, which they have sold out a record 18 times, but X Japan brought its over-the-top arena-rock show anyway. Crowd anticipation already was high for those lucky enough to score a ticket, and it was brought to fever pitch with posted announcements of a DVD shoot taking place.
Even before the band appeared, the mixed crowd ceaselessly chanted the band’s name. Cameras flashed at the stage setup: Marshall stacks for the guitarists, a 4-foot-high vanity riser with a Zildjian gong flanking the drum kit on one side and an acrylic Kawai grand piano on the other. Just behind, a digital screen was revealed as the lights dimmed and the band logo was displayed.
Yoshiki appeared first. A shirtless, copper-haired stick match in black vinyl pants, he is the drummer, composer, pianist, co-founder and spokesman for X Japan. He stood on his kit soaking up the adulation of the crowd as the rest of the band appeared, amping the throng. When singer/co-founder Toshi appeared, the band launched into “Jade,” and the headbanging began in earnest.
The band’s mix of galloping rhythm, screaming guitars and classical influences, galvanized with Toshi’s soaring tenor, are staples of power metal — a genre exemplified in the U.S. by the Jim Steinman-produced hits of Celine Dion and Meatloaf but popularized worldwide to metal fans by such bands as Helloween and Dragonforce. Decked out in clothes that might be classified as “Liberace for Hot Topic,” X Japan combines style and bombast to persuasive effect.
Lights! Lasers! Cryo-fog! It was all there as the band played the best of its catalog to the delight of die-hards. Yoshiki moved stealthily from piano to drums, and Toshi and Sugizo goosed the crowd playfully on the blazing “Silent Jealousy.” The speedy punches of such songs were punctuated with a piano-and-violin duet between Yoshiki and Sugizo and a break to sing “Happy Birthday” to Toshi, who turned 45.
Although the band members are in their 40s, they sure don’t look it; nor are they slowing down. The band ripped into one new song, the excellent “Born to Be Free,” as the crowd surged forward and bounced in unison. Returning for an encore of its signature “Endless Rain,” the band led the room in an a cappella rendition of the chorus. It closed with “Art of Life,” but things didn’t end until Yoshiki had thrown two dozen bottles of water to the crowd, after which the members posed for pictures and took many of their own.
With an album of its hits recorded in English for the first time coming in 2011, the members of X Japan have their work cut out for them. At worst, the band is regurgitating American rock from the ’80s. But for many young people who have never seen a full-on arena-rock show, X Japan is bringing spectacle and excitement back to music — and the band proved it is a force to be reckoned with.
Venue: Roseland, New York (Sunday, Oct. 10)
(Violin and piano interlude)
Born to Be Free
Art of Life
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