Beyoncé is, without a shadow of a doubt, a tremendously talented and genuinely important artist. The first black woman to headline the main stage at Coachella, Beyoncé commands respect and she’s a strong role model for people from all walks of life. The woman is an inspiration.
That said, I chose not to watch her Coachella set (besides the opening “Crazy in Love” from afar — gotta love that brass part). With her set conflicting with that of X Japan, I was faced with a dilemma. Not exactly Sophie's choice, but a very real decision all the same.
Here’s the thing: I knew in advance that Beyoncé would not disappoint. After canceling last year, she was always going to put together a show for the ages. I knew that the stage show would be spectacular, that she would sound great, that there would be scores of dancers onstage with her and the whole thing would look amazing, and even, like everyone else, that Destiny’s Child would reunite. I could have tried to guess the setlist and be 90 percent correct. And after watching the YouTube footage, I was right. It's not that Beyoncé is predictable, by any means at all, but she’s sure-as-shit reliable. When you boil it all away, though, how much you enjoy Beyoncé's music is still going to have a big say in how much you enjoy her gig. And while I have no moral issues with polished and stylized R&B, I wanted something more on Saturday night.
But X Japan has an x factor.
Of course, in Japan, X Japan is simply called X. That fact was highlighted by the documentary We Are X, which covered the history of the band and founding member (and drummer) Yoshiki. The name had to be adapted here (much like The English Beat and The Charlatans U.K.) because of L.A. punk vets X.
During a recent interview, Exene Cervenka of L.A.’s X said of X Japan, “They’re more of a hard-rock band, and I think they’re kind of popular. We got a letter from their label in 1984, saying we had to cease and desist using our name. We were just like, 'That’s funny.' We thought, 'Please sue us so we can make money and pay our bills,' but they didn’t. They couldn’t make us stop using our name. There’s also an X band in Australia.”
Yeah, the name was an issue back in ’84 — 34 years ago. Because X Japan formed in ’82 — 36 years ago. And yet, until very recently, until the aforementioned movie, the band remained largely unknown in this country while enormous in their home nation. Over the past couple of years, that’s changed slightly and, as they prepared to make their Coachella debut, a Grammy poll named them one of the three most anticipated bands at the festival (along with Beyoncé and The Weeknd).
There was certainly no other band on the bill that looked like X Japan, and there hasn’t been since Guns N’ Roses a couple of years ago. There were a few other harder-edged rock bands on the bill this year — notably the very Zeppelin-ish Greta Van Fleet, as well as A Perfect Circle. But neither of those bands have the history or the histrionics of X Japan.
Talking of Guns N’ Roses, guitarist Richard Fortus joined X Japan for a rousing “Born to Be Free,” while Wes “the talented guy in Limp Bizkit” Borland jumped up for “I.V.” Songs like “Jade” and “Kurenai” are symphonic, technically dazzling, prog-metal beasts, while “Endless Rain” is a classic power ballad.
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The band members, particularly singer Toshi and lead guitarist Sugizo, just ooze cool, in that classic Jagger/Richards, Tyler/Perry, Axl/Slash rock & roll way. They slink about the stage, effortlessly holding the gaze of a modest but delighted crowd. These guys aren't used to playing second fiddle to anybody, so enormous are they in their home country, but they just crack on like the experienced, road-hardened warriors they are.
And holy shit! X Japan resurrected TWO deceased members with holograms — guitarist Hide and bassist Taiji. It’s frankly impressive that a band can create such a sense of epic history in the country after just cracking America’s shell. But they did. This show felt important.
Of course, by all accounts, so did Beyoncé’s. I don’t regret my choice, and I’m certain nobody who saw Queen Bey regrets theirs. Hers is the set people will be talking about years from now. It was always going to be so. There were far fewer of us watching X Japan but, like a weird little club, we all knew that we'd seen something special too.