See more images from X Japan's historic show in "X Japan @ The Wiltern." Check out our previous coverage of X Japan in "Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Peek of X Japan's Video Shoot for 'Jade,'" "Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Photos of X Japan's Video Shoot" (Pics) and "X Japan in the U.S.: From Anime Conventions to Lollapalooza to a North American Tour."
Saturday night, X Japan played The Wiltern. It was a night of firsts, as it was both the band's first proper concert in Los Angeles and the first stop on their first North American tour. Considering that the Japanese hard rock outfit's initial heyday was in the 1980s and '90s, there's no denying that this was a long-anticipated event and excitement permeated the area surrounding the venue hours before the band stepped onto the stage.
We arrived at The Wiltern at about 5 p.m., at which point the line began at the front of the theater on the corner of Wilshire and Western, extended down the block to the next side street, wrapped around another corner and stretched out for another half a block.
The line was peppered with people whose love for X Japan extended far beyond wearing the band's t-shirt to the show. There were cosplayers, people holding dolls that resembled late guitarist Hide and people with simple "X" tattoos.
This wasn't the kind of show you casually catch after work or hit up spontaneously on a weekend. This was a concert, a massive, day-long extravaganza where the amount of time you spend getting ready is only rivaled by the time spent in line.
As we walked up and down the line, I couldn't help but flashback to some of the biggest shows I had ever seen, things like The Cure at the Rose Bowl or David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails at The Forum. This was a much smaller venue for a band with far less immediate name recognition in the U.S. , but the vibe was remarkably similar. It was obvious that for at least some in attendance, this would become one of the greatest musical moments of their lives.
Inside the venue, the crowd chanted fiercely as they waited for the night's headliners. Someone would shout, "We are" and much of the audience would respond with "X." Then more people would cry "We are" and the call and response continued. When you scream "X!" you raise your arms above your head and cross your wrists to form the letter X. You can do this with glow-sticks as well. This went on sporadically until the lights dimmed, opera filled the room and the members of the band appeared on stage.
From my vantage point in the back of the venue, standing behind some guys who were much taller than I am, all I could see was Yoshiki, the band's drummer, pianist, composer and spokesperson. He stood above his drum kit, swathed in blue light. His long, white jacket gently swayed as he stayed relatively still in his rock-godlike pose. He then ripped off the jacket . The screams grew deafening. The show had begun.
X Japan is a stadium band. They have multiple gigs at Tokyo Dome under their belt. As such, they treated The Wiltern as though it were Dodger Stadium. There were grand LED lights on display. There were pyrotechnic elements. There were costume changes. More importantly, though, there was choreography. If you watched closely, you might notice how Yoshiki and guitarist Sugizo occasionally made synchronized gestures with their arms.
Every movement the members of X Japan made on stage amplified the drama of their melodic, orchestral-tinged metal. During his violin solos, Sugizo alternately arched back and dropped his torso forward. Similarly, Yoshiki concluded a piano solo by letting his head fall towards the keys. Singer Toshi consistently pumped his fist in the air to keep the energy high. X Japan isn't just a band of incredibly skilled musicians, but of master performers. Young musicians could learn a lot by watching them play.
During the encore, the band acknowledged the importance of this show. Yoshiki spoke emotionally about Hide. Though the guitarist died more than a decade ago, shortly after the band members initially parted ways, he remains an integral part of X Japan. That there were people in the audience dressed nearly identical to him was one of several indications of this fact. Yoshiki then went on to say that he has been living in L.A. for about ten years now, that the city has become, in many ways, his "hometown." It's significant, then, that the band chose L.A. to kick-start this new era of X Japan.
As the show concluded, the band members felt no need to wind down the crowd. Toshi and Yoshiki led the rallying cry with the simple "We are!" The response "X" was louder than it had been all night. X Japan clearly didn't leave the audience disappointed.
Violin and piano interlude
"Born to be Free"
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"Art of Life"