Sunday, December 27, 2009

DIR EN GREY CONCERT, DORJE, 12/26

If you've been following this blog, you've seen their name pop up a million times. They're the band featured in the image at the top of the page. You've heard about them, you've seen their name, and now it's time to finally introduce you all to Dir en grey.
A brief history, before I get into the details. Dir en grey formed in 1997 from the defunct Indies band La: Sadies (which included all the current members except Toshiya). They immediately became the first Indies band in Japan to hit the Oricon Charts (equivalent to the American Billboard Charts). Their style went on to inspire a whole generation of musicians. Dir en grey's wild, unique approach to music caught the attention of X Japan's drummer Yoshiki (one of the most influential musicians in Japan) and he produced Dir en grey's first major CD. Intially, Dir en grey was one of Japan's most extreme Visual-Kei bands and they looked like this:

However, over the years, Dir en grey shed themselves of VK. Eleven years later, now they look like this (yes, these are the same five men):



I've seen them four times live in America, but seeing them in Japan... that was the final frontier. And, as it so happened, I had a ticket to see Dir en grey at a fan-club only concert... one of the most highly-anticipated, exclusive events of the year. Some fans spent hundreds of dollars on Yahoo auction just to attend this live. The concert was happening at Shinkiba Studio Coast. I was so nervous and excited for this concert that I couldn't even listen to Dir en grey on my iPod during the fifty minute train ride.

I met up with my friend Ashley at Shinkiba station, and we found Studio Coast quite easily. It's a game called Follow the Goths decked out in Dir en grey merchandise. Already there were about a thousand people waiting in a giant line, but we weren't sure what the line was for, since the doors wouldn't open for a couple hours and fans are called in by number. Then we came to realize... that whole line was just to buy merchandise. Well... to the back of the line we went! But first, here's a picture of the venue sign. First, a really cute guy got in the way of the picture:

Then he got out of the way, lol. Yeah, that's the merch line down there.

Here's where Ashley and I were standing about half-way in the line. Yeah, this was after we'd already moved up quite a ways. Hard to believe, isn't it? That tiny white building on the left is the venue, lol. Also, we were in line on a bridge over a lake and... the lake was filled with tiny, pulsating jellyfish! I'd never seen a jellyfish before! Strange creatures... Kind of cute, lol.

Eventually, just for merchandise, we had to stand in a separate line and wait, just to get into the merch line. Here's a picture from the secondary line. Check out all the fans loitering everywhere!

It took about an hour to actually get to the merchandise, and I sorta lost control and bought more than I meant to. Here's my merch. I bought a wrist-band:

I bought a key-chain/cell phone charm. Do you like my nail polish, lol?

I caved and bought a tour-towel because fans actually use them and it was a pretty, deep purple (my camera made it look kinda blue but... it's not. It's totally purple):

Here's the beautiful shirt I bought. They were already sold out of the limited edition Deadly Claris shirts but... I just wanted this one. The front is just the band name:

But look at the back! Isn't it beautiful?!! And it's super-shiny! What a beautiful shirt!

Anyways, after we got merchandise, Ashley and I shared a coin-locker and waited around in the cold for the staff to begin calling numbers. We ran into the wonderful girl who sold me the tickets. Her name's Risu, and she also runs Orchestrated Chaos, which is the largest Dir en grey translation, etc. website on the internet. She told Ashley and me that she wanted to video-interview us after the show for a report on foreigners at the fan-club only concert. We happily agreed, since we were some of the only foreigners there. Also, there was a strange, older French woman in line who was clearly a reporter. She kept sneaking pictures of us and writing stuff down. Very odd.

Eventually, they got to our numbers and Ashley and I made a run for it into the venue. We desperately wanted to get a close spot, and we were willing to shove for it. But then... when we got inside, we were shocked to discover that only a few hundred people were crowded near the stage, and everyone else was hovering in the back or even in the balconies. I found this very odd, but decided not to question it. Ashley and I grabbed a spot dead-center about fifteen rows back. As more people got into the show, however, the pit filled up until it was completely packed with fans. The platform in the back, the stairs, and the balconies were also filled. Also, I would like to make an interesting observation: about half the audience was male. I know it's a stereotype that only girls go to VK rock concerts in Japan, and even though Dir en grey is as far from VK as possible, this stigma supposedly remains and all of Dir en grey's fans are an overwhelming majority of females. Definitely not true.  Over 30% of the crowd was male. And die-hard, psychotic male fans at that.

Anyways, I decided to use this moment of peace to admire Dir en grey's equipment on the stage. Shinya's drum set was, as always, monstrously huge, intimidating, and beautiful. Also, it's very easy to figure out who's equipment is who's. Die's sound equipment and microphone stand is completely red. Toshiya's equipment is completely white. Kaoru's is, of course, completely black with the Japanese Zombie Heroez design all over it. My admiring was short-lived, however, when I was suddenly ripped back into reality and made to realize why so many fans had hovered fearfully in the back of the crowd.

A roadie walked on stage to start testing equipment and, without warning, the audience surged forward. Girls screamed out in horror and pain as the crowd collapsed. Many people grabbed onto each others' clothes or hair or limbs as they lost their balance and toppled and became trampled by the crowd. Everyone surged towards Kyo's crate as if the center of the stage was some sort of vacuum vortex drawing the fans inward. Ashley and I, clutching onto the people in front of us and barely able to stand, looked at each other in shock.

Eventually, after twenty minutes of being unable to stand and simply toppling in every direction clutching other horrified fans for support... the lights went out and the show began...

On this day I have learned... that NO ONE knows how to fucking ROCK like the Japanese.

For my fellow Dir en grey fans on the blog, here's the exact set-list from the concert, in order:

Sa Bir

Zan (new version)
Obscure
Hydra -666-
Gaika, Chinmoku Ga Nemuru Koro
Red Soil
Doukoku to Sarinu
Bugaboo

Kyo's Solo

Ryoujoku no Ame
Glass Skin
Toguro

Kyo's Solo

Merciless Cult
Stuck Man
Reiketsu Nariseba
Dozing Green
Vinushka

Encore:
Hageshisa to, Kono Mune no Naka de Karamitsuita Shakunetsu no Yami
Shokubeni
Grief
Agitated Screams of Maggots
Clever Sleazoid

When the lights went out, it was easy to see the altar that Dir en grey had set up in front of Shinya's drum set. It was lit with candles and religious figurines and glowed eerily in the darkness. The sound of Sa Bir undulated thickly through the air. All around us, fans were screaming and making wild animal noises, losing all their control. As the screaming of the fans reached full pitch, Shinya walked out onto the stage. He was beautiful as always - thin, elegant, long, wavy hair. As I fell sideways yet again and came to realize that even the collapsing fans around me were too far toppled to hold me up, I felt a momentary inkling of fear. Dir en grey concerts in America begin violently like this but... not with such intensity. I suddenly wondered if I could take it. The fans were screaming for Shinya like their very life depended on it. Next came Die, his hair so long and beautiful I almost couldn't believe it. After Die came Toshiya, who's half-cut hair was straight and uncurled. He was wearing a very low-cut top and grinning like a mischievous little boy. After Toshiya came Kaoru, Mr. Big-Shot, with a gigantic cross necklace around his neck. I mean... bling-level gigantic. As each band member emerged onto the stage, the fans threw themselves forward, toppling the people around them, screaming the band members' names as if they would die without them.

And then Kyo walked on stage. At this point, I could see nothing but the heads in front of me and arms flailing wildly in the air. But through the arms I saw him emerge... Kyo. The man himself.  He came out on stage in a leather jacket and jeans with too many chains, his hair so long on one side that it covered half his face. And he was wearing sunglasses. As he emerged onto the stage, the crowd lost every last semblance of "acceptable human behavior" left to them. All around me was the animal-like snarling of Kyo's name as fans pushed and shoved and shook their fists in a violent rage. In response, Kyo glared back at us with narrowed eyes. At a Dir en grey concert, you are no longer a part of "society." You are buried deep in civilization's origins, watching humans behaving the way they were originally meant to. I wanted to be caught up in the moment, but, frankly... I was too busy fearing for my life. I was unable to stay on my feet for more than a second amidst the swaying and writhing of the crowd. I had a mouthful of hair-gel from the guys in front of me and people were holding onto my shoulders for dear life and dragging me down with them. Every moment brought me closer to the single worst thing that can happen at a concert: a complete fall. If you fall completely, you will either severely injure someone near you, or become trampled. And I really believed that it might happen at any moment.

Anyways, just when I was thinking "oh shit, how are we going to survive this? I hope this show doesn't get too out of control too quickly..." they opened with: the new version of Zan. Those infamous opening guitar riffs blasted through the speakers and I barely had a second to think "oh shiiiiiiit!" and grab the people in front of me before the crowd simply went berzerk.

But the thing is... even though I was pretty sure I was just going to die in that crowd and that would be the end of it... I also had this sense of complete and utter contentment. The Japanese, despite their violence, knew exactly what to do and exactly how to act. Unlike an American concert where strange cliques and pockets form and everyone is just doing their own thing... these fans knew the ins and outs of Zan as if the song had been tattooed inside them. And you know what, the new version of Zan was fucking MADE for a live. It was beyond incredible. During the insane, rocking-out parts, the entire crowd would pitch their upper bodies forward and backward in time to the beat, throwing their fists and scrunching their faces up in frustration. The only problem with this move that you legitimately felt like you were humping the people in front of you and you were being humped back. But the fans knew every last word and every last scream. The whole crowd would jump and scream "psycho!" during all the right times, though this usually resulted in the crowd tipping and everyone falling again. You got used to having your shirt nearly ripped off your back. My favorite part was when Shinya would slam the petals and Kyo would release that gut-wrenching growl, and then the whole crowd would suddenly go "UGH!" and the music would fall silent. Then the guitars would explode again and the crowd would start pitching in time to the music.

And, as if things weren't intense enough with the band sadistically opening with Zan... we went right into Obscure. Ho SHIIIIT. Brace yourself! Brace yourself!!! But here again is the incredible thing about the Japanese crowd. They would go ballistic during the song, slamming each other and causing each other to gasp in pain, yet they knew exactly when to stop. When Kyo began to sing wordlessly during the second chorus, his voice rising powerfully above the crowd, everyone fell still and held up their arms, their faces soaked with sweat, their eyes dancing with awe and wonder at Kyo's magic.

I began to realize what this audience was all about. At an American concert, you are relying 100% on the band to give you your experience. But with the Japanese fans, there is a whole new dimension added to the show. You are suddenly a part of something. The fans are all there for the same reason, and they are all sharing the same feelings. There is no cliquey-ness or competitiveness like at the American concerts. The fans were all on the same page and everyone understood, damnit.

I came to realize that this crowd required practice. It took me several songs to figure out all the techniques for staying alive. If the crowd in front falls backwards, push them forwards. If you fall backwards, grab the shoulders of the people in front of you. If the crowd jumps, do not resist. And above all, know exactly when a song gets intense, so you can brace yourself. These Japanese fans move directly in response to the music.
After Obscure was Hydra -666-. By now I was getting very used to this new level of intensity, and any fears of surviving the show were gone. It was not that I no longer believed I might be severely injured, it's that I simply stopped caring. At American concerts, people chicken out when Dir en grey fans get too rough and they either request to be crowd-surfed over the barrier and out of the show, or they manage to escape backwards through the fans. The Japanese DO NOT ESCAPE. It is never too intense for them - not even for tiny girls standing at chest level, and not even for guys so thin you could snap them in half. By the end of the show, I had only seen two girls try and get out. I knew for sure that I was a part of this and I was NOT going to back down.

During Hydra -666- the fans would go insane during the growling parts and everyone would scream "SIX... SIX SIX!!!" like wild animals. Kyo stood on his crate, holding out his arms gloriously, and the fans screamed for him like he was the Second Coming. Fans were dripping with sweat and covered in bruises but never have I seen happier people.

After Hydra -666- was Gaika, Chinmoku ga Nemuru Koro. This was a song I hadn't properly appreciated on the CD, but damn is it incredible live. What really amazed me was that during the parts where Toshiya grabs the mic and screams, the fans would scream every word with him. They drowned out his voice with their own anger. At the end, the crowd collapsed with the song while Kyo screamed and made unbelievably inhuman noises into the microphone. High-pitched squeals and tribal screeching seemed to erupt from his body without reservation. And the audience slammed maniacally with it as Shinya pulverized the drums. The Japanese fans held nothing back. There is no para-para here, only raw, pure ferocity. These fans cared about nothing but exorcising the demon from their bodies.

After Gaika was Red Soil, which was one of the #1 songs I was looking forward to as I had yet to hear it live. God, it is magical live. Die opens up on those beautiful riffs and his hair is blowing magically in the wind and then... its like everything is just twinkling around you. The crowd threw their fists in time to the dance-like beat of the song. What really amazed me was that, during the insane growling parts, the crowd would actually scream the last part of every line where the vocals doubled up on the CD. And some of the truly deranged males around me would actually growl the entire thing.

After Red Soil came Doukoku to Sarinu, which is probably my favorite song off Uroboros (yeah, I'm weird). I was surprised to realize the fans actually calmed down for this song, rather than riling up. The song seems so hard and intense on the CD, but the crowd - as a single entity - did not interpret it that way at all. Instead they used to the song to stand and become washed in the glory of it all. Then, when the chorus reached its maximum pitch, the crowd began to sing louder and louder and louder until they nearly drowned Kyo out.

Then came Bugaboo, which is also a song where the audience stayed more calm and just let Kyo do his thing. I used this song to relax and admire and be awed by Kyo's voice. It seemed as if multiple voices burst out from inside him. During this song, Die continued to do this eerie, slow-paced headbanging to every second beat of the song. Magical.

When Bugaboo ended, Kyo went directly into one of his solos without pausing. The lights went out except for a single spot-light on Kyo, and I remember the solo began with this strange, dissident piano music in the background, and Kyo simply breathed. That was the first third of the solo - Kyo just breathing slowly and eerily in time to the music. He fell into some sort of trance and froze there on his crate. Then he began mumbling and saying strange things, his voice echoing and bouncing about the concert hall as if there were multiple voices speaking all at once. Sometimes I couldn't even tell if what he was speaking and what I was hearing was happening at the same time. At one point, amidst the mumbling, Kyo said something very clearly. I'm sorry if I'm imparting inaccurate information, but I think what he said was "sono uchi... kotoba ga utsusu" which could be translated in many ways. It could mean "soon... the words will be transmitted/moved/infected/reflected." But it was clear that this line was said very intentionally.

Also, it was amazing how still and silent the crowd stood during this solo. In America, people are always screaming stupid shit like "I LOVE YOU!" while Kyo is attempting to trance through his solo. In Japan, everyone falls silent and just watches in awe, listening to Kyo's words and feeling whatever it is that he is trying to make us feel.

Then we moved into Ryoujoku no Ame. An oldie-but-goodie. I just love that song live. The drums always sound like they're marching, and the crowd was slamming violently to the chorus. Such a classic.

After Ryoujoku no Ame, it became the mid-section break-time for the crowd in which the band plays slow song. They played Glass Skin (Japanese version) and it was just beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! Everyone stood perfectly still and just nodded along to the music, dripping in sweat and covered in bruises. Also, I'm happy to say that Kaoru has fixed that squeaky feed-back he kept getting at the beginning of the song. I couldn't stop watching Die's hair during this song. His hair is just... made of magic. It floats in the wind like he's trapped in an Herbal Essense commercial. However, towards the end of Glass Skin, Kyo's voice started to squeak and crack really badly. My stomach hit the floor because... I know what that means. Kyo's voice sounded just like it did when he had edema of the larynx. He couldn't seem to hit a single note all of a sudden, and this was causing him mounting anger. Instead of singing the end of Glass Skin, he started stomping on the crate and screaming for all he was worth, his voice cracking and dying in his throat. I think his throat problems might be back again... It was painful to listen to but... incredible to watch his reaction to it. Rather than becoming defeated, he used the emotions caused by his frustration to enhance the effect of his performance.

Glass Skin went into Toguro, which is such an unbelievably beautiful song. Kyo's dancing was so sexy during this song. His jacket was still on, surprisingly, but he kept undulating and thrusting his hips and belly-dancing with his jacket open.  Once again, however, Kyo could hardly hit the notes. It was like his voice had just died mid-way during the concert. But he didn't stop, and when he blasted those incredible high notes, regardless of whether or not he hit them, the audience held up their arms in response. The thing is, it doesn't matter if Kyo hits the notes. That's not the point. And if you care more about that than what Kyo is trying to display to the crowd then... you've just missed the damn point entirely.

Toguro ended and also went directly into another Kyo solo. This was one of those eerie, Oriental-style solos with the chimes and the deep bass sounds, with Kyo just letting his voice undulate into impossible, animal-like noises. Again, the audience fell silent in wonder.

After Kyo's solo came Merciless Cult - another oldie-but-goodie. It was so amazing with the entire crowd launching forward and screaming "GASP!" with the string section. This crowd had such power.

After that came another song I'd been dying to see live - Stuck Man! Now this is fun! For this song, the crowd spent most of the time jumping up and down in unison to the crazy jazz-like quality of the song. At one point Kyo even jumped up and down to encourage us! I didn't really have to jump, though, because the movement of the entire crowd jumping up and down would pull me up and down without any effort. It was like floating! And everyone screamed all the best parts together, like "SHUT UP! BULLSHIT! SHUT UP! BULLSHIT!" Also, it was so amazing how the crowd would all scream "blood-stained carnival!" in unison over and over and over! At one point, however, the crowd lost its footing and, when Kyo yelled "motto!" ("more!") to get us jumping, the crowd just sorta... fell over instead! We were prone to mass, concert-wide collapses.

When Stuck Man was over, however, I was struck with a momentary fear as I realized what song undoubtedly had to come next... Reiketsu Nariseba. Uh oh. Suddenly, the crowd - which had tamed down for a few songs - completely flipped the shit again. Worse than ever. We were at the point now where entire rows of fans would hold out their hands and rush forward and slam the crowd in front of them and shove them with all their might till they toppled. Up until this point, Ashley and I had managed to stay within visible range of each other, but now we lost each other entirely. Ashley was pushed off to the left and disappeared over towards Toshiya. I was shoved and slammed to the right and found myself over by Die. I decided to take advantage of the crowd surges to move forward. When the whole row in front of me shoved the row in front of them, I would slip into the space formed between the rows and get ahead. I did this repeatedly until I had moved up at least six rows. I was nearly face-to-face with the security guards at one point. However, moving up has its price, and things became more intense and violent the further up I got. At one point, the crowd toppled and a girl grabbed my arm and dragged me down with her. But I clung to someone near me, and she nearly ripped my arm off. Even today, after a good night's sleep, my arm is still too sore to touch and will probably form a nasty bruise soon.

But wow, Reiketsu Nariseba. The crowd was shaking their heads and their arms so fast it was just a blur of movement and insanity. At this point, I came to understand exactly what was happening amongst these mad people. You see, we were all challenging this pit in the hopes of achieving the Fight Club Effect. It is only through experiencing pain that you can feel relief, only through suffering that you can feel happiness... And these fans knew that. They knew it well. And we were all willing to stake our limbs on it! Then, during the quiet part of Reiketsu, everyone fell silent and stood still. Kyo ripped off his jacket, which was something he hadn't done in awhile. It had baffled fans at the U.S. concerts recently that Kyo wouldn't become topless during the shows like he usually does. But now it's all been revealed. Kyo ripped off his jacket, climbed onto his crate, turned around with his back to us and held out his arms. He revealed to the crowd that he now has a massive tattoo on his back. It's still unfinished (it's just an outline with no color right now) but... Kyo was clearly showing it off and presenting this giant Buddhist image of some sort to us as if he'd waiting years to reveal it. It looks beautiful so far!

The peace was short-lived, however, and the crowd went nuts again. We moved into Dozing Green. This is a song where Die blows my mind. How he can play that guitar so fast and so precisely... I'll never understand it.

Dozing Green slid flawlessly into... Vinushka. Oh my god. Vinushka. The song is ten minutes long but... I think half the crowd had a religious experience by the end of it. People seemed to be having seizures of ecstasy and held out their arms towards Kyo like he was the one being who could save their rotten souls. I was nearly ready to cry during the chorus because it was so moving. What really struck me was about midway through the song, when Kyo screams "KOKO GA SHINJITSU DA!" ("here is where the truth is!") the fans all screamed wildly in response to this statement. Well... I guess this is why the Dir en grey fandom is almost considered a cult but... I'm glad to see fans who actually get it.

Vinushka ended, and the band suddenly fled the stage without a word. The roadies came onto the stage and began moving around microphone stands and equipment in an attempt to trick us into thinking the band was finished. But the audience knew better. They screamed "an-ko-re!" ("encore!") with such intensity that I think they deafened me more than the band did. The band kept us waiting a damn long time but... after about five minutes they finally returned... and surged the crowd all over again.

They opened with the new single Hageshisa to, Kono Mune no Naka de Karamitsuita Shanaknetsu no Yami (yeah, longest title ever)!!! We were the first audience to ever hear it live! And oh... oh, was it amazing! That song was just made for a live! The audience was rocking the fuck out and singing along to the chorus! At one point, Kyo even held out the microphone and made us sing the chorus for him! And I got to fulfill my dream of doing the tossing high-note (I threw up my arm when I did it). The whole crowd was like "Hageshisa to... kono mune no naka de, waaaaaaAAAAAAAAH!!!!" Ugh, just fantastic! The instrumentation is just spot on!

Next came Shokubeni, which is always a crowd-pleaser. It starts off so ominous and sneaky and sexy... and then it goes nuts. When we got to the part where the music cuts out and Kyo sings solo without the microphone, the crowd suddenly slammed forward like never before, and I got caught in a horribly painful position and couldn't move. I looked behind me to see if I could struggle free, but the girls behind me were equally smashed and one of them was going "aaah! Itai! Itai!" ("ooow! It hurts! It hurts!"). My leg and back were crushed so bad that I started to get that involuntary response where you start shaking from head to foot. The guy I was smashed against actually looked over his shoulder with concern because I was shaking, but he couldn't come up with a way to free me. Eventually, the crowd loosened again and I was able to maneuver myself back onto my own two feet.

After Shokubeni we just have a flurry of utter madness till the show ends. Never before have I experienced Grief into Agitated Screams of Maggots into Clever Sleazoid. All three songs in a row. When Grief started up I was just like... oh SHIT. But it was so much fun! Everyone yells the "fuck you" parts with Kyo! It's like "fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you fuck you fuck you!" At one point the crowd collapsed for seemingly no reason. But when I pulled myself up, I looked up and realized it was because Toshiya had migrated over to our side and was stealing all the attention! Everyone was screaming and clawing for Toshiya, who just grinned at us like a little devil. Some of the guys around me were losing such control during these encore songs that they just started shaking their heads like maniacs and spraying their sweat everywhere. During Agitated Screams of Maggots, we also wound up yelling all the parts with the string section! We all got to yell "I'll rape your daughter on your grave!" But we left the last scream for Toshiya, haha. He does it better than us anyways! And Clever Sleazoid... what a crowd pleaser. I love the way the crowd yells "HOI!" in between Kyo's words. It's like "The dark!" "HOI!" "Dark!" 'HOI!" "Sunday!" "HOI!" "The blood stains!" Just incredible.

And then... all too soon, it was over. I looked up just in time catch Kyo standing on his crate, arm held up, actually smiling. Yeah... he smiled. It was this sort of pleased/satisfied grin. Then he hopped off his crate and vanished without a word. The rest of the band began their customary throwing of picks and drum sticks. This is the most dangerous part of the show, with fans literally willing to break bones to get something. Toshiya was smiling with all his teeth and throwing full water-bottles into the crowd. Even stoic Shinya got up on Kyo's crate and started squirting a water bottle all over everybody and grinning! I avoided the drum sticks though. I value my life! Kaoru came over to our side and threw picks, but I couldn't get near them. I was too busy admiring Kaoru's blingin' necklace! But wow, Die stole the end of the show. He stayed on the stage a good three minutes after the rest of the band was gone and continued to tease us. He was smiling widely with that big, heart-melting smile of his. He has the most flirtatious smile! He threw his straw into the crowd (landed right next to me but, again, I value my life). He threw some picks. Then he started squirting the crowd with water. Then he crouched down and started teasing the front row. When he stood back up, he took a full water bottle, turned it upside-down, and started dumping it on some girls in the front row. I don't know what came over me, but I suddenly screamed "DIE!!!" as loud as I could. To my shock, he looked up and we locked eyes. This huge grin spread across my face and he continued to stare at me as he dumped out the bottle. As the water ran slowly from the bottle, he grinned at me and stuck half his teeth on his lip with his tongue between his teeth. He gave me a flirty nod and just continued to grin until the bottle was empty. Then Die pulled ALL the picks from his mic-stand, put them in his hand, and threw about thirty picks into the crowd at once. They rained down upon us and I actually screamed out loud and dove for one because I was still so excited. No such luck. I was nearly trampled. Then Die left and the crowd seemed to collapse at last.

Before exiting, the entire audience was almost on its hands and knees searching for picks and straws that were yet unclaimed. Then everyone began the slow crawl out of the venue. I was soaked from head to foot in everyone else's juices. My hair was so curly I wasn't sure I'd ever get a comb through it. All the belts and buckles on the jacket around my waist had come loose and my hood was almost completely disconnected. I felt like I'd been beaten to hell and back again. Some girls were actually being half-carried out by the guys, limping in pain. Still... we were all so happy. Fight Club Effect.

I was worried about finding Ashley, but I spotted her eventually. The two of us were in such a state of euphoria, it was like all we could say over and over was "that was... amazing."

Dying of thirst, Ashley and I found a drink machine and guzzled down tea, then went into a nice little coffee shop and ate mushroom pasta and shared this beyond-amazing, gigantic blueberry parfait:


Then we went home to die of exhaustion and tend to our bruises.

I will be seeing Dir en grey again, twice in January, for their big Budokan performances. For now, I'm off to go pick up some of my fellow Dir en grey fans at the airport! Stay tuned for our lovely adventures in Tokyo together!

Friday, December 25, 2009

TWO MERRY CONCERTS IN ONE DAY - LIVE REPORT FOR SHIBUYA O-EAST 12/24

I'm back! I am back from the Merry concert of epic awesomeness! Just to get everyone on the same page, here's Merry:


As mentioned previously, Geri and I went to see Merry for their Underworld tour final at Shibuya O-East. Well... believe it or not... we got to see TWO Merry concerts only an hour and a half apart for a total of 3 1/2 hours of Merry!

How is that possible, you wonder? Allow me to explain.

I was speaking with a girl on the internet who had written a live-report about a previous Merry performance. Anyways, I asked if she would be at the tour final and she said yes. Then she asked if I'd be going to the free concert in the afternoon. Of course, my response was "what free concert in the afternoon?" I guess the editor-in-chief of Fool's Mate magazine (one of the biggest visual-kei magazine in Japan) passed away a couple months ago. Merry felt that Toujou-san was someone who had taken care of them since the beginning and attended a lot of their concerts. He was like family to them. Naturally, the band was pretty upset at his passing and wanted to do a free concert at Shibuya O-East - the first venue Toujou-san saw them live at. And they were going to play all his favorite songs. I found it hard to believe that Merry would even have the energy to do a concert an hour and a half before another concert but... I guess they can!

Anyhoo, I dressed up a little bit for this event. Here's my outfit (I had on big-ass platform boots, too):


And here's the super-sparkly make-up I decided to wear:



Anyways, Geri and I showed up at Shibuya O-East around 3:15 to see what was happening with the free concert. Doors were to open at 3:30 and the show was to start at 4:00 (impressive, since the other concert was to start at 7:00). Anyways, the whole area was cluttered with goths. It's so funny, cuz Merry doesn't seem like that kind of band from the outside. They're a band who confuses and baffles, since they're called Merry but they're not merry, and their symbol is a sheep but they're not cute. Their music has no definable genre, and their persona in magazines or music videos doesn't match the persona of the band in concert. That's why they do two-night shows like "White Sheep" and "Black Sheep" - because the band is so bipolar that they need two nights with two separate personalities just to keep up. Anyways, the goths were all crowding around clutching tickets, but Geri and I had no idea how one was expected to get tickets for the free concert. We hovered around awkwardly until pretty much everyone had been let into the venue. Then, suddenly, the guy checking tickets whipped out a handful of last-minute tickets! About forty ticket-less stragglers rushed forward (including us) and tried to get one. The man was handing them out when, suddenly, there were only two left. He looked surprised and baffled and quickly contacted someone on his walkie-talkie saying "Tarinai! Tarinai!" ("we don't have enough!"). Anyways, he had only two, and Geri and I were giving him puppy-dog eyes so... he suddenly shrugged and shoved the tickets at us. Geri and I grabbed the tickets and ran up the stairs before we could get tackled, lol.

Anyways, Shibuya O-East is a niiiice venue. It's wider than it is deep, so you can get like... 1500 people in there and still be able to see everything. It's an oddly small venue for a tour final, though. Merry have definitely done concerts at waaaaaay bigger venues, so this was very tiny, in my opinion. Of course, over a thousand people were already in Shibuya O-East by the time Geri and I got in, so we just hovered in the back and enjoyed. But here's the really nice thing... Usually, for rock concerts, you have to make a huge gamble. Do you buy merchandise now while they still have the good stuff - but lose a good spot and have to carry all that shit... or do you get a good spot, and get merchandise after the show when all the good shit is gone? In fact, when I saw D'espairsray at C.C. Lemon Hall... they just didn't HAVE merch after the show (which is how I wound up not getting any). Well, Merry was selling their concert merchandise even at the memorial concert, so I was able to get a T-shirt and this cute acrylic ram thing on a chain, and then have time to drop it off in the cloak room before the tour final when I needed a good spot. Thanks Merry, I appreciate it :-) Here's some pics!

T-shirt (with creepy sheep):

Acrylic sheep! Black ram-head on the front with sparkly lining:


The back is all sparkly, with the band's name in a little heart:


As for the memorial concert... I wasn't sure what to expect. Would it be a full concert, or would it be more of a service? I had read about Merry doing a memorial for Toujou-san at White Sheep, and apparently they cried a lot, so I was worried this show would be really sad. But then, much to my shock, the show opened with this insane, industrial-techno intro. And when the band walked out on stage they were clearly not just doing a service. The band was all dressed in suit-like outfits, yeah, but... Gara's hair was poofed out like he'd stuck his finger in an electric socket. I couldn't believe it... would this be a full-blown concert??

Sure enough, they opened with Japanese Modernists... and I knew it was a real concert. It was a beautiful performance, with Gara singing the beginning of the song solo, and then everyone jumping in with him. And the crowd was rocking out and throwing their fists at the band, just like a real show. Free concerts are AWESOME! Then, much to my shock, the band even played one of their most INSANE songs: Atama ga Zakuro (translation: My Head is a Pomegranate). The audience went nuts, with everyone jumping up and down and thrashing. For the fun of it, if you're curious to see the madness of Merry, you can watch this video of the band performing Atama ga Zakuro last year. It's pretty amusing, since Gara decides to climb the scaffolding for most of the performance, lol.



But, of course, the show couldn't STAY crazy, since it WAS a memorial. They rocked us out through some songs, then slowed the concert down. Nero, the drummer, stood up on his drum-stool and gave a very dramatic speech about Toujou-san. He was like "that person... we loved him! That person... he loved us! That person... he loved all of you!" Nero told us that we should memorialize this last show for Toujou-san by laughing and smiling, rather than being upset. That wound up not working so well later, but anyways...

So the band moved on and did some very beautiful songs for Toujou-san. I can't remember them very well (sorry, my concert memory always sucks cuz I'm too into it at the show to think much) but... it was all very beautiful with Gara standing there singing calmly in a pretty, dress-like suit while the rest of the band played along with him. What really stands out in my mind is the acoustic version of Tick Tock that they played. It was absolutely stunning. Gara played harmonica as well as singing, and Yuu and Kenichi played acoustic guitar while seated. Tetsu played one of those big, long-necked bass instruments that you have to rest on the floor. And Nero was crouched in the back playing these, like... floor-drum things. It was really beautiful.

After some pretty, slow songs, Gara also decided to give a speech about Toujou-san. Gara almost never does an MC so... if he talks to the crowd, it's a big deal. As I feared, Nero's speech about smiling and laughing didn't really work out. Gara spent most of the speech pausing between sentences to compose himself while wiping his nose on his sleeve like a little boy. It was really sad. This girl in front of me burst into tears in the middle of the speech and started wiping her eyes on Merry's tour towel. So Gara stood there being upset and crying and it was very hard to watch. I was staring at my feet for a lot of it because I didn't want to get upset.

After Gara's speech, the band went back to rocking out and doing great music. It was amazing. I can't remember much of the rest of the show, unfortunately, but... it was awesome. They played nothing but great songs. It ended on a sad note, though. As each member left the stage at the end, they each said something about Toujou-san. Kenichi at least tried to be funny like Nero had requested. He was like, "Toujou-san... he was a big guy, wasn't he?" The one that shocked me was Yuu. The calm, cool band leader grabbed the microphone and barely managed to get a word out. He sort of choked through a couple sentences, then left the stage before he burst into tears.

Aaaaaw.

The memorial ended at around 5:30 and doors for the next show opened at 6:00. Everyone rushed out of the venue to get some food before the next event. Geri and I, already somewhat deafened, also ran to the convenience store. I got some onigiri (rice-balls) and some apple juice and then we just waited around for the real show to start.

At 6:00 they started calling everyone in by number. Over 500 people got in ahead of us but... it doesn't matter cuz the venue is set up in a way in which you can see no matter where you are. But I didn't want to be in the back again. I wanted to be right in the crowd, jumping up and down and going crazy. Oh, and when we walked in, they handed us each a free CD that turned out to be... a recording of the acoustic version of Tick Tock!!! Squee!!!

When the band came back on stage at 7:00, I came to realize that what they had done for us was, in effect, White Sheep, Black Sheep. The memorial was White Sheep, with the band members in suits and playing slower, prettier songs. But an hour and a half later... Black Sheep. The band was determined to be completely fucking insane for the tour final. The crowd was packed and people were bristling with excitement (there were more people at the tour final than at the memorial). The band opened with GI GO and came out looking completely different. They'd traded in their suits for more rock-like clothing. Especially Gara, who came out on the stage dressed like... a stripper. His hair, which had deflated during the memorial, was back to standing out ten inches in all directions. He had black eye-shadow all over his face. His outfit, though... hehe, he had black, elbow-length silk gloves, a sleeveless, mesh shirt (completely see-through), tight black pants with belts around his butt, a silk scarf, around his neck, and a big pink paper-clip and brass-knuckles hanging from his belt. And, as always, he was barefoot. As for the other members, I was happy to see Kenichi without a mustache, haha. He looks sooooo much better like that! And he had curly hair. I didn't like Yuu's hair at all. He had one side covering his pretty face, and the other side pulled back in tight corn-rows.  Tetsu was, as always, one of the hottest things on two legs. Tetsu's hair is down to his armpits and he's just so stoic and kick-ass-looking. And boy is he a skinny mother-fucker! Nero looked crazy as always. His hair was up in a knot on his head with a big pink chunk of hair always flying in his face. He had on his signature librarian glasses too, lol. He was, of course, totally out of his mind. Geri wanted to have a better view of Nero for the tour final cuz he's so crazy, lol.

Well, anyways. So the show was beyond amazing. The band is so crazy. Nero doesn't go around his drum-set to get into it, he climbs OVER his drum-set, lol. And he plays the drums with his mouth open for most of the show, or singing along. And Gara was just insane. Shrieking, flailing, jumping off tall objects, rubbing himself in perverse ways... The boy is bat-shit crazy, lol. When the band played Enzetsu Surrealism, sure enough, Gara did the bunny-head routine. I've posted this video before but, if you watch this video at 35 seconds, you can see the bunny-head:



But Gara had to go all-out with the bunny-head at this show. He actually hopped across the stage like that, lol. And he kept tipping the bunny-head back and then bending over at a 90 degree angle so that the head would be looking right at the crowd. Then he'd bunny-stare-down the audience, lol. And he kept putting his hand against the bunny's ear like "I can't heeeear you!!!" Too hilarious, lol. After Enzetsu Surrealism, Yuu screamed out "WELCOME TO THE HUMAN FARM!!!" and they, of course, played Human Farm, which was fucking amazing. They also played Gesshoku, which was a song I'd been dying to hear. Such a sexy song. Songs that stick out in my mind (well, EVERY song was amazing, but my memory sucks)... they played Charlie, which was awesome... they repeated Japanese Modernist... aaah, they played Katamichi Kippu. That's one of my favorites! That song really represents the "jazz" quality of Merry that they're so known for. If you are curious about "jazzy" Merry, here's a recent live recording of Katamichi Kippu. It's such an interesting song! Not something you'd expect from a rock band (if Merry is even rock... I'm not sure).




As for some of the antics of the night... Gara repeatedly hoisted his entire mic-stand up over his shoulder and sang like that... and sometimes he carried it under his arms and across his back like a cross. Also, I'm sorry to report that Gara is still beating himself violently in the head with the microphone. At one point, though, he started pounding the microphone into his head and Nero, in response, head-butted his own microphone, hahaha. Gara kept going over to Yuu and bothering him, too, lol. He was being strangely affectionate, lol. Gara repeatedly leaped off his desk, too. He would practically do the splits mid-air and... he never actually landed on his feet. And he would sometimes just stay there on the floor, which would freak me out cuz I had no idea if he'd hurt himself during the fall or not. Then he would shriek suddenly and I'd know he was okay, lol XD I think one of my favorite Gara-moments was when he was standing up on his desk at the end of a song, and then the lights went completely black. And then, all you could see in the darkness was... a pair of floating brass-knuckles. Hahahaha, the brass-knuckles hanging from Gara's belt were glow-in-the-dark! Geri and I both started laughing out loud, lol XD There were sadder moments, too, like when they were doing a sad song (I'm sorry, I can't remember what song!) and Gara sat on his desk and curled up like a ball for most of the song. Aaaaaw :-(

Anyways! This post is rambling so badly, lol... I dunno what to say. The show was so amazing that I don't even know how to organize this post into anything cohesive, lol.

Ah, well, there were some technical difficulties. There was some bad feed-back while Gara was singing and, instead of ignoring it like most vocalists do, he kept shooting these death-glares backstage, lol. He looked like he was going to kill somebody!

Also, Gara wasn't the only crazy mother-fucker at this show. The AUDIENCE - HOLY SHIT. Here's the thing... Japanese rock concerts are organized events. Everyone does furi. Everyone knows when to yell. But these guys... holy SHIT. During certain songs, the crowd would suddenly crumble and, just like at American rock concerts, these big circles of death would form and everyone would just start pushing and shoving and slamming into each other and not caring who they knocked out. Yeah, you read that correctly... there were MOSH PITS AT THE MERRY CONCERT. American-style mosh pits! And it happened frequently! It seemed like the males in the crowd were inciting a lot of the mosh pits but... the girls were clearly into it too. Some of the girls behind me were moshing and kept nearly knocking me over, lol. Also... there was CROWD-SURFING!  Crowd-surfing is illegal in Japan, but they were crowd-surfing at this show! This one girl in particular kept climbing up onto the shoulders of her friends and waving wildly at the band. Then they would toss her and she would ROLL, not surf, up to the front of the crowd, drop back into the first row, somehow slither to the back of the venue, get hoisted up, and do it again! And she did this all with a big, pink bow in her hair! I think she was pissing Gara off, though. The thing is, she was obviously trying to steal all his attention... and Gara was trying to please the whole crowd. At one point, Gara put half his body into the audience and everyone scrambled to grab him. The crowd-surfer girl rolled over the crowd towards him and then, as she was dropping into the first row... she totally kicked Gara in the arm on the way down. He totally ignored it but... later on, whenever she would try and get his attention, he would just glance at her and look away, lol. At one point I got Gara to do a stare-down with me! He bugged his eyes out at me and it was really freaky, haha.

Anyways, Merry did not one... not two... not even three... but FOUR encores! Holy SHIT. I've NEVER heard of four encores! The first and second I understood, and they were both about fifteen minutes long. For the second encore, Merry came out and Gara asked if we knew some band (I forgot what, sorry). Then he was like "let's do a cover!" Then they did some surprisingly poppy song by some other band, lol. Then after the cover... they played something I didn't recognize at all. But the song was awesome, so I just went with it. When the song was over, Gara suddenly yelled the name of the song and we realized...

NEW SONG!!! MERRY PLAYED A NEW SONG!!! OMG AND IT WAS AWESOME!!! Be on the look-out, fellow Merry fans of the flock! New song is heading your way!!!

The third encore surprised me a bit, but the band came out and performed Fuyu no Castanets, which makes sense because the song is about being alone on Christmas and... it was Christmas Eve. After a lonely rendition of Fuyu no Castanets, the band left again, wishing us all a Merry Christmas on the way out (Nero was like "it's a MERRY Christmas, so you came to see us, right?!" Hardy har har har). Before he left, Nero was like, "we're really done this time, you guys!" and the house-lights went back on. But no one budged, and everyone continued to scream "an-ko-re!" ("encore!"). Well, after about thirty seconds the band ran back like "oh, alright, you've convinced us!" Then they finished the night with...

VIOLET HARENCHI!!!

Squeeeee! Violet Harenchi was my first Merry song and the song that got me into the band!  I remember Gara turned around and started singing to the crowd between his legs while wiggling his butt at us, lol. During another song he just started wiggling in general.  But Violet Harenchi got off to a rickety start. Everyone started jumping up and down like crazy and then... the song stopped. Yuu messed up, haha. Nero jumped up on his drum-stool and started teasing Yuu like "Heeeey! Remember how the song goes?!!" Yuu looked mortified, lol. Gara just looked pissed, but Yuu is band leader so... Gara can't say anything, haha. When Nero thanked us for being patient, Gara took a swig of water and sprayed it through his teeth in response, haha. THEN Violet Harenchi happened for real! During the song, Gara actually unzipped his pants, poured his water bottle down his crotch, then repeatedly grabbed his junk, squeezed the water into his hands, and flicked it at the crowd! He was basically... wringing out his crotch, lol XD And he would kick the water at us too, by flicking it off his feet as it ran down his leg! What a SPAZZ! I ALMOST got some crotch-water on me but... I was too far away, damnit. Gara continued to teeth-spray water at us, lol. When the show ended, Nero threw his drum-sticks into the air and... one of them just didn't come back down, lol.

Anyways, the show ended (noooo!) and the band made their grand exits, thanking us and throwing picks and drum-sticks into the crowd. They draped Toujou-san's t-shirt over Gara's desk in tribute and Nero waved around the giant Merry flag that the audience had signed. Nero also posed in front of the entire crowd for a big picture, lol! I don't know if I can be seen in the picture though, since the girl in front of me (who had serious BO) was kinda tall.

Soooooo, those were the Merry concerts (plural!) and Geri and I rolled out of the venue at around 9:00 and ran off to get some burgers, lol. We had just been jumping up and down and going nuts for 3 1/2 hours of Merry... Who could ask for anything more?!!

Sorry this blog post sucked, lol. I wish I could give better detail about what songs they played and who did what and when but... I was so busy jumping up and down and yelling at the band that half the show escaped me. But tomorrow............

Be prepared for my next blog post because... I'm going to the Dir en grey fan-club only concert tomorrow. You think you've seen big, long-winded blog-posts from me but... you ain't seen nothin' yet! I'm going to fucking tape-record tomorrow's show in my brain!

See you all after the Dir en grey concert!!!!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Indies Bands - Shinjuku HOLIDAY

My neck hurts. Why does my neck hurt? Because I went to see nine Indies bands at Holiday Shinjuku instead of studying for the two exams I had the next day. Yay me!!!

I was invited by my friends Ashley, Fox, and Megan to go see some indies bands. Indies bands in Japan are not the same as indies bands in America. When one thinks "indies" in America, one usually pictures grungy garage bands and kids with no talent attempting to strum out some tunes about why they're living off cup ramen. In Japan, indies is its own sub-culture - and a strange one at that. In fact, although I've been to Tokyo Decadance, I can assure you that the things I saw at this indies live were undoubtedly the most bizarre antics I've ever seen and got progressively weirder as the show went on.

I've discussed in previous posts the concept of visual-kei in Japan.  VK Japanese indies bands are best thought of as "apprentice geishas" - if I may loosely throw around such terms. VK bands are, of course, extravagant. However, it's a general rule in Japan that the more talented, famous, or career-comfortable a band becomes, the more they shed themselves of VK. There are exceptions of course - such as Versailles, who are probably more decadent now than ever - but this is the usual trend. D'espairsray went major and almost instantly rid themselves of VK. Dir en grey slowly peeled it off a little bit year by year as they became more famous. Even The GazettE, the band monopolizing the VK scene right now, is showing signs of toning down their VK style. The idea, just like with geisha, is that a more experienced, talented band doesn't need to rely on its looks or its flamboyant style to attract or keep an audience. Just as geisha rid themselves of excessive hair accessories and make-up as they become more experienced and popular, Visual-kei bands do much the same thing.

Thus, Japanese indies bands are absolutely the most flamboyant, overdone, and utterly ridiculous of VK bands, simply because there is no other way to be noticed. Some Indies bands are good, others are beyond awful, but either way you're guaranteed a sight. I am personally not a big fan of indies in any country, but I decided to go see an indies live because it is a completely different experience in its own right.

Just a reminder about this post... UNLESS OTHERWISE SPECIFIED, EVERY PERSON PICTURED OR DESCRIBED IS A MAN. DO NOT BE CONFUSED NO MATTER WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE.

I was stubborn and refused to skip class to get to Shinjuku HOLIDAY on time, but I would've made it right on time if I hadn't decided not to trust my own hand-drawn map and get lost. In typical Kita-style, I stopped at a convenience store to ask where Shinjuku HOLIDAY was, only to have the cashier point out the window. I was next to it. Oops. Horribly embarrassed, I thanked the cashier and ran away.

Going into Shinjuku HOLIDAY after a show has started is best compared to the final, Hell level of any Silent Hill game (or the last destination in the Silent Hill movie, if you've seen that). From the outside, HOLIDAY seems fairly innocent, but something is off. There's no front door. You search around till you find a couple doors with no signs and choose one at random. The door is old and creaky. You open the door, and you're in a dark, strange place with a hallway and unmarked doors and the dull thud of music coming up from beneath the floor. Just like the Silent Hill descent into Hell, you descend the stairs beneath strange and indescribable lighting, wondering where you're going and why everything is so old and weird. You reach the basement, but you're not deep enough in Hell yet. You descend another flight of old, rickety stairs, and the music grows louder. Finally, you find an impossibly small, dark room with a couple of disgruntled Japanese handing out tickets. You buy your tickets in haste, hoping the monsters don't leap out of the shadows while you're unarmed. Then you find a massive door with no handle. You scratch at the door a bit, hearing music pounding against it from the other side. Eventually, you find a strange hole and manage to push the door open. Inside, you have finally reached Hell. You are suffocated in smoke and darkness and bizarre screams. Dazed, pierced youths sit on the floor near the entrance, and their eyes glint at you in the darkness.

Welcome to indies, where underground music is literally underground!

HOLIDAY is tiny, and the stage barely fits the bands' equipment. The audience was equally small, with only about thirty people sitting or standing quietly and observing. Such is the reality of Indies bands - no one knows them! But here's where things get strange. A foot from the stage is a large, metal gate - the barrier. In front of the barrier are two girls and they are rocking out like no other and doing full, completely rehearsed furi hand gestures to every song. Our first band has a tiny fan club! Interesting to note but... the pre-rehearsed furi at indies concerts is the birth of furi. If a band goes major, chances are this furi will follow them all the way to the big-time.

Also interesting to note, but most of the people in the club did not look strange. Yes, there were some goths, yes there was a girl with completely maroon hair, but most of these girls could've been anybody's sister or cousin. Some were still wearing school uniforms!

Anyways, I found my friends and went to stand with them. They assured me more people would show up and that people would get more wild. I guess the better bands go on later and it was only 3:30 now. The first band performing was called diva. I was only able to find one picture of them, and its terrible, but this will have to do for now:

Diva had potential in my opinion, but it was all too obvious that they were new. They had a good look to them, and they sounded solid, but they were poorly rehearsed and made many mistakes. Moreover, the string section kept trying to sing in harmony with the vocalist but... there's a reason the string section aren't the vocalists. Yeesh. They really needed to cut that out or taking singing lessons. Other than that, not much to report.

The next band up was called Licker. Here's their picture:

They came out one by one, and when the drummer came out first, my friends and I gaped in surprise. The drummer was wearing short-shorts and had big thighs. We looked at each other in amazement as we realized... the drummer was a girl! A female drummer in a VK band?? Unheard of! The rest of the band came out, and the vocalist made us giggle because he was, as per usual in VK, a tiny little dude. But when he started to sing, we felt confused all over again. A strange voice... a tiny person... after half a song of debating we realized... the vocalist was also a she! It was a girl! Damn VK androgyny... so gender-confusing, lol! Anyways, SHE was fantastic! Licker was professional-level good in my opinion. I was surprised such a talented band was playing second when hardly anyone was there, but they said during the MC that they were from the Kansai region, so I think they were demoted for not being a local band or something. But they were great! The vocalist had a great range and could sing low like a boy, high like a girl, and even whipped out some great growls and shrieks - but only when necessary, never to show off. The band felt very serious, with good harmony and technical skill. And the drummer was so adorable! But I also remember that one of the band members was playing the signature guitar of Die from Dir en grey (the crimson-red one with the black neck and the spike). I was impressed because Die's guitar is expensive as all hell... but man... what a beautiful guitar.

Now, once again, it's important to talk about the differences in indies culture as opposed to seeing major bands. Indies are not famous. They're like a step above garage bands. They don't receive much in the way of higher status and, thus, don't distance themselves from the crowds. While I leaned on the barrier on the right side of the stage, some band member would be leaning against it on the other side beside me. At one point, one band even sat down in the crowd with everyone else to watch. After Licker was done, the vocalist sat at some tables at the back of the crowd to watch the rest of the show, and between bands people would go back and chat amicably with the band members observing.

After Licker, I decided to take advantage of my free drink ticket and use the bar. I got a Cassis soda, which is a very popular drink in Japan, though I'd never heard of it in America. It's black currant liqueur mixed with soda. It makes a sexy, blood-red color and it tastes really good and tart, but not too alcoholic. And the bar-tender actually knew how to get a decent amount of alcohol in there, unlike all the other weak drinks in Japan.

It's a good thing I got a drink in preparation for the next band... GRiST.

LOOK AT THESE FUCKING IDIOTS!!! They were soooooo bad! It was such a let-down after Licker! The vocalist and the guitarist looked like a cheap prom date. Their guitarist was way too manly for his prom dress, too. The other guitarist looked like Aoi from GazettE, complete with bare thighs. The drummer, despite his Versailles-esque band-mates, had a beard, and the bassist looked like he was from Rammstein, with a mohawk and a suit. Adding insult to injury... this cheesy, ridiculous band opened with the prom date couple waltzing around the stage to sappy music. The vocalist sang ridiculously and the entire show involved synchronized twirling. Of course, they had a fan-club of about seven people, which was a record up to that point, and those people looked like they were having a blast and even started slam-dancing (this is when the girls run around in front of the barrier knocking into each other on purpose). Anyways, my friends and I were cracking up at how stupid this band was, and the vocalist, noticing, had the nerve to make fun of us during his MC. He turned to us and said something incomprehensible in English followed by "wakarimasu ka?" ("do you understand?"). We shook our heads and he pointed at us and said to the crowd "soko ni... gaikokujin-sama..." which could be translated like "over there... we've got some wonderful foreigners." After they twirled off the stage, I realized I had downed my drink.

"This drink would've lasted me at least two bands if not for them..." I grumbled. Then one of my friends said "oh my god, look at the vocalist of Licker." We turned around and saw her sitting behind a table clutching her drink with a look of black hatred on her face. I've never seen anyone look so disgusted after a band's performance, haha. Then the Licker girl downed her drink as well, haha.

Aaaaand, unfortunately, it doesn't get much better after GRiST. The next band up was Dizly:

They were pretty awful. They were the closest thing I've seen so far to an "emo band" in Japan. And the worst part was, the vocalist clearly couldn't decide if he was Kyo from Dir en grey or Ruki from the GazettE, and the result was a confused little man with absolutely NO onstage charisma. Even when he tried pumping up the crowd, it was weak and half-assed. His screaming was just for show, and equally untrained. Even the slam-dancing girls seemed to weaken a bit during this act. I think it takes a certain amount of charisma and audience-connectivity to make a band work, and these guys had NONE of that. There was no pull, and in the end it was just embarrassing. The vocalist didn't even seem to want to be there. I was glad when it was over.

Things perked up a bit from there. The next band was DRAGON, but try as I might... I could find absolutely no picture of them on the internet. Even their official site had no photos, lol. But... they basically looked American, as weird as that sounds. They had dyed hair and manly faces, but they all had mask-like levels of eye-shadow around their eyes. They played straight-up rock music.  They were somewhat forgettable for me.

After DRAGON was Navir (also written in in katakana as navia - the vi formed by the ten-ten "u" and a small "i"), which was the band my friends had come to see. Apparently my friends all have the major hots for Navir, lol. They're these guys:

Up until this point, my friends and I had stood by idly while girls at the front, many of them seemingly normal girls in ugly sweaters and jeans, slam-danced and head-banged furiously. And things are very coordinated in Japanese audiences, so these girls would do things like hold hands and pull each other side to side as they head-banged so as not to have a head-on collision... literally. The girls were also doing something else that intrigued me... Apparently, head-banging is not hard-core enough for these girls, so they would grab the metal barrier and hoist themselves up like gymnasts mounting a bar and slam their upper bodies over the gate. This is very hard to do, and these girls had to leap and propel themselves over and over to the beat of the music. I swear some of these girls had springs in their feet - and they were obviously well-practiced. Well, for Navir, my friends and I ran up to second row (first row barrier was overtaken by the die-hards) and decided to join in the insanity.

Now, I like rocking out. I like it a LOT. So my friends and I took a leaf out of the Japanese girls' book and would hold hands to prevent anyone from falling down from head-banging too much, lol. So that's what I did... I watched the furi carefully and attempted to replicate it (I failed a lot, though....) and I jumped up and down repeatedly when everyone else did, and I head-banged in a flurry until I was dizzy. By now the venue had about sixty people, and at least half of them were actually standing and doing furi or jumping, so the venue seemed more lively now. And the members of Navir recognize us foreigners from other shows, I guess, so they would point at us and try and get us to scream for them. A lot of the Japanese girls would do these terrifying, animal-like snarls at the band but... I just can't seem to do it. I wish I could remember Navir musically... but all I remember is rocking out, lol. There was this one ten-minute stream of music where the girls had to pitch forward over and over, then rock out like crazy, then fist-pump, then repeat. It got pretty insane. Also, one of the band members looked EXACTLY like Hitsugi from Nightmare. Same piercings, same hair, same make-up... I would swear he was just a Hitsugi cosplayer, lol!

Anyhoo, after Navir, the vocalist and the Hitsugi-guy went behind the desks in the back and sat there. My friends decided to go talk to them, so I shrugged and joined in. Unfortunately, I was pretty much deafened at this point and struggled to hear anything the vocalist said. I hadn't really understood what the attraction was to the vocalist while he was on onstage, but he looked a lot hotter offstage just being himself. I really liked his silver hair! And he was a really nice guy. He looked at us and said, with a funny accent, "...are you from...?" We looked confused, so Hitsugi-guy leaned over and said something. Then Vocalist was like "aaaah! Wheeeeere are you from?"  We each said where we were from and he tried some more English, before he realized we spoke Japanese, which seemed to implode his world. He looked so shocked, haha XD Then we chatted amicably. He asked about how old we were, then pointed suddenly at the oldest and said "sempai!" which is like the senior in a group. Hitsugi-guy, despite having about five spikes sticking out of his lip and about ten pounds of metal on his face, remained quiet and shy and Vocalist even made some joke about Hitsugi-guy being in elementary school, lol. Then Vocalist told us we need to shout more, lol. He was like "motto koe wo..." I wanted to apologize for my inability to roar like a bear like the Japanese girls do, lol. All in all, they were very nice.

Things started getting stranger from here. The band after Navir was Shinema Sutorippu, which is just a katakana spelling of "Cinema Strip." While they revved up an intro complete with projected images of the band members, girls in the crowd were adorning their arms with glow-stick bracelets. Why they were doing this became clear later. Here's Cinema Strip:

Sorry, it's an absolutely terrible picture, they didn't look like this at all - they looked much goofier but... this was the best I could find. The reason for the glow-sticks was that this band, which had a strange, techno-dance quality to them, did not do normal furi. Instead of a lot of waving hand-gestures, the girls tended to hold poses. Like, they would all suddenly thrust out an arm and hold it there, their arms illuminated in the darkness by the glow-sticks. Even though we didn't know the band, Ashely and Fox decided this looked fun and joined in. I felt shy for some reason and stayed with Megan. I came to regret this later. Although I just stood there observing, the vocalist looked repeatedly in my direction and tried over and over to encourage me to join in. Every time he pointed at me and waved his hands, I would just smile nervously. Finally, after his third try, he got a strange look on his face and said "arigatou" and moved on. AAAAAH GUUUUILT. I felt SO bad! I didn't think he was going to THANK me. I felt bad for the rest of the act.

After Cinema Strip, there was a surprise band! No one knew who would be on next and then, surprise surprise, the much more popular indies band ALSDEAD showed up unexpectedly on the stage! They were supposed to be playing at another venue, but I guess they finished at that one, ran to Shinjuku, and did a guest appearance at our show! This is ALSDEAD:

We jumped up for this one (I was excited because this was the first band I'd actually HEARD of) and got front row! I decided to rock out like I did for Navir. Just like all the other deranged Japanese girls behind us, I gripped the barrier and thrashed my head around till I was dizzy and shook my fist at the band. The most exciting thing for me was finally being able to try the gymnast move. It was very difficult and I think I flubbed it the first couple tries. You have to literally pull yourself up completely on the metal gate with your arms straight like a gymnast and throw your upper half over the bar and then land back down and spring back up and do it again, all in time to the music. And the top of the gate is at chest-level. The more I did it, the more used to it I got, but now, even days later, my arms and neck and back are still sore, lol. So ALSDEAD was a lot of fun, though they seemed a little tired (understandably). They were good for rocking out!

Only one band left after ALSDEAD! This last band kinda made the night for me, although my friends seem to hate them. The last band was called Ha;qch (pronounced "hakuchi" I believe). Ashley told me Ha;qch is scary, and I was amazed that any band was capable of making someone like Ashley think they were scary. My friends told horror stories about them, including the vocalist reaching into the crowd and violently pulling girls' hair, pulling people up onstage... and Fox said he grabbed her once and shoved her face into his crotch. My friends said all this in disgust, but I couldn't help but feel intrigued by a band daring to do all that, so I was a bit excited. Besides, if Ha;qch was going on last, they were, in theory, the best and most anticipated band of the night. Here's a picture of Ha;qch:

When their intro started, I knew it was going to be insane. The girls in the front row - about ten or eleven girls, all hoisted themselves up on the barrier and, much to my amazement, they all threw a leg over it and straddled themselves up on the barrier and started yelling for the band. Bear in mind that this barrier is shoulder-level for most of these little Japanese girls. I couldn't help but notice, however, that the rest of the audience was hovering much farther back than normal. Could Ha;qch really be so freaky? The band came out, and they were definitely scary looking. They reminded me of very old-school D'espairsray. The band members were all dressed in tight, black PVC and covered in belts and straps. The vocalist had lots of straps dangling from his arms. The band was, admittedly, scary looking and the music was VERY heavy. However, for the first two songs, I failed to see what was so scary about this band. The front row girls were head-banging and thrashing and leaping against the barrier, but other than that it didn't seem too bad.

Then, suddenly, the vocalist (I think his name is Chihiro) lunged off the stage, landed on the barrier between the heads of two girls, and perched there like a gargoyle making hideously disgusted faces at us. The girls didn't run away, and continued to thrash so that their hair was whipping against Chihiro. Then his eyes locked in the direction of my friends and I. We were standing there thrashing our heads only lightly but mostly observing from afar. Chihiro made a sudden face and pursed his lips and then I realized oh shit he's going to -

Splat.

Spit. Bleah. He spat like a friggin' llama and it went all over the knuckles of my right hand and my left forearm. My friends, knowing Chihiro does this, managed to dodge out of the way as he continued to spit at the crowd. My friends were all pissed off and furious about the spitting but... meh, I don't really care, to be honest. In fact, I think I grinned at Chihiro after he did it. When you go to an indies event, you have to expect a certain amount of insanity. It's part of the fun of it all, lol!

Anyways, Chihiro jumped back onto the stage, and now things got really weird. During some part of a song, the front row girls all pulled themselves back up on the bar and pitched the front half of their bodies over the top of the barrier. But this time they folded their bodies in half over the barrier and dangled there like dead bodies. They kind of looked like strips of meat left out to dry. My first thought was "well... I guess dead bodies goes with the theme of this band..." till I realized what was actually going on.

Ashley tried to explain this next phenomenon to me, but I hadn't understood till I saw it. Booty-bumping isn't quite the right term... but body-slamming doesn't explain it either. Basically, the second row backed up and then, one by one, the girls would race forward, jump, and slam their bodies backwards into the asses of the dangling girls draped over the barrier. They did this like line-backers. Even Fox and Ashley were doing it. I believe my shocked face looking something like this: O_O I was too afraid I would hurt these girls or cause them to fall over the bar, so I didn't do it but... man... you haven't lived till you've seen Japanese girls body-slamming into the asses of other Japanese girls. And this happened repeatedly during Ha;qch's performance.

Overall, I would say I thoroughly enjoyed Ha;qch. They were the band that stood out the most to me. They were solid, themed, well-rehearsed, had great audience connectivity, got everyone riled up, and overall felt like a real band. They even did an encore! Plus, at least they were doing something DIFFERENT. They stood out completely from the other bands. And I see nothing wrong with Chihiro doing nasty things in order to rile up his crowd.  Better than just standing there being boring like everyone else! When Chihiro left the stage, he stormed off without a word, looking disgruntled.  Ha;qch didn't even show up afterward when all the bands mingled with the audience.

After the show, the bands filtered around the crowd. The extremely pink-haired guitarist of... was it DRAGON? I dunno, he gave us surveys to fill out with our opinions of the band. Other band members talked happily with the girls. I even saw one band member steal a girl's hat and put it on his head, lol. It was now about 10:00, and we'd been in this dark pit since 3:30, so we left, crawled the stairs out of Hell, and emerged back into the Shinjuku night-life. Shinjuku is sketchy at night, so we call it Sketchville.

In the meantime, that was my lovely Indies experience! I had meant to go to another Indies show at the Rokumeikan on Friday but... my neck still hurt from head-banging and I backed out, lol. Hope you all enjoyed!

For now... see you all next time!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fish heads, fish heads, roley poley fish heads...

Well, that day has come. I knew the day was coming, but I knew not when, where, or with whom it would happen. But I knew it was coming. Yes, my friends, I have eaten an entire fish. From crispy tail to gaping, wide-mouthed, eyes-still-attached head. I ate all his bones... his spine... his eye... his gills... I ate everything... I knew this day was coming because Japanese people love to eat grilled fish whole, but... I didn't know when I would finally be made to try it. I have eaten raw squid... I have eaten grilled fish skin... I have eaten shrimp with the legs still attached, I have eaten fish eggs of every variety... but finally I have consumed... a roley, poley fish head.

Eat them up, yum!

Yeah, actually, it was pretty delicious. Yes, roll your eyes at Kita the Seafood Lover but... it really is delicious if you can get past eating a fish head. When I saw the pile of grilled fish on the table, I decided to play dumb and ask my host mother if you could eat the whole thing. She looked incredulous and she was like "uh, of course." So I explained that Americans would find such a dish to be repulsive and horrifying. I told her that my mom always says she won't eat anything that's still looking at her. My host mother nodded understandingly but was like "yeah well... it's delicious, so eat it." I told her it was fine because I'm adventurous and I'll try anything once (fish ovaries are still on my list of upcoming adventures but my host mother won't let it in the house because it's too high in cholesterol, lol). My theory on food is that, if the natives eat it and it doesn't make them sick or kill them then... it's obviously okay so... no big deal, as long as it tastes good.

So I picked up a fish and I bit off the tail... and I worked my way up. Being the morbid person that I am, I had to peer inside the fish as I ate it and scrutinize every little detail. Didn't seem to have organs, for some reason... just flesh and bone. Lots of bones. You could see them sticking out but they become soft when you cook them and it's edible. It's actually ridiculously healthy because you eat the bone marrow, and bone marrow is the most nutritious substance you can consume. Then I got to the head. I was like... "hey, you... don't look at me like that..." I told myself not to think about it and popped the whole thing in my mouth. It didn't taste any different or feel any different than the rest of the fish, lol.  So if you're feeling really adventurous and in Japan and you want to step out of your comfort zone, I recommend it! Roley poley fish heads are delicious.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The History of Yotsuya

Nope, I'm not dead. Shocking, I know, lol. I've had the worst week ever and I've been doing nothing but non-stop school work and... I actually don't even have time to be blogging but... I'm doing it anyways because... well, it's not like I'm gonna leave the house this weekend anyways, lol.

Anyways, part of the reason I've been buried under work is because my friends Elena and David and I had to do a project on Yotsuya for our Japanese class. We couldn't for the life of us figure out what the hell you'd say about Yotsuya. I mean, it's the neighborhood our university is in but... there's nothing but restaurants and really crappy little shops. In fact, the sample projects we saw from last year seemed as perplexed as we were. So we decided to one-up everybody else and actually explore Yotsuya from a historical standpoint to see what was interesting about it. We uncovered all sorts of crap, so I'll post about it here so you can see it! This will mostly be a "pretty picture" post, lol.

Well, first of all, there were some great assassinations in Yotsuya of famous writers and stuff. But that's more recent. Let's go waaaaaay back, shall we?

Do you remember this guy from Kill Bill? Hattori Hanzo? He's the master swordsman who trained Bill and made the katana for Beatrix to exact her revenge upon Bill.

Well, as it turns out, Hattori Hanzo was a real person. He's one of Japan's most famous samurai who fought battles for the Tokugawa during the 1500's. The Hattori Hanzo of Kill Bill is, I believe, intended to be a descendant of the samurai. Well, as it also turns out, Hattori Hanzo's tomb is only a five minute walk from our university! Let's check it out, shall we?

Here at the shrine, we find some lovely graves...

Here's the temple itself. Hattori Hanzo's spear is inside!

More big tombs. We weren't sure who some of these people were but... they seemed important!

Ah, here we go! Here's Hattori Hanzo's tomb below!

And some statues guarding it:

We got up the nerve to ring the bell and be allowed inside the shrine to see the spear. The woman seemed stand-off-ish at first, but when she realized we could converse in Japanese with some amount of honorific speech, she suddenly found us more adorable than anything else and invited us inside. Here's the inside of the temple:

And here's the Buddha overlooking Hattori Hanzo's spear! Sorry I didn't take a closer picture of the spear. I could have but... for some reason I didn't. Anyways, the woman explained to us that this long spear is, in fact, not even the original length. Almost half of it was chopped off during battle. Pretty impressive though, isn't it?

After leaving the cemetary, we also found a place down the street that makes taiyaki! Taiyaki is where they fill fried dough with sweet bean paste and shape it all like a fish. It's quite tasty! But this place is really cool because there's a big window and you can watch them make the taiyaki right in front of you. The place seemed ridiculously popular and, although it was tiny, people were coming in and out the whole time. I think it might be because it's inexpensive. One taiyaki was only a little over a dollar. We even saw construction workers taking a break and eating taiyaki, lol. Here's a picture of Elena and David and I holding out our taiyaki:

Anyways, moving on! We waited until after dark to do the spooky part of our journey! In Japan, the most famous ghost story of all time is the Yotsuya Kaidan (literally, Yotsuya Ghost Story). The Yotsuya Kaidan was originally a kabuki play, but it has since been adapted to film over thirty times and inspired the popular seiyuu ghosts you see in spooky Japanese films. The girl from The Ring was a direct homage to the Yotsuya Kaidan. But what made the Yotsuya Kaidan play so scary for audiences was that it was a combination of two real-life murders dramatized into theater - and one of those stories has a piece of history still in Yotsuya.

The real story is no longer exactly known, and whatever version you hear, it's not pleasant. Basically, a samurai decided to poison his wife Oiwa's food slowly over time. I'm not sure why, exactly. I believe he was unemployed and depressed and he thought killing her would help. Well, either way, as the poison grew worse, her hair fell out and the left side of her face grew disfigured. Eventually, she died, and a shrine was erected in her honor. Of course, in all story versions or theater/movie versions, Oiwa comes back as a vengeful spirit, tormenting her husband with terrible visions of her disfigured face. Her image was known to appear in lanterns. Here's a famous woodblock print of Oiwa (she's carrying a baby cuz she also happened to be pregnant when she died. Lovely):

Well, it just so happens that Oiwa's shrine is less than a ten minute walk from my university! There were actually two shrines, but I'm not sure what one of them was for. Anyways, theater and film productions of the Yotsuya Kaidan have been plagued by mysterious injuries and deaths, so it's a requirement that, before a production of the story is made, everyone involved makes a pilgrimage to this shrine and asks Oiwa's spirit for permission. It's also said that if you go to the shrine for no reason other than curiosity, your left eye will swell and droop just like Oiwa's. As such, my friends and I didn't want to dally here too long, lol. It was pretty creepy at night. Here, enjoy a bunch of pretty pictures (it was almost pitch-black, by the way, but my flash was on):

This one comes complete with a crazy, twisted tree!









The shrine was guarded by two dog statues, which is common at Japanese Shinto shrines:






Interesting? I thought it was. I hope Oiwa wasn't mad I took pictures, lol. We're preserving her history, damnit! Still, it would be interesting to see a modern kabuki play of the Yotsuya Kaidan. I've heard Oiwa is depicted pretty gruesomely.

Anyways, because I'm incapable of not doing this... I have to say something in regards to JRock, lol. I GOT TICKETS FOR MERRY'S TOUR FINAL!!! WHOO!!! They're ending their Underworld tour at Shibuya O-East on December 24th and I'm totally going! Wow... I have four upcoming concerts, lol. So yeah, I'm pretty geeked about that.

See you all soon if I don't die a homework-induced death!