Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Terrible Thing has Happened

As the readers of my blog probably know, I was an avid collector of JRock magazines while I was in Japan. I rarely left a CD store without a magazine. Along with all the concerts and the ticket stubs I collected from them, my magazine collection felt like a part of my "legacy."

Unfortunately, the boxes I shipped to America have arrived and nearly all my magazines have been stolen. A box containing six magazines arrived intact. However, my box containing sixteen magazines and a stuffed animal arrived, opened and re-taped by god-knows-who, with the stuffed animal inside it and nothing more. All sixteen magazines have been stolen. This includes my V-Rock Festival magazine, my DIR EN GREY cover features, my Beautifool's magazine, and all the magazines I'd collected throughout the year and held dear to me. For no reason whatsoever, a person has opened my personal belongings, taken my inexpensive and useless items, and robbed me of something that was important to me. This was done for no reason whatsoever.

It's frustrating that these sorts of things have to happen in life. It seems like such a trivial thing... they're just stupid magazines... but it was a part of my experience and I loved them. I jokingly referred to my collection as my "magazine addiction." I could never have enough magazines. When I found out from my parents that my boxes arrived, it wasn't the CDs or the DVDs or the books that I was excited to tear from my box... it was the magazines. It was the thing I most looked forward to... only to open my box and discover it empty, with a doll face smiling back up at me as if to mock my stunned expression.

However, on the positive side, all my CDs and DVDs are okay, and six magazines did make it, including the Toshiya and Shinya Rhythm and Drums Book. Also, none of my expensive DVDs were taken. Many of my most personal possessions also arrived, including my signed VAJRA CD, my Pokemon memorabilia, and free demo tapes I got from indies bands. For that, at least, I'm grateful. If my DVDs or signed items had been taken, I don't know what I would have done.

Still, this is a very sad thing that's happened. I'd love to say I learned my lesson, but I didn't have any choice but to ship things home. Next time, I guess I'll just have to try and believe in the goodness of people. Even though there's not much to believe in.

Hopefully I'll have something a bit more legitimate to blog about soon.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Valluna Disbands

Yes, as I mentioned briefly below, Valluna is disbanding. As readers of my blog know, Valluna was one of the indies bands I semi-followed in Tokyo. There were only a small handful of indies bands I went out of my way to see, and Valluna was undoubtedly one of them. They even got a "special thanks" mention on my blog when I left Japan, in large part because they put on some of the best performances I ever saw (especially the S&M-themed free live).

Rather than second-hand sourcing and interpreting what is going on, I'm going to translate SAKURA and yo-ka's blog posts about the disbandment so that you can all hear about the situation straight from the source. My apologies if my translation has any errors.

Here is vocalist yo-ka's blog explaining the current situation:

Via our one-man at Shinjuku HOLIDAY, we are going to break up.

Although I said it at the MC, I want you to understand that this dissolution is about facing forward to the bitter end.

Me and surely the other members all believed in Valluna. That we held the same goal, that we were gazing and walking towards the same future... we believed in this.

As is, the band is an assembly of strangers. Even if there's only a little gap, it becomes a fatal wound.

The place we were aiming for, the pace we were walking, little by little the gap became a reality.

As is, I think music should be more important than obedience. If it isn't, then I think the music's radiance will likely fade.

Because the members of Valluna and myself love Valluna's music, our music absolutely won't change. We have 100% self-confidence right now.

It is precisely for that reason that we reached our decision.

Because Valluna is not these five people anymore (note: as you will see below, KANADE and SAKURA are both too ill to continue with the band), it's no longer necessary for us to be Valluna.

Valluna is Valluna.

It's just that simple.

November 27th... until that day, I'm going to put my all into Valluna. It's because I want to adorn Valluna with the utmost love I still have for it.

It might be a bit unreasonable for me to ask that you all understand our decision 100%, but I want you to at least understand a little bit.

And I want you to trust and believe in us.

Believe in us and come to see us until the end.

Because I'm going to sing with confidence in myself.

If you can't believe in us, then it just can't be helped.

I think this is harsh.

But that is the extent of our seriousness.

I hope I can transmit that to you.

The blog post I was waiting for was SAKURA's. I didn't want to post about the disbandment until SAKURA, who is sort of like a leader to Valluna, said his piece. Here's SAKURA's post (special thanks to Ashley for sending the original copy to me):

Before desires and thoughts and dreams...

About our break-up.

Bands are a difficult thing and it's not uncommon for five people's visions to come to differ.

However, because this is often the case, the thing that I can't think simply about... the thing that is causing me great anguish, is that I thought the five of us respectively loved Valluna.

As members, our trust and reliance was what tied us together. I thought it was because we as these specific members were doing our best together.

This is something everyone knows well, isn't it?

That along with my worries...

Since birth, I've had a weak body and I've been repeatedly in and out of the hospital.

This year, the condition of my chronic illness has slowly gotten worse. As it remains, being at the battlefield forefront of activities became difficult.

Therefore, I've decided to temporarily separate myself from Valluna's break-up, my comrades, and musical activities.

Depending on whether or not I recover from my illness, I want to be able to return to all of you again.

Until our last one-man, I will be Valluna's SAKURA until the end. As Valluna's SAKURA, I think I want keep running with all my power.

The highest form of the Valluna that I love... until the end, I want to burn that image into everyone's eyes.

This is my wish.

Basically, to sum up what's going on here... Valluna was supposed to have their first live at Shibuya O-West, which is pretty much the first "big deal" for an indies band in Japan. Unfortunately, drummer KANADE was unable to play during the live due to illness. They're still waiting for test results on him, but he's quite sick. The band did the O-West live without him but announced their break-up soon afterward. As you can see above, the breakup appears to be caused by a combination of two ill band members and the fact that the band members are no longer agreeing on the band's direction. I have to admit, this comes as no surprise to me. I even mentioned it in previous posts, the way certain songs made Kirimaru go still and become disinterested... the discrepancy between which songs the band got excited over and which songs the audience got excited over... Something's been off for awhile.

It's unfortunate that illness had to play a factor in this breakup. I've never much cared for KANADE's style and I never thought he fit in with Valluna... but he's a human being and I feel sorry for him. I would never wish illness upon him and I hope it's nothing too severe. As for SAKURA... I always adored SAKURA, so the news of his illness makes me very sad. I've caught three of his picks, endured his mocking face whenever I tried to do furi, and thoroughly enjoyed being on his side of the stage 90% of the time. He never seemed sick to me, but I'd like to think that's because I only saw him when he was on stage, doing what he loves.

The dissolution of Valluna doesn't come easily to me. When Ashley and I were preparing to leave Japan, we had a discussion about how depressing it is to think that, by the time we return to Japan, more than half the bands we became familiar with will no longer exist. For us, Valluna is like the "first casualty." While I suspected they would break up some time in the next year or two, I honestly didn't expect them to be the first to go. All I can think now is, "who will go next?" Valluna was absolutely one of my favorite acts to go see. Ashley and I have so many fond memories of Valluna...

The way Kirimaru blindly walked headfirst into objects on stage...

Yo-ka rolling around on the stage making sex noises...

The S&M-themed free live...

The two-night concerts at Black Hole...

Ashley and I winding up as two of the only three people to catch yo-ka when he crowd-surfed... and I wound up catching him by his butt...

Kirimaru eating part of his costume during the MC and pissing off yo-ka...

Yo-ka scaring the hell out of one the fans and SAKURA attempting to console her afterwards...

Kirimaru sliding a giant mannequin over KANADE's drum set...

Jumping into a giant dog-pile of Japanese girls while yo-ka pulled our hair...

These are all some of my favorite memories, and I have Valluna to thank for them. It's sad to see bands go, but that's life, I suppose. My only concern is for the health of SAKURA and KANADE. I'll be sure to keep the blog updated if we find out anything about them.

To finish off this post, here's yo-ka's latest blog entry about the issue:

I hope I won't be discarded.

I read all your messages. Over and over again all your faces floated up within my mind.

Sad faces, smiling faces, faces provoked by me, all sorts of faces...

All of them, all of them are my property.

This isn't hypocrisy.

And I'm not a good person.

I am me.

Let's keep watch. I won't say you should feel relieved. Let's just keep watch.

Because I'm going prove this by singing.

Is yo-ka perhaps hinting that he is already planning to continue his singing career?

Here's to hoping.

So I'm just going to end by saying... thank you, Valluna, for all the great times you guys gave me. I'm sorry to see the band break up because I had a blast. I saw you guys close to ten times and you never failed to give me an awesome experience. Thank you so much, Valluna, and I wish you all the best on whatever path you take from here on out. Also, KANADE and SAKURA... I hope you feel better soon. Odaiji ni.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Doujinshi and VAJRA: Thoughts on Originality

I have to confess, this entry was written over a week ago and I've been stalling the actual posting of it. I even considered not posting it at all. I was worried this kind of entry would create unnecessary drama or cause me to be misquoted inappropriately. But then I decided that I might as well just post it because it's my blog and I shouldn't be afraid to be held responsible for my own thoughts, whether people agree with them or not. So here's my slightly overdue post.

It was an article about doujinshi that inspired my thoughts (Wired Magazine's article "Japan, Ink: Inside the Manga Industrial Complex" by Daniel H. Pink). For those who don't know, doujinshi is the Japanese term for fan comics. People who create doujinshi redraw copyrighted characters into original stories and publish the comics for money. The article (which I had to read for a course on manga) was trying to solve the mystery of why these comic artists can essentially "steal" copyrighted characters and designs and profit off of them without a peep or murmur from the police.

I read that article only a few days after being informed by a friend that there was a thread about VAJRA on the Dir en grey Livejournal. I sighed upon seeing the thread, though I knew the day was coming. My first thought was, "old news is old." My second thought was, "oh geez, my blog is being quoted, I'd better keep my mouth shut." My third thought was, "I'm not entirely sure people are seeing the bigger picture." For those who don't know, VAJRA has been accused repeatedly by Western JRock fans of nearly plagiarizing Dir en grey's music. And I agree with those fans. I mean, VAJRA essentially takes portions of Dir en grey songs and rehashes them in a different order or with slightly altered keys. Their vocalist goes so far as to mimic Dir en grey's vocalist onstage, almost to the extent that it seems an impersonation. There's no denying that. But VAJRA continues to profit off of this near-copyright infringement without anyone saying a word.

Are you seeing where this is going?

Yes, you're right, I'm drawing a connection between doujinshi and VAJRA. No, not just VAJRA... Japanese indies in general.

The Wired Magazine article discussed the idea of anmoku no ryokai. This is an unspoken understanding between the creators of doujinshi and the original artists. Both sides know what's going on and intentionally remain silent about it. The article also suggests that the reason for this anmoku no ryokai is the fact that both sides, in the end, profit from each other. The original creator makes the initial profits and lays out the material. The doujinshi artists take that material and uses it to satisfy the hunger of the fans in a way that the original material does not. It doesn't affect the profits of the original creator in any way and works to keep the fan's passions alive. It even allows fans to actively participate in their fandom, since doujinshi artists are, essentially, just fans of the original comic. To maintain this harmless balance, the two sides agree to stay silent. So long as the original artist is quiet and the fan comic artist doesn't go too far, the two can coexist in a somewhat symbiotic relationship with each other.

I think VAJRA can be thought of in much the same way. I find it very hard to believe that the VAJRA fans haven't noticed the plagiarism. They'd have to be bloody deaf. But, as near as I can tell, the Japanese never say a word about it. I'm thinking a bit of anmoku no ryokai is going on here. The idea struck me even while I was in Japan that VAJRA is providing a service that Dir en grey no longer wishes to provide. Dir en grey haven't been indies in almost twelve years. They haven't been visual-kei in about six years (I'm aware of the fact that this is arguable. Let's assume the cut-off point is VULGAR). And, at the risk of saying something extremely horrible, Kyo hasn't performed acts of self-mutilation on stage in about two years (I absolutely do not mean to undermine Kyo's self-mutilation by implying that it's a service to the fans. I do not think Kyo ever performed such acts for the fans and I will be angry if I find myself misquoted. I'm looking at this from the perspective of how some fans might feel about it). What I'm trying to say is that VAJRA provides the JRock community with an indies, visual-kei, bleeding Dir en grey that hasn't existed for quite some time. They're filling a hole in the indies scene that left a fandom hungry for something that's never coming back. So long as VAJRA never officially plagiarizes and continues to provide these services, the major scene won't say a word. In affect, VAJRA is satiating the lower rungs of the JRock community. In return, so long as the major scene is silent, VAJRA can continue to profit.

Now, one thing I've noticed every time the VAJRA issue comes up is that there's a split among Dir en grey fans as to whether or not VAJRA has talent. Some say they do, so it's tragic that they've demeaned themselves in such a way. Others say the band has no talent, or argue that the very act of stealing music is proof of their lack of talent. The Wired Magazine article discussed a particular group of manga creators known collectively as CLAMP. They're some of the most successful manga artists of all time, and yet they got their start in doujinshi. They began as the copyright infringers, and now they are the ones being infringed upon. I think Dir en grey fans often forget that Dir en grey started out much the way CLAMP did... the same way VAJRA did. Dir en grey's very name is, supposedly, derived from the name of a Lareine demo tape. Dir en grey began as nothing more than a Kuroyume cover band. Even after making "original" material, Dir en grey was not above copying. Their song "Unknown... despair... a lost" is a rip-off of a Luna Sea song. For Dir en grey fans to point fingers at VAJRA and say they are incapable of having their own personal talent is to be slightly hypocritical. Dir en grey began as a cover band and eventually blossomed into the incredibly original band they are today. Who's to say a band like VAJRA can't?

So where do I stand on this issue? Well, I saw VAJRA live about nine times in Tokyo, so I suppose my perspective is a little different from most Western fans. You could say that, as someone who saw things from Japan's perspective, I don't think VAJRA is doing anything wrong. However, I'm still American, and I can't completely obliterate the values I was brought up with. In that sense, I would say VAJRA is doing the wrong thing... creatively. As my manga professor was explaining, the Japanese have a different sense of creation than Westerners. Westerners believe that art is something slaved over by a single individual to become something entirely unique and never-before-seen. The Japanese don't agree. Doujinshi is considered original because, although the characters aren't original, the storyline isn't the same. This is applicable to a lot of things the Japanese do as "selective borrowers." For example, they took glam-rock music from the West and tweaked it to create something "original" known as visual-kei. VAJRA is the same idea. Aspects of Dir en grey's work was taken and tweaked into something "original." As a Westerner, I think VAJRA are degrading themselves and I believe they should try their utmost to create something original on their own. However, as someone who has come to understand the Japanese indies scene, I believe VAJRA has done nothing wrong. They're a part of an ongoing cycle that spirals back to Dir en grey and to bands even before them. To point fingers at one band is to point fingers at all of them. You don't have to like the system, but the system is in place and it's generally affective. VAJRA don't have many fans, but they do make some money without getting in trouble. It puts food on their plates and it doesn't hurt Dir en grey, so the lawyers don't say a word. So long as we can abide by anmoku no ryokai, everybody's happy.

While I consider myself absolutely content with Dir en grey at this point in their careers (really, I wouldn't change a thing), I admit that VAJRA might have provided some sort of service that I needed while I was in Japan. Dir en grey was a delicious, five course meal, and VAJRA was the juice I used to wash it down occasionally. Unlike major bands, VAJRA was:

1. Easily accessible

2. Frequently playing

3. Cheap

4. Up-close and personal

5. Willing to punch and kick fans in the face.

Okay, #5 isn't exactly a necessary service but it was funny (oh Eru, what will the band do without you?).

So, I suppose, even in the world of greats like Dir en grey, bands like VAJRA still have a small purpose to fulfill. They might not fulfill everyone's needs and, as is the case for many, they might just piss people off, but they do exist and Japan is quietly okay with that.

So I'm okay with it too.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dir en grey/Apocalyptica Couple Tour in Chicago 9/1

Whoo, I'm back for more blogging about concerts! As mentioned earlier, I apologize for my absence from the blog. I know I can write about things other than concerts, but I had to move into a new apartment and I didn't have internet for about a week. But now I'm back, and just in time to talk about Dir en grey!

This particular concert was part of the Dir en grey and Apocalyptica couple tour. This tour was a rather interesting idea because both bands are foreign. Dir en grey are Japanese and Apocalyptica are Finnish. The opening act, however, was American. Anyways, other than their "foreign-ness" the two main acts don't have much in common, and I don't think their fanbases blended very well. Nonetheless, the tour brought Dir en grey back to America, and what more can I ask than that?

My friends and I began our adventure by driving three hours from Wisconsin to my parents' home in Chicago. I went along with my friends Hannah, Melissa, and Dylan, along with a friend of Hannah's named Tessa (whom I will now consider a friend, of course!). We headed out the night before, stayed overnight at my parents' place, then woke up bright and early on Wednesday to drive downtown to the House of Blues. Special thanks to Dylan for driving us between Madison and Sun Prairie, and a huge special thanks to Hannah for doing all the rest of that torturous driving (with an angry, pissed off car). We got to the House of Blues around 11:00 AM and there was only about six people waiting in line.

Okay, hold the phone, people. What's goin' on? What happened to the days when Dir en grey fans camped out? When hundreds of them lined up all up and down the block? Perhaps the "couple tour" thing turned fans away. Perhaps it's because school just started for most people. But I really can't help but find this strange. We had pretty decent weather (no blizzards like the last few times the band came to Chicago) and Dir en grey was still doing a setlist that lasts over an hour. So what's up, people? Well, whatever, doesn't matter. My friends and I only got there at 11:00 so we could do the Pass the Line package at 11:30. Pass the Line is just one of the many ways the House of Blues likes to rob people of their money and dangle false hopes in front of their faces. I've never liked Pass the Line, yet I always wind up doing it. Basically, at 11:30, you can get out of line, go inside, and buy either $15 in HoB merchandise or $15 from the restaurant and you get a Pass the Line receipt that puts you in a separate line indoors. You get to stay indoors for your whole wait and the Pass the Line group goes inside first. Except for this show where VIP tickets holders went in first. There was also a Crash the Barricade option. Do you see what's happening here? Basically, everyone spends money so that almost no one gets in ahead of anyone else. HoB gets lots of money so that lots of people can do what a few good punches in the pit could do anyways. But for $15 worth of shrimp po' boy and watermelon spritzer I did Pass the Line, figuring I could at least get better than fourth row (and have a tasty lunch).

I'm going to basically skip the six hours I spent in line. Why? Because I would wind up saying bad things and being mean and I'd like to be a better person than that. Call me easily annoyed, but I was finding many of the people around me to be... well, I'll just shut up. I have one word to describe a good chunk of the fanbase I sat with for six hours:



But we did make friends with this girl Jenny who was really nice! Thanks for being awesome, Jenny! One amusing moment was when Hannah decided to wrap herself up in a University of Wisconsin-Madison poncho and falls asleep in the corner by the door. She got a lot of strange looks, lol. Later on, she gave the poncho to Tessa and Tessa curled up and burrowed completely inside it, except for her boots. When a massive security guard came by to open a door next to her, Hannah asked if Tessa was okay where she was. The guard looked down and went "wait, that's a person?!" Then he laughed, lol.

Fast forward, fast forward... They lined us up on the stairs at around 4:30. We could still see some of the VIP meet-and-greet going on at the top of the stairs. Some might wonder why I, a raging Dir en grey fan, didn't do the VIP package. Um... it's $125. That's why. $125 to meet five guys I've already met. Just didn't tickle my fancy. Maybe some other time.

At 5:00 they let the forty or so VIP fans go inside, then they finally dropped the gate. Yeah, we all kinda stampeded into the venue. For once, security really didn't try to stop us. I don't know if the Apocalyptica fans were as ravenous as the Dir en grey fans, but most Dir en grey fans are big on the "as close as possible" thing. I took third row immediately, in front of Die. I didn't have a plan for which member I'd go in front of, it just sort of happened that way. I had half a second to pick a spot, and I just grabbed that one. Anyways, we had a good 45 minute wait until the show would start. I was able to turn around and talk to Dylan easily, so we passed the time pretty well. I had this really annoying guy next to me, though. He shoved his way up there ten minutes after I got my spot, pushed me out of the way, then put his wife in front of himself. He was about fifty years old and absolutely wreaked of smoke and greasy food. His hair was a tangled mess of horror. I nicknamed him TrailerTrash. His wife was equally as disgusting and I nicknamed her SheBeast. Anyways, TrailerTrash kept trying to talk to me over and over even though I didn't want to talk to him. I could see immediately what he was doing: buttering up the Dir en grey fans so he could get away with taking second row during our set and not get grief for it. I acted nice back, but I knew I'd make him sorry once the show started, lol. He pushed his way up there, shoved me, then tried being nice to me. Uh, yeah, not gonna work on me.

At 5:45 the show began with our opening act, Evaline:

Evaline was a six piece act. As near as I could tell they had a drummer, two guitarists, a bassist, a vocalist (who looked like Orlando Bloom) who would sometimes smash the drums, and a sixth member who I think did some keyboarding, some guitar, and also random drum-smashing. A rather confusing setup at times, lol. In all honesty, I expected Evaline to be really bad and they really weren't. Perhaps not my cup of tea, but I wasn't mentally screaming for them to get off the stage. The drummer was very enthusiastic and played good rhythms and the bassist (who was wearing a Cubs shirt, might I add) was pretty into it as well. All in all, the instrumentals were actually really good. The vocalist, on the other hand... well, I don't know. Perhaps I just wasn't used to his style, but his wild flailing and falling and spazzing seemed a bit too reminiscent of a child having a temper tantrum. He was constantly putting himself between the stage and the barricade and rubbing himself on the girls in front row. That's fine and all, but sometimes I got the feeling he did it out of a sense of obligation to be daring and cool, and not because he was really "feeling" it. Flailing on the floor is fine if that's what you're trying to express, but I think this guy was just... flailing on the floor. But don't get me wrong, he wasn't really a bad vocalist. Just maybe not my style. And he was nice enough during the MCs and thanked Dir en grey and Apocalyptica a lot. Their set was short... only about five songs.

And then it was time for Dir en grey! Here are our lovely boys:

I'm not sure how long we waited, but Dylan and I kept each other amused. I noticed humanoid shapes kept pressing up against the curtain and rummaging around near the stage, but we could never see what was really on the other side (presumably, it was Dir en grey's roadies). I decided what was really going on was the band's attempt at keeping Toshiya busy. They hid all his picks and sent him on a scavenger hunt around the stage while the band set up. Every time someone pressed up against the curtain, Dylan and I were like, "ooh, I think he found one!" Yes, after seven hours of waiting around for the show, it had come to this...

Buuuut finally the lights went down and Sa Bir began to play. This felt like a throwback to me, since Dir en grey hadn't opened with Sa Bir the last five times I saw them in Japan. Still, I love Sa Bir as an intro and I couldn't help screaming immediately. The curtain opened and it was time to get the show on the road! The band members walked on one by one as usual. First came Shinya, who was wearing black pants and a white, button-down shirt that was unbuttoned so low that he usually had at least one nipple showing. Kaoru came next, wearing a black, three-quarter sleeve shirt, jeans, and the blingin' necklaces. And, thankfully, he didn't have a mustache. Toshiya soon followed, wearing a black, three-quarter sleeve shirt; a black, pleated skirt; and... loafers. Okay, lol. Die followed Toshiya, wearing a magnificently sparkly shirt. It was a tight, black shirt that was unbuttoned both downwards and upwards (meaning only a couple buttons in the middle were actually done). This shirt was covered in vertical, shiny stripes. Fabulous. And his hair, well... no need for me to jack more about that, we all know what I think. Last but not least came Kyo, rocking some low-riding khakis and a black, button-down shirt. His Backbone underwear was clearly showing. The band took up their instruments and surveyed the crowd. Kyo, in particular, was x-raying us with his eyes.

Here's our setlist:

Sa Bir
Agitated Screams of Maggots
Gaika, Chinmoku ga Nemuru Koro
Hageshisa to, Kono Mune no Naka de Karamitsuita Shakunetsu no Yami
-inward scream-
The Final
Reiketsu Nariseba


The initial feeling I got from the band was... somewhat melancholy. This didn't last for the whole show, but at the beginning the band seemed a little moody. This mostly came from Kyo and Die, actually. Kaoru seemed pretty into it, to be honest, and Shinya was, well... Shinya. Toshiya... well, I suppose he came off a little moody too, but he seemed to be trying to get over it. Kyo, on the other hand, kept staring at the crowd with a strange look on his face and continually skipped parts of songs. Whenever he skipped, he just looked sad. Die seemed lost in thought. He would gaze around the crowd, then just stare into the distance while playing. But this all cleared up a bit as the show went on.

Our first song up was RED SOIL! Now that is an awesome opener. I totally didn't expect it to be first. Sound trouble was immediate but brief. Kyo's microphone was too low but he quickly gestured for them to turn it up and it was fixed immediately. The song was wonderful, but that melancholy atmosphere definitely draped itself over the band. Also, I could tell right away that I wasn't going to get along with a lot of the people around me. In particular... TrailerTrash and SheBeast. I don't know if I've ever hated two people more than those two. TrailerTrash seemed to think he had some duty to protect his woman in second row. This involved elbowing, shoving, physically moving my arm, and taking up as much space as possible for the Dir en grey fans (of whom he was not one). He even tried whining at us to let up. Dude, you're third fucking row, what did you expect?! I was at a loss as to what to even do with him. I decided to fight fire with fire and gouge my elbow into his side for as long as possible. He was looking at me like, "hell, I thought you were nice." Yeah, well, same to you Stinky. Take a bath.

Anyhoo, after RED SOIL we popped straight into Agitated Screams of Maggots. Despite limited room or mobility, I tried to headbang as much as possible. I was honestly disappointed with how unenthusiastic Die's side of the audience was at the beginning (and I think he was too). The rest of the crowd was going crazy, but Die's side seemed strangely mellow. During this song, the crowd finally started to pick up the pace and the pushing got intense. I said goodbye to breathing and hello to fun. That's the spirit, people, go crazy! Toshiya was definitely into it and spent the whole song bopping around and being wild as usual. Kyo was very active. He would alternate between looking sad and melancholy and then suddenly flipping the shit and flailing around like crazy. I don't think I'd even seen him spazz out as much in Japan as he did at this show. His mood seemed all over the place.

Next up was Gaika, Chinmoku ga Nemuru Koro. Still awesome. Kyo's growls at the end were particularly fantastic. He was also flailing his arm around as if it was somehow not entirely attached to his body. It was really creepy.

After this came the new single: Hageshisa to, Kono Mune no Naka de Karamitsuita Shakunetsu no Yami. This was probably one of the best performances I've yet seen of this song. It was just so spot-on somehow. I can't put my finger on why, but the whole sound of it was album-level perfect. I clung to the back of the guy in front of me and rocked out as much as I could. Some of the song was disrupted by an unbelievably rude girl next to me, but I was able to make it clear to her that I was pissed off and she let up after that. Let's just say she was so rude that she made an enemy of everyone around her and nearly got her ass kicked in the process. She threatened to slap me and she's damn lucky she didn't try. It's like... I don't mind violence at concerts and whatever, but it was completely ruining an incredible performance of Hageshisa for me. I kept missing what was going on onstage because I was so busy dealing with asshats in the audience. I tried to completely ignore the crowd from that point on because it was the only way to enjoy the show. I figured anyone bothering to be a douche bag couldn't possibly have the energy to enjoy the show as much as I could enjoy it ignoring them. Thus, I decided to pity the assholes instead of fighting them. Except for TrailerTrash and SheBeast. I made a sport out of delivering them pain.

Next up... OBSCURE! Ah, well, epic of course. The audience definitely let out a huge scream before the song started. Kyo was rocking out like crazy. This was probably the last song in which I noticed his melancholy. He skipped the first set of screaming, frowned, and wrinkled his eyebrows at us. He seemed sad and perplexed, but then it seemed to clear and he never looked that way again for the rest of the show. After that, he was headbanging like crazy. This seemed to prompt Die to headbang even more. Toshiya was stomping and leaping around the stage. I think it was during this song that Kaoru did his first switchy. Usually Die or Toshiya start those, but those two didn't move from their spots. Kaoru came strutting over to our side and started nodding and making growly faces at us. I managed to get his attention by throwing the horns and yelling his name a lot, and I got a nod and a small snarl out of him. I think it was during this song that Die ran over and planted himself in front of Shinya's drum set. Of course, Shinya paid Die no heed, no matter how much Die wanted to get his attention. Shinya's too much of a drumming machine to even glance at Die, lol. My only complaint with this performance of OBSCURE was that Toshiya's bass came on too strong. I think his equipment was too loud. I love Toshiya's slap bass, but it was drowning out the entire song really badly. I think they turned it down after OBSCURE, however, and it was never an issue again.

After OBSCURE, we began what I believe was meant to be one of Kyo's -inward scream- solos except... it didn't really happen. The music cut out, the lights went down, the spotlight was on Kyo... but then he just hummed a few notes and fell silent. To the credit of our audience, most people really didn't try to scream or disrupt Kyo's solo like they usually do. Still, there was a sense that Kyo expected us to interrupt him so he cut himself off. Instead of singing, he bugged his eyes out and stared at all of us. He was scanning the crowd like his eyes could shoot laser beams. After about twenty awkward, silent seconds, he started nodding as if he was satisfied with what he saw. Kaoru, realizing that Kyo - for whatever reason - wasn't going to do his solo, came to our rescue with some very familiar feedback.

Ah yes, time for Shokubeni. Bad-ass as always. Kyo's screams and growls continued to be album-level perfection.

Next up was Bugaboo, which surprised me for some reason. I didn't think that was a regular on the U.S. setlists. This was undoubtedly an amazing performance of Bugaboo. Kyo was doing this freaky thing where he would flail his left around like crazy while he stomped and screamed, making it seem as if the arm was detached from his body or somehow acting on its own. This was different from when he would clutch one arm and flail it around... it was like he'd bend over while growling and his left arm would slash and claw at the air behind him. It was really creepy, actually. The end was odd. While Kyo softly sang the final notes, Toshiya suddenly clutched his face with his hand and looked like he was going to cry. He slowly pulled his hand down his face before turning away from the crowd entirely. Huh.

After this, Kyo finally went into a real -inward scream- solo and he didn't cut this one off. This solo consisted of chanting and mumbling for the most part. When Kyo finally hit the really long, loud notes, the audience burst into screams. Kyo didn't seem to mind, though. I'm usually somewhat disapproving of the audience making noise during the solos, but this one scream didn't really seem out of place, exactly. TrailerTrash started talking and laughing during the solo, but I think someone shushed him and he shut his damn mouth (probably fearing more retaliation).

The solo melted directly into DOZING GREEN, which was amazing as always. My view of Die was getting somewhat blocked, but I did the best I could to see everything. Toshiya seemed totally fine - as if nothing had happened before.

Up next was Vinushka! Ten minutes of epic! Another big scream from the audience. This was a fantastic performance of Vinushka, however, it was during this song that a bunch of people decided that the Dir en grey show needed crowd surfing. You know... I wouldn't really care much except that they would consistently do it during slow parts of songs when there was absolutely no reason for crowdsurfing. My friends said the guys doing it wreaked of alcohol and consistently pestered the people around them to crowd surf. It was frustrating because we were all getting kicked in the head by these people and the security guards were looking severely pissed off. Well then kick them out! The same guys kept doing it over and over so, instead of putting them back in the crowd, kick them out! Anyways, other than being kicked in the head, Vinushka was awesome. Toshiya was stomp-dancing and running around and Die was headbanging and tossing his beautiful hair everywhere.

Up next was The Final. The audience screamed and the performance was great. Crowd surfing continued, however. Really? During The Final? Well, what can ya do. Kyo held the final "sa" a really long time and the audience started screaming before the note was completed. Definitely creates a different atmosphere from the intentional silence this note receives in Japan. Neither way is right or wrong, it's just interesting.

From here on out it became a storm of insane mosh-music. The next song up was Reiketsu Nariseba, which meant it was time for some serious headbanging and making TrailerTrash's life a living hell. Something interesting I noticed... during the slower part, Kyo turned his back on us immediately and held out his arms, allowing us to see his massive back tattoo. That's not new, he always does that. However, what I found a little perplexing was that the rest of the band (minus Shinya) turned around as well. I noticed it because of Toshiya. Toshiya never faces away from the crowd unless the band is taking a break. I was really confused, till I realized Kaoru was facing away as well. So now I had to see what Die was doing. This required some effort because I was being blocked by a very tall guy in front of me, but once I was able to see I realized that Die, too, had turned his back on us. Interesting... They were still playing whatever was needed for that part of Reiketsu Nariseba, just facing away from us. I wonder what that means?

Well, when the song was over, Kyo began to scream "last song! Last song!" over and over. We cheered each time he yelled it, and I cheered as well, but in my mind I'm thinking "why am I cheering, it means the show is ending!" Oh well, lol.

Not wanting to slow up the pace, Dir en grey finished up with Rasetsukoku. Things got pretty crazy here. Kyo was headbanging like crazy and doing the flail-arm again. He crawled in front of the crate and roamed the edge of the stage in the middle, making nasty faces and pointing at his eyes and then at the audience. A lot of people who had been more mellow in the audience began to headbang more. Kaoru came rushing over to our side to do switchies again. Die quickly followed suit and swapped to the left. Toshiya, unable to pick a side, decided to run up to the center and take over Kyo's crate. This was actually kind of funny. Kyo realized his crate had been overrun and kept one hand on it as if making sure his territory wasn't up for dispute. Toshiya was all smiles and he kept putting his hands next to his ears to urge us to scream louder. Kyo held onto the crate and headbanged beneath him while Toshiya grinned and egged us on. When it was time for the string section to yell "jaki!", Die started looking over at Kaoru to figure out if they should reverse the switchy and get back to their microphones. However, Kaoru opted to stay on Die's side and use Die's red microphone, so Die resorted to yelling "jaki!" into Kaoru's black microphone. It felt a little strange, lol. Eventually, all the band members returned to their proper spots. I rocked out as much as possible and tried to use my aggression towards the people around me as fuel for my intensity. It was awesome!

Then the band left, but the house lights didn't go back up, so I knew we would have an encore. Many of us yelled "Dir en grey!" over and over. It came and went in waves. The band came back after only a couple of minutes, looking so fantastic it was as if they hadn't just played hard music for over an hour. I have to admit, in my head I was going, "please play Zan. Please play Zan. Please play Zan." Then Kyo let out a gut-wrenching growl.

Zan! Yes! What can I say, I just love to end with a good smasher. I went totally crazy and rocked out as much as humanly possible. The band was on fire. Toshiya was running around and rocking out, Kaoru was nodding smugly at everyone, and Die was suddenly bursting with enthusiasm. He started headbanging like mad. Kyo's growls were spot on and I used the insanity of the song to just, well... flip the shit like I always do.

But all too soon it was over. Kyo wound up really taking me by surprise. He stood up on his crate and clapped for us, which isn't abnormal, actually. However, after clapping, he suddenly broke into a full, toothy grin. Wow. I think this is the first time I've ever seen Kyo smile with his teeth showing at a concert. All his crazy, misaligned teeth popped out as he gave us a huge, crinkly-eyed smile. Then he held one hand up near his face, wiggled his fingers at us, and mouthed "bye bye" before jumping down and leaving the stage.

I... what?


Totally unexpected, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't warm me up from the inside out like a good cup of hot chocolate. "Bye bye" to you too, man! It was great!

With Kyo gone, the band began to throw picks. Toshiya roamed around smiling adorably and tossing us picks and waving. Kaoru went back and forth throwing picks and nodding at us. Die, completely free of his previous bad mood, finally started to get flirty with the audience. He started grinning and sticking his tongue out and throwing water on us. He even looked into the crowd a few times and licked his lips at us while throwing water. Hot damn. I couldn't catch any picks, though. Shinya came out from behind the drum set (and I have to admit, I caught him nearly tripping over the drum platform. It's nice to see The Machine being a little less than perfect, lol) and began to toss some drumsticks at us with his classic, stoic Shinya expression. As they all began to leave, Kaoru wiped down his face and threw the towel into the crowd. Toshiya clapped for us, then put his hands together and bowed before departing. And then they were all gone.

As of today, Toshiya wrote a bit about the Chicago show on his blog and basically summed up how I was feeling about the show. Here's what he wrote (translation credit goes to Nao from Orchestrated Chaos):

Today’s live was... something even I, myself, cannot understand.

It was lively but... it was like... how would you say it?
It’s a feeling I can’t seem to explain.
I think it’s best for the people who watched today to decide for us...

Well, decide I did. Then I wrote a lengthy blog about it, lol.

Anyways, it turned out Melissa had been on the other side of TrailerTrash the whole show. While we stood there behind him, she started going on about how much she hated him and how much rage she was feeling towards him. I guess she'd explained kindly to him that the show was going to get rough and told him he could take her spot when she left for Apocalyptica if he'd just give the Dir en grey fans a little room. He refused and instead whined at her to stop being so rough around his wife. Melissa got pretty angry while telling me about this. Unable to stand it any longer, Melissa suddenly grabbed TrailerTrash by the arms and slammed her knee into his back. Ahahahaha, OMG my hero!

My friends and I managed to regroup and head over to the merch table. I bought the t-shirt and the poster, both of which feature the picture of Dir en grey I posted above. The merch guy practically threw the poster, unrolled, at me. I moved away to roll it back up and noticed there were two hideous slash marks across it. I went back and asked if I could have another and he refused! He claimed I walked away from the table, so it's too late because he can't prove I didn't scratch the poster myself! Well of course I fucking walked away, I had to fucking roll it up since you couldn't fucking do it yourself! And it's only in rolling it up that I can see that you mauled it! I gave him the best puppy dog eyes I could and tried to make it look like I was going to cry. He decided to find a beaten up poster that I could have for free if I wanted. He dropped it on the way over, causing a girl next to me who'd seen the whole incident to laugh darkly and roll her eyes towards me like, "wow, unbelievable." The poster was absolute shit and I refused it, so I had to take my leave with a goddamn fifteen dollar poster that he ruined. Piece of shit. Luckily the scratch marks aren't on the band members. But it's the freakin' principle of the thing!

Anyways, we decided to at least see what was up with Apocalyptica. The five of us had listened to their latest album on the car ride to the venue and weren't... particularly impressed. But we figured it was worth watching a little. This is Apocalyptica:

They're a Finnish band that consists of three members who play cello and one drummer. They have guest guitarists and bassists and they get guest vocalists to do vocals for some of their songs. Some of these guest vocalists include Corey Tailor of Slipknot, Adam Grontier of Three Days Grace, Ville Valo of HIM, Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil, Lacey Mosley of Flyleaf, and Till Lindemann from Rammstein (OMG yay!). Anyways, it sounds interesting and all, but I wasn't particularly impressed with the little we watched. Perhaps I passed judgment and left to quickly, but as near as I could tell, Apocalyptica consisted of three guys playing virtually the same shit as each other on the cello while spinning their hair in circles or running around the stage. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I really think the band would be more entertaining if they would hire some actual guitarists to join them, or get themselves a vocalist for when they perform on stage. Everything was prerecorded and gave the performance a somewhat fake, plastic, pre-rehearsed feel to it. Most of my friends seemed to feel similarly so we left before the first song was over.

Then we hit the highway and started our three hour journey back to Madison.

The end!

Hope you enjoyed! I'll try and post to this blog more often from here on out. Probably about non-concert related content, if I can. Here's to hoping!