The first weekend of this month, more precisely, March 3, 2017, marked an important milestone in Japanese rock music history within the UK. It would see the legendary X Japan perform at The SSE Arena Wembley, London, otherwise known as the fated #XDAY. Originally planned for March 14, 2016, the same day the band would release their long-awaited album, it was postponed due to a sudden decline in PATA’s health, leaving the We Are X soundtrack to fill the void until its eventual release.
JROCK NEWS crew consisting of Sizergyia, Edohsama, and Ziggy were fortunate enough to attend the show, and have all written personal accounts reflecting not only on what we experienced a little over a week ago now, but also how we feel about X Japan. We can only hope you enjoy it as much as we did putting this all together. Read on!
For those who are frequent concert goers of Japanese music, you may understand that with any ‘big’ Japanese artists touring worldwide, there will always be a large troop of die-hard Japanese fans following, and I definitely had my doubts about Wembley.
I was initially surprised by the announcement of the Wembley concert, but no less excited and apprehensive about the turnout at the concert. Though, with the cancellation of the original concert, and the decision to premier documentary We Are X at other events before the intended Wembley date, my excitement turned into doubt.
So when I walked into Wembley arena, it was a pleasant surprise to see that the crowd had a much larger international fan presences for tonight’s show, and the overall turnout was beyond my expectations. Male, female, old, young, from Europe and beyond, this crowd was hopefully everything X had expected to see when they walked out onto that stage.
I hadn’t seen the documentary prior to the concert, and after learning that it was directed by Stephen Kijak, the same director of Searching for Sugar Man (another must-see music documentary), I had high expectations.
Even with previous knowledge of X Japan’s history and Yoshiki’s childhood, the story of We Are X had powerful enough words and images that I was forced to avert my eyes and mind from the screen in fear that tears would fall. Hide will never be forgotten. There may have been fans who didn’t know of their history prior, but the intensity of the crowd’s silence as they watched told me that all the audience felt the emotional impact of the documentary deep in their heart.
The transition from the movie into the opening performance was so quick and flawlessly synced that fans around me were thrown into a stumbling and flailing mess as we stood up with our stiff legs and blinked the remnant tears away. I even had a friend later that night tell me how they were in the middle of eating and rushed to put their food away as X Japan unexpectedly appeared on stage.
X opened with their popular 1994 hit Rusty Nail, taken from the Dahlia album, so this gave us a chance to wake up our joints and have a sing-a-long. Hero and Jade passed by in a blur of headbanging and dazed starring, as flames shot out from the stage. X Japan was here in front of me—the heat of the pyrotechnics was making sure I was aware of that, and being only a few rows from the front, this was even more so the case. However, the first three songs went by with an almost mellow manner from the audience around me; like the realization hadn’t quite hit that X was here!
I, for one, don’t mind a bit of chatter between songs, as long as it’s not empty and meaningless—otherwise just play the music, please. I think X Japan got it just right. It was a pleasure to listen to Yoshiki comfortably speak a language which is not his mother tongue. What made it even better was the continuous flow of humor as Yoshiki spoke. Hearty laughter came often from many of the audience members around me as he reminisced about X Japan’s history of sleeping on park benches while being attacked by mosquitoes—meaning they weren’t very ‘visual’ for a visual kei band. Though Yoshiki also became sentimental and emotional during these talks, filling the large space of Wembley arena with the intimate feeling of his words.
Of course, the setlist included some of their very best. The concert was originally intending to debut performing their new album. Luckily for X Japan, they had a whole discography of amazing music to fall back on when they failed to release their album in time for the concert. But if I’m honest, I’m glad. Who wants to rush to learn new lyrics to mime and guitar solos to air guitar along to? With this, I was able to watch them perform all their classics I had yet to hear live, and to watch each member flaunt their unique skills and style.
After an hour-long exclusive viewing of We Are X, and a live performance acquainting to just over three hours long, how could X Japan disappoint after such a large production? Who is X? WE ARE X!
— JROCK NEWS (@JROCK_NEWS) March 4, 2017
It is a known fact that The SSE Arena Wembley, London can house a crowd of an incredible size—12,500 at full capacity, and so expectations for the quality of show rode incredibly high. Fans from across Europe and globe gathered for the performance from the legendary band which was pushed back a year due to Pata’s illness, snaking around the venue, waiting patiently to enter the arena. Photographers — excited — snapped photos and videos of the cosplayers waiting in the queue, as a gentle British drizzle fell upon the crowd beneath the grey heaven.
Soundcheck took slightly longer than anticipated, so the special cut the documentary film We Are X specifically made for this event was delayed by half an hour. Fans continued to trickle in throughout the touching story of how the band was formed, the hardships they faced and how they got back together. I must emphasize how mind-bending it is to sit amongst this gargantuan size of a crowd in complete silence, respectfully watching the playback of their lives.
The amount of detail in the production to emphasize the importance and impact X Japan had in the music history and globally was staggering. Old clips of the members behind the scenes laughing, crying, playing together peppered amongst the heart-to-heart conversations of the present members tinged the nerves of die-hard fans and wove the fabric for what we were to expect from the monumental show which was yet to come.
The highlight of the show for me was the passion the fans had for X Japan. “We are X!” they chanted with high energy, throwing their arms into an X sign, over and over throughout the show.
Both Yoshiki and Sugizo played several solos on piano and violin, teasing fans with covers by one of England’s most popular singer, songwriter, and actor, David Bowie who passed away in early 2016. Towards the end of the show, the crowd sang along with the piano rendition of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in harmony, and, briefly, Bowie’s Space Oddity at the request of the crowd. Of course, they played some of their famous pieces from their golden age; from Jade, Endless Rain, and Kurenai alongside La Venus and Born to be Free.
Throughout the performance, I knew in my heart that this show was making history, and felt a strange feeling of content sprinkled with surrealness knowing this band rose like a phoenix from ashes of despair and hardship. With all stars aligned in time and space, I had the privilege of watching this milestone unfold and embed itself into history books with my own eyes.
— JROCK NEWS (@JROCK_NEWS) March 4, 2017
— JROCK NEWS (@JROCK_NEWS) March 4, 2017
I was never a fan of X Japan.
I always knew what the band were doing next, whether it involved band or individual solo activities, had a general idea of their history and how influential they were, but that was it. Friends had attempted to get me into them previously but failed.
I thought I proved my point when I saw them seven years ago at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire with my last minute tickets that had me seated on the third floor of the venue. The view was rubbish and I wasn’t feeling very well at the time, now looking back on it.
Fast forward six years or so, I hear that someone created a documentary about them. Still not bothered, but interested nevertheless, as I started paying a lot more attention when I saw that it was being shown at festivals and what not.
Then it was announced that it would be playing at a cinema for two days. I went on the Sunday, only deciding a few hours beforehand but was pleasantly surprised this time around. I really enjoyed it and was now looking forward to their Wembley Arena show.
Little did I know that I would be covering their We Are X soundtrack album signing a day before on a busy Oxford Street at rush hour. The stewards there were saying how they had never seen anything like this before and that’s always a good impression to imprint on others.
I didn’t grasp just how enormous the venue was until I arrived in my upper tiered side seating on the left-hand side of the stage and I was watching fans getting ready for the much-anticipated show for the light to then go out.
It was at this point I can assure you everything changed.
I loved every single minute of it. The documentary that played first segued brilliantly into the performance revealing the stage and it’s the wonderful set of stairs leading to Yoshiki’s drum kit and piano.
There were many comedic moments throughout the evening from the dream team duo consisting of Yoshiki and Toshi. This furthermore illustrated how strong and special their friendship was, especially as they interacted with each other so seamlessly with themselves and the audience.
Throughout, there were long drawn-out calls from fans shouting out “X” umpteen times with an unparalleled amount of energy. I have never heard so many masculine-sounding voices shout “I love you” over such a space only for none other than Yoshiki himself to answer. The lighting and screen behind them had done a great job of helping establish the atmosphere, whether that was for Endless Rain or Born to be Free. Each member’s individual solo showcases was also something to behold, even going as far as covering songs.
There were so many things that warmed my heart besides from the pyrotechnics and unexpected flash bang. Now, I understood a lot more why so many people liked them. For me, it was like watching a long-running drama, everything went smoothly, all the conversations felt natural, and the progression from song to song worked really well.
I also felt like I had a duty to see them regardless if I liked them or not, and I think that should be the case for anyone interested in this kind of music. Especially as they are seen as the pioneers and one of the most prolific bands of the movement we now call Visual Kei that have heavily inspired the bands we currently listen to today. It’s also not every day a Japanese band plays in your home country at the SSE Wembley Arena of all places, so there is that. It was rather a historic day.
I am so glad I didn’t miss out on this experience.
Now I’m definitely invested in X Japan.