X Japan at Madison Square Garden / by Tony Chung

X Japan in concert at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, 10.11.2014

Earlier this year my ears were graced with some of the best news I've heard all year: X Japan was coming to New York City to play Madison Square Garden.  The moment I heard this news, going or not was not even a question. Five years ago they played in Taipei when I was living there and I'd missed their concert at the time.  Not this time!

A little background: during my high school years, my cousin, while visiting California from Asia, introduced me to their music and I instantly became obsessed.  At the time, I was going through an obsession with songwriting/band/recording/performing adolescent years and the introduction of X Japan to my ears just added fuel to the fire that was my passion for music.  What's to love about this band you ask?  I could talk for hours about all the details and reasons, but for the sake of brevity, I'm going to summarize in a few points:

  1. X Japan is the only band I know that plays at extreme ends of the music spectrum.  That is, their hard rock songs are insanely hard rock (and very high difficulty to even attempt to play as a musician) and their ballads are insanely soft, touching, and tear jerkers.  What makes this impressive is that both types of songs are equally powerful in their own way.
  2. Yoshiki, main songwriter/drummer/pianist and the backbone and leader of the band, performs with the same charisma that Steve Jobs or Barack Obama exhibits onstage (but in a music context).  It's magnetic and obscenely entertaining to watch him perform.  He truly gives it all onstage.  So much that he is required to wear a neck brace when playing due to excessive head-banging and wears a cast on his arm when is offstage to protect his wrists for piano and drum playing.
  3. They've sold out the 55,000 capacity Tokyo Dome (the Japan equivalent of Madison Square Garden) 18 times.  18 TIMES.  Enough said.  
  4. The band has gone through much drama through the years, yet they were able to overcome all the obstacles and push forward to today.  Yoshiki's father took his own life when Yoshiki was only 10 years old.  Their legendary guitarist, Hide, took his own life at the height of their stardom.  Then the bassist, Taiji, also took his own life years later.  The band even broke up for many years during their prime.  Their vocalist, Toshi, went through a 12 year period of following a cult leader who ended up taking all his money (for 10 years Toshi and Yoshiki did not speak to each other).  Whew.  

Of course there is so much more, I am more than willing to discuss in person ;)  Needless to say, the concert was absolutely breathtaking.  Due to knowledge of the above points (specifically #4), I cried several times during the concert.  The experience was similar to watching a great movie, one that touches you on many emotional nerves.  Banging out during the hard rock songs and crying your heart out during the soft ballads.  Yoshiki and Toshi spoke to the audience so many times, sometimes with tears in their eyes, and Yoshiki even performed his signature 15 minute drum solo where he was elevated into the air above the audience.  Amazing. Breathtaking.  An experience I won't forget.  Photos and videos from the concert below.  Special thanks to Jon for being first in line to get tickets when they went on sale and my girlfriend Annie for coming with me to experience X (she took all the photos/videos below!).

Yoshiki playing his signature custom Kawai Yoshiki transparent grand piano.  He even played the Star Spangled Banner at one point!

Look at that gigantic 'X'!  About halfway into the concert, the two sides of the X slowly moved towards the center and connected.  Then it lit up.  Imagine how much that alone costs to execute...

Every attendee was given one of these wristbands when entering the concert.  No one knew what the purpose was.  Then about 45 minutes into the concert, they lit up!  What a sight it was to see everyone's wristbands flashing in the sea of people in MSG.  

Yoshiki's drum solo.  Notice how he is in the middle of the audience.  That platform moved all the way from the stage (on the right) down the aisle to the middle of the audience.  Then it ELEVATED.  Oh and notice all the wristbands lit up in the crowd too.

Yoshiki transitioning from the piano to drums during 'Silent Jealousy'

Yoshiki's drum solo on a platform moving across the stage.

[UPDATE] Just to give you an idea of the complexity of rhythms that Yoshiki composes and performs on the drums, here's a fan on YouTube playing the drums for the song 'X' .  Notice the 'double bass' bass drum kicking at 0:14 and again at 1:22.