X Japan Takes Madison Square Garden By Rainstorm

Andrew Flanagan
X Japan's Yoshiki, onstage at Madison Square Garden.

There was Yoshiki, principal songwriter, brutalizing percussionist and virtuosic pianist of X Japan, standing on his drum throne, casting a shadow that was, via the jumbotron behind him, framed with fluttering, demonic wings, like the final boss in a video game. The technical exactitude that allowed that moment to happen -- planning where and how the star would stand, and illustrating the projections to match it exactly -- were in full supply at the band's much-advertised return to New York at Madison Square Garden on Saturday (Oct. 11).

It's been four years since X Japan's relatively recent entree to America (the band was formed in 1982 and didn't make it stateside for performances until after its reformation in 2007). While massively famous in their home country, their relative obscurity has been a long-established question mark. Apart from a series of shows in 2010, at Lollapalooza and a handful major U.S. markets, they have generally kept quiet in America after a promotional push in the '90s failed -- likely due to grunge's concurrent rise. The chance to see them is a rare one, and something to be cherished (and puzzled over) by attendees... probably for a lifetime.

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To be cherished, mouths agape, mainly because of the pummeling, unrelenting drama and over-the-top stagecraft that the band brings bring to a (ridiculous, insane) job that it obviously takes very seriously, none more so than undisputed star Yoshiki. Schmaltz of a kind rare here in America -- the kind you can get behind -- overflowed. It was in evidence in the fourth ballad describing and lamenting "standing in the rain" with a broken heart. It was on full display with Yoshiki's monologue towards the end of the show explaining -- with frequent holding-back-tears grimace breaks -- the band's formation, spending their hotel money on beer instead in the early days, and wanting -- don't cry now Yoshi -- to "play a big show in America." A montage of videos from throughout its career was played in time to their performance. There must have been a half-hour of the performance dedicated to singer Toshi asking "We are?!" To which the audience would respond, fists raised in formation, "X!"

While schmaltz may be one of their strengths, so too is complete, utter bombast. Attendees would have been right to complain if there were no fireballs sent forth during the show, or epileptic lasers or a giant X composed of tiny x's that emerged from either side of the stage. (They didn't have to complain.) But what about when Yoshiki's drum riser began floating down the catwalk as he executed what must have been a 15-minute long drum solo? And then the riser, now at the end of the catwalk, rising into the air? Or his piano riser also rising into some twenty feet into the air? The lost-and-found at the Garden is likely filled with lower mandibles this morning.

The band's fanbase runs across gender, age and cultural lines in the band's home country. It felt like all of them were at the Garden on Saturday night. Watching people young and old, from disparate backgrounds and probably vastly varied musical tastes, celebrating the virtuosic glam-speed-drama metal band. It was a stunning thing in culturally tribalistic America. It's like seeing a bunch of bearded, black-denim clad metalheads at a Katy Perry concert. But inverted. And endlessly positive.