10 years being active is not a short time for a visual kei band – well, for any band. Everyone knows that the music industry is not exactly a friendly place. The competition is tough, and one wrong step can mean an eternal goodbye to one’s musical career. So when a band manages to get to their tenth year like Alice Nine has, it is truly something special. The band is celebrating it like all strong-going bands do: a new album, a national tour, then an overseas tour and a specially-arranged tour final – in Alice Nine’s case, a gig in a conifer forest high up in FujiQ Highland in the summer.
RekON came to Alice Nine’s concert in Open Air Big Music Hall in Hibiya on May 5th, 2014, to witness a testament of how successful the band has been in the decade after they debuted: it was a big, amphitheater-styled venue, a part of a small but nice park in Tokyo. True, it was not a sold out concert – there were many empty seats in the upper rows, but many bands their age or even older could not even fill a medium-sized live hall.
Since it’s a rain-or-shine event, understandably even the band members themselves were worried by gray clouds that hung over Tokyo that day. It was even drizzling during goods sale period. Luckily, it stopped before the live started; the afternoon was still gray, but at least it was dry.
On an open air hall like the one in Hibiya, there were no properties of formalities like curtains. The stage was exposed for all to see even before the concert began. The backdrop was black, white, red, and pink; to the left and the right of the stage, there were panels bearing the words Supernova Symphonia – the name of the current tour. We could see the raised platform prepared for Nao and his drumset, and all the guitars and basses that would be used by Hiroto, Tora, and Saga lined up on the sides of the stage. Staff and roadies were busy with final preparations; when they finally left the stage, we knew it’s time for Alice Nine to appear.
It’s not even dusk yet, so there was no ‘dark all around, only lights on the stage’ kind of entrance. The opening music began, fans shouted and clapped, then Hiroto and Tora appeared from the side opposite to their position on stage: Tora the left (shimote) guitarist entered the stage from the right (kamite) side, while Hiroto the right guitarist from the left side. They crossed path to get to their ‘correct’ side, then the rhythm section – Nao and Saga – also came and assumed their positions. The four of them played a short piece until finally Shou the vocalist appeared from the left, with one hand inside the pocket of his trousers, while another reached for the microphone.
The five of them then launched the main set which was filled with not only songs from their latest album, but old favourites as well. Well, they had a 10-year’s worth of catalogue to select songs from; anticipating which songs would get into the setlist is just another perk of being a fan of an artist with an already vast song collection.
Enjoying the performance is of course what one expects when they go to their favourite artist’s concert – seeing the artist also really enjoy it doubles the happiness. And Alice Nine members were clearly enjoying it; Hiroto often danced, pranced around in circles, or stamped his feet as he played the guitar – the (man-)skirt he was wearing whirled around too, making the movement of his small-built body look even graceful and dynamic. Tora looked to be so immersed in the joy of performing too; at one point, when it was only Hiroto playing and he had no part, still with his guitar slung over his shoulder he danced to the music. The stage was his own club.
The wind was chilly still, but it quickly got too hot for Saga. It was only the fourth song – Shadowplay – when he decided that he didn’t need his black jacket anymore. So for the rest of the live, he performed in his tight black trousers and loose, long white shirt. Nao mostly stayed behind his drumset, largely quiet before the encore, but he stepped forward to play a guitar during the acoustic rendering of NUMBER SIX.
We know that the band is proud of their hard, rough tracks too; but to us they arguably seemed to be most comfortable with their more pop-pish songs, with a hint of U2 and Americana influences, such as DAYBREAK. These songs too suited Shou’s vocal range and techniques more.
We didn’t know whether they were just carried away by the joy they were feeling, or whether it’s truly fanservice, but the members several times showed physical intimacy. Saga hugged Tora from behind when the guitarist was playing his guitar; Hiroto climbed the drumset platform to land a quick kiss on Nao’s forehead; Shou once put his arm around Tora and held his chin while singing; Hiroto liked to play his guitar while leaning his back to Shou’s. This of course made fans scream or shout ‘kawaii!’.
One of the songs in the setlist was chosen randomly – well, not exactly randomly because there were only four cards to draw from. On each card there was a song title, for instance Senkou. Shou asked the birthday boy Hiroto to shuffle the four cards; while Hiroto was doing what he was asked to do, behind Shou Saga crossed his heart and acted as if praying. Shou then drew one card, and the card said GEMINI. Saga jumped happily and Shou commented about how excited Saga-kun about playing the song. They could not play the whole 12-minute of the song though, so it was the re-arranged version; still, it was a nice piece showcasing what Alice Nine could do when they went experimental.
A kind of small mayhem ensued when during the next song, DEAD SCHOOL SCREAMING, Hiroto and Saga took benefit of the seat arrangement of the hall to jump down to the audience. At first only Hiroto did that; he went forward, climbed the front barrier, and let fans touch him while he played his guitar right in front of them, sometimes giving them his back. He then ran up the right aisle, hi-touching fans as he passed by. Saga followed his steps and went even further up the tiers on the left; it was a major skinship time and the bodyguard(s) had quite a rough time trying to keep over-enthusiastic fans from getting too close to the bassist. It’s still a wonder that not more fans tried to approach him, though – most audience stayed in their seats, screaming excitedly but staying in control. We bet it would be very hard if not impossible for Alice Nine members to do a similar thing in the other countries included in their forthcoming Asian tour!
The sun already disappeared under the horizon now and finally the full effect of the lightsticks/lightrings could be seen. They were like small stars studding the dark seat rows, and it made a beautiful sight. Alice Nine closed their main set gloriously with Kaisen Zenya, taking a break on the backstage while fans kept on shouting for an encore. Shou and Hiroto were the first to re-emerge, now wearing their tour T-shirts. They talked for a while about their upcoming 10th year anniversary live, to be held on August 23 in FujiQ Highland Conifer Forest, near the Fuji Mountain. As well as asking everyone to come, they also announced about the after-party after the FujiQ live.
They then asked which member they should call to go on stage next. Fans answered, “Tora!” Shou nodded in agreement and asked fans to together call him outloud. But before anyone had the chance to do it, Tora casually walked to the stage, triggering a “Kichatta!” from Hiroto. (It’s like saying “Damn, he’s already here!”) They continued talking about the 10th Anniversary live; it’s clearly they were very excited about it. Then they called Nao, who seemed to be a bit unprepared, because Shou laughingly said, “Nao-san is going ‘E? Ore? Ore?’ there”, referring to the door to the backstage where he could see Nao.
Nao tried to speak using Shou’s mic, but the stand was taller than his height! “This is too tall!” he complained, looking around for steps but there wasn’t any. He tried to climb the platform behind the mic stand, but couldn’t. So Shou gave him a hand and hugged Nao’s waist from behind, trying to lift him up. It was good for a short time but then Nao let out something between a giggle and a pain exclamation, so Shou let him down. Nao got a mic then and threw some jokes (including about Hiroto’s kiss) before reminding everyone that the day before was Hiroto’s birthday, which he celebrated with Shou only. But now everyone got to celebrate it, and with that cue Saga appeared with a flower bouquet in his hands. Shou lead audience to sing Happy Birthday to Hiroto, while Saga kneeled in front of the guitarist to hand him the bouquet.
They almost began the next song but Shou realised that Saga hadn’t really got his chance to say anything, so Shou told him to go ahead. Saga took the time to point at the buildings around the park, where through the windows we could see that some lights were still on in some of the rooms. He then shouted not some too pleasant things at the salarymen that he thought were still working in the buildings; this made the audience laugh. After that, Alice Nine performed BLUE PLANET and VELVET as their final songs for the night.
When encore finished and the other members had gone backstage, Saga dragged Hiroto back to the center stage and handed him a mic, telling him to speak. So Hiroto gave the final thanking speech, and bowed deep for a very long time to the audience. It had been a memorable time in the urban park – imagine how it would be like in their 10th anniversary live, up in the mountainous area! It certainly would be a new height in the band’s career, marking the ten long years of their struggle – and success.
Alice Nine’s setlist 05052014
1. Prelude –resolution-
7. 1Minute Kidding
9. Kowloon NINE HEADS RODEO SHOW
10. From KURAYAMI
12. Kiss twice, kiss me deadly
16. NUMBER SIX.
17. the beautiful name
19. DEAD SCHOOL SCREAMING
20. Hyakka Ryouran
21. Kaisen Zenya
22. BLUE PLANET