LONDON IS X: X JAPAN LIVE 2017 at the Wembley Arena, 04032017

On March 4, 2017, X JAPAN finally performed at SSE Wembley Arena in London, a much-awaited concert for many in the audience especially after it had to be rescheduled once. The crowd’s spirit could be felt buzzing through the air even outside the venue despite the unforgiving, rainy British weather. Many fans turned up in full gear of previous X JAPAN merchandises, as well as cosplay of the band’s early costumes complete with the massive hair and over-the-top outfits that gave them their reputation.

The concert consisted of 2 parts: the first half is the screening of We Are X, a documentary about the band’s history directed by Stephen Kijak, which had also been shown at various film festivals around the world; while the latter half consist of the band’s live performance. Despite only lasting for about an hour long, the documentary managed to give the audience, some unfamiliar with the band, more than just a glimpse of their long turbulent history. Introducing X JAPAN as most probably the biggest band in the whole world that people outside Japan do not know, it showed the band making their preparation in the 3 days leading to their important show at Madison Square Garden, while juxtaposing the timeline with the band’s decades long journey up till that point. Told in a loose chronological order starting with the childhood of Yoshiki, the drummer and leader of the band, when he also met future X JAPAN vocalist Toshi, the documentary was careful in not splitting the band’s activity into particular era or rushing to zoom onto a particular happening, instead opting to subtly mark the passing of time through gradually introducing the rest of X JAPAN members as they each recounted their story, including recordings from the late Hide and Taiji.

However, far from watching the story through rose-tinted lens of nostalgia, the film did not shy away from addressing the drama and tensions that had happened between the members. It also decisively set a particular tone right from the start, with a cut from an interview with Yoshiki where he stated bluntly that the vocalist was “brainwashed”. This particular event where the vocalist was involved in a cult, and became the band’s reason to disband almost 2 decades ago, took over the later part of the documentary as it returned the focus to Yoshiki and Toshi’s relationship post-disbandment, their eventual reconciliation and then, X JAPAN’s return.

Focusing on motivations and relationships of the band members and also the fans, the documentary framed the band’s journey into a fascinating tale of success and struggles, meeting and parting, hope and regret. A tale about life.

As the documentary came to an end, the night was far from over as the screen rose up to reveal X JAPAN members already up on stage and ready to rock. The audience roared and many red lightsticks crossed to form an X immediately filled the massive space, as the band burst into their first song, Rusty Nail.

The concert overall was X JAPAN’s usual fare of amazing, constantly shifting between hard pounding melodic speed metal, acoustic classical-style pieces with Yoshiki on his trademark glass piano. As well as equally exciting solo time by the rest of the band members that do not lose to the intensity of full band sessions, such as Pata’s turn where he played the intro to Stab Me In The Back on guitar, then switching with Heath on bass, before forming a duet of hard pounding beats and speedy riffs that filled the stadium thrumming with energy.

The live was also peppered with plenty of MCs by Yoshiki and Toshi’s bantering, which drew much laughter from the crowd and provided a welcomed contrast of lighter atmosphere compared to the documentary screening. Such as when Yoshiki asked Toshi if he would like to say anything to the crowd, and Toshi mistook it as a cue to sing their song, Say Anything, with the crowd. Yoshiki obliged, followed by much laughter afterward as he clarified that Toshi had in fact heard wrongly.

At one point of the concert, both men also made themselves comfortable sitting on the steps of the stage while promoting the new We Are X soundtrack. Yoshiki asked if Toshi had listened to it yet, which Toshi replied to by saying that he had bought all 3 of them. As they discussed about the making of the soundtrack, Yoshiki said that it was due to the soundtrack they had to stop the production of their new album, and jokingly blurted out that yes they are making all the excuses they can about the delay. However, in a more serious tone Yoshiki informed the audience that the vocal, guitar and drums tracks for the album have been completed, and it is definitely well underway.

Yoshiki also announced that they would like record the audience’s voice as they sing along to a song that will be included in the upcoming album, and that Toshi would teach them how to sing it. This time, Toshi obliged, stating “I am your teacher,” in a matter-of-factly tone to the audience who promptly burst out laughing. They had also made the same request in London almost 2 years ago when Yoshiki and Toshi made a special appearance at Hyper Japan event, and thus as Yoshiki played the accompaniment part on the piano, unsurprisingly many members of the audience sang along perfectly. More bantering ensued, as Yoshiki had completely missed hearing the audience’s singing while Toshi insisted that there was no need for him to teach.

The comfortable ease in their interactions also certainly felt like a continuation from their story in the documentary and made it all more real.

There were also various special tributes done due to the location of the concert, London. During his solo time, the guitarist SUGIZO reappeared on stage with his back facing the audience while wearing a Union Jack coat, the sight a reminiscence of David Bowie’s iconic pose in similar outfit. Sure enough, he then played a rendition of Bowie’s Life on Mars? on violin. It was certainly one of the calmer and also magical moments of the night.

Toward the end of the concert as well, Yoshiki spoke of Toshi’s and his fondness for the city as they grew up listening to musicians such as Queen, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie. He then played Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Bowie’s Space Oddity on piano, much to the delight of the audience who immediately sang along to both songs.

Yoshiki spoke of the documentary screened at the start of the concert, which was apparently a director’s cut version that is different from the ones shown at cinemas around the world and that the members themselves have not watched it. He also looked back on the band’s history, wistfully recounting the times when X was just an indie band playing in small clubs, how Hide used to make him be the band’s overnight driver, and how they used to sleep in the park while battling mosquitoes, even though they were “supposed to be visual rock musicians”.

Many united cheers of “We are X!” from the audience and 2 encores later, the concert finally came to an end with Forever Love blasting off the speakers. Yoshiki threw a handful of roses into the audience, while leaving one each on the guitar and bass amplifiers on stage, honouring the late members of X JAPAN who are clearly still much remembered and beloved by both the band and the fans. Their names too, graced the screens flanking each side of the stage as the band played their encores.

Overall, the concert lasted beyond 4 hours long, and the documentary screening at the start certainly left a different, more emotional impact on both fans and first timers to their concert alike. While it was uncertain for many of the fans that night if they will ever get to see the band perform in London or ever again, the memories of X JAPAN’s story would certainly live on in the hearts. Quoting Hide from the documentary, a band isn’t something that start and end. And after witnessing the glorious comeback the band had successfully pulled, we could expect that X JAPAN would keep going on for a long time.

As reported by CL. Official pictures.

X JAPAN Wembley 04032017 setlist

  1. Rusty Nail
  2. HERO
  3. Jade
  4. Kiss the Sky
  5. Beneath the Skin
  6. Pata’s & Heath’s solos, session
  7. DRAIN
  8. LIFE ON MARS? (David Bowie cover by SUGIZO)
  9. LA VENUS
  10. Say Anything (acoustic)
  11. Born to Be Free
  12. Kurenai
    Encore 1:
  13. Moonlight Sonata (Yoshiki’s piano solo)
  14. Yoshiki’s drum solo
  15. WITHOUT YOU
  16. I.V.
  17. X
    Encore 2:
  18. Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen cover by Yoshiki)
  19. Space Oddity (David Bowie cover by Yoshiki)
  20. Endless Rain
  21. SUGIZO’s violin solo
  22. ART OF LIFE
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