X JAPAN at The SSE Arena, Wembley - Part 2

live report - 03.19.2017 15:22

Fans got two encores for the price of one as X JAPAN ended X DAY with a glorious double-finale.

Whilst the audience at the SSE Arena awaited X JAPAN’s return, a scattering of volunteer cheerleaders took it upon themselves to lead sections of the crowd in spontaneous call-and-response chants of “We are … X!” Taking turns, they ensured silence never descended on the auditorium.

Eventually, their tenacity was rewarded when YOSHIKI stepped out and made his way to his transparent grand piano, where he played Ludwig van Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata beneath a solitary spotlight. The piece ended abruptly, with YOSHIKI aggressively hammering the keys before sliding off the stool. The imagery on the stage’s screen reflected the change in mood, shifting from CGI renderings of the cosmos to churning storm clouds, with the stage lights flashing to simulate lightning bolts.

Shedding his jacket en route to his drum kit, YOSHIKI stood behind the instrument for a moment, silhouetted by a massive cluster of lights positioned behind him. Then, taking his seat, a strike of his hi-hat marked the start of a wide-ranging drum solo. Over the ensuing seven minutes, X JAPAN’s leader showed the past thirty years have done nothing to blunt his speed or precision. At one point during the percussive assault, he casually leaned over to play a keyboard that’d been set up beside the drums while simultaneously keeping his double-kick drums going at full throttle.

The concluding hit of the snare was punctuated by a wall of red sparks as YOSHIKI flopped off his stool. He was still lying prostrate when ToshI appeared to his left and began singing the acapella opening lines of Without You, a song YOSHIKI wrote in the wake of hide’s passing. Once he’d recovered, YOSHIKI donned a red coat and accompanied the singer on piano.

“Thank you,” said ToshI as his bandmate proceeded straight into the intro of I.V., X JAPAN’s first post-reunion single that’d featured in “Saw 4” of all films. SUGIZO wandered out while ToshI assumed the role of choirmaster, reminding the crowd of the song’s 'In the rain, find a way' refrain before conducting them as they swayed to mellow piano and guitar accompaniment. PATA and HEATH then rejoined them to perform I.V. in full.

“This is gonna be the last song,” said ToshI. Much of the crowd seemed to know what was coming, as many had their arms over their heads in the shape of an X before the singer had said another word.

“We’re gonna rock you! We’re gonna X you!” continued ToshI, doing the ‘We are … X!’ call-and-response five times before turning his back on the crowd. Meanwhile, the hum of feedback that’d been growing steadily louder was briefly all that could be heard until the singer shouted “X!”

This cued the famous guitar riff and a line of geyser-like steam jets along the front of the stage. When the famous part of the chorus came around – a moment many had clearly been awaiting with some eagerness – well over half the arena jumped in the air as they shouted “X!” ToshI was happy to leave this particular vocal duty to fans, although there was someone else he was keen to involve. As PATA and SUGIZO stepped up for their solos, the singer walked up behind YOSHIKI and dangled his mic over the drummer’s head for every shout of the band’s original name.

“London!” shouted ToshI, leading four chants of “We are … X!” and six of “You are … X!” before trading places with YOSHIKI, handing his bandmate the mic and seating himself behind the drums. The drummer slowly made his way to the far-left side of the stage, pausing to pour a bottle of water over himself.

“We dedicate this to hide and TAIJI,” said YOSHIKI as the words ‘In memory of TAIJI 1966-2011’ and ‘In memory of hide 1964-1998’ appeared on the stage’s screen. He then led several rounds of “We are … X!” while three batteries of confetti cannons opened fire, filling the air with a dense blizzard of red, white and blue paper.

Even when the cannons had ceased firing, X JAPAN’s leader kept up a constant stream of call-and-response chants, even as his voice grew increasingly raw. Once he finally stopped for breath, the audience were taken by surprise as hide made another cameo on onscreen. Another surprise followed as the band played a reprise of X’s chorus.

“Thank you London!” shouted ToshI as the encore ended in identical fashion to the main set. PATA, HEATH and ToshI left first, followed by YOSHIKI once he’d distributed his drumsticks. Finally, SUGIZO stepped up to spray water over the audience before pitching the bottle into the stalls up on the far-left.

This would’ve been a more-than-fitting climax to any arena show, but the crowd were confident there was still more to come. During this second interval, the volunteer cheerleaders piped back up to lead more chants while elsewhere, some of the youngest audience members took advantage of the break in play to frolic in the confetti now carpeting the arena floor.

The second encore began with another moment of déjà vu. YOSHIKI walked out alone, sat down at his Kawai ‘crystal’ piano and without a word, began to play. On this occasion however, it wasn’t Beethoven but rather Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Unlike SUGIZO’s earlier rendition of Life on Mars, the crowd were plenty keen to sing along.

“I think when ToshI and I were around ten years old, we were listening to Queen, KISS, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie-” began YOSHIKI, pausing when the crowd cheered the mention of the late glam rocker’s name. “You like David Bowie?”

The drummer then turned back to the keyboard and played an excerpt from Bowie’s 1969 breakthrough hit Space Oddity. He then gave an MC reflecting on the history of X JAPAN.

“When ToshI and I first started playing together, ToshI was actually a guitarist at that time. Believe it or not, I was a vocalist. There’s something not right in my voice. I will sing before I die, but like I said in the film, a swan only sings once – so when I sing, we ought to be careful.”

The drummer also revealed the band’s original name X was initially chosen as a placeholder. They later decided to keep it once they found out the letter ‘x’ was associated with infinite possibilities. He then moved on to X’s early days in Tokyo: “At that time, we didn’t have anything but a broken old car. I was a driver and hide was a driver. One day, hide said he couldn’t drive at night because his eyes weren’t good in the dark, but we only ever drove at night! So, I was pretty much the only driver.

“When we were going from club to club, a lot of times we didn’t have much money so sometimes, we slept in parks. At that time, mosquitos were our enemy. We were supposed to be a fucking visual rock band, but we showed up at those clubs with mosquito bites everywhere.”

YOSHIKI admitted that even though X went on to play the biggest arenas and stadiums in Japan, the days they spent touring clubs were his most precious memories. He also said he’d never imagined X JAPAN would reunite after their 1998 breakup, especially after hide’s death, and thanked fans for giving them a second chance.

“We would like to dedicate this next song to our fans, and to our friends TAIJI and hide.”

“Let’s sing along together,” said ToshI, reappearing whilst YOSHIKI began ENDLESS RAIN. Well over half the arena obliged, singing along word-for-word as the stage’s screen displayed footage of X JAPAN’s glory days in the early ‘90s. For the solos, which the guitarist played sitting on the platform’s steps, the stage lights honed in on a huge mirror ball above the stage. Before the outro, the audience were trusted to sing the chorus by themselves a few times over, initially with accompaniment and then acapella.

Everyone but SUGIZO then vacated the stage while he played a violin interlude that segued into YOSHIKI’s piano solo from ART OF LIFE. Unfortunately, there was no room to accommodate the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who’d accompanied him on the studio version, but their absence didn’t dull its impact. Following the solo’s dissonant ending, YOSHIKI strode over to his drums as the band rejoined him.

ART OF LIFE!” yelled ToshI, kicking off the third (and last) movement of the thirty-minute symphonic rock epic. The quintet put everything they had left into this grand musical climax which ToshI topped off with one almighty long final note. While he recuperated, SUGIZO pitched a further three water bottles into the crowd.

Afterwards YOSHIKI, who’d made his way down to the arena floor following ToshI’s high note, climbed back onstage carrying two bouquets of roses with a flag draped over his shoulder. Tossing the flowers into the front rows, he and his vocalist unfurled the commemorative flag, which was emblazoned with X JAPAN’s logo, the Union Jack and the Hinomaru. The band then posed for the now-customary post-gig photo with themselves and the audience all making the sign of the X.

Once some of the members had snapped a few selfies of their own, the five bandmates joined hands and took three successive bows. SUGIZO snuck in a final exuberant bow of his own while everyone but YOSHIKI filed offstage. Giving the crowd his heartfelt thanks, the grinning drummer led one last “We are … X!” before bringing X DAY to a close.

Set list

01. Rusty Nail
02. Hero
03. JADE
04. Kiss the Sky
05. Beneath the Skin
06. PATA Solo
07. HEATH Solo
08. Drain
09. SUGIZO Violin Solo (Life on Mars)
10. La Venus
11. Say Anything
12. BORN TO BE FREE
13. Kurenai

Encore #1

01. Moonlight Sonata
02. YOSHIKI Drum Solo
03. Without You
04. I.V.
05. X

Encore #2

01. Bohemian Rhapsody
02. Space Oddity
03. ENDLESS RAIN
04. Violin/Piano
05. ART OF LIFE

Read "X JAPAN at The SSE Arena, Wembley - Part 1" at http://www.jame-world.com/uk/articles-124723-x-japan-at-the-sse-arena-wembley-part-1.html
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