The annual Anime Expo, the largest convention dedicated to Japanese animation, comics, and pop culture in North America, took over the Long Beach Convention Center from June 29th to July 2nd. With roughly twenty thousand people in attendance on the first day alone, the Convention Center and its related buildings were full of fans bustling about. While some posed for photos in elaborate costumes, others shopped in the massive dealer's hall, while others yet took part in gaming competitions or video screenings. However on June 29th, no area was as busy as the stretch of ground surrounding the Long Beach Arena. A massive building, it was surrounded by lines upon lines of fans, all waiting anxiously for the world debut of Japanese rock band S.K.I.N.
Dressed in various styles including the costumes of their favourite Japanese rock stars or anime character, lolita and frills, leather and chains, some fans had been waiting since the early morning hours. Those who shelled out $50 for a premier, floor seat were able to come a bit later and join in the chaos as fans were shuffled from confusing line to confusing line as the Anime Expo staff tried to get everything sorted. Unfortunately, this confusion was to last for a while longer yet....
As two o'clock, the time the doors were initially suppose to open, came and went, many fans desperately attempted to seek shade to escape the heat and chatted quietly with one another. It seems many had come to see vocalist Gackt's American debut although there was plenty of buzz in the air for the other three official members of S.K.I.N. as well; Sugizo, miyavi and Yoshiki. The excited chatting continued even as three o'clock passed, the crowd continuing to fan themselves with whatever they could while shelling out what funds they had left for the expensive bottles of water being sold by the nearby vendor carts. Finally, at roughly four o'clock, the lines began to move and after a brief security check, fans escaped into the cooler air of the Long Beach Arena to seek their seats. Seating was split in the vast venue into three sections; the floor seats, consisting of rows of folding chairs, and two tiers of stadium seats. A sheer curtain semi-hid the stage from prying eyes as large screens, one on either side, framed the set.
Roughly an hour passed as hundreds of fans attempted to figure out the seating arrangements, many often ending up in the wrong area entirely, and to simply get inside the Arena after waiting in the sweltering heat for so long. During this time, S.K.I.N.'s logo suddenly lit up on the side screens and a guitar was heard, causing many fans jump to their feet with deafening shrieks. This, however, turned out to be a false alarm, although the crowd's excitement was obviously already through the roof as the sections took turns chanting "S.K.I.N.! S.K.I.N.! S.K.I.N.!" back and forth in addition to doing the wave.
Shortly before six o'clock, the lights finally went down and every fan in the arena rose to their feet, screaming and cheering. The screens changed to peaceful clouds floating over a sky as background music was played over the speakers, causing the fans to scream anew at every crescendo and crash. All eyes were trained on the stage as the curtain finally fell away, revealing S.K.I.N. to the world.
As vocalist Gackt yelled "Are you ready to rock?" prompting a cheer in response, many fans began to leave their seats, rushing towards the stage in order to be closer to these music icons. The first song of the evening seemed only to encourage this with its heavy, aggressive rhythm and energetic performance. Gackt peppered his performance with English shouts to the audience, such as "Can you feel me now? I can't hear you!" Meanwhile, guitarists Sugizo and miyavi couldn't seem to hold still as the former head banged wildly, hair often obscuring his features, while the latter spun and danced when not busy shouting into his own microphone. The song came to an end with an impressive moment of wild drumming courtesy of Yoshiki, who gave the fans a brief, grateful smile between the cymbals framing him.
The lights dimmed, the screens showing clouds slipping past once more. In addition to revealing the band, when the curtain fell, it also revealed a third screen set just behind Yoshiki's drum set, although all eyes were trained on the men in black in front of it. As the stage lighting swirled in blues and greens, Gackt took a moment to speak to the audience in English, saying that "Sometimes, dreams do come true," before adding in a bit about the song they were about to play; "[this song] tells the story of unconditional love."
The words 'Killing You Softly' were displayed on the screen behind the band before the scenery changed to that of a lush forest as the song began. miyavi's movements were slow, although not particularly subdued, almost as if he was trying to seduce the audience members in front of him while Gackt held his stylish microphone stand close. As the chorus swelled, fans swayed in their seats while the lights brightened shades of red and gold. Gackt stretched his arms out to either side dramatically, as if crucified, before suddenly grabbing his microphone stand to head bang as the song took a sudden, passionate turn. The wail of Sugizo's guitar cut through, sending shivers down the spines of many in attendance, during a powerful solo before Gackt's vocals returned, the talented vocalist stretching himself up into his higher range.
The music became almost circus-like in mood as the words 'Beneath Your Skin' were displayed on the screens and Gackt nearly purred, "Don't be afraid to open your heart," into the microphone, his darkly lined eyes sweeping over the throngs of fans. By this point, security had regained some control and was working on escorting fans back to their proper seats, trying to avoid fans crushing one another. While this tune started out slowly, it quickly became a more aggressive rock song and the crowd pumped their fists into the air to the beat, miyavi motioning for even more energy. Sugizo spun wildly on his side of the stage while Ju-ken, S.K.I.N.'s support bassist, moved close to miyavi, the two dancing and head banging crazily. The music began to slow down once more then, fans swaying gently to and fro, as Yoshiki left his drumset in a favor of a mostly clear, nearly crystal in appearance piano on a stretch of stage just behind and above Sugizo.
The lights on the stage dimmed slightly, leaving all attention on Yoshiki as the fans hushed and quieted for truly the first time the entire evening, everyone straining to listen to the beautiful melody. So it came as something of a shock when a second piano line made its way through the air until a second spotlight illuminated Gackt at the other side of the stage on a black grand piano, it the mirror opposite of Yoshiki's. Gasps of amazement were heard and many fans appeared to be near tears with the emotion contained in the stunning and unexpected duet.
An electric violin was shortly added to the mix, courtesy of Sugizo, before miyavi finally joined in as well, seated and playing a shamisen. The awe-struck arena was mostly silent aside from the four men, the tune lovely and a mix of traditional Western and Eastern sounds before it slowly, purposefully began to fray apart, becoming more and more deconstructed. The musicians then dropped out one by one aside Gackt who continued to play a pretty, almost music box style melody as tiny diamonds of light cast by the mirror ball in the middle of the stage spun gently around the arena, the stage cast in a gentle, blue glow.
A wail from Sugizo's guitar cut in suddenly, bringing an end to the peaceful mood as it was replaced by one much more rock 'n roll. The fans raised their hands, forming 'devil horns' with their fingers, as Gackt returned to his microphone, singing "Can you take my breath away?"
After this long tune, the band finally took a brief breather although they didn't leave the stage as the lights dimmed, simply quickly getting a few drinks of water as the fans screamed themselves nearly hoarse in appreciation of what they'd just witnessed. As the lights brightened and the music started up once more, this time with more of a dance, almost disco feel, a smiling Gackt called out to the international crowd, "It's not good-bye, it's just... until we meet again!"
The fans roared their approval and there was very nearly another rush for the stage as Gackt left the center position, moving over to Sugizo's side to peer out at the crowd. miyavi danced along the edge of the stage before switching places with the other guitarist, moving over close to Gackt. The entire band seemed to be fueled by the crowd's adoration and good-will as they became extremely animated, alternating between swivelling or shaking their hips and simply dancing or bouncing to the beat of the music.
"Are you having a good time?!" There was another deafening roar from the fans at this question and Gackt grinned, yelling back "Thank-you for loving us!" There was then a member shoukai [member call] performed by Gackt as he introduced each member of S.K.I.N., beginning with the younger guitarist, miyavi, whom the vocalist described as being like a brother to him. There was a wild guitar solo then from miyavi, serving to pump the crowd up further as the other members prowled the stage, taking drinks from the water bottles to spit them out over the audience. "[The] best bass player in Japan," was introduced next, prompting a solo this time from support bassist Ju-ken as miyavi playfully posed behind him before the two went into a brief jam session on stage as Gackt yelled "Myv! Ju!" over and over.
The two exchanged a high-five as their part came to an end and Gackt slinked across the stage over to Sugizo, wrapping an arm around his shoulders as he announced that he used to hate the other man, but now they're best friends. The vocalist stepped back then to let Sugizo have the spotlight, the guitarist showing his skill in a wailing solo, very different in style from miyavi's. As the tall guitarist strode along the front of the stage, Gackt headed back towards the drum set in time to announce, as the solo came to an end, "The one, the only, the greatest drummer in Japan- Yoshiki!"
Done over a techno, electronic beat Yoshiki's solo was fast and furious, although apparently over too quickly for the vocalist's taste as he headed back down to the center stage, asking the audience, "Do you want to hear more?" The fans screamed their obvious answer back at him and Yoshiki granted the crowd's request, which was then repeated again and again, finally cultivating in four solos over all from the famed drummer. Meanwhile, Ju-ken and miyavi continued to gesture for the crowd to cheer louder, to give Yoshiki everything they had, just as he was giving his all for them. Gackt apparently thought he still had more to give and called "Come on, Yoshiki!" prompting another powerful round of drumming as the song was stretched out even further.
The music picked up slightly in tempo as the drum solos finally came to an end, Gackt prowling the stage and yelling "Who am I?" to the fans who faithfully screamed his name back at him. This was repeatedly roughly ten times, each answer from the crowd louder than the last. He abandoned the question then to shout "We are!" the fans filling in the rest of that statement with a scream of "S.K.I.N.!!" This exchange continued for another minute as Sugizo posed by his equipment and miyavi came up to the edge of the stage, cupping his ears as if he couldn't hear the shrieks and cheers from the wild crowd. Gackt then took over once more, yelling "We are S.K.I.N.!" over and over and over as the fans pumped their fists in the air. As this was going on, a slightly tired looking Yoshiki, no doubt still recovering from his impressive line of solos, pulled himself to his feet behind his drum set, apparently to get a proper look at the audience, who was continuing to go crazy, shouting and cheering. After one more exchange of "We are!" "S.K.I.N.!!" between Gackt and the fans, the song began anew.
Sugizo and miyavi moved to flank Gackt at front and center and the fans shrieked wildly at seeing these three Japanese music stars so closely together. The energy of the fans seemed to be feeding the band as none of the men were able to keep still for long, Gackt dancing and miyavi leaping about the stage. As the song finally started to come to an end, Gackt tapped his chest, over his heart, before pointing out at the fans; no words were said, but the message was clear.
Though the music was finished, the show wasn't quite as the band lingered briefly on stage, both Yoshiki and Sugizo smashing apart their respective instruments; the latter even threw chunks of the now ruined guitar into the audience as Yoshiki continued to demolish his drum set. miyavi was all smiles as Gackt spoke to the fans for the last time that night, thanking them and reassuring them, "We will be back soon!"
Yoshiki tossed his drum sticks out into the audience as Sugizo and miyavi clasped each other around the shoulders, the two of them the last off stage as Sugizo briefly touched his heart, much like Gackt had earlier. Even after the stage was completely vacant, the fans continued to cheer themselves hoarse, a number of them crying as they did so. The shouts for an encore were immediate and as the lights remained dimmed, it seemed for a moment like this request might be granted before the lights brightened over the audience and the Arena security began ushering people from their seats. An audible groan of disappointment was heard but as the deafened, sun burnt, and exhausted fans slowly shuffled out, they could take solace in the vocalist's words.
S.K.I.N. will be back.
S.K.I.N.'s World Debut
live report - 07.25.2007 08:00
S.K.I.N. debuted to ferver and fanfare in Long Beach, California.