WagakkiBand at Japan 2019 presents Japan Night in New York City
WagakkiBand transported the audience through an exhilarating and intense musical journey.
Around mid-morning fans began lining up along the bustling streets of Times Square outside of PlayStation Theater, huddling together under shop awnings and umbrellas to escape the rain. The bleary weather did nothing to stop people from arriving early, excited to see WagakkiBand – a unique musical act that fuses traditional Japanese instruments with a western rock sound.
As part of the official Japan Day @ Central Park 2019 celebration, WaggakiBand was invited to perform on May 12th at PlayStation Theater in New York’s Times Square for an exclusive one-night event, Japan 2019 presents Japan Night. A celebration of contemporary popular Japanese music, it featured four successful artists – HYDE, WagakkiBand, MISIA, and Puffy AmiYumi – with special performances in two separate venues across New York City.
WagakkiBand was the first act of the night, and audience members knew they were in for an intense musical journey as soon as they saw the stage. Aside from the wide display of modern and traditional instruments belonging to the band, in the center stood an enormous white canvas. A master of ceremonies formally commenced Japan Night, welcoming the crowd and introducing renowned Japanese calligraphy artist Sisyu, as well as two members of WagakkiBand – Kurona with traditional wadaiko drums and Daisuke Kaminaga with his shakuhachi, or bamboo flute. Together they opened the evening with a beautifully intricate artistic performance showcasing their creative talents.
The canvas was painted to life by Sisyu in time to heavy drum beats that pounded through the venue, while Kaminaga dramatically played his flute, moving from one side of the stage to the other. The audience was mesmerized by the display, eagerly watching as Sisyu moved to the back of the canvas to finish her piece. Once the vibrant bird illustration was complete, the three artists came together to take a bow.
Following a quick intermission, blue and purple lights created a calm atmosphere as WagakkiBand quietly entered the stage, dressed in their distinctive blend of traditional yet eccentric fashions. Shakuhachi player Daisuke Kaminaga, koto player Kiyoshi Ibukuro, tsugaru-jamisen player Beni Ninagawa, guitarist and backing vocalist Machiya, bass player Asa, drummer Wasabi, wadaiko player Kurona, and finally singer Yuko Suzuhana settled into position, stage lights turning a brilliant red as she raised her fan in a pose to prepare for the first song, Akatsukino Ito.
The band members jumped onto various platforms across the stage for the chorus of the song while Suzuhana, with her powerful and elegant Shigin technique, sang and danced between them with her fan during the instrumental portions. Spotlights flickered rapidly from red to white as Kaminaga gave a small flute solo while posing on one leg, followed by Machiya and Asa coming together to rock out during the bridge, guitar and bass strumming fervently in tandem.
“This is only our second time to play in New York,” she greeted everyone, “So we are super excited!” The crowd cheered as she thanked them. “Tonight is very special for us. Are you guys ready to hear some Japanese music? ...I hope you enjoy our traditional sound!”
The set list continued to walk fans through many of their popular tracks, including Ikusa, image song for "Sengoku Musou 4-II” and opening song for “Sengoku Musou”, and Strong Fate, theme song for the Japanese horror movie “Zang-e -Sunde wa ikenai heya-”.
Moving directly into an instrumental battle, a mysterious story began to unfold through the use of aggressive drums, gritty guitars, and blaring electronic music. Encompassing the venue with this intense musical landscape, the audience was in complete awe of the sights and sounds surrounding them. Suzuhana appeared on stage wearing a traditional fox demon mask, acting out the instrumental tale with a mischievous little dance. Halfway through she removed the mask and continued her playful performance with fan and sword techniques. The venue erupted in praise at the conclusion, completely hyped up over the exhilarating scene.
The emotive and graceful opening of Sasame Yuki, complimented by twirling rays of light and the soulful sounds of the band helped to gently transport the audience through the melodious track. As the performance went on, more hands and glow sticks were raised into the air, swaying to the tempo of the song.
“You guys having a good time so far? You have so much energy!” Suzuhana laughed, “I love New York! Yesterday me and the band went out for dinner. I couldn’t believe how huge the steaks are here! They’re three times bigger than in Japan. So I couldn’t eat it, but I want to try again!” the crowd laughed at her confession. “Daisuke-san, where in New York…?”
“Ah, yes!” he answered. “The day before yesterday I went to the Hamptons. There are lots of huge houses. I’d love to live in the Hamptons,” he stated as the audience murmured their agreement. Suzuhana continued, “By the way, have you ever worn a kimono? They’re so beautiful… these long sleeves are called furisode. They’re only worn by single ladies, did you know?” she giggled. “When you get married, they get shorter. So if you see a woman wearing her sleeves like this, you know you have a chance,” she teased. “It’s not too late!” she said as fans laughed at her comments.
“So, the next song is called Okino Tayu. It’s made of a Japanese melody. Please enjoy it!” With a vibrant and hypnotizing voice, Suzuhana sang the melodious story, using graceful hand gestures to illustrate the song. On the last few notes, she held out her arms like a free flying bird as the music and lights faded away.
“Are you ready? Clap your hands, here we go!” was the only warning fans received before an explosive multi-drum battle began. Midway through their thunderous crusade, Kurona asked, “Are you having fun? Okay, repeat after me.” He then commenced a call-and-answer pattern with the crowd. “WagakkiBand! USA!” he chanted off, and fans shouted back in time to the high-paced drum beats.
“Thank you! All right, New York!” Suzuhana happily exclaimed. “Do you know Japanese music?” she asked, then proceeded to clap out ippon-jime, or three sets of three claps with one final clap at the end. The audience immediately echoed it back to her, much to her amusement. Clapping and shouting along to the upbeat rhythm, fans continued to follow her example when Kishikaisei, the TV Tokyo theme for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, blasted through the speakers. The crowd sang along and cheered, before launching into the energetic chorus as band members bounced around on stage.
“Thanks, you guys are fabulous! Next song is the last song. The last song is… Senbonzakura!” At the announcement of the popular track, fans roared in excitement and immediately threw up their hands, fist pumping and cheering right into the opening of the song.
Towards the end of the track, Suzuhana highlighted the band members, introducing them to the crowd as they each played a small section of the song under the spotlight. She brought the microphone back up and politely shouted, “Thank you! Thank you (in Japanese)!” and the audience cheered louder. The band members created even more commotion with their instruments, and she concluded the show with another few words, “Thank you (in Japanese), I love you!” as it was closing out.
On the last note, everyone jumped and spun in circles while the crowd chanted “WA-GA-KKI!” in unison. Coming together for a final bow, Suzuhana gave another heartfelt, “Thank you so much!” as each member waved and slowly filtered off the stage. At the last moment, Wasabi decided to turn around and toss out his drum stick, much to the surprise and delight of the cheering fans.
01. Akatsukino Ito
03. Yoshiwara Lament
04. Strong Fate
05. Tohno Monogatari Kyuuyon
06. En + Shamisen
07. Sasame Yuki
08. Okino Tayu
09. Wadaiko Drum Battle
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