Buck-Tick At the Night Side 2012
June 10th live at the Hibiya Yagai Daiongakudo
Live Report by Cayce

A common question foreigners in Japan may find themselves asked is, “are there four seasons where you come from?”  Though Canadians and Russians may feel frustrated at having to explain that summer comes even in northern climes, and can in fact be hot and humid to boot, the question of seasons isn’t as stupid as it may sound to someone who comes from a four-season climate.  In many parts of the world, seasonal distinctions can be reduced to vague trends like “dry” and “wet”—just ask someone from the Central Coast of California.  Distinct seasons such as those experienced by Japan are by no means universal.  In any case, the real reason Japanese people ask foreigners about seasonal patterns elsewhere is because appreciation of seasonal changes is, and has always been, a very important element of Japanese culture.  Specific foods, festivals, clothing, colors and symbols mark each season—plum and sakura in the spring, fireflies and cicadas in the summer, maple leaves and moon-viewing in the autumn, yuzu and mochi in the winter.  In asking about seasons, Japanese people are interested to compare and contrast experience, to know whether foreigners will find seasonal changes unusual and strange, or whether they will find them comforting and familiar.  

However, it’s a mystery to me that, despite having such a keen eye to the calendar, so many Japanese people misrepresent the number of seasons Japan gets to enjoy every year.  Ask at any time of year besides June, and most Japanese people will tell you, “Japan has four seasons.”  I’m going to beg to differ on this one.  Japan doesn’t have four seasons, it has five.  Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, and Rain.

Rain (called “tsuyu” in Japanese) is what it sounds like: a season characterized by perpetually pregnant cloud cover that frequently spreads open its misty gray robes to give birth to massive rainstorms, in much the same way that creepy red priestesses give birth to oily shadow-babies in cave tunnels.  The tsuyu usually begins sometime in early June and lasts until early to mid July, at which point the rain will dramatically cease, giving way to the hazy, cicada-infested tanning-salon-cum-sauna that in these parts is known as “summer.”  The end of the tsuyu is known as “tsuyu-ake,” and when it happens it gets announced in the newspaper weather reports.  But during the tsuyu, the sun almost never comes out, the temperature hovers around 20-25 degrees Celsius, and the steamy humidity means that even when it isn’t raining, it might as well be.  The Japanese rainy season—damp, dark, and stormy, much like the inside of a Sakurai fangirl’s knickers soul.  Therefore, a perfect time for Buck-Tick to hold an outdoor festival.

Compared to the Parade festival scheduled for later this year, Buck-Tick’s concert series “At the Night Side 2012” may not exactly be a festival proper, seeing as there were no performers nor firecrackers besides Buck-Tick themselves.  However, since ANS12 consisted of two back-to-back shows at the Hibiya Yagai (that’s Yagai, not Yagami) Daiongakudo, a roofless open-air venue located in Tokyo’s verdant, jungly Hibiya Park, the whole event had a festival atmosphere anyway.  In keeping with a run of 25th-anniversary-induced nostalgia, the ANS12 concerts echoed the two Mona Lisa Overdrive -XANADU- concerts, also held back-to-back at the Hibiya Ongakudo back in 2003.  

XANADU was the first time Buck-Tick had ever played at the Ongakudo (whose name literally translates to “Giant Outdoor Music Hall in Hibiya,” but which Japanese fans call “Ya-On” for short).  Before the XANADU concerts, fans gathered among the trees and garden paths outside the Ya-On gates to gaze skyward at the camera-equipped Buck-Tick blimp that flew majestically over the proceedings like a proud envoy from the Imai family’s home planet.  Fans without tickets even stayed outside the venue gates for the duration of the show, just to listen to the music, because without a roof to keep them contained, the supercharged sound waves from a rock concert sure don’t stay in one place for long.  ANS12 marks Buck-Tick’s second concert series at Ya-On, and though this time, there was no blimp, there was certainly pomp and circumstance a-plenty—a laser light show, free tour towels presented to concert-goers at the entrance to the venue, a pay-per-view livestream webcast of the concert for the legions of miserable fans who couldn’t wangle a real-life ticket, and best of all, a pre-show email from none other than Yagami Toll, obliquely informing fans that “a band that will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year will be playing a show in Hibiya Park this weekend.”  Come on, Mr. Yagami, cut out the coy faceless man act already.  A man can’t give a band its own name?

But that’s always been one of Buck-Tick’s selling points—a healthy sense of humility and self-irony.  In Japan, rain-related superstitions abound, including “teru-teru bouzu” dolls, which act as charms for good weather, and the idea of the “ame-otoko” (“rain man”) and “hare-otoko” (“sun man”)—terms applied to people who seem to have a knack for attracting one kind of weather or another.  At the time of the last Parade festival, Kiyoharu warned Sakurai on his radio show that he had a long history of being an “ame-otoko.”  By the same token, Genet of Auto-Mod claims superlative “hare-otoko” powers that cause the sun to shine wherever he goes, perhaps because his head is as shiny and bald as a teru-teru bouzu doll (don’t tell him I said that.)  Though no member of Buck-Tick claims either “ame-otoko” or “hare-otoko” affinity, in scheduling their outdoor concert series for mid-June, the band were clearly aware that the possibility of the rainy season throwing its two cents from heaven on the proceedings was high.  When the heavens opened on Friday night and more or less refused to quit till Sunday evening, some soaking-wet fans suggested that Buck-Tick had simply pulled off a load of rain-themed songs on the fly, in honor of the circumstances.  But cities built on rock-n-roll weren’t built in a day, and neither were the set lists of large-scale concerts.  Knowing what I do about the mechanics of these things, I feel sure that Buck-Tick had their highly apropos set list planned well in advance, the better to capitalize on the rain, should it befall them.  The rain, sensing it was being mocked, showed up to show off.  And how!

On Saturday, June 9th, the first day of ANS12, the rain came down in chilly sheets, blown into diagonals by the wind so that even an umbrella was useless—not that umbrellas are allowed at the Ongakudo.  In fact, they are expressly forbidden, and no wonder—if everyone in the venue whipped out umbrellas as soon as it started raining, no one but the people in the front row would be able to see a thing.  Thus, instead of the usual yakuza-run yakisoba and okonomiyaki stalls that appear near the Ongakudo when concerts happen in good weather, there was a roaring trade in disposable plastic raincoats, which most fans donned happily, even though wearing those things feels more or less like wearing a personal greenhouse.  Thus suited up, they lined up to enter the venue, upon which they were presented with free tour towels as a promotional gift.  Was this another cheeky nod to the likelihood of rain?  If it was, most fans didn’t take full advantage of the towels’ usefulness—choosing to hang them over their heads or around their necks to get soaked, rather than keep them safe in their waterproof plastic wrap, to be extracted fluffy, warm, and dry when the concert was over and everyone looked in need of a good rub-down.  

A few fans, however, decided raincoats were too stuffy and restrictive, and had other ideas about how to beat the rain.  One fan I interviewed had suggested to her friends that they all show up in bikinis and pretend it was a beach party, but given how cold the water was, she was in the minority.  Still, downpour or no downpour, the Saturday show went on, and the fans with tickets all showed up.  Perhaps Buck-Tick was lucky that the Saturday show was open to Fish Tank members only—it meant they had a full house of their most loyal fans to cheer them through the storm.  

But among the fans, a certain amount of bitterness surfaced.  Fans who had endured the literal fish tank on Saturday, with no compensation but the sight of soaking-wet Sakurai in a sleeveless shirt performing “Boku wa Miss Take” for the first time ever, wailed that the Sunday crowd had it easy—surely the rain would have rained itself out by then (and the concerts were so popular that very few fans were able to get tickets to both.)  However, the rain got the last laugh on this one.  Deceptively, golden sunlight burned off the dew as Sunday morning dawned clear and dry, all blue skies and white clouds, a perfect vision of early summer.  But past noon, as soon as the fans began flocking back to Hibiya for At the Night Side Day Two, the dark clouds began gathering once again.  By the time the venue staff had come out to open the venue doors and shout at the crowd through their megaphones, it was sprinkling.  And as the start of the concert drew nearer, the rain began again in earnest.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to see Buck-Tick’s…At..At the…At the Night Side 2012!” stuttered a female announcer over the venue PA, struggling with the long English title.  “We remind you that all photography and recording is strictly prohibited.  Also, depending on weather conditions, please be advised that today’s concert may be stopped temporarily, or cancelled, depending on circumstances.  Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.”

Resignedly suiting up in their trashbag raincoats once more, the fans weren’t listening.  If yesterday’s weather hadn’t been enough to stop the show, it seemed all too likely that a tornado would carry us all off to Oz before anyone at Ya-On would issue a cancellation order.  The stage had been well prepared. Clear plastic tarps had been draped over all the important sound equipment, not least of which, Imai’s theremin.  At the back of the stage, under the overhang of the roof, a large banner emblazoned with the concert logo hung from the lighting apparatus, and the fans eyed it with excitement.  

In an unusual move, rather than the usual Imai-curated DJ set, the music playing over the PA before the show was a classical number, only intermittently audible.  But slowly, the rumbles of the kettledrums evolved into a rumbling techno beat, and the band members quickly took the stage, led by Yutaka and Hide in silver-accented black, followed by Toll, his mohawk undampened by the rain, wearing a new customized red suit with “B-T 25th Anniversary” emblazoned on the back in fancy black letters.  Next came Imai, whose costume drew gasps and cheers from the crowd—his orange hair combed back from his face, he wore a muslin suit in eggplant purple, fading to cotton-candy pink at the seams and edges, its unfinished bottom hems frayed out into Peter Pan style zigzags over matching purple boots, like the motley of some sinister court jester.  As usual, Sakurai was the last to take the stage, having wisely given up ruffle-fronted shirts in favor of simple black under a silvery coat patterned with misty-looking roses, the very picture of a rainy June day.  Even if Sakurai isn’t an “ame-otoko,” he surely enjoys the rain.  Standing on the back platform between the Higuchi brothers, he soaked up the cheers of the audience, unable to wipe the grin off his face.  Spreading his arms wide, he laughed into the microphone, and the band kicked straight into “Elise no Tame ni.”

Thanks to having played a show the night before, the band were already warmed up into high gear as soon as they took the stage.  Despite the limits of the Ongakudo sound system, the live performance of “Elise no Tame ni” sounded almost exactly like the studio recording, and Sakurai looked particularly energetic, wantonly gyrating for the cameras in an unusually ebullient display of fanservice, which he continued throughout the show.

But rather than slowing down, as “Elise” drew to a close, the band picked up the pace with that old singalong favorite, “Nakayubi”—they must have known everyone in the audience was thinking of XANADU, and had decided to attempt to re-create a little of the past.  Raincoats or no raincoats, the fans went wild, punching the air with their fists while theatrical fog streamed into air above the stage, magnifying the range of the colored lights as Sakurai and Imai traded back and forth, shouting “I hate you, so fuck it!”  Strangely, I didn’t see as many middle fingers raised as I would have expected, but the gesture doesn’t carry quite the same weight in Japan.

However, apparently “Nakayubi” still didn’t contain enough fucks for Sakurai’s liking.  When the band launched into crowd-pleaser “National Media Boys,” he paraded back and forth along the edge of the stage, grinding on one camera after another.  Are the lyrics to this song about sex?  The answer is no, but does it matter?  The fans hailed him in a right-handed salute that surely would not have flown in the West.

“Hibiya!” Sakurai called as the song finished.  “It never stops raining, does it?”

The crowd roared, and Imai noodled on his guitar.  But the band had chosen their songs well.

Kagerou!” announced Sakurai.

This sensual, most definitively summer single is a song that to my knowledge, Buck-Tick haven’t performed very much indoors.  Released in August of 2006, it seems to rather be a staple of their outdoor summer festival repertoire, and that’s a good thing.  Performed outside, this song takes on a new depth that it somehow lacks when played on an indoor stage—you don’t have to imagine the heat, the twilight, the fragrance of leaves—you can feel them all around you, and Imai’s distorted guitar tones mimic the scream of the cicadas that will soon be out in force.  In the diffuse gray glow of the late afternoon, the stage lights didn’t illuminate much.  Sometimes they shone out from behind the band members, temporarily blinding the audience, and sometimes it seemed as if there were no lights at all—just the soaking wet band on a soaking wet stage, before an audience overflowing with oceans of adoration.  The effect only grew more beautiful as Buck-Tick followed “Kagerou” with two more summery, insect-themed songs, “Hamushi no You ni” and “Utsusemi.”  

“Utsusemi,” with its lyrics about cloudbursts and contradictions, also seemed particularly well-suited to the day, as well as to the precarious earthquake/nuclear crisis situation that continues to worry Japan.  Should we cry for unfolding tragedies, or smile to be alive and in the company of those we love?  “Utsusemi,” made up of the kanji for “empty air” and the kanji for “cicada,” is an archaic term for “cicada,” but it also refers to the fact of living in the world itself.  It evokes the desperation, and perhaps futility, of human experience, as being just like the cries of the cicadas—a similar phrase to “sound and fury.”  Buck-Tick doesn’t play this song very often, which is a pity—but hearing it played outside in a rainstorm is definitely the best way to hear it.  Though the band members stayed mostly still on the stage and the lighting remained minimal, it was one of the most powerful moments of the show.

However, by the end of Utsusemi, people were starting to shiver, so it was clearly time to pick up the pace again.  After a short break and a change of guitars for Imai, more electronic rumbling came out of the speakers, and the band members clustered together at the back platform.  What song was this?  At first, it was hard to tell—was this something new, or a rearranged version of something old?  But as Imai and Hoshino’s guitars joined the rhythm of the Higuchi brothers, it became apparent it was the latter—“Misty Zone”!  Though the Ongakudo acoustics rendered the sound somewhat muddy, it’s always a thrill to hear the older, wiser Buck-Tick do so much justice to a youthful song like this.  Unfortunately, some fans seemed too cold, wet, or wrapped in their raincoats to dance as much as they might have, but the band members tried their hardest to keep everyone engaged.  Hoshino and Imai visited the ramps at the edges of the stage for guitar solos, while Sakurai paraded from one side of the stage to the other, evidently getting so ramped up himself that he jumped the gun on one of his cues.  Imai, still in the middle of his solo, shot Sakurai a reproachful look, but Sakurai recovered himself admirably, leading the fans in singing the final chorus with him.  

After “Misty Zone” came “Memento Mori,” devoid of fire jets but enough to get fans dancing all the same.  As the song began, the banner at the back of the stage dropped with a bang, revealing a huge wall of lights shining out from behind the band, into the crowd.  Next, we were in for another Mona Lisa Overdrive treat—“Genzai.”  This song goes by lightning fast and the lyrics taste sort of like a tongue-twister, but Sakurai sang them effortlessly, making a break from his lascivious antics earlier in the show by miming shooting guns on the chorus, rather than making his usual fist-fuck gesture, while the audience joined with Imai to sing the chorus.

Then it was time for another break.  Sakurai came out to the edge of the stage and held out his hand, palm up, while Imai made a sound on his guitar like a cartoon anvil falling from the sky.  The audience giggled.  Sakurai wiggled his fingers.

“Where is it?” Sakurai said.  “Rain, rain, rain, where is it?  Come on rain, where are you?”

But the rain appeared to have let up, at least for the moment.  Imai continued to make anvil-dropping noises.

“Oh well, you can get wet anyway,” said Sakurai darkly, raising one eyebrow, just to let the fans know that he definitely meant it as a sexual double-entendre.  Hoshino struck the strings of his acoustic guitar, and the band started into “Nocturne -Rain Song”.

This is another gorgeous song that made an appearance on the previous Parade tour, and perhaps to recall that time, the lighting effects were nearly the same as back then—magenta, indigo, and gold, with moving spots sweeping circles of light over the crowd.  However, it still hadn’t gotten dark yet, so the effect was quite different from an indoor auditorium, but no less beautiful all the same.  Fog and mist from the rain filled the stage, and depending on the angle of the lights, the band members would become momentarily invisible.  Rather than play his usual guitar part, Imai continued making random sound effects throughout the song, creating an effect that was not so much humorous as it was slightly threatening, though I was sorry to miss out on hearing the double-acoustic guitar solo.  Unfortunately, perhaps distracted by all the fog and mist, Sakurai flubbed the lyrics again, this time snapping his fingers and making an obvious “oh, shit” face.

Standalone singles and b-sides had become a theme of the show, so it was no surprise when the band followed “Nocturne” with “Gensou no Hana,” a lovely reprise of their performance of the same song at XANADU years earlier.  This is another song that has gained a new sense of poignancy in the aftermath of last year’s disasters, and the poignancy turned to menace as the band continued with “Revolver,” a killer live number (no pun intended) that they don’t perform often enough.  After a long, grey twilight, night had just about fallen, and the lighting effects were showing up better—so well, in fact, that when red and orange lights illuminated the fog bank on the stage from behind, the band members appeared to be rising up out of the fires of Mount Doom; a spectacular cinematic effect that might be impossible to re-create indoors.

There was a price to pay for all these natural special effects.  The rain was picking up again, escalating to a full-on downpour to drench the fans during “Romance.”  But luckily, Buck-Tick chose to end the set with upbeat, danceable numbers like “Django,” “Dokudanjou Beauty,” and “Baby, I Want You,” to get the fans warmed up even though it was still pouring.

“Hibiya, Hibiya, Hibiya,” Sakurai chanted at the end of “Baby,” as the fans waved and called back, “Baby I want you!” over and over.

“Rain rain rain rain rain!” Sakurai shouted.  “Rain rain rain rain rain!  I want you!  Rain!  Rain!  Oh baby!”  And making a deep, dashing bow, he ran off stage, leaving Yutaka to pepper the front few rows with bass picks, while Hoshino tossed his guitar picks out one by one, carefully spinning them like boomerangs so they traveled as far as possible.

If it took a little while for the band to come back for an encore, at least there was an obvious reason—they, like the audience, were soaked to the skin and needed to towel off.  The rain and the raincoats may have made fans reluctant to cheer too hard for an encore, but these things can’t be taken for granted.  If the band is willing to play a show in a downpour, extra cheering is in order.  Luckily, a large group of teenage fans in the bank of seats near Hoshino were still full of energy, and began clapping and chanting, “Encore, Encore,” trading off when they got tired, and soon, voices from all through the theater had picked up the chant, too.

Imai was the first to come back on stage.  Standing along in a spinning, spoked cone of green laser light, he noodled a familiar melody on his stabilizer, which the fans may or may not have recognized—

“I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain, what a beautiful feeling, I’m happy again.”

As the rest of the band members joined Imai onstage, the lasers kept spinning and spinning, then gradually lifted, to shine not down onto the stage, but out over the heads of the crowd, and the evening’s rain-themed selections weren’t over yet!  When Sakurai made an appearance at last, having exchanged his silver coat for the white tailored vest from the “Miss Take” PV, over the PA came the first jangling synth sounds of “Shippuu no Blade Runner.”  

Imai’s countdown chant was also piped in over the PA, but Sakurai joined in singing on “boy and girl fall in love.”  The fans, meanwhile, were gasping and looking over their shoulders at the trees around the edges of the theater.  The Ongakudo is surrounded by a tall wall of green, and now the lasers were undulating in green and purple lines that cut sharply through the mist, sparkling brilliantly on the raindrops, making dreamy, wavy patterns on the leaves.  Then Yutaka’s bass boomed in and the song began for real, the lasers shooting into lightning-fast geometric patterns over the stage.

When “Blade Runner” had finished, Sakurai addressed the audience again.  “Let’s dream together,” he said.  And here was the last b-side of the night: the much-anticipated “Yumemiru Uchuu.”

It may have been due to the limitations of the Ongakudo sound system, or to the absence of backup vocals, but this song sounded significantly different live than on recording.  The guitars were pushed into the background and the drums brought to the fore, highlighting the unusual rhythm.  This was the first song Buck-Tick composed following the earthquake, and Sakurai reports they had significant trouble with recording it.  Originally intended for release as a single, it was demoted to b-side status thanks to “Elise” turning out much catchier than they’d originally thought it would be.  This was clearly the right decision for the band—“Elise” is a far more intuitive song than “Yumemiru Uchuu,” which, though moving, is strangely diffuse, and would probably benefit from the acoustics of an indoor venue and a little more rehearsal.  To round out the first encore, Buck-Tick returned to an old favorite, “My Fuckin’ Valentine,” very much enhanced by the rain and the lasers.

Though chanting was somewhat weaker for the second encore, the rain had largely stopped by this point.  Nonetheless, Buck-Tick had decided to offer us yet another cheeky rain-themed song—“Makka na Yoru.”  And since it was now fully dark, the red lights showed up to great effect, continuing with “Tenshi wa Dare da,” and then “Speed,” the final number.  Everyone who had heard about the set list from the previous night had been hoping to hear “Miss Take,” but apparently the band had decided only Fish Tankers deserved to hear it—a mistake (pun intended) on their part, but I daresay we’ll all get to hear it many times in the near future.  

After all, the next tour starts later this month!  And if Buck-Tick proved one thing with At the Night Side 2012, it’s that harder you rain on their Parade, the harder they rock.