Buck-Tick Parade Tour 2012
June 30th at Zepp Nagoya (with Merry)
July 4th at Yokohama Blitz (with The Lowbrows)
July 6th at Zepp DiverCity Tokyo (with Pay Money to My Pain)
July 7th at Zepp DiverCity Tokyo (with D’erlanger)
Live Report by Cayce

Ah, anniversaries.  They get made much of, but it’s worth remembering that basically, they’re arbitrary.  If humans had evolved to have eight fingers instead of ten, we might all be using a base-8 number system, and Buck-Tick might have held as many as six commemorative festivals by last year (every four years, yo).  On the other hand, if we all used Sexagesimal, like the ancient Babylonians did, Queen Elizabeth would only be celebrating her Aluminium Jubilee this year, and Toll would have no right to a birthday party until a decade from now (in Sexagesimal, there’s a little less sex for you than you think there is.)  From the time of day to the days of the week to the fatefulness (or not) of the year 2012, it’s important not to forget that all these numbers we live by are nothing but constructions human society has imposed upon itself.  Each morning when my alarm clock rings I become less convinced that living by numbers is a good thing, but at least when the digits line up right, it gives us an excuse to party.

Thus, five years after the first Parade Tour, we get the delicious surprise of a second Parade Tour (like the Here We Go Again tour, except for realz.)  Whether intentional or not, despite the fundamental arbitrariness of numbers, Buck-Tick’s High Scheduler really did the thing properly with this second Parade Tour—some of the dates of this Parade Tour overlapped exactly with some of the dates of the previous Parade Tour. The June 30th show with Merry at Zepp Nagoya was the five-year anniversary of the previous Parade Tour show with Balzac at Zepp Osaka, and the July 7th show with D’erlanger at Zepp EpicFail Tokyo was the five-year anniversary of the previous Parade Tour show with Tsuchiya Masami at regular old Zepp [too dignified for a nickname] Tokyo.  Funnily enough, the June 30th and July 7th stops on the previous Parade Tour were also the first Buck-Tick shows on which Not Greatest Site ever published live reports.  Raise your hand if you weren’t yet a Buck-Tick fan back then!  Raise two hands if you became a Buck-Tick fan after hearing a Buck-Tick song as the theme song for an anime!  Raise three hands if you don’t remember what NGS version 1.0 looked like!  If you have three hands raised, take a shot of tequila!

Anyhow, back to the anniversary thing.  The 2007 Parade Tour was held in honor of Buck-Tick’s 20th anniversary, and the 2012 Parade Tour was held in honor of their 25th anniversary (duh.)  Though 25 has a somewhat scarier ring to it than 20, the Buck-Tick members themselves have done very little visible aging.  However, the age range of the guest artists is significantly younger this time around.  With the last Parade Tour and festival, Buck-Tick gave places of honor to some of their influential elders, most notably Endo Michiro and Tsuchiya Masami, while also offering a generous amount of stage time to some of their barely-younger contemporaries—Kiyoharu, J, and Glay.  On this Parade Tour, Buck-Tick have become the elders.  Rather than an homage, this time, they’re giving younger artists, many of whom were heavily inspired by them, a chance to shine with them on the same stage.  Merry, Mucc and cali≠gari make no excuses about their respect-bordering-on-fanboy-adoration for Buck-Tick, but The Lowbrows, Kishidan, and Pay Money to My Pain—the less obvious picks on the 2012 Parade Tour lineup—have also been active in the music scene for significantly less time than Buck-Tick, and whether or not they’re Buck-Tick fanboys, they have likely felt Buck-Tick’s influence indirectly.  The only artist (besides Buck-Tick themselves) who performed on both tours is the irrepressible Kyo, vocalist of D’erlanger, who performed on the 2007 Parade Tour as vocalist of the unit Runaway Boys – Kyo & Nackie.

The 2007 Parade lineup may have been more popular among long-time Buck-Tick fans, since artists admired by Buck-Tick tend to be admired by their fans as well, and Kiyoharu and J rank high on the “if you like Buck-Tick you might also like” list.  But it’s my belief that this time around, Buck-Tick aren’t so much catering to their old fans as they are courting potential fans they haven’t met yet—younger fans of younger bands who haven’t yet discovered Buck-Tick.  My suspicion is that Buck-Tick shrewdly believes they can lure in some young cats in by offering them some fresh milk as bait, then showing them young’uns how well-aged cheese has stronger and more subtle flavor.

And this time, Not Greatest Site was able to attend four consecutive stops on the tour, so we got to watch the progress of the Parade in real time.  As with every tour, some things stayed the same, some things changed, and what happened in Nagoya stayed in Nagoya.

June 30th at Zepp Nagoya (with Merry)

The Parade Tour 2012 kicked off in Sendai with cali≠gari, then went to Fukuoka with Mucc, followed by Osaka with Kishidan, but Not Greatest Site joined the tour on June 30th in Nagoya, for the show featuring Merry.  When we arrived in Nagoya, most of the fans making their way from the station to Zepp Nagoya were clad in Buck-Tick tour goods from head to heel, but the Merry fans in their Merry tour t-shirts had also made themselves visible.  This being Buck-Tick’s tour, however, it seems that the Buck-Tick fans got all the good line numbers.  The meticulous venue staff had the fans lined up by ticket number well before the doors were scheduled to open, and the bottom hundred numbers at least were all Buck-Tick fans wearing their hearts on the tour towels draped over their necks.  Though bound together by their love for Buck-Tick, the crowd was far from homogeneously Japanese—fans from overseas were scattered throughout, some of them international students and some of them travelers who no doubt have found it easier to escape work and school commitments to go band-chasing now that it’s summer.

Though Zepp Nagoya is significantly smaller than Zepp Tokyo or Zepp Osaka, inside it looks like any other Zepp venue, complete with an extension platform attached to the center of the stage that bridges the gap between the stage and the railing, so the band members, if they so chose, could get up close and personal with the fans in the front rows.  Buck-Tick doesn’t usually go in much for set dressing on standing tours, but this time, the stage was hung with festoons of wire ladders with metal rungs, like streamers for a stripped-down post-industrial birthday party.  Currently, however, the stage was set for Merry, and with no curtain, fans had ample opportunity to observe the goings-on on the stage while waiting for the show to start.  Squadrons of roadies came out to adjust sound equipment and tune guitars, padding across the Oriental rug that had been laid down in the shadow of Nero’s massive drum set.  An antique clown mask hung from the front of the drum set itself, while a small metal school desk plastered with band decals (including a Buck-Tick sticker) stood behind the microphone stand.

“Is Gara going to stand on that thing?” the fans whispered to each other as Imai’s DJ set played over the speakers.  In this DJ set, Imai kept some of the old favorites from last tour, including The Kills’ “Satellite,” the Dead Weather’s cover of Gary Numan’s “Are ‘Friends’ Electric,” and the inexplicable Newlydeads remix of “Cities in Dust,” while adding in some new but standard fare—selections by The Cure, Love and Rockets, and even a track from Not Your Kind of People, the surprise new album by Garbage.  In general, though, Imai’s selections veered heavily toward blues and rockabilly influences.  Imai seems to use his DJ set for each tour as a way of explaining his current musical influences, and paired with the boogie-woogie groove of “Only You,” all the blues selections make me wonder if we should be putting on our swing-dancing shoes in anticipation Buck-Tick’s forthcoming new album Yumemiru Uchuu.

If this is so, Merry fits right into the picture.  Formed in Tokyo in 2001, Merry are, in Cayce’s opinion, one of the last truly innovative bands of visual kei (alongside Mucc, Kagrra, and Kagerou, may the latter two rest in peace.)  Drawing inspiration from the Taisho period in Japanese history, which lasted from 1912-1926 and was characterized by growing popularity of jazz music and Western clothing in Japan, as well as the origins of the erotic and grotesque (ero-guro) movement, Merry became known for their unique blending of visual kei grunge with jazz and swing.  In their early years, Merry became famous for their deliberately retro melodies and lyrics, their ero-guro manga-style CD jackets, and their over-the-top stage antics involving calligraphy, ink showers, nudity and simulated masturbation, but their 2006 major debut on Victor JVC tamed the rawness and planed most of the sharp edges off their sound—not necessarily a good thing for a band whose edginess was their greatest appeal.  However, at this gig with Buck-Tick, they proved to their credit that their live performance has lost none of its vitality, thanks in no small part to stupendous power of their drummer Nero, whose arms are almost big enough to earn him a place in the cast of Dragonball, and who drums like five Nameks put together.

Surprisingly, though three years have passed since I last had the pleasure of seeing Merry live, they are still performing many of the same old favorites, including “Kubitsuri Rondo” and “Sayonara –Rain-.”  Coming from another band, this would look like a lack of creativity, but Merry’s older work is stronger than their newer work, and their decision to play mostly old songs makes me wonder if they’re not as thrilled with what their major label contract has obliged them to release as they are with the material they created when they were younger and more carefree.  It also seemed to me that this set list contained even more jazz and cabaret pomp than usual, epitomized by the wonderful “Bara to Katasumi no Blues,” a smoldering, sophisticated ballad reminiscent of “Yuuwaku,” perhaps added to the set list as an appeal to Buck-Tick’s fanbase.

Vocalist Gara couldn’t be more different to Sakurai, however—small and skinny, with a mournful tenor voice, he performed the entire set barefoot, dancing around on his Oriental rug or standing, crouching, and jumping on the school desk, dressed in black pants and a white shirt with ruffles down the front, open over a black corset cinched around his tiny waist.  He’s as limber as a monkey and has been known to climb up the lighting rig at the Hibiya Ongakudo as if it were a jungle gym, but tonight, since there were no lighting rigs to climb, he had to satisfy the audience by doing a handstand on top of the desk at the end of the set, to cheers and applause.

Merry are Buck-Tick fanboys, and they’re not ashamed to admit it.  The cover of “Aku no Hana” they performed live at this show was even more true to the original than the version that appears on the Parade II album, with guitarist Yuu playing Imai’s guitar solo note-for-note, so perfectly he’s surely now the envy of all Buck-Tick copybands everywhere.  The biggest notable difference between Merry’s cover and the original version were Nero’s syncopated drumbeats, which preserved the drive of the song while simultaneously adding a little bit of Merry-style funk.

Gara never uses his voice onstage except to sing, so when Merry had finished with “Aku no Hana,” it fell to Nero to address the audience.

“When we told our friends we were going to record a song for Buck-Tick’s new tribute album, they laughed at us,” Nero said.  “They said, ‘you’re just going to do “Aku no Hana,” aren’t you?’  We said, well yes, we’re going to do ‘Aku no Hana,’ but…it’s not what you think!  We’ve been Buck-Tick fans for ages…we rehearsed in Victor Studio in the studio next door to Buck-Tick…we heard them playing ‘Makka na Yoru’ through the walls, before it was released!”  The audience cheered.  Nero continued to expound.  “I mean, ‘Makka na Yoru,’ what a great song, a really powerful rock song, we were so excited when we heard Buck-Tick playing it, so near to us…Buck-Tick means so much to us as a band…oh god if I keep talking I’ll end up going on all day!  Anyhow, since we have this very special opportunity to play a show with Buck-Tick for you today, we’d like to take this chance to play one more Buck-Tick cover…enjoy!”

Merry’s second Buck-Tick cover of the evening was “Uta.”  Merry’s “Uta” cover resembled their cover of “Aku no Hana,” in that it sounded similar to the original version, with a little more funk…but sadly lacked samples of that quote from Day of the Dead in the middle.  Merry followed “Uta” with a few more of their own songs, and then it was Gara’s turn to communicate with the audience directly.  As the music died down, roadies rushed onto the stage with a sheaf of papers, a brush, and a container of ink, which Gara quickly sorted out on top of the school desk, using the ink and brush to write his thoughts in hurried kanji scrawl that could hardly be called calligraphy.  This “calligraphy time” has been a tradition since Merry’s very beginnings, and I’m glad to see they’re still honoring it.

“Today…was the best…thank you!” Gara wrote on three separate sheets of paper, holding them up for audience inspection one after another, before tipping the rest of the ink into his mouth and spitting it back out all over his bare chest.  This, too, is a tradition.  The ink had turned Gara’s teeth, tongue, and lips black, and he sang the rest of the set without bothering to rinse out his mouth, bringing the first half of the show to a rousing conclusion with Merry’s perennial crowd-pleaser “Japanese Modernist.”  A number of Buck-Tick fans in the first few rows betrayed their familiarity with Merry by singing along with all the lyrics.

Then Merry were off the stage, and it was Buck-Tick’s turn…but not before a veritable army of roadies had cleared away Nero’s massive drum set and set up twin platforms to support the Higuchi brothers.  The fans had nothing to do but wait, and fight with each other.  Fans were unusually badly behaved throughout this whole tour, and Nagoya was no exception.  For every fan who’d been hanging on the railing since the beginning, there was one more attempting to force her way into the front by elbowing and pushing as hard as possible.  What these fans hoped to accomplish beyond making others miserable, I have no idea—the smallest, skinniest girls seemed to be the most aggressive pushers as a rule, and while it’s regrettable that they were too short to have any view to speak of, pushing and elbowing people was in no way helping them see better.  If they had wanted a better view they would have done better to go back, not forward.  The floors of Zepp venues are made up of a series of descending levels, so my recommendation for vertically challenged fans who want a good view is to stand a little further from the stage at the front of the next step up—you’ll still be close, but you’ll be able see everything from there.

Buck-Tick were certainly a sight to be seen.  They took the stage to a brand-new remix of “Theme of B-T,” Yutaka emerging first as always, followed by Toll, Hoshino, and Imai.  As during the At the Night Side gigs, they opened with “Elise no Tame ni,” with Sakurai entering last, dressed in the same silver coat and black shirt that he got drenched in last month at the Hibiya Ongakudo.  Toll, too, was dressed in his same 25th anniversary uniform, but the other members had new costumes for the new tour.  The cream lapels of Yutaka’s black suit jacket were embellished with a little black curlicue that exactly matched the curlicue on the standup bass he played later on in the set, but as at Hibiya, Imai’s costume stole the spotlight, quite literally.  The stage lights beamed off his blue satin jacket and sparkled off the plasticky lamé of his golden trousers, which were encrusted with plastic jewels in all colors of the rainbow that looked to have been hastily affixed with copious amounts of hot glue.  And it wasn’t just jewels—Imai had been copious with the hairspray, too—his hair was sticking straight up tonight, in a gloriously thorny halo of shocking orange.

Since they were now three stops into the tour, Buck-Tick were all warmed up and ready to go.  To accommodate their guests, Buck-Tick played shortened sets on this tour.  Merry’s set had lasted about an hour, and Buck-Tick played for another hour, plus a single encore.  As on the previous Parade tour, the set list this time was a sort of digest of popular, catchy songs.  “Elise” was followed by “Dokudanjou Beauty,” then “Hamushi no You ni,” “Misty Zone,” “Tenshi wa Dare da,” “Revolver,” and “Django,” and the band members were as dynamic as the music, coming right up to the edge of the stage so that the fans could get a good look at them.  Imai and Hoshino switched positions halfway through “Dokudanjou Beauty” and remained on each others’ sides of the stage for the rest of the song, each bidding for the admiration of the other’s fans.  Yutaka has a beautiful new bass with a silver metal face plate engraved with intricate designs so subtle that they were only visible to the fans in the first few rows when he came down the stage extension for his own moment in the spotlight.  Yutaka allowed a few fans to slap his round little tushie before retreating back to his usual position, but Sakurai stayed master of the tease, dancing back and forth across the stage extension at a calculated distance just barely out of reach of the fans and their grasping hands, no matter how ardently they screamed, clawed each other, and threw themselves at the stage to try and attract his attention.  When he did step close enough for them to touch him, they swatted at his knees as if to try and prove to themselves he was real, or else hung on like piranhas to whatever part of him they could reach, until he backed off again, paying them very little attention, instead focusing his energy outward, to the fans further back in the crowd, and to the hall at large.

Imai, on the other hand, seemed keenly interested in the attention of the front-row fans. Though he maintained his mask of indifference at all times and carefully avoided making eye contact with anyone, he came down to the front of the stage extension three or four times over the course of the show, planting his feet wide apart at the very edge of the stage as if poised to jump off.  Fans reached out a few tentative hands to his gold plastic pants, but seemed hesitant to touch him as ravenously as they’d been attempting to touch Sakurai a moment before.  Such was their reverence for him that they mostly stayed well clear of his guitar, though it was practically bumping the tops of their heads, while his pointy elbow went up and down above the fretboard, his hips shuffled and his leg kicked.  But when Imai went so far as to crouch down on the stage and stick his sticky, spiky head into the audience, the fans gave up their pretense of cool and grabbed his crunchy hair with eager fingers.  According to one of the fans within grabbing distance, he’d used so much hairspray that his hair left a sticky residue on the fingers of anyone who touched it.

After “Django,” Sakurai addressed the audience.  “This week we’re releasing a new single, and we’re going to play it for you now.  Here it is: ‘Miss Take, boku wa miss take.’”

This single has an undeniably odd title, sounding odder still when intoned by Sakurai’s solemn baritone, but it’s also a great song—as simple and catchy as Elise, but a little more sophisticated and several shades darker in theme.  Fan club members got a taste of it at the At the Night Side show on June 9th, but the band has polished it on the tour since then, and it sounds tighter now, though Imai didn’t always bother to play the guitar arpeggios note for note, which may have been a deliberate choice, but I suspect was something more like nonchalance.  The stage lit up in mysterious blue and green, and the fans stood still and quiet to listen (everyone but the rabid midget fangirls, who kept on trying to horn their way into the front, making numerous enemies in the process.)  Still, for anyone lucky enough not to have elbows in their ribs, it was a beautiful performance.

Following “Miss Take” came “Yumemiru Uchuu.”  In my live report for At the Night Side 2012, I speculated that this song would benefit from more rehearsal and the acoustics of an indoor venue, and Buck-Tick has now proved me right.  At Zepp Nagoya, the song sounded much smoother and more cohesive, the unusual rhythm serving to propel the music, rather than dragging against it.  Though its overall sound is rougher, denser, and more shoegaze, “Yumemiru Uchuu” contains more than a few echoes of “Cosmos” and “Solaris,” and those echoes were reflected in the stage imagery.  As a backdrop to the song, the giant screen of lights at the back of the stage began projecting images of stars and galaxies, which rushed and swirled and at last resolved themselves into an unborn child, floating in space, glowing with white light, like the ending of 2001: a Space Odyssey (though I’m sure Buck-Tick’s starchild was no more a direct reference to that film than their album title Mona Lisa Overdrive was a direct reference to a certain William Gibson novel.)  As the last notes of the music faded out, Sakurai turned his back to the audience and waved at the child as it receded from view, much as he’d waved off the cloud of silver sperm at the end of “Kyouki Deadheat” during the Razzle Dazzle hall tour way back in 2010.  Perhaps the child that was conceived by the silver sperm has now been born, or reborn.  (All hail Solaris Quakeborn, Mother of Tickbugs.)

Though the starchild was beautiful, after two slow songs, it was time to kick the show into high gear again, which the band did by launching into “Muma –The Nightmare–,” the zombie song that refuses to die.  Okay, okay, it’s catchy…but apparently it’s not as danceable as everyone thought, because the fans didn’t dance so much as stand there with their arms in the air, mesmerized by the colorful kaleidoscopic patterns now blooming across the backdrop screen.  Cayce to Buck-Tick: when I am more interested in the backdrop screen than the song you are playing, play a different song for once, please.  There are thirteen songs on 13kai wa Gekkou, most of them good, so why do you refuse to play all but four of them?

Next, Toll kicked into the heavy drumbeats of “Memento Mori,” and Sakurai introduced the band members one by one in time with the music, shouting “Uhh! Ahh!” in between each introduction, until the audience was laughing.  The set finished with “Diabolo,” during which Yutaka playing the standup bass that matched his jacket, and Imai played devilish little carnival-music ornamentations on his guitar during the chorus.

When Buck-Tick came back out for the encore, Imai was wearing the white version of today’s special tour t-shirt, which he’d had autographed by all the members of Merry.  

“Everyone, give a big round of applause for our special guests, Merry!” said Sakurai, and the audience obliged.  “For this next song, I’d like to invite a special guest to sing with me.  Please welcome Merry’s vocalist, Gara!”

Gara came out onstage grinning, looking much looser than he had when his own band had been playing.  Together, he and Sakurai performed “Speed”—the exact same song Sakurai performed together with Balzac’s vocalist Hirosuke at Zepp Osaka, five years ago to the day.  Deliberate or not, it was poetic.  Sakurai has a gift for putting guest vocalists at ease, welcoming them into the center space, playing off them, following their lead.  Improbably, he and Gara had an easy performance chemistry, trading off lines in the bridge, Gara singing, “I was the only one who got crazy” and Sakurai singing “you were still a little too straight,” as if to wag a finger at Gara.  They finished up by singing the chorus back to back, Sakurai facing inward and Gara on the outside, facing the audience.  At the end of the song, Gara left beaming.

The show was winding down.  Buck-Tick finished the encore with “National Media Boys” followed by “Baby, I Want You,” during which Sakurai made a great show of turning his back on the audience and “making out” with himself (the old hands-on-the-back trick.)  And then the night was at an end.

“The Parade continues!” called Sakurai as he bid the fans farewell.

And indeed, it did continue.  When the other band members had finally finished throwing picks and water bottles, and Toll had finished his ritual of bouncing drumsticks off the stage before throwing them into the audience, sticking out his tongue and making monkey faces, the lights went down and bright white letters appeared on the backdrop screen:

The Parade continues
Taking you along
Forever and everywhere
Taking you along
Thank you all so much
Have a good night

The words showed up in succession, and when the message finished, the fans cheered.  And four days later, the Parade continued as promised, this time in Yokohama.

July 4th at Yokohama Blitz (with The Lowbrows)

Despite the fact that it was a weekday afternoon, many fans had showed up early to wait in the blazing hot sun in the line for tour goods.  Yokohama Blitz is an intimate venue with great sound, but it’s located in the windy wastes of Yokohama’s Minato Mirai district, which, though beautifully landscaped, consists largely of big corporate office towers, empty lots full of weeds, and impossibly expensive high-rise apartments whose owners no doubt saw their entire collections of Baccarat glasses smashed to tiny bits during the Great East Japan Nukequake (I have it from personal experience: skyscrapers and earthquakes are not a fun combination.)  Come evening, Minato Mirai is awash in ultra-conservative salarymen going home from work, and when I attend shows at Blitz, I always wonder what the salarymen think of the sorts of people who hang around Blitz before shows, smoking and drinking beer.  Salarymen smoke and drink beer too, of course, but they don’t usually do it in fishnets and stiletto heels, or while cosplaying as Sakurai Atsushi.

As expected, many old faces we’d seen in Nagoya showed up again in Yokohama, most of them veteran fans from Tokyo who have been following Buck-Tick tours for years and years, and are jaded enough at this point that they’ll wait till the last minute before entering the venue in order to drink their fill of beer in advance of the show—especially appropriate, because tonight’s guests were the house/techno DJ unit The Lowbrows, who might sound more at home in a boozy nightclub than a big live house like Yokohama Blitz.  Unfortunately, some fans missed the memo that this was dance club night in Buck-Tick land.  Once inside Blitz, the crowd of fans crushed in even harder than it had in Nagoya, making dancing difficult.

It’s a pity the crowd was so badly behaved, because The Lowbrows were easily the most refreshing and unusual guests on this tour.  DJs Chaki and Emi wore identical black hoods when they came out onstage, to stand stone-faced behind a table covered with all their mixing equipment, draped with their black and white banner.  So much electronic music these days is pre-recorded that it’s really a joy to see DJs like The Lowbrows, who do their mixing live.  Also, after the last Parade festival and the embarrassment of Emika, the jumped-up anime bimbeen who was supposed to perform “backup vocals” for Attack Haus, but in fact did little more than bounce around the stage and forget the small number of lyrics she’d been asked to learn, seeing a real honest-to-god female DJ is also a joy.  DJ Emi never opened her mouth except to record a few heavily filtered vocal samples, but her fingers never left the consoles—she’s half the band, not Chaki’s booth babe, and that, more than anything, is what makes The Lowbrows a breath of fresh air.  It also doesn’t hurt that The Lowbrows know how to mix. They continually modulated their sounds, adding and subtracting samples so that the music stayed engaging, never falling into the lazy DJ trap of repeating one initially sweet phrase so many times that it becomes boring.  The heavy beats vibrated in the floor and up to the balconies, where Imai stood leaning on the railing, gazing out over the crowd and listening to the show, while his shiny gold pants shone reflected the stage lights out into the hall like a blazing beacon.  Though expressionless as always, something about his posture made it obvious he was enjoying himself.

Even for Buck-Tick fans who don’t like techno (who are you and why do you even like Buck-Tick if you don’t like techno?) it must have been fun to hear The Lowbrows sample Buck-Tick songs throughout their set.  In addition to playing their fantastic remix of “Elise no Tame ni,” they sampled the guitar riffs from “Uta,” “Speed,” and “Mienai Mono,” before playing a full-on sax-synth remix of “Jupiter” that could easily put Mucc’s wet-knickered bootlicking fanboy cover to shame (sorry, Mucc, but there’s a difference between a cover and a copy.)  It would have been nice to be able to properly dance to the music, but the venue was just too crowded—too many fans, too much anticipation, too little of Acchan’s satin buttocks to go around.  Though many fans were cheering at the end of the set, neither Chaki nor Emi said anything before leaving.  They merely raised their hands silently at the audience and strode off the stage.

Tonight, Buck-Tick played the same set list as they had in Nagoya, and even wore mostly the same costumes, though Sakurai was dressed differently—rather than the silver roses coat from Hibiya, tonight, he was wearing a short suit jacket, done in a beautiful multicolored fabric patterned with paint spatters.  Under the jacket was a contrasting spatter-print vest in red and silver, with subtle motifs of moons and sakura blossoms worked into the pattern.  Tonight, Imai hadn’t put his hair up, but Sakurai had pulled his hair back into a teeny-tiny little pigtail that vanished sometime before “Hamushi no You ni.”  Given the lack of a stage extension at Blitz, much of the physical band-crowd interaction also vanished, but Sakurai did oblige the fans by briefly jumping off the stage and running along the railing for just enough time to allow some intrepid fangirls to attempt to yank out his budding tendrils of pigtail before they achieve maturity.  Luckily, the fangirls failed.

During the encore set, Imai continued his tradition of wearing a tour t-shirt autographed by the guest of the day, but unfortunately The Lowbrows did not make a reappearance to live mix with Buck-Tick.  This time, for the encore, Buck-Tick played “Iconoclasm” and “Makka na Yoru” before finishing up with “Baby.”  After the band had left the stage, “the Parade will continue” message appeared again, but fans seemed less focused on cheering than they were on fighting for floor space in which to search for Yutaka-picks that might have slipped through someone else’s fingers.  Shame on you, fans.

July 6th at Zepp DiverCity Tokyo (with Pay Money to My Pain)

A mere two days later, the Parade continued to its penultimate stop, the first of two back-to-back nights at Zepp DiverCity Tokyo, the city’s newest and second-largest live house.  Yes, that’s right, second-largest.  Contrary to popular belief, the original Zepp Tokyo (which still stands tall and proud) can hold 300 more people than DiverCity.    And (assuming they had a choice), it’s a mystery to me as to why Buck-Tick picked DiverCity rather than plain old Zepp Tokyo for this tour, because while DiverCity may have a life-sized Gundam guarding its doors, and sit in a chokingly commercial brand-spanking-new shopping mall complex full of twenty-something gyaru-mamas with armloads of screaming snot-nosed children, when compared with its elder brother Zepp [too dignified for a nickname] Tokyo, Zepp DiverCity Tokyo is vastly inferior in all ways.  

How is DiverCity inferior?  Well, Zepp Tokyo the Elder has a huge bank of coin lockers conveniently located outside the venue doors, so as to be available to fans to lock their crap away in whenever they want, including hours before the show.  Why is this important?  Because everyone wants to lock up their crap before they go in the venue.  Once the venue doors open, no one wants to have to waste valuable time putting their crap in a coin locker when instead, they could be running as fast as possible toward the buttocks-groping sweet spot in the center of the front railing.  You would think, from years of hosting wild and crazy rock concerts, that the Zepp Committee would have come to understand how fangirl minds work, and applied this understanding to the design of their new venue, but no.  At Zepp DiverCity Tokyo, (or Zepp EpicFail Tokyo, as I like to call it), the coin lockers are located in an underground vault that can only be accessed once the venue doors open.  Furthermore, as soon as fans enter the venue (and before they are allowed to access the coin locker vault), they must submit to a bag inspection, in which the venue staff will ask, “do you have a camera?”  Cayce to venue staff: no one would have their cameras on them if you’d allowed them to lock the cameras safely away in coin lockers before entering the goddamn venue.  You have the order backwards!  Design epic fail.

To add to the discomfort, Zepp EpicFail is located entirely underground.  Do I like the fact that I don’t know where the emergency exits are?  No.  Would I want to be stuck in this venue in a big earthquake?  Hell no.  At DiverCity, the live hall proper is reachable only by a twisting, windowless flight of squeaky, slippery gray stairs so new that they still smell like they’re off-gassing lots of volatile aromatic compounds leftover from whatever demonic factory produced them.  Down and down the stairs lead, until finally they deposit you in a place that might not be Hell but is something like Limbo—a chamber with ceilings higher than it is wide, that calls itself a lobby but more closely resembles a prairie dog burrow, with meaningless cul-de-sacs sprouting off in all directions—lockers here, toilets there, venue staff checking tickets in the middle of it all getting in everyone’s way, and the drink bar all the way at the end of a hallway so narrow you can hardly even reach the beer.  

The drink bar is probably the crowning failure of Zepp EpicFail.  Usually, some fans will get their drinks before and during the show, but most of them wait until after the show is over.  Nothing like a nice cold beer after a violent standing show, but at a venue that can hold 2,000+ people, the post-show the line for the bar is longer than Long Cat.  At above-ground venues like Yokohama Blitz and Zepp Tokyo the Elder, these long lines aren’t much of a problem—the bar is wide, the bartenders pour the drinks nonstop, all the doors open, fans spill outside onto the street to wait their turn, and things move quickly.  But since Zepp EpicFail is three storeys underground, letting fans spill out onto the street isn’t an option, so instead, the venue staff send them up a special auxiliary staircase purpose-built for drink lines.  Windowless, poorly lit and even more poorly ventilated, it winds upward toward the light like a spelunker’s nightmare, and fans get a brief respite of waiting outside, before they have to re-enter the venue and go back down another similarly cramped staircase, all the way back to the bar.  Claustrophobes, you’ve been warned: when attending a show at Zepp EpicFail, get your drink before or during the show, or be prepared to pop an Ativan before getting in line.  But if push comes to shove, rather than solving your problems with drugs, I suggest that you just give your 500 yen up for lost and go get a can of ice-cold Ebisu for 250 yen down at the 7-11 near the station.

In short, Zepp DiverCity Tokyo totally sucks.  But perversely, DiverCity was kind of the perfect place for Friday’s guest, Pay Money to My Pain (or Pain In My Ass, as they were quickly nicknamed by the fans.)  Just as a stupid question deserves a stupid answer, a stupid band deserves a stupid venue.

Reportedly, Imai is the reason Pay Money to My Pain appeared on this tour.  I would be tempted to believe that claiming that Imai was responsible for PMTP was just a smear campaign launched by the indignant fangirls Imai mocked on his blog, to besmirch Imai’s snow-white reputation as the final arbiter of all good musical taste, except Imai said it himself on live TV—“I heard Pay Money to My Pain’s CD, and I was impressed, so I invited them to participate in the Parade Tour.”

To which I say, dear Mr. Imai, have you been sniffing at those Lucy Sky Diamonds again, or has all that hair dye simply caused you to lose your mind?  How is it that someone with musical tastes as refined as yours can fail to realize that Pay Money to My Pain are the most derivative, juvenile, preposterously self-serious bunch of America-worshipping Linkin-Park-loving white-guy wannabes Japan has ever seen?  Every guitar riff, every drum rhythm, every melodic hook in every song they have ever written has already been done once, twice, or fifteen times by System of a Down, Limp Bizkit, Korn, Slipknot, or all of them together.  And not only do PMTP’s songs sound like a nu-metal copyband musical madlib, but all their lyrics are written exclusively in English, seeded liberally with such scintillating turns of phrase as “sometimes life is not fair,” “you’re full of shit,” “fuck this world,” and “get your ass out of my town bitch.”

Furthermore, K, the vocalist from whence these lyrics spring, looks like an NPC from Grand Theft Auto San Andreas.  When the show started, he came out onstage with his best American-style swagger, his bleached-blond hair buzzed short, his muscles jacked up from hours at the gym.  At the beginning of the set, he was wearing a white t-shirt and baggy shorts, but no more than three songs had gone by before he stripped off the t-shirt, eager to show off his chiseled torso, inked black with tacky tattoos.  For their parts, the other members of the band were also pretty good living answers to the question, “how does an Asian guy cosplay a white guy?”

Though there were pauses in between songs, it quickly became difficult to tell one song from another, because all the songs sounded more or less the same.  It was even more difficult to tell which one of these identical songs was PMTP’s cover of “love letter.”  But if you’ve ever had a secret burning desire to hear Sakurai Atsushi death-growl in a trashy American accent, this cover might bring you closer to your forbidden fantasy.

Even so, PMTP were so bad that in a way, watching them was terribly entertaining—or would have been if not for the crowd surfers.  Imai, who had once again been watching from the comfort and safety of the balcony, remarked on his blog afterward that watching Buck-Tick fans encounter crowd surfers was “interesting.”  To which I say, Maimai darling, if you think it’s so interesting why don’t you come down and join in, eh?  I’m sure someone here would be willing to accidentally kick you in the face.  All in good fun, of course.  All in good fun.

Many Buck-Tick fans who had bravely weathered the first set breathed audible sighs of relief when PMTP were done at last and Buck-Tick came on the stage, but unfortunately, the crowd violence hardly let up at all.

“Let’s take care of each other and make sure no one gets hurt,” said Sakurai, but the fangirls wouldn’t listen.  Some of them had glued white feathers to their middle fingers, in homage to the Miss Take photobook, but they couldn’t hold a candle to the feathers Sakurai had in his hair.  Tonight instead of a bitsy pigtail, he’d only tied the top section of his hair back, and accented it with two long, pointy black quills.  When heshook his hair free halfway through the set and the feathers fell to the floor, Yutaka rushed over, scooped them up, and handed them to two of the fans in the front row.  Buck-Tick played the same set list they’d played on Wednesday, though this time Imai played the arpeggios of “Miss Take” with studio-level accuracy.  

Then, close to the end of the set, the stage went dark, and Imai began picking out a tune on his guitar.  This, too, is a flashback to the last Parade Tour—though it was a day early, Imai was playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” in honor of Tanabata.

“Lovely Tanabata,” Sakurai called.  “Kanpai!”  And the band started to play “Diabolo.”  As before, Imai put in his evil-circus guitar variations, but what made this performance special was the glitter.  When the last chorus of the song came around, big round drums hanging on the ceiling in front of the proscenium burst open, to rain down shiny silver confetti all over the front ten rows of the audience, like a deluge of shooting stars.  It stuck to sweaty hands and faces, and some fans wiped it away, but others grasped for a few silver flakes to take home as mementoes.  When the glitter stopped falling, the band left the stage.

When they came back out for the encore, Imai was dressed in yet another white tour t-shirt, this time autographed by the members of Pay Money to My Pain, but PMTP themselves were mercifully absent.  Sakurai was also wearing a tour t-shirt, in black with the sleeves rolled up to the tops of his shoulders.

“We’re going to play you a new song tonight,” he said.  “This will be on our new album.  The chorus is simple, so if you think you can, please sing along.  Here it is: ‘Climax Together’!”

Fans who went to the Fish Tank only show at the Hibiya Ongakudo on June 9th may have heard this song live already, but to everyone else it was ostensibly new…only I can’t shake the feeling that it’s been kicking around secretly as background music for some of Buck-Tick’s recent television appearances, because it sounds disturbingly familiar, and not just because parts of it bear distinct resemblance to “Bolero.”  It’s too bad Buck-Tick decided not to play “Only You” on this tour, because “Only You” and “Climax Together” fit together very well, musically and thematically…both are feel-good, catchy up-tempo numbers, and though “Climax Together” may not be quite so boogie-woogie fabulous, it still has a similar retro feel to it, especially the slow coda at the end.  This is sure to be another one of those big singalong live hits like “Memento Mori.”  The chorus was indeed simple, and soon most of the fans were singing:

“We love you all
I wanna hold you
Hey baby, are you ready?
Underneath that sky
We could go to the edge of the universe
At this level”

And typically, these lyrics contain an untranslatable pun, because in Japanese, “going” can also be “coming,” at least when the song is about climaxing together, if you know what I mean.

July 7th at Zepp DiverCity Tokyo (with D’erlanger)

This, the last day of the tour, was held on Tanabata proper.  As it was a Saturday, the DiverCity mall was packed to the gills with shoppers intent on squandering their money and precious weekend time on suffocating amounts of cheap merchandise and food-court food.  No such luxury for the intrepid followers of Buck-Tick.  Though the morning’s drizzle quickly turned to a downpour, the fans had to wait outside getting soaked as the venue staff called line numbers through megaphones so fuzzy no one could hear what they were saying.  Tonight’s special guest was D’Erlanger, legends in their own right who have been around almost as long as Buck-Tick, making this concert an especially big deal for fans of the late-80’s Japanese rock scene.

However, I’m betting more money than your pain is worth that Imai had a few regretful thoughts about tonight’s booking, because on this same day, less than an hour away in Makuhari, Chiba Prefecture, Sakamoto Ryuichi was busy hosting his big anti-nuclear music festival No Nukes 2012, at which both Yellow Magic Orchestra and Kraftwerk were performing.  The way Imai tells it, YMO was one of the bands that first inspired him to become a musician, and no one who’s worked as extensively with electronic music as Imai has can deny the influence of Kraftwerk.  YMO and Kraftwerk on the same stage might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I wager, or at least hope, that Imai was as disappointed about not being able to go see that show as I was.  But that’s the problem with Tokyo—on any given day, there are always too many things to do.

I’m not familiar enough with D’Erlanger to be able to say what songs they played, but they certainly put on a good show, paying Pay Money to My Pain to shame.  D’Erlanger have been credited with being one of the first true visual kei bands, and they, like Buck-Tick, have had a tremendous influence on the bands that came after.  Kyo, the vocalist of D’Erlanger, had a particularly large influence on his younger namesake, Kyo of Dir en grey, and though Kyo the Younger was nowhere to be seen, Dir en grey’s guitarist Die could be glimpsed watching the show from the second floor, along with a number of other visual kei dignitaries.  Whether or not D’Erlanger really pioneered visual kei, they definitely solidified the archetypal visual kei sound.  What really sets D’Erlanger apart, though, are their funky, unusual rhythms—D’Erlanger are hard and heavy, but not straight—they’ve got swing.  Their cover of “Iconoclasm,” however, is all metal, much like the Runaway Boys version of “Monster.”  D’Erlanger’s “Iconoclasm” is louder and screamier than J’s “Iconoclasm” from the first Parade album, but it hangs together well, and thought it remains largely faithful to the original song, it maintains a unique enough sound to hold its own, rather than sounding like a copy.

Also, it’s a testament to how much impact D’Erlanger has had on the music scene that after their set was over, a whole crowd of their fans left the pit.  These fans had come to see D’Erlanger and were content to watch Buck-Tick from further back…but they were soon replaced with even more Buck-Tick fans, and how.  Buck-Tick came on stage to wild applause and got through “Elise” just fine, but halfway through the first verse of “Dokudanjou Beauty,” Imai stopped playing guitar, signaled to Sakurai to stop singing, and Sakurai signaled for the whole show to come to a halt.

“What’s going on down there?” Sakurai asked, peering down into the crowd in front of Imai’s side of the stage.  “Are you all right?  Is anyone hurt?”

It was hard to tell what had happened, but it appeared that a group of fans had made a made charge for Imai, rushing the stage en masse from the doors at house left, ruthlessly knocking over everyone who dared to stand in their way.  Security guards had their hands full lifting fan after fainting fan out of the pit, while Sakurai urged everyone to calm down.  “Take a deep breath, and a step back,” he said.  “Is anyone dead?  No?  Good.  I hope no one’s hurt.  Just take a deep breath, calm down, and we can start the show again.  No one’s dead, right?”

Luckily no one was dead, and it didn’t look like anyone was hurt, either.  Sakurai remained calm and polite, and didn’t chastise the fans for their behavior, but I hope it was a good wake-up call to the people who had been consistently making trouble in the crowd throughout this tour.  In all my years of attending Japanese concerts, I have never before seen a show stopped due to crowd violence, and I’m sorry Buck-Tick had to be the first one.  For the last time: everyone has more fun when people just chill the fuck out.

Tonight was the same set list yet again, but more glitter came raining down at the end of “Diabolo,” and when Buck-Tick came back out for the encore, Kyo joined them, in a tour t-shirt he’d already broken in quite well by slicing it up artfully with scissors.  Together with Sakurai, he performed a reprise of “Iconoclasm,” this time in Buck-Tick’s arrangement, not D’Erlanger’s.  And however good Gara may have looked onstage with Sakurai, Kyo looked better—they are both seasoned professionals who really know how to put on a show.  After the song was over, Kyo retired offstage again, but his fans cheered him till he’d vanished in the wings.

Next, Buck-Tick played “Climax Together” again, and this time Sakurai spent a few minutes teaching the fans the chorus beforehand.  Though many of them couldn’t manage to catch the English words, they sang along eagerly anyway.  And since this was the end of the tour, as a special treat, Buck-Tick played an extra encore song, following “Climax Together” with “National Media Boys,” and then “Baby, I Want You.”

“Thank you so much,” said Sakurai.  “But the Parade is not over.  Join us again on September 22nd and 23rd in Chiba Port Park, for our outdoor festival!  We love you all!  Goodnight!”

And thus concluded a very intense Buck-Tick week.

But for those of you who missed it, don’t worry—all the guests who appeared on the Parade Tour 2012 will be performing in September at the On Parade festival, along with a whole slew of artists who participated in the Parade II tribute album but not the tour.  And for those of you who attended the Parade Tour but wish you could attend it again because it was so much fun, you may yet get a vicarious chance.  Throughout the tour there were cameras everywhere, filming not only the shows, but also fans milling around outside the venues, accidentally dropping their tour goods on the ground, pulling the keys to their coin lockers out of their cleavage, and squeeing about how Toll threw them his wood.  When the next Rest Rooms documentary comes out, if you’re lucky, you may find that you have been immortalized making an ass of yourself on Buck-Tick candid camera for all time.  But even if they caught you on camera doing something really stupid, don’t fret—if it made Acchan laugh you should be more than happy.

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