Buck-Tick Yagami Toll 50th Birthday Live "It's A Now!"
Buck-Tick/Auto-Mod/Der Zibet/Loopus/Yagami Toll & the New Blue Sky
August 19th at Club Citta' Kawasaki
Live Report by Cayce

Oh, here came that day: the day Buck-Tick’s big brother turned 50.  Just as the band is celebrating their 25th anniversary, Yagami Toll is celebrating his half-century on earth anniversary.  If you think that deserves a really stupendous celebration, then you’re right.  Though Buck-Tick’s Parade Festival, to be held in September in Chiba Port Park, will be much greater in scale than Mr. Yagami’s birthday festival, in some ways, Mr. Yagami’s birthday festival is closer to Buck-Tick’s heart.  While the Parade festival will showcase younger bands who have looked up to and been influenced by Buck-Tick over the years, Toll’s birthday celebrations offered the unique and thrilling opportunity for Buck-Tick to play on the same stage with bands they’ve grown up together with.  Classmates, as it were.  Buck-Tick hasn’t played with Chuuya and Der Zibet on the regular tour circuit since back in the 80’s, so in addition to this being just about the best birthday bash ever, it also felt a little like a high-school reunion, celebrating 25 years of eyeliner and backstage beer.  That Mr. Chuuya of Loopus and Mr. Issay of Der Zibet also both celebrated their 50th birthdays earlier this year just added to the effect.  Happy birthday to like, everybody.

If you think that Yagami Toll is the sort of person who would relish a big party, you’re right again.  Though Mr. Yagami is a serious musician who was playing in bands before Imai Hisashi ever even knew how to hold a guitar, he’s also Buck-Tick’s resident goofball, rarely to be seen without a smile on his face, ready to stick his tongue out or erupt in gales of laughter at any moment.  And he may be the Buck-Tick member with the fewest shrieking fangirls, but he’s won an eternal place in the hearts of those fangirls’ children.  Toll is the most popular band member among the elementary-school aged children of first-generation Buck-Tick fans, and no wonder—with his ridiculous hair, autographed bananas, and clown stunts, what’s not for a child to love?  Toll’s young at heart—he may be Higuchi Yutaka’s older brother, but Sakurai isn’t the only person who has pointed out over the years that sometimes, looking at their goofing, it’s hard to tell who is the younger brother and who’s the elder.  However, observing Toll’s effect on the music scene over the years, it becomes pretty clear that he’s unquestionably the elder.  It’s not just the Buck-Tick members who call him “Anii” (“elder brother”).  Everyone calls him “Anii.”  Even people who are older than he is call him “Anii.”  In fact, recently they have begun to call him “Anii-san” which kind of goes against the rules of Japanese nicknaming.  And if Anii is serious about anything, he’s serious about drumming.  At this point in his career, he has mentored countless younger drummers.  He’s been an older brother to the whole music scene (for a time he was also the CEO of Buck-Tick, Inc. and had to wear a suit with cufflinks and a tie bar to work.  Don’t mess with Toll.  He’s THE BOSS.)

Plus, without Yagami Toll, Buck-Tick would never have become what they are today.  When Buck-Tick first formed, the drummer was none other than Sakurai Atsushi—apathetic, ill-suited to the job, and utterly wasted hidden behind the bongos at the back of the stage.  Just imagine how fast Buck-Tick would have crashed and burned, if Sakurai had stayed the drummer!  Arguably, Toll saved the band—when Toll joined, he allowed Mr. Sakurai to come out into the spotlight where he belongs, and at the same time gave Buck-Tick his seriousness, experience, and that firm, steady, rhythmic support that has tied their songs together ever since.  Toll’s drum technique isn’t virtuosic or flashy—it’s minimalist and mechanical.  In contrast to showoff drummers like Yoshiki, Toll’s rhythms are as much about what he doesn’t hit as about what he does.  But it’s precisely that lack of excess that gives Toll’s style such unique impact, and makes it perfectly suited to Buck-Tick’s signature compositional structure—licks, rhythms and melodies that are laughably simple on their own, yet when layered over each other, miraculously synergize into a kaleidoscope of perfect pop.  Time to pop the champagne.

None of the bands who joined Toll to celebrate this special occasion have enjoyed anywhere near as much success or fame as Buck-Tick, but they all share a personal connection with our dear Anii that showed through the whole performance.  These guys aren’t just colleagues, they’re friends, and that friendly attitude made something about the entire evening seem like a big, tongue-in-cheek joke.  The joking atmosphere was only amplified by the fact that all the staff members in the venue were outfitted in t-shirts that had been printed especially for the occasion, bearing the words “Yagami Toll 50th Birthday Live IT’S A NOW” stenciled in large yellow letters above a cartoon drawing of Toll and his hair, standing at attention behind a Gretsch drum set, looking fierce.  This same image adorned the tour goods as well as the large banner hanging over the stage.

As for the stage…Club Citta’ Kawasaki has a big stage!  Der Zibet had just performed on the Club Citta’ stage as part of the Chain the Rock Festival the previous day, so they had earned the right to act jaded and over it, but in fact, neither Der Zibet nor Loopus nor Auto-Mod get a chance to play on a stage as big as the one at Citta’ very often.  So despite the fact that tickets to this show were near impossible to get ahold of through the normal means (thanks to intrepid ticket scalpers), and despite the fact that the venue capacity was oversold in the first place so there were far more Buck-Tick fans mobbing the entrance than there should have been, fans of the other bands on the bill were also out in force.  These non-Buck-Tick fans looked strangely at the Buck-Tick fans as if unable to quite believe how many of them there were.  However, all the fans of all the bands were dressed head to toe in black.  Not even 33-degree weather stops an elder goth at the Event of the Season, not even when the doors open twenty minutes late, by which point the unfortunate wearers of vinyl corsets are in danger of passing out from heat exhaustion.  That’s what those tour towels are for, guys—to mop off the rivulets of sweat.

Inside the venue, the fans quickly packed the hall from one end to the other, until there was literally no room to move.  Luckily, Citta’ has a special lounge area upstairs, complete with a full bar.  Fans who didn’t care about worming their way up to the front came up here for a chance to relax, drink their drink of choice, and pretend not to be staring at Shinya of Dir en grey, who was busy looking beautiful in the bar’s far corner, ignoring everyone.

When the show finally started at 5:30 PM, the first band up were Toll’s new session band, Yagami Toll & the New Blue Sky.  As the lights went down, “Yagami Toll & the New Blue Sky” came up in on the LED board hanging below the banner over the stage.

“Yagami Toll 50th Birthday, It’s A Now!  Yagami Toll and the New Blue Sky!” called the pre-recorded voice of a Japanese announcer, speaking English in an overzealous imitation of an American accent.  And then everyone who just loved the sleazy weirdness of Toll’s solo album got a thrill as Toll’s cover of Carol’s “Funky Monkey Baby” came on over the speakers.  Toll doesn’t have much of a singing voice, but this time it filled the whole hall.  The New Blue Sky members came out onto the stage one by one, and when “Funky Monkey Baby” was over, the lights came up and the show began.

Given the name of the band, some fans might have wondered if The New Blue Sky would play lounge rock as strange as the old Blue Sky, but it was immediately obvious that the New Blue Sky are completely different to their previous incarnation.  Dressed in black leather pants and jackets and sporting “regent” hairstyles to a man, they rocked and rolled through a set of some of Toll’s favorite classic rock songs from his youth—the greatest hits of Carol, mostly.  Even Toll’s mohawk had been arranged to look more like a “regent,” and when questioned after the show, he confessed that his red neck scarf was also a nod to Carol.  It isn’t often that a musician of Toll’s stature gets to simply have fun playing covers of his favorite oldies, especially not in front of such an enthusiastic audience.  Toll grinned through the entire set, sticking out his tongue and laughing as the band members paused several times during the penultimate song to strike ridiculous poses with their guitars.  Toll attempted to imitate the poses from behind the drum set, but he couldn’t always manage it successfully, and he laughed twice as hard when he failed as when he succeeded.  But like a good warm-up act, the New Blue Sky’s set was short and sweet.  With smiles and bows, they were offstage after a mere five songs, to make way for the next band of the evening, Loopus.

Despite having high-profile band members, being active for fifteen years, being technically brilliant and being signed to a major label, Loopus is a singularly low-profile band.  In my opinion this is a crying shame, but perhaps it’s by design...Loopus don’t promote themselves that much, and it may be deliberate.  Loopus is fronted by vocalist Chuuya, formerly of post-punk 80’s underground sensation Allergy, a brilliant band that met an untimely end when its fiercely talented female bassist and main composer U-co drowned herself in a canal in Venice at the age of 25 (now THAT’s what I call a rock-n-roll suicide!)  Following the demise of Allergy, Chuuya joined glam-pop act De+Lax, along with former Boowy drummer Takahashi Makoto.  In the early 90’s, De+Lax gained quite a bit of mainstream fame, and frequently appeared on television programs with Buck-Tick, some of which are still kicking around YouTube, so look them up if you’re interested.

When De+Lax broke up, Chuuya went back to the Dark Side and started Loopus.  De+Lax has since reformed, and now the two bands coexist independently, drawing vastly different crowds of fans.  While even some Buck-Tick fans considered De+Lax “too pop,” Loopus is surely darker than darkness, and a live band to the core.  Buying their albums is all well and good, but really and truly, you haven’t heard Loopus until you’ve heard them live.  Guitarist Ritsu, formerly the youngest member of Endo Michiro’s legendary punk act The Stalin (yes, you heard me right!) never plays any song the same way twice, so Loopus’s studio recordings are less like definitive versions of their songs, and more like an outline in a coloring book that Ritsu scribbles over during every live show—the arrangements are different every time.  But Loopus’s stage performance isn’t purely about songs, either—though they have their roots as deeply in post-punk as Buck-Tick do, another part of their aesthetic also holds a distinct element in common with improvisational jazz groups such as The Cinematic Orchestra.  One song bleeds into another via a moody, melancholic dreamscape of echoing sounds over which Chuuya dances tormented, Butoh-inspired scenes, crouching on the stage in a frayed black kimono beneath a single orange spotlight.

The stage stayed very dark as Loopus entered.  Ritsu entered first, his hair sprayed up into a huge black mohawk, like he’d just walked straight out of 1980’s London.  Amid low dark orange mood lights, he held a cello bow to the strings of his guitar, and scraped out low, groaning sounds as the other band members followed him onto the stage.  Ritsu doesn’t usually bow his guitar, so this must have been a special performance in honor of the occasion.  When all the members had taken position, the lights came up and the band started into “Fascinate Love.”

At their best, Loopus create an immersive soundscape like a sonic watercolor, but they are unused to playing venues as large as Citta’, and perhaps this was why they had failed to balance their sound levels appropriately.  Chuuya’s voice has an eccentric, soft, broad quality that some people love and others can’t stand, but love it or hate it, it carries (no trashing here, Cayce loves Chuuya’s voice.)  However, at this concert, Chuuya’s vocals were almost drowned out by Ritsu’s guitar, which was turned up far too loud.  Ritsu is a stellar guitarist, but unfortunately, the band sounded their best when only the bass and the drums were playing, though this may partly have been an artifact of the fact that we were watching the show from the second floor.  It’s quite possible that the acoustics were better on the main level.

After “Fascinate Love” came “Biorising,” followed by “Rest in Peace,” one of the band’s most mysterious and beautiful songs, written in memory of one of Chuuya’s many deceased friends.  Chuuya crawled and slithered across the stage, hands grasping, face contorting, the floor spots illuminating his kimono from behind, so all the red and gold patterns shone like a stained glass window.  We’d been hoping Loopus would play our favorite song “Scarlet Spider,” for which there exists no studio recording, but instead they played their perennial live favorite “Shift,” in yet another new arrangement.  When the song was finished, Chuuya paused to address the crowd.

“I knew a lot of people who have already crossed over to the better world,” Chuuya said.  “But Anii’s still living, and we’re still living.  If you put my age and Anii’s age together,we’d add up to a whole century!  So happy birthday, Anii!”

The audience laughed and cheered, and Loopus started into their last song of the evening, “Muteki na Aquarius” (“Invincible Aquarius.”)  Aquarius is Chuuya’s Zodiac sign, so this is really Chuuya’s birthday song, not Toll’s (Toll is a roaring Lion of Leo), but it’s the thought that counts.  Chuuya threw off his kimono and strode back and forth across the stage, flexing his muscles.  “Happy birthday!” he called when the song finished, and Ritsu rounded off the set with a roar of shrieking feedback.  After only five songs, Loopus was offstage, but the show was far from over.

The next band of the evening were the highly anticipated Der Zibet.  Though Der Zibet and Buck-Tick are personal friends and have a lot of fans in common, they haven’t played a show together since the Six/Nine tour, on which Issay performed as a guest vocalist.  But since Der Zibet’s miraculous comeback in 2008 following a thirteen year hiatus, the band has been making out making up for lost time with a vengeance.  After releasing Nostalgic Future, a full-length album of re-arranged versions of old songs (a la Buck-Tick’s NOT Greatest Hits) in November 2010, and performing extensive live gigs including several “unplugged” acoustic shows, this summer, Der Zibet released two back-to-back full-length studio albums of entirely new material, entitled Romanoid I and Romanoid II.  Though they’ve run into a few problems along the way, including the health crisis of drummer Mayumi which caused him to take a brief break from the band, they’ve hung in there and their style has continued to evolve and branch out in new directions from its original twisted glam-rock roots.  The band’s new albums further develop the unusual chromatic and whole-tone scale patterns that guitarist and main composer Hikaru began experimenting with on Primitive (the first album released since their comeback, in 2009), and in addition to the staple glam, 70’s funk, and straight rock-n-roll sounds on tracks like “Egoist-tachi no Love Game,” “Kurutta Wakusei,” and “Shelter?,” both Romanoid albums also contain heavy infusions of vintage chanson and carnival music.  “Utakata no Butoukai” sounds like Der Zibet’s answer to Buck-Tick’s “Lullaby III,” and tracks like “Dream of Severin,” “Sepia Iro no Melody,” “Hadashi no Lady Doll” and “Passing Love” take the cabaret circus vibe that has always been present beneath the surface of the band’s music to a much more overt and expressive level.

If any of you readers out there still think that Issay is imitating Sakurai’s aesthetic: you’ve got it exactly backwards.  As Mr. Sakurai has detailed in a number of interviews over the years, it was his introduction to Der Zibet and his friendship with Issay in Buck-Tick’s early years (before they got famous!) that inspired him to take a turn down the dark and gothic path and shape Buck-Tick’s transformation into an edgy underground band with the releases of Taboo and Aku no Hana.  Since meeting in the late 80’s, Sakurai and Issay have collaborated multiple times, on such songs as “Koi no Hallelujah” off Issay’s kayokyoku cover album Flowers (1994), and “Itoshi no Rock Star,” off Buck-Tick’s album Six/Nine (1995).  For some strange reason, though their voices sound distinctly different on their individual records, they sound so much alike on their collaborations that a large proportion of newer Buck-Tick fans still have no idea that Sakurai isn’t singing the whole of “Itoshi no Rock Star” himself (if this applies to you, go ahead and listen to the song again.  That’s not a voice filter, it’s an entirely different vocalist, okay?)

However, perhaps the most famous collaboration between these two was the song “Masquerade,” off Der Zibet’s album Shishunki -Downer Side- (released in 1991).  Imai also appeared as a guest guitarist on this same album, on “4D Vision no Rasen Kaidan” (“Spiral Staircase in 4D”), and both Sakurai and Imai appeared in the live show Der Zibet played at the Kudan Kaikan in Kudanshita to support the album (fun fact: part of the ceiling of the Kudan Kaikan fell in during the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.  For realz.)  Though all Imai did during this performance was stand onstage and play guitar, Sakurai’s performance with Issay became something of a legend among Buck-Tick and Der Zibet fans alike, due to its shameless and unprecedented display of homoeroticism.  As expected, the fangirls all wet their knickers in excitement, and remember the experience to this day with a disturbingly titillated glee.  To those with itty-bitty vocabularies who couldn’t understand the last two sentences: Sakurai and Issay made out onstage and it was fangirl pr0n and no one has been able to forget it since.

In 2010, Sakurai rejoined Issay to record a rearranged version of “Masquerade” for Der Zibet’s self-cover album Nostalgic Future.  Though both of them have matured considerably as vocalists since the original recording, they sound nearly as alike in the rearranged version as in the original version.  In short, there appears to be some voodoo between these two.  Before the show, the audience was rife with fangirl murmurs.  Would Sakurai make another guest appearance?  It seemed like a golden opportunity.

However, when Der Zibet’s new stage entrance theme “Voice of the Cell” came up over the speakers and the band took the stage, there was no Sakurai in sight.  Unfortunately, Mahito, Der Zibet’s stupendously brilliant jazz-piano BAMF of a keyboardist, was unable to participate in this show, due to his having to play BAMF jazz at some silly jazz club in Shibuya (n.b. “BAMF” = Bad Ass Mother Fxxker).  Mahito was therefore replaced by Kanze, Der Zibet’s new support member, who is just about young enough to be the son of any of the original band members, but has already proven himself by standing in admirably for Mayumi on drums during Mayumi’s medical hiatus.  Mayumi has recovered and is back with the band now, so Kanze filled in for Mahito on keyboards and percussion.  He’s not quite the pianist that Mahito is, but then, few people are.

Though in general, the band members were less dressed up and glittery than they sometimes are, Issay was wearing his favorite floor-length red velvet coat and practically swept the stage with it as the band opened with their newest up-tempo theme song number, “Downer King”—a song which, belying its name, is anything but a downer.  Though some of the synth melodies were still hard to discern, in general the sound was more balanced overall than it had been for Loopus, and the vocals were more audible—good thing, too, because Der Zibet would be nothing without their vocalist.  Over the years, Issay has spawned a personality cult at least as terrifying robust as Sakurai’s, and multitudes of his signature brand of panting, crazy-eyed fan-mamas in pancake makeup were fighting viciously with the Buck-Tick fans in an attempt to get close to the front of the stage, across which Issay swept back and forth, close to but just out of reach of the fans.  At last Issay pulled something from the pocket of his coat that turned out to be a literal glitter bomb.  With a flick of his wrist, the bomb exploded, showering the whole stage and the front few rows of the audience in shiny silver confetti that no one bothered to sweep up until after the show was over.  Why the glitter bomb? Well, at Halloween Club Citta’ also hosts Kawasaki’s annual live action screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  However, whether the glitter bomb was an homage to this or not, I cannot say.  (Who wants to hear Der Zibet cover “The Time Warp”?  I know I do.)

Next, Der Zibet continued with “Hadashi no Lady Doll” (“Barefoot Lady Doll”), a slitheringly sexual bossa number off their newest album, Romanoid II.  This song is catchy as hell and definitely makes the top ten list for dirtiest Der Zibet songs ever released…even the drumbeats are kinky!  But Issay held back on the sexy stage antics, perhaps because he was gearing up for what was to come (no pun intended dammit!)  For as soon as the last notes of “Lady Doll” had died out, Hikaru began to play a very familiar staccato scale on his guitar, and the fangirls shrieked and cheered, beside themselves with excitement.  Here it was—“Masquerade”!  And here came Sakurai!

Attired in an expertly tailored knee-length black coat, with slicked-back hair and silvery eyeshadow, Sakurai crept out onstage to the beat of the music in a way that bore an eerie resemblance to Becky the Ballerina from Buck-Tick’s 13th Floor with Diana Tour.  Standing back-to-back with Issay, facing away from the audience, he simply stood there holding his microphone as Issay began to sing the first verse.

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I’m going to pause right here.

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First, I know there has been a lot of gossip about this performance since it happened, so before I tell you what happened next, I want to set something straight: I’m not gonna tell you what happened next.  Because, for all the fact that here at NGS, we’re sex-positive, pro-choice and queer-friendly, the writing of j-rock pr0n pretty much goes against NGS policy.  Why, you ask?  Well, not only are we dedicated to a life of hipster-style ironical giving of zero fucks (zero fucks means NO PR0N, you dig?), as well as a life of anti-capitalist, damn-the-man punk rock spirit that automatically precludes us from engaging in the sort of sordid passion such as that which has earned the authoresses of The VampLite Saga and 50 Shades of ‘Oh, Jeez’ millions of dollars and counting (sordid passion=the writing of CHEAP PR0N, you dig?), not only that, but when you think about it, writing free pr0n for fangirls is kind of like remote masturbation, and frankly, we think fangirls are creepy.

BUT!  Since a large number of NGS fangirls esteemed readers have ever-so-politely and discreetly requested that we (and I quote) “please Cayce, describe this singularly sensual moment in j-rock history using all your unparalleled powers of poetic prose,” we succumbed to the flattery and searched for a loophole in our policy.  We found our loophole in Clause 34, which states: whatever it is, if it’s ironic, it’s okay to make it into pr0n.

So here you go.  Strictly ironic j-rock pr0n, brought to you courtesy of This is NOT Greatest Site.  I repeat.  

THE FOLLOWING IS WRITTEN IN THE SPIRIT OF IRONY ONLY. 
 
THIS IS NOT REAL PR0N.  

THIS IS A PARODY OF SLASHFIC.  

THIS IS NOT ENDORSED BY CAYCE. 
 
MAGIC POTATOES DO NOT EXIST.  

Now get out the vibrators, what are you waiting for?

Click here to continue.  You don’t have to certify that you’re over eighteen since I’m sure a lot of you aren’t yet but you read smut anyway.  Especially you Polish and Russian girls…yes I know who you are.  Anyhoo.


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Now wipe it off, wash your hands, take a deep breath.  And now, back to our regularly scheduled program!

When “Masquerade” had finished, the band gave Issay a few moments to gulp some water, and the fangirls a few moments to breathe.  Then it was back to glam-land.

Prayer!” Issay called, and the band launched into this wild jungle-pop up-tempo number that has been a staple of their live shows since their reunion.  “Prayer” was followed by “Mammoth no Yoru,” as catchy as ever, and drawn out into its usual jam session, with each band member in turn playing an extended solo as Issay introduced them to the audience one by one.  Der Zibet finished their set with “Yakusoku no Umibe,” one of the standout numbers on their latest album, and a perfect encapsulation of those long nostalgic days at the end of summer, embodied by the lingering tones of Hikaru’s silky-smooth honey-sweet slippery slide guitar (oops looks like I slipped back into Not Greatest Pr0N there for a moment…sry guyz ill stop now rly.)  Then, with bows and cheers, they were off the stage, and now it was time for Auto-Mod, the Elder Band of the evening, come to bring us some good old white-faced bald-headed goth.

I call Auto-Mod the Elder Band of the evening, because they got their start in 1980, making them the oldest band on the bill.  Though they first broke up in 1985 (before Buck-Tick officially existed), they reformed sometime in the early 2000’s and since then have released two new full-length original albums, Eastern Gothic (2006) and Celebration (2010), both of which different significantly from their original 80’s batcave sound, but which are nonetheless good records in their own right and highly recommended by Cayce.  Like Der Zibet’s Nostalgic Future, Auto-Mod’s Celebration includes several re-worked versions of old hits, including “Requiem” and “Out of the Darkness.”  Unlike Buck-Tick and Der Zibet, who have maintained the same lineup throughout their careers, Auto-Mod features a rotating cast of musicians, songwriters, dancers, and other performers who form a sort of gothic circus macabre supporting frontman Genet, the only member who has been present throughout the band’s history.  If Genet is there, it’s Auto-Mod.  Genet is the band.

However, in addition to Genet, Auto-Mod has had many other notable members over the years.  Before he was in Buck-Tick, Yokoyama “Yoko-chan” Kazutoshi was in fact Auto-Mod’s keyboardist, and in Auto-Mod’s heyday, their lead guitarist and main songwriter was none other than Hotei Tomoyasu.  Mitsugu of PERSONZ also played bass in Auto-Mod for several years.  When Auto-Mod reunited in the 21st century, Yukino, formerly of GARA and visual kei pioneer band Ex-Ans, took up the mantle of lead guitarist and main composer, and at the beginning of 2012, 21st century Auto-Mod’s first bassist Masa was replaced by another visual kei veteran: Kishine Hikaru, formerly of JUSTY-NASTY.  The remainder of the current lineup includes mercenary drummer Tell, legendary Butoh dancer Taizo, and support vocalist Selia, the flamboyant, androgynous classically-trained counter-tenor.

Many Buck-Tick fans are already familiar with Selia’s haunting, otherworldly vocals, courtesy of his guest performance on “Mr. Darkness & Mrs. Moonlight” and “Revolver” on Buck-Tick’s album Tenshi no Revolver (2007).  If you were wondering how Buck-Tick found Selia, it was through Auto-Mod.  Once Buck-Tick got wind of Selia’s amazing set of pipes, they were so taken with him that they asked Genet to lend him out for the recording of their new album, and Tenshi no Revolver was born.

At their oneman concerts, Auto-Mod have been known to perform with a whole troupe of Butoh dancers, plus the occasional saxophone player and live albino boa constrictor (fun fact: one of the Butoh dancers is so afraid of snakes that he almost jumped off the stage when Genet tried to hand him the boa constrictor during Auto-Mod’s 30th anniversary concert at Ebisu Liquidroom in November 2010).  However, at this show, only the core members made an appearance, spread out across the huge stage like a gas expanding to fill its container, Yukino and Kishine with their hair sprayed up into visual-kei-nostalgia perfection, Genet with his bald head painted completely white (fun fact: back in the 80’s when Genet had hair, the hair in question was naturally curly.  There are videos of this, but they only exist on VHS tape, so NGS readers who have ditched old media in favor of iPeens are out of luck.)  As usual, support members Taizo and Selia both sported fabulous, outré costumes—Taizo in a black PVC catsuit, Selia in a hoop-skirted, corseted purple lace ballgown draped in a mantle of silver chains.

Selia performs with a head mic because in addition to being the backup vocalist, he is also a dancer.  He and Taizo took their places on either side of Genet and danced in improvised synchrony, Selia’s angelic soprano vocals echoing eerily above Genet’s guttural growls.  While Auto-Mod’s early work resembles that of bands like the Sex Gang Children and the Virgin Prunes, their most recent work is much glossier and heavier, a little bit like a more mature Lacuna Coil with hints of Scandinavian metal thrown in for good measure, though Auto-Mod's rhythms are funkier.  They opened with the funkiest of funky songs, the killer dance number “Good Bye,” off their latest album Celebration, then continued with the equally swinging “Queen of Vicious.”

One of the most endearing things about Auto-Mod is that despite the fact that they’re the oldest of the old school and that Genet was inspired to start the band after seeing Bauhaus perform live in London before they were famous, they have a plastic-fangs-and-fright-wig sense of humor about everything goth.  With the possible exception of their ballads “I Miss You” and “Eestania,” almost none of their lyrics are meant to be taken seriously.  This has passed over the heads of certain members of the international goth community, who have declared on various forums over the years that such lines as “Fallen angel found you in the Labyrinth/You were sleeping in Pandora’s Box/He opened it and raped you with the evil/His demon’s seed has made you real vicious” (from “Queen of Vicious”) were “silly” or even “stupid.”  Guys, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a goth without a sense of humor is nothing at all.

Though by rights Auto-Mod ought to have been the most serious and gothy band in an evening of nothing but serious, gothy bands, in fact, Genet (who is already well past age 50), just doesn’t have time.   This show is a birthday party, yo!  “Queen of Vicious” started out as a heavy dark number, but somewhere in there Genet’s growly shouts of “yeah!” on the chorus turned into perky shouts of “whoo!” with Genet bouncing into the air and grinning.  When the song was finished, Genet addressed the audience.

“Uh…guys…hey…we are Auto-Mod!” he called, grinning from ear to ear.  “We haven’t played at Citta since…how long has it been, now?  Since before Auto-Mod first broke up!  And now it’s Anii’s birthday!  Anii, thanks so much for always supporting us, and for inviting us to play tonight!  Happy birthday Anii!”  As Genet spoke, the mood changed instantly from somber, dark, and theatrical, to light, bright, and bubbly.  Because despite his scary face, Genet is actually a pretty sunny, fun-loving guy.  Perhaps this is why he and Mr. Yagami get along so well.

Next, Auto-Mod played their death-metal favorite “Belzebuth,” followed by “Deathtopia,” which may be their most famous song.  During the instrumental break, Taizo and Genet tossed Selia back and forth between them, pulling on the chains of his gown, while Selia mimed swooning.  This is the sort of stunt that just doesn’t work on a tiny stage, and it was clear that all the band members were seriously enjoying having so much room to play.  But before the last song, the band paused and Genet spoke again.

“So, last year, Anii performed as a guest at Auto-Mod’s oneman live, in honor of my birthday.  And now this year, we’re playing here as guests in honor of Anii’s birthday!  Happy birthday Anii!  Happy birthday Anii!”  Genet began chanting and getting the whole crowd involved, holding out the microphone toward the audience so they could scream “ANII!!!” over and over.  Even from the second floor, our favorite screaming fangirl was audible, screaming, “YAGAMI TOLL SAAAAAAAAAN!” at the top of her lungs.  If there were any Buck-Tick fans who had turned up their noses at the show thus far, they were engaged now. 

Plus, some fans must have noticed that while there were two drum sets on the stage, currently, only one of them was occupied.  At last, after about two solid minutes of birthday cheering, Toll himself came out onto the stage, beaming, dressed in his favorite red military uniform with “B-T 25th” written on the back of the jacket.  The crowd shouted for Toll to make a speech, but all he said was, “Thank you.”  Then, as Toll took his place at the unoccupied drum set, Genet announced the last song.

“Here’s our ‘Happy Birthday to Anii’ song, and he’s going to drum it with us!  Here we go…Requiem!  I mean, it’s a birthday Requiem!”

Requiem” is another one of Auto-Mod’s most famous songs, which is no doubt why they chose to finish with this song despite the fact that its title is laughably unsuitable for a birthday party (then again, that’s Auto-Mod’s sense of humor for you.)  Toll began the song with a drum solo, and was then joined by Tell, followed by the rest of the band.  According to Tell, Auto-Mod only ever rehearsed this performance with Toll once, and that during the sound check right before the show.  Nonetheless, they carried it off without a hitch.  Tell let Toll take the lead in drumming the main beat, and played off him, adding in embellishments on the ride cymbals.  Tell’s a highly skilled and subtle career drummer who has played every genre from trip-hop to experimental jazz, which is why he can pull stunts like this on the fly, and he deserves full marks.  But it’s also a testament to just how important Toll’s beats are to Buck-Tick's signature sound, that as soon as Toll started drumming for Auto-Mod, “Requiem” suddenly sounded 50% more like a Buck-Tick song than it had previously.  The set finished to deafening cheers.

Now, at long last, it was time for the main act: Buck-Tick themselves!  But while the stage crew were busy clearing away Auto-Mod’s setup and preparing the stage for Buck-Tick, the fans got a little advance treat.  During the set change, a projection screen lowered in front of the stage and began to broadcast a set of special happy-birthday video messages from Toll’s many friends and supporters.  Well-wishes included Yokoyama Kazutoshi, who sat behind a drum set (possibly Toll’s own) and detailed how he was going to quit smoking and Anii had laughed at him but wished him well; Takahashi Makoto, who is about 60 years old but still as sprightly as a young boy; Furuton, who has played drums for such bands as Bug and Hyde’s solo project, but is now living a quiet life in Miyazaki prefecture to recover his lost health, and thanked Toll for twenty long years of warm friendship; Motokatsu of the Mad Capsule Markets, now of this mysterious new band Ace of Spades that’s suddenly being promoted everywhere; Naoki of Laughin’ Nose, who may have been under the influence of substances while he recorded the video, but then again perhaps he just talks like that all the time; Asaki and Okazaki of Age of Punk, who as always spoke at length without really saying anything; and Tetsu of D’erlanger, Toll’s longtime friend and drinking buddy. 

Following these messages from Toll’s friends came messages from the Buck-Tick members, which from the looks of it had been recorded in the dressing room just before the show.  Yutaka’s message came first.

“Hi, I’m Higuchi Yutaka, Buck-Tick’s bassist,” Yutaka said.  “Anii’s my older brother, so I’ve known him since the day I was born…but thanks for everything, Anii, let’s keep playing music together and stay friends till the day we die.”

Hoshino and Imai offered similar sentiments, and then last of all it was Sakurai’s turn.

“Hi, I’m Higuchi Yutaka, Buck-Tick’s bassist,” Sakurai said, then paused with a completely straight face as the audience laughed (even though the video wasn’t live.)  “Oh I’m sorry, that was a lie.”  When Sakurai had finished his congratulations, it was time for Buck-Tick’s set to begin.

Rather than use “Theme of B-T,” Imai had crafted a special stage entrance piece specifically for this show—a smooth, dark synth arrangement of the theme from “Swan Lake.”  Those of you who had the privilege of attending the Fish Tanker’s Only Tour 2009 and the concurrent Memento Mori Rebirth Tour may recall that Imai incorporated the theme from “Swan Lake” into the arrangement of “Kirameki no Naka de” Buck-Tick performed on these tours (it was filmed for the Fish Tanker’s Only 2009 live DVD).  However, there was more to it this time.  Slowly, the “Swan Lake” theme shifted, evolved, transformed…until voila!  The melody was no longer “Swan Lake,” but “Happy Birthday To You!”  If anyone thinks this is an unusual choice, Sakurai has an answer for you at the ready.  When questioned after the show about the strange darkness of the atmosphere, he merely smirked and said, “That’s a Buck-Tick birthday!”  Well said!

The lights stayed dim as the band members took the stage one by one, in the usual order, with Sakurai coming out last.  Imai noodled on his guitar for a moment, and then, bright white strobes flashed from the back of the stage as Toll clattered into his opening drum solo, and the band, as anticipated, began to play “Kirameki no Naka de.”  Also as anticipated, Imai included the “Swan Lake” theme in his guitar arrangement.

Though all the staff members got special t-shirts for this show, the Buck-Tick members didn’t get new costumes.  Instead, each of them wore elements recycled from past costumes—but rather than looking cheap and silly, the effect was both nostalgic and refreshing at the same time.  Hide wore the same safety-pin encrusted jacket he was wearing on the last tour, while Sakurai had apparently decided that the pointy black coat he wore during “Masquerade” was too soaked with evil glittery Issay hoodoo/Transylvanian transsexuality/fangirl drool to be of any further use, and was now wearing his distressed burgundy velvet shirt from the DIQ 2011 under a sleeveless flared black duster.  But as always, Imai stole the fashion show, outdoing himself in a red suit over a white shirt with a bowtie, and on his feet, those wonderful curly-toed elf shoes from the 13th Floor With Diana tour.  To top it all off, he had painted his nose red, which given his thin cheeks and downward-sloping eyes, made him look less like a clown and more like a human dressed up as Skull-Baby dressed up for Christmas.  As is so often true, Imai was the only one in the world who could have pulled off this look, but on him, it worked well.

When “Kirameki no Naka de” drew to a close, Sakurai addressed the audience for the first time.

“Good evening!  My name is Yagami Toll,” he announced, and the whole hall burst out laughing.

In a delicious break from Buck-Tick’s recent pattern of playing the same greatest hits over and over, the set continued in just as dark and edgy a fashion as it had begun.  Sakurai claims he picked out most of the songs himself as “a birthday present to Anii,” and it shows.  After “Kirameki no Naka de” came “Lullaby III.”  Staff members brought Yutaka his wooden bass, and the lights stayed dim as Sakurai sat on the high platform on which Toll’s drums were situated to sing the first verse, standing and dancing only on the second verse.

“They’re playing this for a birthday party?” the listener next to me whispered incredulously.  I didn’t answer her because I was too focused on watching the show, but, seeing as “Lullaby III” is a song about a party, it’s a damn sight more appropriate for a birthday party than “Requiem,” though when Sakurai sang lyric “the party’s over” at the end of the song, I had to laugh—it was far from over!  Next came “Alice In Wonder Underound”—more up-tempo, if just as goth, and Imai’s costume tonight suited his “Enter Diabolo” vocal interlude to a tee.  Then, surprisingly, came “Tango Swanka,” an NGS favorite that we thought had been swept under the rug for good.  So glad to see Buck-Tick is still playing it!  Then came “Montage,” followed by “Muma –The Birthday-” (which is exactly the same as Muma the Nightmare, I just changed the name for shits and giggles), after which Sakurai paused to address the audience again.

“A beautiful flower was delivered to Buck-Tick, in honor of Anii’s birthday,” Sakurai said.  “A beautiful flower…and the name of that flower is…Selia!”

Lots of people had been expecting this, but that didn’t make it any less special.  Despite the fact that it has now been five whole years since Tenshi no Revolver was released, Selia has never once performed his guest vocals live.  In an interview, Selia explained how he attended the Tenshi no Revolver tour final at the Nippon Budoukan in 2007 and felt strange, hearing his recorded backup vocals on “Revolver” fill the whole hall.  But a recording played very loudly is very different from a live performance.  Now, at last, we were going to get to hear the live version.

Selia had changed out of his Auto-Mod outfit into an even more over-the-top costume, featuring 30-cm platform boots and a headdress topped with gigantic curved horns fashioned out of blue hair, that were dwarfed by the peacock feathers fanning out in a semicircle behind them, giving the impression that Selia was wearing an entire peacock on his head.  He was really, truly larger than life, and though he's a small person in real life, in this show, he towered over Sakurai.  Dressed that way, Selia didn’t have very much mobility on stage, but undaunted, Sakurai played off him anyway, moving from one side of the stage to the other as Selia drifted behind him.  Selia’s voice, like the voices of many counter-tenors, has a certain surreal, alien quality that, in addition to being beautiful, can also be a bit unsettling, but in a good way.  Its operatic smoothness offers a perfect contrast to Genet’s throaty rasping vocals on Auto-Mod’s records, but made a different kind of wonderful juxtaposition when paired with Sakurai’s velvet baritone.  I can’t think of a contemporary female Japanese pop singer whose voice would match Sakurai’s anywhere near as well in a duet (though Natsuki Mari could surely pull it off with style, but she's not young, she's older than Toll.)

Furthermore, Selia was really pulling out all the stops.  His vocals are mixed down in the recording such that they aren’t always easy to hear, but live, there were moments when he seemed in danger of drowning out Sakurai.  “Revolver” is a song that always sounds good live, but never has the band given a more impressive performance.  As Selia took full advantage of his vocal solo at the end, adding in little ornamentations as he saw fit, Sakurai knelt at Selia’s feet, crooning “Oh Selia~~!  Oh Selia~~!” over and over.  Sakurai doesn’t have the same quality of chemistry with Selia as he does with Issay, but this is a performance I would definitely like to see repeated again in the near future.

When the song finished, Selia gave a shy grin and made an awkward attempt at a bow, feathers swaying on his head like palm fronds as he flowed offstage.  Buck-Tick finished the main set with “Diabolo,” Sakurai sashaying back and forth while draped in his black feather boa, Imai kicking up his curly toes and strutting across the stage.  When the song was over, Toll was the last one to leave.  First, he made sure to come down front and perform his usual trick of bouncing a drumstick off the stage before throwing it into the audience, as the fans cheered and cheered.

It took an unusually long time for the band to come out for the encore, but it was easy to guess that there might be some special reason why.  Instead of chanting “encore, encore” as is usual, the fans took up singing “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Anii,” over and over, so many times that it grew first tiresome, then very amusing.

Then at last, Toll came back, followed by the rest of the band.  The fans tensed with anticipation as staff members wheeled the birthday cake out onto the stage on a red-draped cart, cheering as Sakurai, former drummer, climbed up behind the drum set and proceeded to drum a few very smooth rolls on the cymbals, while Toll took Sakurai’s place at the microphone.  Though the microphone stand was much too tall for Toll, he bent the mic down to his level, and spoke to the crowd anyway.

“I’ve become a strange middle-aged man!” he said, with a grin and a giggle.  “Here’s hoping that now I can become a strange old man!”

The crowd cheered, and Toll stalked over toward the cake, took a deep breath, and blew out the candles (though there weren’t nearly fifty of them.)  As the candle flames vanished, a cloud of silver streamers exploded over the hall with such force that a few of them even reached the balcony.  The streamers showered the crowd, and fans pushed and fought to grab them and stuff them into bags or bras, to be taken home as mementoes.  When the cheering had died down, the band members resumed their usual positions onstage.

“Let’s Go!” said Sakurai, and the band began to play “Climax Together,” which has already become a fan favorite despite not officially being released yet.  Surely, there is no more appropriate song for a birthday.

In honor of the occasion, Buck-Tick played a longer encore than usual.  After “Climax Together” came “Elise.”  Just seeing the birthday cake had apparently kicked the whole band into high gear, because the encore performances were much more energetic than the main set.  While Imai and Hoshino engaged the fans on either side of the hall, Sakurai jumped up onto the high back platform to cuddle Yutaka a little, before coming back down center and making more exaggerated sexual gestures at the crowd.  The Auto-Mod members, who were now watching from the gallery, giggled appreciatively.  Next came “Miss Take,” an oddly somber song for this late in the set, but it’s such a beautiful number that it doesn’t matter.  I would have loved to hear “Only You,” which would have been a thematically perfect closer for the night, but I guess Buck-Tick must be saving that for the album tour.  Instead, they finished with “Yumemiru Uchuu,” which has fully come together at this point.  Sakurai jumped around in circles, his hair shining in the spotlights almost as brightly as Toll’s stiff yellow mohawk.  Since Toll doesn’t move as much as many drummers, sometimes it may appear that he’s not doing any work, but this is just an illusion, particularly for “Yumemiru Uchuu,” a song whose propulsive force relies completely on that steady, unfaltering beat.

“Let’s meet again at the festival!” called Sakurai before he left the stage, followed by Imai and Hoshino.  Toll stayed to throw a drumstick almost to the back of the hall, but the last one off the stage was Yutaka, who stood on tiptoe to reach the microphone.

“Arigatou,” he said, blowing a parting two-handed kiss at the audience before running into the wings.  Fans of the other bands giggled.  Yutaka’s cute, and Toll’s a goofball—but these are really just two aspects of the same quality, a gentleness of heart that it seems all the Buck-Tick members share.  Happy birthday Toll!  May you and the band members survive and play another fifty years.


Set List

Loopus
01. Fascinate Love
02. Biorising
03. Rest In Peace
04. Shift
05. Muteki na Aquarius

Der Zibet
SE. Voice of the Cell
01. Downer King
02. Hadashi no Lady Doll
03. Masquerade (feat. Sakurai Atsushi)
04. Prayer
05. Mammoth no Yoru
06. Yakusoku no Umibe

Auto-Mod
01. Good Bye
02. Queen of Vicious
03. Belzebuth
04. Deathtopia
05. Requiem (feat. Yagami Toll)

Buck-Tick
SE. Swan Lake/Happy Birthday to You
07. Revolver (feat. Selia)

~en. 1


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