2012 Tour Yumemiru Uchuü
October 06th at the Yokosuka Arts Theater
October 08th at the Shizuoka Shimin Bunka Kaikan
October 12th at Kawaguchi Lilia
November 9th at Omiya Sonic City
November 11th at Yokohama Kenmin Hall
November 13th at the Shibuya Kokaido
November 14th at the Shibuya Kokaido
November 18th at the Chiba Prefecture Bunka Kaikan
December 12th at the Gunma Music Center
December 29th at the Nippon Budoukan
Live Report by Cayce

By their own accounts, Buck-Tick built their most recent album, Yumemiru Uchuu, around the (lady?) skeleton of the album title.  That is to say, the title “Yumemiru Uchuu” was there first, and the album came second.  None of the band members seem to be clear about who came up with the phrase initially, but evidence suggests that it was probably Sakurai.

There are a lot of ways this phrase could be translated.  On his skater-pentacle shirt, Hoshino Hidehiko chose the translation “Dreamy Universe,” while as the title for their 2013 standing tour, Buck-Tick(’s management) chose “Cosmic Dreamer,” playing up the ties with previous album titles.  Here on NGS, I chose “Dreaming Space,” to keep the syllables to a minimum, and play up the nuance of both simplicity and vastness.  But even in the original Japanese, the phrase is deceptively simple.  Magazine interviewers seemed keen to ask the band members what they meant by it, gushing breathily that “this phrase seems deep because it seems like you can almost understand what it means but not quite.”  When they asked Imai for an explanation, he mumbled something and then told them to go ask Sakurai instead, which they did.  He responded,

"It seems to be hard for us to step outside an anthropocentric way of thinking, but what I meant was, we don't know how far Outer Space itself extends, or what, in fact, space is--is it a living body?  Or is it really just "nothing," which is to say it's dead?  What I meant was, what if that whole thing-that-is-space is, itself, dreaming?  When you imagine that all those tiny elements contained in space, whether they're people, or animals, or stars, are like the cells that make up the body of space, you realize that the life of any individual cell is so brief, just one tiny instant.  It's sad but it's also joyful, and you start to imagine that in the midst of that ever-changing dreamscape, perhaps you could once again meet someone who has already passed on...perhaps Outer Space is dreaming the dream, or perhaps, the dreaming space is the space within yourself, within your body...I like the ambiguity of it.  Actually, I think it's much more interesting if you let it be ambiguous."

I’ve said it a number of times lately, that Sakurai appears to be taking a greater measure of creative control over the direction of the band, and some people have wondered what I’m talking about.  This is what I’m talking about, folks!  When questioned further about what fans could expect on the upcoming tour, Sakurai said that he hoped that fans would attend multiple shows if they were able, because it was Buck-Tick’s intention that the show would gradually change and evolve as the tour progressed.

Here on Not Greatest Site, we always take Buck-Tick at their word, so naturally we made a point of attending more than one show.  In fact, we had the privilege to attend nine shows in total, in Yokosuka, Shizuoka, Kawaguchi, Omiya, Yokohama, Shibuya, Chiba, and Takasaki, respectively.  While many aspects of the performance did in fact remain mostly the same throughout, we also had the chance to see first-hand what Sakurai was talking about when he said the show would evolve.  Specific changes were made to the setting and action for various songs, and though it was subtle, it was effective.  Even more effective, however, was the conceptual and highly cohesive structure of the whole show.  Buck-Tick haven’t put on such an immersive, fully-realized tour since 13th Floor With Diana back in 2005.  And though that tour was a gorgeous spectacle and undoubtedly one of the highlights of Buck-Tick’s career, with Diana, they were still plying the familiar wine-dark waters of the Ocean of Goth they’ve been sailing since the bony, bonny black-lipped days of 1988.  With Yumemiru Uchuu, however, they’ve ventured into less well-established territory.  In fact, with Yumemiru Uchuu, it seems they’ve sailed their pea-green ship (let’s call her the Lingua Sounda) off into Outer Space and away to another planet entirely (and maybe they even found Imai’s brain waiting for them when they got there.)

I think it’s telling that the cover of the Yumemiru Uchuu album is the first album cover to feature all five band members since the cover of Kurutta Taiyou, back in 1991.  Why is it telling?  Because Buck-Tick is a team effort, and now that they’ve hoisted anchor and left the Port of Ariola for good and all, they seem to be freer to go where they actually want to go.  On the cover of Yumemiru Uchuu, they sit in their ship, sailing the high skies, dressed in the same naval-inspired costumes they wore for the album promo photographs (Sakurai may be wearing a remake of a vintage Checker Taxi hat, but I think he’s supposed to be the ship’s captain, not a Cosmic Cabbie.  Whereas Toll, with his gold-trimmed coat and luxuriant plumage standing firmly at attention, is clearly Admiral of the whole Buck-Tick Armada, and I guess Yutaka's penchant for butt-shaking makes him the Rear Admiral.  No, the nautical metaphor is not going away, and neither are the sea shanties.)

Anyhow, on this tour, they’ve taken the ship theme one step further.  For this tour, the whole stage was done over to look like the surface of an alien world on which the Lingua Sounda, now promoted to the status of S.S. (that stands for Sexy Starship, or Starry Sexship, depending on your point of view, but in any case, starships were meant to fly), had just landed.  A semicircular white walkway curved around the front of the stage, with Sakurai’s microphone positioned in the center and Imai and Hoshino’s guitars on either side.  A white ramp extended from the middle of the walkway behind Sakurai, running up between two pebbled gray craters, atop which perched the Higuchi brothers—Yutaka and his bass on the smaller crater, Toll and his drums on the larger.  Behind the whole set lurked a semicircular scaffold hung with lights.  At the beginning of the show, this scaffold lay out of sight close to the floor of the stage, but later in the show, it rose up to form an archway framing the action, with colored spotlights cross-focused down on the band members, creating a very dramatic striped effect (more on this later).  At the back of the stage stood a curved backdrop, split into three parts: a projection screen in the center, and two lightboards on either side.  More long, narrow, vertical rectangular screens hung from the flyspace above the band members’ heads.  The frames around the screens were textured and painted to look like asteroid stalactites, completing the otherworldly effect.  

All in all, it was a very ambitious set, more so than anything Buck-Tick has done since the DIQ 2006.  Therefore, it was no surprise when, at one of the first stops on the tour, Sakurai asked the audience, “How do you like our set?  Isn’t it cool?  We spent 500 million yen on it! ....just kidding!”  The audience cheered anyway.

Each stop on this tour opened the way Buck-Tick shows always do: with fans filing into the hall while Imai’s DJ set played in the background.  In the past, Imai’s selections for pre-show music have ranged from classical to gyspy jazz to candygoth covers of Banshees songs, but this time he kept the music minimalist and electronic, featuring mostly long, beat-driven noise tracks that I have the sneaking feeling only really achieve their full potential when listened to under the influence of psychoactive substances (though surely, neither Imai nor Cayce has ever put this hypothesis to the test.)

After an hour of fans finding their seats, socializing, fixing their makeup and preparing themselves to squee their heads off, the lights went down and a beam of white light came up on the central projection screen, showing us a simple image: a single drop of water, falling into a pool.  The sound of dripping magnified and echoed to fill the whole hall as the drop hit the pool, splashing and rippling outward in perfect concentric rings.  Gradually, the drips gave way to the sound of a heartbeat, throbbing in the floor, as the droplets gave way to a blue ocean filled with a cloud of white bubbles, swirling upward, and then, as the beat of the music pulsed harder, the ocean burst into a delirious barrage of coral reefs, tropical islands, dark clouds, light clouds, soaring raptors and bright sunsets: in short, all images lifted directly from song lyrics on the album.  The images rushed and multiplied faster and faster, then abruptly paused, breathing, heartbeat pulsing, before blooming outward into an explosion of drums and an orchestra of soaring strings, overspilling the confines of the projection screen and moving out onto the lightboards, with images of a primeval cerulean sea teeming with life, overlayed with colored gas clouds and cosmic stars.  Lightning flashed as squids and jellyfish drifted past the Yumemiru Uchuu starchild, who floated in the sea with them, just one more atom in the dreaming universe that had been gloriously conjured before our eyes.

By this point, Imai, Hoshino, Toll and Yutaka had come onstage, taking their places at their instruments to hoots and cheers, but Sakurai hadn’t yet arrived.  What sort of grand entrance would he make this time?  The fans thought they knew.  As the rest of the band checked their instruments, a huge square doorframe lowered down from the flyspace, coming to rest in midair three meters or so above the center stage ramp, right between the Higuchi craters.  An opaque curtain of fog cascaded from the top of the doorway, spreading out across the stage like the rocket smoke of a starship coming to rest on a brand-new planet. Then a brilliant golden light shone through the doorway from behind, revealing the wavy black silhouette of Captain Sakurai, who paused for a moment to wild applause before striding out through the fog in his high-heeled boots, his Cosmic Cabbie hat perched jauntily atop his head.  He smirked at the audience, as the techno beats of “Elise no Tame ni” came boiling up through the PA, and the show began.

Sometimes, when playing live, it takes a few songs for Buck-Tick to warm up and hit their stride, especially at seated shows, especially at the start of a tour, but from the very first day, this tour started hot, and just got hotter.  Buck-Tick had performed “Elise” live a number of times before this tour, but only now did fans get treated to the whole stage show as well: the projection screens behind the band members were a riot of psychedelic color, highlighting the gyrating black silhouette of a dancing lady, who swiveled and swayed and sashayed.  She even returned to the hanging screens for the second number, “Lady Skeleton,” this time joined by a crew of dancing skeletons who slowly shook their hips back and forth in unison.

A band with less stage presence than Buck-Tick might have been in danger of being eclipsed by their stage effects on a set this bombastic, but no way will Sakurai allow himself to be outdone by a few measly sexy-lady computer graphics.  Though Sakurai mostly stayed behind his mic stand during the first two songs, keeping well back from the edge of the stage, his hat tilted over his eyes in such a way as to shade half his face from view, he demonstrated with abandon just how limber he’s gotten during his suspected recent power-workouts at the Gym of Lingua Sounda.  Throughout “Elise” and “Lady Skeleton,” he danced splits and squats and sexual swanka tangos with the microphone stand, and showed us all exactly what he means by that line about the “Tower of Babel” (hint: he's talking about an ERECTIONl!!!)  It’s possible someone’s been teaching him mime as well.  As soon as “Lady Skeleton” began, he took on a skeleton pose, sticking his arms out perpendicular to his body, then letting them drop from the elbows to swing back and forth like a paperdoll or jumping-jack nutcracker, in a perfect imitation of the dancing skeletons on the screen.  He continued this dance throughout most of the song, turning his back on the audience and shaking his hips in time with the skeleton backup dancers during Imai’s screechy guitar solo.

Apparently it was written in Buck-Tick’s contract with Ariola that on all major concert tours, Sakurai would be required to wear trousers one size too big for him.  However, now Buck-Tick have ditched Ariola, the days of Sakurai running to the back of the stage to hike up his saggy pants between every song are over and done with, as are the days of silly ruffled shirts causing fangirl concern-trolls to shriek and wail that “Acchan has a beer gut.”  Gone are the days of wardrobe fail!  (We hope.)  In Yokosuka on the first day of the Yumemiru Uchuu tour, Sakurai sported a sleekly tailored black coat accented with red lapels and red buttons, worn over an obscenely tight pair of bright red trousers that, tightness notwithstanding, somehow managed to maintain enough structural integrity not to split down the middle (Sorry, fans!)  If anyone was doubting that Sakurai was going for a Sexual XXXXX look here, Sakurai himself surely wasn’t.  The taxi hat readily called images of male strippers to mind all on its own, but the addition of thigh-high patent leather dominatrix boots and shiny full-length black gloves just multiplied the effect.  And though later in the tour, Sakurai abandoned the red pants getup in favor of the sheer-trousers-kilt-and-tights ensemble he wore for the festival in September, the hooker boots and hooker gloves remained a permanent fixture of his costume throughout.  I guess if he can't be Captain Hook he'll settle for being Captain Hooker.

The other band members were no less well dressed.  Toll wore a blue-purple satin tailcoat as shiny as a beetle shell, while Yutaka traded back and forth between a textured burgundy suit and a sailor jacket adorned with numerous medals of rank, similar to his outfit from the album promo photos.  Imai started the tour in a shimmery plum purple stretch-velvet smoking jacket variant trimmed with black ostrich feather fringe that swirled around him as he kicked and spun, but later gave this up in favor of a form-fitting silver-white Man Who Fell to Earth outfit, accented with silver sequins,  spiky silver wallet chains, and an oh-so-futuristic triangular silver-studded arm ring, worn on a formerly scrawny right bicep that is now fast on its way to bulking up into what might popularly be dubbed a “gun.”  (The who-has-the-biggest-muscles contest continues! No laws will be needed to control Buck-Tick’s guns, believe you me.  Get your memberships at the Gym of Lingua Sounda, what are you waiting for?)  But, as we may already have demonstrated on Blog-Tick, by popular vote the fashion cake-taker this tour is Hoshino Hidehiko, who mostly wore the same big-shouldered plaid jacket, but made all the fangirls swoon with his chunky pompadour hairdo, rugged beard, and the ultra-alluring mole on his ultra-sexy chest.

Before the tour began, I had been hoping that Yutaka would play standup bass on “Lady Skeleton,” since it’s such a demonstrably rockabilly song, but he saved his wooden bass for the encore and played his gorgeous new engraved metal-plated electric bass instead, bouncing and grinning as he filled the whole hall with heavy sound.  After “Lady Skeleton” came yet another up-tempo dance number, “Only You.”  Though Sakurai in general seemed hesitant to leave center stage for too long, during this number he made a point of walking back and forth, interacting with fans on either side of the hall, holding out the microphone so the audience could sing along to the chorus (although it appears that Buck-Tick fans are incapable of clapping on the off-beat en masse.)  Imai and Hide, meanwhile, switched places onstage and made numerous visits to the hanamichi on either side.  Imai may have written “Only You” as a humanist feel-good song, but as every good vocalist should, Sakurai interpreted the lyrics in his own way, and reliably, during every performance, on the line “Baby are you lovin’? Show me how,” he would make a point of sticking the middle finger of his right hand into the circle of the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, to show the audience just exactly what the word “loving” means to him (hint: insert tab A into slot B.  Repeat.)

Following “Only You” came “Mermaid.”  Since Buck-Tick fans in general seem to be so poorly acquainted with surf rock that they don’t even know the term “surf rock,” I had wondered if the fans would hate this song, but in fact, “Mermaid” seems to be one of the most universally loved songs on the whole album, among both Japanese and overseas fans alike.  As soon as the lights went down and blue water images came up on the backdrop, the fans began clapping along with the beat, cheering and dancing, as the hanging screens flashed images of red jellyfish and other sea creatures.  Though Hoshino Hidehiko has written a number of Buck-Tick’s greatest hits, he generally veers in the direction of ballads rather than up-tempo songs, and though he’s written some great rock-n-roll numbers in recent years (“Cream Soda,” “Motel 13,” “Katte ni Shiyagare”) even standing up onstage playing the solos for his own songs, in the past, he’s seemed somehow shy, unwilling to assert his full power and soak up the spotlight.  Perhaps releasing an autobiography gave him more courage, or maybe the autobiography was simply a side-effect of a change that took place within Mr. Hoshino for reasons unknown to the outside world, but whatever the reason, Hide has started coming across as much more charismatic and assertive lately, and “Mermaid” seems to be the crystallization of his newfound self-confidence.  As the song began, he perched cockily on one of the monitors, one leg crossed over the other, guitar in his lap, a smug little smirk playing across his face, as if to signal to the fans, “I don’t even need to stand up to be cool.”

The staging of “Mermaid” alone was a reason to attend the tour multiple times.  All the band members hammed it up during this song, dispersing to all corners of the stage, so it was nearly impossible to pay attention to more than one of them at once.  Over the years, Imai has been known for his consistent poker-faced denial of the fans’ existence, but as one long time fan remarked to me on this tour, “he’s gotten gentler lately.”  Throughout the show, Imai spent a lot of time on the edge of the stage, dancing and showing off for the fans and even (gasp!) making eye contact with them.  Normally the band members try to keep the audience focused on the center of the stage, but during “Mermaid” Imai would spend most of his time out on the hanamichi, playing to the fans seated way over on the sides of the hall.  He was hard pressed to keep up with Hide, though.  Imai drew the line at eye contact, but Hide actively sought audience approval, bending low over his guitar to grin at them, shielding his eyes from the spotlights so he could see individual faces, pointing and nodding and throwing picks at fans who looked particularly enthusiastic.

Meanwhile, Sakurai stayed planted behind the mic stand at the center of the stage, alternating between singing the main melody in a very low register and singing the harmony line an octave higher, while struggling to strip off his jacket elegantly and effortlessly despite the fact that it had so many buttons and buckles (he mostly failed at this.)  For comic effect, he took a very literal, physical interpretation of the lyrics, squeezing his chest as if he had breasts on the line “love in your heart” and miming covering himself in embarrassment as he sang about searching for his lost bikini.  During the show in Takasaki, Hide joined in the pantomime, momentarily taking his hands off his guitar to mime looking through binoculars at bikini-less Sakurai.  Sakurai also made sure to announce Hide’s guitar solo every time, calling, “On guitar…HOSHINO HIDEHIKO!”  As his name was called, Hide would get up from his perch on the monitor and come down front and center, nodding his head and grinning, while Imai gave up playing guitar altogether, reaching his hands up over his head and clapping to the beat while dancing from one foot to the other.

One fan jokingly complained, “Imai’s being so unfair, he’s trying to steal the spotlight from Hide!”  But really, on this song, there were more than enough aqua blue spotlights to go around.

Following “Mermaid,” the setlist took an extended plunge into the dark and conceptual, starting with “Yumeji.”  All the lights went momentarily dark, before coming up in deep indigo as Hide hit the strings of his acoustic guitar.  Then slowly, from the darkness of the projection screen behind Sakurai, there emerged the image of a single burning candle, and the dim spotlights shifted from blue to dark orange, as if the whole stage were bathed in candlelight.  More candles came up behind the first one, flames flickering, fading in and out of focus.  During this song, the band members stayed stationary, focusing exclusively on playing their instruments, while letting Sakurai carry the action, though for the first half of the song, Sakurai kept his performance contemplative and subtle.

When the chorus rolled around, the candles and orange light vanished and all the projection screens lit up with nets of silver threads and streaky white stars rising slowly upward toward heaven; an interesting contrast to lyrics that refer to flames in the darkness.  On the studio recording, “Yumeji” maintains a gentle, mysterious tone throughout, but Sakurai imbued the ending of the live version with more desperation.  Rather than singing the coda (“Ah loving, longing, ah going mad”) all the way through, he simply screamed wordlessly—a jarring, painful sound against a background of such gentle acoustic chords.  At the very end of the song, as all but the synth tracks had faded out, the original single candle came back up on the screen, and Sakurai turned his back on the audience to face it, reaching up his hand at the moment the music stopped, and the candle went out in a puff of smoke, leaving the stage in darkness once more.  The fans, transfixed, barely even cheered.

In the blackout, Imai played some long, mournful tones on his guitar, filling the silence until the music started again—a slow bass pulse, like a sleeping heartbeat or a dripping IV.  The next song was “Long Distance Call”!

Given how much of Yumemiru Uchuu deals with the nearness of death, “Long Distance Call” was an appropriate pick.  As with “Yumeji,” the stage stayed very dark, though this time there were no effects on the projection screen.  Instead, all the light came from blue and purple rose-patterned spotlights slowly turning and changing color, making it look like the band were playing on the deep ocean floor.  Sakurai spent the whole first verse crouched down on the stage, holding his hand over his ear as if he were holding a phone and singing to someone on the other line, but when the chorus rolled around, big white spotlights came up on the crowd and he stood up at last.  Buck-Tick’s sound design has always been stellar, even compared to other major-label bands, but they outdid themselves on this tour, and especially on this song.  The band members performed flawlessly, the instruments blending perfectly with the vocals to the extent that if you closed your eyes, you might have easily imagined that you were listening to a studio recording, not a live performance—but for the intense, raw quality of the sound.  During Imai’s guitar solo, Sakurai acted as if reception on the line were breaking up, calling “moshi moshi?” over and over again, and at the end of the song, he screamed just as he had during “Yumeji.”  Unable to cheer for something so painful, the fans instead chose to clap politely, not out of lack of enthusiasm, but out of respect.

The next song on the bill was “Kyokutou Yori Ai wo Komete,” apropos since this song follows “Long Distance Call” on the album Kyokutou I Love You.  “Kyokutou Yori Ai wo Komete” is a longtime fan favorite and recently, the band have been playing it at almost all of their shows, yet given the fractious, volatile nature of recent world events, this song only gains more relevance as the  years go by—between anti-Japan demonstrations in China, concern over North Korea’s satellite launch (and yes it was a satellite, people) and another major aftershock to the Great East Japan Earthquake on the evening of Buck-Tick’s Sendai show that set off tsunami warnings all along the coast of Tohoku and tied up traffic enough that many fans couldn’t make it to the concert and were refunded the cost of their tickets, the Far East needs the love spread deeper than ever.  Though it would have been hard to top the performance from the DIQ 2011, which involved liberal use of giant jets of real fire, this is a power song whenever Buck-Tick plays it live, and they always manage to include fire in some form—this time, projected all across the backdrop behind a line of glaring red spotlights.

Buck-Tick often make adjustments to their set list at the start of a tour, and this tour was no exception.  At the first stop on the tour, at the Yokosuka Arts Theater, the band followed “Kyokutou Yori Ai wo Komete” with “Zangai.”  No doubt “Zangai” was intended to be an upbeat number, but in the context of this string of very heavy songs, it ended up coming across as almost punishingly nihilistic, especially as they had staged it, with liberal use of black and white strobe lights.  No doubt this was why, at the Shizuoka show two days later, the band swapped out “Zangai” for the similar but slightly more sanguine “Jonathan Jet-Coaster.”  Sakurai has mentioned in several interviews that he wrote “Inter Raptor” as a sort of sequel to “Jonathan Jet-Coaster,” which made the switch even more appropriate.  For “Jonathan,” they made the lights more colorful, and allowed for a bit more audience participation, making visits to the hanamichi and inviting the fans to sing along with the chorus.

The addition of “Jonathan” came as a breath of fresh air as the show continued to dive ever further into the darkest, most psychological depths of Buck-Tick’s back catalogue.  When I say “dark” and “psychological,” can you guess which song came next?  Yes, that’s right—“Mienai Mono wo Miyou to Suru Gokai Subete Gokai da” (“You cannot know, you cannot see, the things unseen”).  By this point in the show, the rectangular stalactite projection screens had been pulled up out of sight into the flyspace, and now, at last, it was time for that semicircular lighting scaffold to come into play.  Newly-minted BAMF Hoshino Hidehiko cut straight into the opening pounding guitar riff, as a cone of red light shone down around him.  More red spots came down on each band member in turn as they joined in one by one, and slowly, the light scaffold began to rise up from behind the Higuchi Brothers’ craters, till it stood almost-but-not-quite perpendicular to the floor.  As the scaffold rose, the spotlights attached to it panned out over the crowd, shining straight into the eyes of the audience members, before converging on Sakurai as he stood in the center of the stage, sans jacket and hat, dangling his skull cane ominously between his fingers.

This song is timeless, conceptually one of Buck-Tick’s deepest, and also one of the best examples of Imai’s minimalist songwriting genius.  Though the same simple riff repeats throughout, it never gets boring—rather, it hypnotizes the listener into a sort of dream state, perfect for the contemplation of the monster of a theme Sakurai tackles in these lyrics: no one but the dead know what death is.  It’s a great song whenever Buck-Tick perform it, and they gave it an interesting twist on the Tenshi no Revolver tour, with the addition of a Bach fugue melody to Imai’s guitar line.  In my opinion, however, “Mienai Mono” is much more suited to Yumemiru Uchuu than to Tenshi no Revolver, thematically, musically, and visually (not only does the main riff in “Elise” resemble the main riff in “Mienai Mono,” but the PVs are similar too).  Furthermore, playing “Mienai Mono” at the bottom of this deep dark valley of the dark night of the Buck-Tick songs helped bring out its full eerie power.  Imai didn’t bother with the Bach fugue riff this time, but he didn’t need to—his ghostly, swooping overtones were more effective in creating a chillingly mysterious atmosphere.  Sakurai danced in and out of the spotlights Peter Murphy style, singing most of the song to the grinning skullface atop his cane, before using the cane to play a sort of tableau of the Ages of Man—who walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening.

When the song ended, the stage stayed dark as the rectangular screens once again lowered from the flyspace.  Sakurai made a short detour to the back of the stage to don his sexytaxi hat once more.  That could mean only one thing: it was jazzytime!  Time for fans to get their things swingin’, their cats scatting, and their doobies doo-bopping!  Time for “Yasou.”

I wrote at length about the narrative structure of “Yasou” in my analytical article Love Dreamy Music Baby OF DEATH, so if you’re interested you can go read about it there. Buck-Tick’s live staging of this song just proves I was correct in my analysis.  Throughout the song, silver spots shone down like moonlight, and the images on the projection screen very carefully mirrored the lyrics—scattering cherry blossoms on the first verse, insect wings and drenching rain on the second verse, and on the third verse, a blood-red higanbana or hurricane lily, blooming then wilting.  The higanbana is a wildflower which blooms in ditches, beside rice fields, and on riverbanks all over Japan around the autumn equinox and ohigan, a holy time in the Buddhist calendar when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is thin.  Thus, the higanbana came to be associated with death and ghosts.  Sakurai has used the higanbana image in his work several times before, notably in the lyrics for “Heroin” and “Tensei,” and though he doesn’t mention it specifically in “Yasou,” it works very well with the theme of the song, of the end of summer and the coming dark.  I would have been perfectly happy to see this image used throughout the whole tour, but “Yasou” was one of the songs for which the imagery evolved as the tour went on.  During the second half of the tour, the cherry blossoms changed from pink to monochrome, and the other projections changed to images of a gyrating woman in a shiny black corset and thigh-high lace-up boots, wearing a hat very similar to Sakurai’s.  Whether she was supposed to be the same woman from “Elise” and “Lady Skeleton” was open to interpretation, and perhaps she wasn’t intended so much to be Sakurai’s lover as a female version of him, but either way, her presence reframed the song as less fable-like and even more desperate, sensual and masochistic.  With the solid support of Toll’s unfaltering, firm-riding ride cymbal to back him, true to the conventions of jazz, Imai felt free to play a completely different guitar solo at every show.

Then, when the last notes of “Yasou” went out with a doobie-doobie-dah, Imai began noodling on his guitar again.  Partway through the tour, Sakurai picked up on this.  Imai played a few clean tones on his guitar, and Sakurai answered him.

“Hah!” he called into the darkened hall.  The fans cheered.

Imai hit his strings again, and out came a roar of feedback.

“Gggraaarrrrrghhh!” Sakurai screamed, in a very passable attempt at a death growl.  The fans giggled, and Imai played another clean tone.

“Whooo!” Sakurai sang, clear, melodic, and operatic.

So Imai played more screeching feedback.

“GRAAAAAAAAGHHH!” Sakurai growled again, and the fans roared with laughter.  Imai and Sakurai repeated this exchange several more times, before the band launched into “SANE –type II–.”

It’s interesting to see how “SANE” has evolved since the Razzle Dazzle tour, when the band played it at every show in its original arrangement.  On the Razzle Dazzle tour, it came over dark and mysterious, slow and hypnotic, accompanied by Matrix-like typing of white letters on a black screen.  This time, however, it has been transformed into a fast-paced, heavy rock song for the fans to dance to.  Instead of Matrix letters, this time, the lightboards displayed a grid of rushing dots in white, red, and blue, swirling into the sorts of patterns that surely would have looked even cooler under the influence of psychoactive substances (though surely, neither Imai nor Cayce has ever put this hypothesis to the test.)  During each chorus, the lights came up white and bright, while the fans joined in on singing the lyrics, jumping and pumping their fists in the air.

After “SANE,” the stage went dark again.  Sense a pattern?  So did I.  If I had one quibble with the staging of this tour, it was that they didn’t light the stage well enough.  Though the pictures they created with the lights were certainly pretty, it was often a little difficult to see the band members, especially since the band members tended to keep well back from the edge of the stage.  On the other hand, what pleased me about the staging of this tour was the way in which it had clearly been developed according to the band members’ wishes.  I find it hard to imagine that Buck-Tick’s previous label would have allowed them to get away with such a moody, broody show—and moody and broody are what Buck-Tick do best.

In the partial blackout, Imai played delayed seventh chords and pentatonic scales on his guitar, while into the microphone, Sakurai whispered, “Tadaima.” (“I’m home.”)  Then Toll clicked his sticks again three times, and the band started into “Adult Children.”

There were a lot of directions the band could have taken this song, and over the course of the tour, they explored several.  In general, the stage stayed quite dark, with a white spotlight shining on Sakurai while different images came up on the projection screens. However, partway through the tour, the specific images changed, and so did Sakurai’s actions on stage.

During the first part of the tour, the screens displayed images of a field of cosmos flowers in full bloom, interspersed with the very literal image of a lonely boy in the corner of a shadowy, empty space, hugging his knees.  The cosmos flowers were a beautiful touch, but in my opinion the boy was unnecessary—Sakurai gave the song all it needed simply through the power of his performance.  Kneeling on the stage, he slapped the floor with his hands, creating an image of confinement, daring the empty room to show him something more.  When the chorus rolled around, the lightboards shifted to display a night sky covered with stars, and now it looked like the band were floating in space, with Sakurai playing first the role of the tempting devil, then the role of the tempted child.  During the second verse, Sakurai sank back down on the floor, hugging himself as if to shield himself as he sang “When you hold me so close within your love/And I drift into a sleep.”  This line marks the beginning of Imai’s extended guitar solo, during which Sakurai allowed himself to keel over listlessly and lie motionless on the floor, staring up at the ceiling.  Sakurai has crawled around on the floor at plenty of shows in the past, but usually to show feelings of either pleasure, menace, or madness, so this novel evocation of powerlessness and fear was very effective, especially given that Imai made sure to nail every last note of that solo.  When the solo was over, Sakurai pulled himself upright again and ended the song standing, bidding goodbye to the devils and bidding the audience to sing with him, as the cosmos flowers came back once more.  Perhaps we could say this was the “innocence” or “childhood” staging of this song.

During the second half of the tour, though, we were shown the “experience” or “adult” version, and it was a much less uplifting picture.  The cosmos flowers and sad boy were replaced with images of an empty room, an empty swing, and an empty, uncomfortable-looking metal-frame bed, interspersed with periods of darkness and short disturbing flashes of scissors, bloody hemostats, and syringes (childhood trauma leading to drug use, anyone?)  During Imai’s solo, a monochrome paintbox overturned and spilled into a wash of grey that turned into a wave of crimson blood, and this time, Sakurai didn’t lie down, but beat furiously on the floor and ran around in circles as if looking for the way out.  When singing about the devil, he was no longer the Candyman tempting a child, but instead mimed the sexual temptations of adulthood, adding further ambiguity to that line “come on love with me.”  Surely he’s not saying love is a bad thing, but perhaps he’s making a comment about love’s potential destructive power?  All in all, the second staging of “Adult Children” was much more disquieting and didn’t offer the same sort of resolution that the first staging did…but perhaps, that’s because the ultimate message of this song is, our choices rest on our shoulders alone.  We control our own destinies.  At the end of the song, when the last of the instruments died out, Sakurai whispered, “Okaeri.” (“Welcome back.”)

The next song in the lineup was “Inter Raptor.”  I’d been looking forward to seeing this one live, and it didn’t disappoint.  As on other songs, the imagery on the projection screens remained closely tied to the lyrics of the song, with time-lapse film of the deep orange setting sun passing behind Sakurai at the exact moment he sang the lyric “monochrome the sun is a-sinking,” to then be replaced by images of wings, scales, clouds, and finally, close-ups of fierce-beaked yellow-eyed raptor faces.  Even the lighting design reflected the theme of the song, with a chase of blood-red spotlights passing across the stage in time with the infectious beat.  Over the course of the tour, this became a singalong song, Sakurai holding the microphone out to the audience every other line on the chorus, to keep them jumping.  When he held up one finger to show just how alone he was, everyone mirrored him (maybe he’s not so alone after all.)  For “Inter Raptor,” Imai used the dark purple version of his curly Maimai guitar, fingering the searing solo perfectly every time.  At the end of the song, the all the lights came up deep red, to match the images of dripping blood and pulsing veins on the screens behind the band.  Sakurai said in several interviews that this song was about “how I want to remain carnivorous forever more!”  (N.b. that in Japanese, “carnivorous” (“nikushoku”) is also a slang term for voracious sexuality.)  When the interviewers asked if this were merely Sakurai’s own personal feeling, or if it applied to the whole band, the other band members giggled and shook their heads…but I beg to differ.  I think this song is enough to turn even vegans into predators!

“Inter Raptor” was followed by the beautiful and haunting “Miss Take,” which balanced the red color scheme with cool blues and greens.  The final song in the set was, of course, “Climax Together,” and the fans knew the drill by now—this song was written to sing along to!  Rainbow lights flashed as the band members ran from one end of the stage to the other, Imai and Hide switching sides, Yutaka coming down center in a bid to grab some squees, and Sakurai prancing along the front edge of the stage, making sexual motions with his hips every time he sang the word “iku.”

With the exception of the first stop on the tour, in Yokosuka on October 6th, the main set remained the same for the whole tour.  However, the band rotated through different encore selections each night—the only encore song besides the final closing number “Yumemiru Uchuu” which they played reliably every time was “Coyote,” no doubt because Sakurai loves this song to pieces.  I can’t complain, I love it to pieces, too, especially since it’s Buck-Tick’s only fully acoustic number besides “Mr. Darkness & Mrs. Moonlight” (Cayce to Buck-Tick: BRING THIS SONG BACK!)

On “Coyote,” Yutaka played his wooden standup bass, and Imai freely improvised on his acoustic guitar while the fans clapped along.  Despite the lack of any overt lyrical references to the desert, something about this song seems irrevocably tied up with desert imagery, and the staging remained much the same as it has been on previous tours—angled orange light shining from a high corner behind Sakurai, representing the setting sun.  The difference was that this time, the projection screens gave us pictures of an actual desertscape, with a distinctly otherworldly aura—over the orange sand, an alien moon hung low and heavy in the sky.  It might have come across as space western, but for the elegance with which Sakurai performed the song, his face and arms half hidden under an enveloping, sheer black shawl trimmed with little golden coins, reminding me irresistibly of the writings of Storm Constantine (which are incidentally high up on my “if you like Buck-Tick, you might also like” list.)  Apparently some fans thought this scarf thing looked stupid, and made fun of it mercilessly.  All I have to say to them is 1) Sakurai has always had a thing for putting things on his head and 2) shut up you’re wrong it was cool as a cucumber and hawt as a hawt dog wow those were some phallic similes rofl!!!11 :P

Other songs the band performed during the encore sets included recent favorites like “Dokudanjou Beauty,” “Tango Swanka,” and “Tenshi wa Dare da,” as well as some more unusual choices like “Flame” (nice to see them playing more ballads!) and “idol,” on which Imai played his Flying V guitar.  Another song that made a number of appearances during the encores was the new, rearranged version of “Tight Rope” that appeared as the b-side on the Alice in Wonder Underground single (which the band also played a few times.)  Most encore songs didn’t have video imagery associated with them, but “Tight Rope” was an exception to this—the screen displayed the image of a long, swaying rope, stretching out from the back of the stage through infinite black starry space.  Sakurai spent most of this song perched on the edge of Toll’s crater, in front of the drum set, walking hesitantly back and forth as if traversing a real tight rope, while the rest of the band played bathed in cool, dappled starry light, as if they were all drifting through space together like Major Tom.

A few times, Buck-Tick also played older classics.  Apparently in their minds, Chiba has now become deeply associated with their 25th anniversary festival, and at the live performance in Chiba, Sakurai couldn’t stop giggling and making silly jokes about how much it had rained on the festival (jokes like, “That was some impressive rain!  We all got so wet, didn’t we? *wink*”)  They then performed “Speed,” as a special act of fanservice.  Back when Buck-Tick were signed to Ariola, I got totally sick of this song, because they seemed to play it at every show, but by the time they played it in Chiba, they hadn’t played it for months, and suddenly it sounded fresh and exciting again.  Set list rotation is key!

Similarly, at their 12-12-12 show in their hometown of Takasaki, Buck-Tick performed “Iconoclasm” during the encore, and the fans nearly cried with admiration and love.  Seeing Buck-Tick perform live in Takasaki is always special, if for no other reason than to be able to appreciate the young men (possibly former classmates) shouting “welcome home!”, and the little old white-haired ladies in wheelchairs sitting in the VIP section, who I have no doubt were familial relations of the band members.  Their dedication to seeing their boys play live despite their infirmity and old age never fails to make me teary.

Since we’re based in Tokyo, it’s often difficult for us to get out of the city and go see Buck-Tick play in other parts of the country, but we’re glad that this time we had a chance to attend some of the shows “in the provinces”—in addition to Yokosuka and Takasaki, which are basically on the borders of the greater Tokyo metropolitan area, we also had the chance to attend the show in Shizuoka City, an hour’s ride away by local Shinkansen.  In truth, we hadn’t planned on going to the Shizuoka show.  But then, in typical not greatest fashion, the night before the show, we got a call from a friend who said, “Cayce, darling, I was planning on going to Shizuoka tomorrow but I forgot it’s my wedding anniversary!  Clearly I can’t ditch my husband for the Buck-Tick members on my wedding anniversary!  Would you like to go instead?”

And as it happened, we didn’t have anything to do the next day, so we decided, what the hell, let’s go.  I’m quite glad we went.  Shizuoka is a much smaller city than Tokyo, and far enough away that it attracts a completely different crowd of fans, many of whom are ardent and demonstrative of their fandom in unique, flamboyant ways that are rarely seen in Tokyo.  When we found our seat in the venue (which wasn’t sold out), we found ourselves seated across the aisle from a pair of 40-something women, one of whom, belying her age, was dressed in true hime-gyaru style, in a flouncy pink bow-covered dress and a pushup bra, with a mile-high pile of curlicue curls on her head, surmounted by a gigantic glittery rhinestone tiara.  After spending most of the show screaming “Acchan!” at the top of her lungs, when dear Mr. Sakurai finally deigned to come down the hanamichi on her side of the stage, she jumped out of her seat and rushed down to meet him, curls bouncing, and I’ll never know how she kept her footing on those stairs, in the dark, wearing those 12-centimeter heel Lucite go-go boots.  If anything, however, that woman's friend was more extreme, despite her small stature and overall boyish, mousy appearance.  Dressed in a handmade t-shirt featuring a gigantic graphic of Toll’s face across the back, with the caption “ANII,” written in romaji in a cheesy handwriting font,  this woman spent the entirety of the show screaming for Toll in a high-pitched voice resembling a sexually aroused alleycat, screaming, “Anii!  Aniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!!!!!  Look this way, Anii!!!!!!!  ANII, COME TO ME!!!!!!!!!!!”  

All this, and Toll didn’t even look at her once.

Plenty of more demurely behaved fans also exhibited unusual fashions—after the show, we also ran into a woman wearing an exact copy of Imai’s outfit from the DIQ 2009 (read: the one with the Our Lady of Guadalupe fabric!), which she had sewed herself after locating the correct fabric online.  Unfortunately, she had not seen fit to add white chicken feathers to the jacket lapels.  We’ll give her a good solid 80% anyway.

The fact is, these fans need to wave their fan flags high and proud—a lot of them don’t get to see Buck-Tick very often, and the Buck-Tick members know it, which is surely one reason why they often tend to be much wilder and looser at shows that aren’t in Tokyo.  In Shizuoka, Imai and Hoshino spent most of the encore songs way out on the hanamichi, playing directly to screaming crowds of fans who had left their seats to go and cheer for their favorite guitarists up close and personal, and even Sakurai was willing to get close enough to the edge of the stage to let the fans touch him.  It all started out innocently enough—Sakurai made faces at the fans while they jumped and cheered, held out the microphone so they could sing along, held out his hands so they could grab his fingers and squee to their friends later that they’d actually touched him.  Then one fan apparently decided that one type of finger-pulling was as good as another, so quick as a flash, she reached out and grabbed herself a nice big handful of cherry-blossom orchids (read: SHE GRABBED HIS KNACKERS, YO!)  Cue Sakurai jumping swiftly back from the edge of the stage and not letting the fans touch him anymore for the rest of the show.

A word on this: Sakurai may invite the fans to touch him on more neutral locations like his hands and feet, and do a lot of suggestive gyration onstage that puts ideas in fans’ heads about less neutral locations that they would also like to try exploring in an ideal fantasy world that has sorry to burst your bubble a very slim chance of intersecting with this plane of reality, but no matter how much you want to, and no matter if he thought it was funny and laughed afterward, randomly grabbing a stranger’s naughty bits is really not acceptable behavior.  Especially not when the dude’s wearing nothing but a kilt and tights.  Men are a bit fragile down there!

Though I didn’t witness any other sexual harassment incidents of quite this magnitude, Buck-Tick did make quite a splash by selecting “Kimi no Vanilla” as one of their regular encore numbers, to the fans’ great delight.  Yutaka also seemed keen to entice Sakurai into impromptu games of Touch Butt during the solo for “Dokudanjou Beauty,” bouncing up to the front of the stage, turning his back on the audience and wiggling his tush back and forth while accidentally-on-purpose drawing closer and closer to Sakurai, who often appeared to take no notice, but in Omiya took the bait wholeheartedly and gave Yutaka’s left cheek a robust squeeze that left Yuta looking entirely too thrilled.

All in all, this was a very ambitious tour, and it continued for three solid months, traversing the whole country, from the southern-most tip of Kyushu all the way to Sapporo in Hokkaido, and at last, it culminated at Buck-Tick’s traditional year-end festival on December 29th at the Nippon Budoukan.  Everyone calls this event The Day in Question, but this year it was officially the Yumemiru Uchuu Tour Final, which meant that it featured largely the same staging, costumes, and set list as the rest of the tour.  The band members had intimated that they might add a little something special to this show, and while they could have done more than they did, just seeing the visual spectacle of this set on the huge Budoukan stage was special enough.  In addition, by the end of the tour, they had tweaked the video for the opening sequence so that now, all the bubbles and natural images had becoming blood, rushing through the veins of a beating heart.

And there were a few special moments at the Budoukan—I’m not sure how I feel about the line of girls who stood in the first balcony wearing matching AKB48-style outfits, holding a banner and doing a synchronized cheer routine, but I was amused and touched in equal measure to see the entire staff of video jockeys and guitar techs, who were sequestered in a sort of technorchestra pit on Imai’s side of the stage and included at least twelve people, clapping in unison throughout the entirety of “Mermaid.”

Buck-Tick also added a few old favorites to their encore set, namely “Jupiter” and “Just One More Kiss,” which no doubt made all their old friends up in the balcony all kinds of nostalgic.  But, as always, they ended the set with the eponymous number “Yumemiru Uchuu.”  The stage lights went dim and blue, and Imai played the introduction, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” flipping a switch to turn on a bright white light built into his guitar.  It glowed like the Star of Eärendil in the middle of the dark stage.  No doubt Imai hoped it might be a light to the fans in dark places, when all other lights go out.

At the end of the song, when Sakurai had bid the fans goodnight, bowed, and left the stage, and the other band members had followed one by one, Imai stayed on, twiddling his guitar effects sampler until he made a loop he liked, then leaving the stage without turning off the sound.

But though some fans were already fleeing the hall in an attempt to beat the crowd rush, the show wasn’t yet over!  As Imai departed the stage, a projection screen slowly lowered into place, on which a video started playing—a video of Sakurai humming to himself as he entered the recording studio, to join Imai in planning out the vocal track to a song which we quickly identified as “Yasou.”  The clip continued with footage of Yutaka in thick-framed librarian glasses bossily lecturing Toll on rhythms, yet still failing to look like a 46-year-old man.  This was followed by footage of the tour truck zipping down the night highway to the soundtrack of “Nocturne –Rain Song–” –a distinctly odd choice of background music that could only mean one thing: this was the first official trailer to the Buck-Tick movie!  The clip finished with the band members preparing to go onstage for the Yumemiru Uchuu tour, vanishing one by one leaving Sakurai alone in the dressing room to adjust his very very very fine hat.  When this image appeared on the screen, a fangirl near me lost control and whisper-shrieked “kakkoii~~~~<3!!!!” and all the fans in my vicinity started laughing.

“Buck-Tick: The Movie…coming to theaters nationwide, March 2013!” read the tagline at the end of the trailer.

But that wasn’t all!  Still more white kanji appeared on the screen, announcing to the fans wild delight that two shows had been tacked onto the end of the Cosmic Dreamer Tour.  And not only that, but the second of these two shows would fall on Mr. Sakurai’s birthday.  And not only THAT, but Buck-Tick would also be playing a charity show on March 11th, the two-year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, at the Seinenkan in Ikebukuro, the venue where they made their major debut.

“Ciao, We <3 All” the final announcement read, and the fans cheered wildly.

Thus concluded the Yumemiru Uchuu tour, and with it, Buck-Tick’s activities for the year 2012, the year of their 25th anniversary.  What a year that was!  They brought us two singles, two deliciously rainy outdoor shows in Hibiya Park, a nationwide standing tour with powerhouse special guests, the half-century birthday bash of the century for their long-enduring drummer, their 19th killer studio album, a two-day festival in Chiba Port Park featuring half the 90’s visual kei scene, and finally, this three-month long hall tour extravaganza.  And they’re planning even more for next year!  So all of you Buck-Tick lovers out there, send them your prayers, good feelings, and care packages full of protein bars, Vicks drops, dried figs, and facial-hair-enhancing wakame and kombu seaweed.  They’re working on a hard schedule and we need them to keep their health.  After all, now that it’s 2013, their 30th anniversary is right around the corner!

Set List

05. Yumeji
08. Jonathan Jet-Coaster/Zangai (Yokosuka only)
10. Yasou

encores varied depending on the show.

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