Buck-Tick Cosmic Dreamer Tour 2013
January 20th at Okinawa Namura Hall
Live Report by Cayce
Photos by Cayce

After a year of more or less nonstop partying in 2012, Buck-Tick kicks off 2013 with yet another tour.  Lately in interviews they’ve been expressing some desire to take a vacation, and perhaps this was why they chose to start up this dead-of-winter tour in Japan’s own subtropical demi-paradise, Okinawa.  After all, it’s the warmest place you can go and still remain in Japan.

  

Okinawa, also known as the Ryuukyuu Islands, is a chain of small islands located well south of the Japanese archipelago, about halfway between Japan and Taiwan.  For centuries the Ryuukyuu Islands was its own independent kingdom and a crossroads of trade between China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Japan.  Though the Ryuukyuu Kingdom paid tribute to China for hundreds of years, it was eventually taken over by Japan and adopted as a Japanese prefecture in much the same way that Hawaii was adopted as a US state.  Though under Japanese law, Okinawa is no different from any other Japanese prefecture, Okinawa’s colonial history and cultural/linguistic differences from mainland Japan continue to have a profound effect on its relationship with the rest of the country.

Under pressure from Japan to assimilate to the Japanese language and way of life, the traditional culture of Okinawa occupies a tenuous position.  Though traditional Okinawan music, art, and cuisine have come to be loved and admired on mainland Japan, the Ryuukyuu languages are in danger of dying out as younger generations of Okinawans fail to learn them from their parents and grandparents, and, as in other parts of the world, traditional culture of all kinds continues to be pushed aside in favor of more McDonalds’ and Family Marts.  Of course, it didn’t help that during some of the last and bloodiest battles of the Pacific War, Naha, the Okinawan capital, was burned to the ground, and thousands of people and cultural treasures burned along with it.  The US military continues to occupy the island even today, and controversy still simmers between military interests and the native population.  US military bases take up a significant portion of the land area on Okinawa’s largest island, and numerous incidents involving the rape and assault of Okinawan women by US military personnel, as well as toxic pollution from secret chemical weapons tests conducted in the decades following World War II remain fraught, contentious issues.  Many Okinawans want the US military off their islands, and some even argue in favor of Okinawa becoming its own independent country.

However, despite its difficult past and uncertain future, Okinawa has a well-deserved reputation as warm, welcoming cultural crossroads with a different vibe from mainland Japan.  The Japanese mainland has a temperate climate with cold winters and hot summers, but the climate in Okinawa is sub-tropical, and even in the middle of winter (that’s right now, y’all) the temperature remains balmy, hovering between 10 and 20 degrees Celsius.  Banyan trees and bougainvillea abound, the crystal blue waters off the white sand beaches teem with coral and tropical fish, and the markets overflow with sugarcane and pineapple.  Naha may be a big, loud city full of cars and office buildings, but though it’s only a three hour plane flight away from Tokyo, it’s got none of Tokyo’s ruthless busyness—the Okinawan locals shuffle slowly down streets lined with palm trees, and the storefronts shuttered by day open up into shining, raucous bars by night, full of people speaking Japanese, English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, and many other languages.  The hallways of the Naha airport are lined with planters full of orchids in full bloom, the adorable Yui Monorail plays a different Okinawan folk song at each station, and red ceramic shiisa lions guard the roofs of every building.  Okinawa is more than worth a visit whether or not Buck-Tick is playing.

   

   

   

Buck-Tick got their start in Tokyo, and without a doubt, the bulk of their fans still reside in and around the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.  The Tokyo fans have a special kind of jealous, zealous yet jaded attitude that’s easy to ignore or take for granted, until you go see the band play somewhere else.  Competition for tickets is so fierce in Tokyo that it’s hard to imagine Buck-Tick ever not selling out a show, yet reportedly, at their show last fall in Saga prefecture (in Kyushu), the hall was only two-thirds full, and the Kyushu fans in the front few rows stood still and silent while Mr. Sakurai attempted repeatedly to engage them, to no avail.  Is this because the Kyushu fans don’t like the band as much as the Tokyo fans, or is it because they’re not used to rock concerts, or is it because they’re so overwhelmed to see their band performing in their home territory that they’re too touched and moved to even cheer?  It’s hard to tell.

But that’s Kyushu…what about Okinawa?  Here at NGS, we’ve been hearing glowing reports for years about how special, different, and fun it is to see Buck-Tick perform in Okinawa.  Therefore, we were determined to go see for ourselves, and in March 2011, we saw our golden opportunity come with the Utakata no Razzle Dazzle tour.  So we booked our plane tickets and packed up our sunhats and bikinis and then a big nasty Nukequake came along and spoiled all our fun!  The tour was rescheduled, of course, but unfortunately, we couldn’t make the new dates, and had to wait till next time.  Well, next time is now, folks!  So now Not Greatest Site is proud to bring you our first ever report on Buck-Tick live in Okinawa.

Though a lot of Tokyo-area Buck-Tick fans use Buck-Tick’s Okinawa gigs as an excuse to take a semi-tropical vacation, there are nowhere near enough fan-tourists to fill Namura Hall, Buck-Tick’s preferred Okinawa venue.  Typically, the locals are also lackadaisical about buying tickets.  Therefore, Buck-Tick’s only solution is to advertise.  Old men like the B-T boys get scant media attention in Tokyo, where the billboards appear to only have time for the nubile likes of SexyZone, the new Johnny’s boy-group in which the youngest member is only eleven years old (how is this legal?)  But in Okinawa, a local fan told us excitedly that Buck-Tick are advertised on TV and their songs appear in commercials.  And indeed, walking down Naha’s main happening street Kokusai-doori a few hours before the show, we noticed that the windows of Takara Records, a large indie record store and live space, were plastered with Buck-Tick posters, and that some of the passersby were eyeing them interestedly.  When we went inside to take a closer look, we were delighted to find that right next to extensive shelves of local Okinawan music was a large, prominent display table covered with Buck-Tick’s latest CDs, and, in the place of honor, a genuine Fernandes “Aka Maimai,” Imai’s signature curly red guitar.  The saleswoman didn’t even noticed when we pulled out our camera to snap a few photos on the down-low—she was too busy helping another customer look at local-style snakeskin shamisens, or “jamisen,” as they are sometimes called.  Ladies and gentlemen, you are now in Okinawa.

    


Even at 4:30 PM, a mere half an hour before the venue doors were scheduled to open, very few fans waited on the street outside Namura Hall.  Lines for tour goods at Buck-Tick shows normally stretch around the block, but at Namura Hall, there wasn’t even a line, and fans drifted freely in and out of the area where the goods were being sold.  When the doors were due to open, the venue staff, clearly unused to dealing with a show of this kind, lined the fans up by ticket number with meticulous care on the street outside the venue, then let them in two by two in order, without calling a single number through a megaphone (which is the way it’s normally done.)

“If we catch you using a cell phone, there is a possibility…the possibility that you will be kicked out of the venue is…extremely high!” a staff member stammered, more as if he were trying to get himself geared up to mete out discipline than as if he were trying to warn the fans.

If I had to guess, I’d guess that Namura Hall is more of a dance club than a live house.  The door is surmounted by a big glorious tacky sign all lit up in rainbow colors, the bar serves nothing but cheap, sugary canned cocktails and Orion beer, the stage is low, and the floor itself is flat and tiled, devoid of rakes or railings.  The ceiling, too, is low, hung with disco balls and ringed with tiers of angled mirrors that reflected the fans’ faces back at themselves as they pressed up against the padded railing in front of the stage.  About seven rows back, the crowd crush petered out into a loose mass of locals, some of whom had surely bought tickets that day, and stood idly in the back, drinking beer, chatting, and showing zero interest in the pair of middle-aged goth-loli ladies whose corsage-topped matching mini-hats were blocking the view of everyone behind them.

Thus continued the pre-show scene for approximately half and hour.  But then, before the show had started, before the stage entrance music had come on, before the lights had even been dimmed, without any warning at all, out onto the stage strode Imai Hisashi, and all the fans rushed to the front at once.  Imai wasn’t even carrying his guitar.  Without saying anything to the fans, he strutted up to the edge of the stage, turned his back on the crowd, and posed there in his black, red, and yellow striped suit while a photographer with a gigantic camera snapped a few glamour shots using the jumping, shrieking, standing-up-on-tiptoe fans as a backdrop.  Then quick as a flash, Imai disappeared back into the “dressing room”—not a real room, but a curtained-off area at the corner of the dance floor, separated from the fans by nothing more than a railing and a few security guards trying as hard as they could to look serious and imposing.  About ten minutes later, the lights went down and the show began.

For fans who attended the Yumemiru Uchuu tour last fall, it might come as no surprise that the stage entrance music for the Cosmic Dreamer tour is an electronic noise re-interpretation of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” which evolved into whole-tone scales and then into dance beat, welcoming the band members onstage.  The ceiling at Namura Hall is so low that there was no room for platforms for Toll or Yutaka, with the result that they were a little hard to see, situated as they were at the smoky back of the stage, but Imai’s newly blond hair stood out a mile.  As the band members checked their instruments, the music shifted again, screeching and finally resolving itself into the “Swan Lake” theme, upon which Sakurai made his grand entrance and the band struck up “Kirameki no Naka de.”

Maybe this is a slightly ominous, uneasy number with which to start the tour, but the band members couldn’t have been more at ease.  A scant three weeks after the Day in Question, they’re still in tip-top form, and the more intimate quality of a standing tour allowed for a less serious, more playful atmosphere, which was even reflected in the band members’ costumes.  Imai, in his striped suit, was the most dressed up of the five.  The Higuchi brothers both wore royal blue, Toll in a minimalist but well-draped suit, and Yutaka in a brand new sailor jacket.  Hide favored his usual sloppy black, accented by an unusual metallic scarf made of something resembling chain mail.  Sakurai, on the other hand, was wearing an outfit that might well have been pulled from the back of his cartoon closet where all the clothes look the same—a black suit, long-sleeved black shirt, and skinny, shiny, gunmetal tie.  And we spoke too soon when we suggested that he’s left the era of ill-fitting pants behind, because his pants at this show definitely appeared to be a size too big for him.  This may have been on purpose, but more on that later.

The band played “Kirameki no Naka de” in the same rendition they performed at Toll’s 50th birthday live back in August, with Imai adding in the “Swan Lake” riff all the way through.  This time, fortunately, Sakurai did not change the lyrics from “You me and all of us, into the glittering” to “You and me and all of us ARE GONNA DIE,” but he did sing in an eerie falsetto during the bridge, barely illuminated by deep green and red lights as the smoky air swirled around him.

Next up came “Lady Skeleton,” “Only You,” and “Elise.”  All of these up-beat, danceable songs are more suited to a standing tour than a hall tour, but most of the fans at this show preferred to stand and watch, rather than dance, though they certainly jumped and cheered.

Then came one of the most anticipated songs of the night—“Mermaid,” which might as well be a theme song for Okinawa.  Though the projections of waves and tropical fish used during the hall tour were of course gone for the standing tour, it was easy to imagine them when real beaches and tropical fish were only a stone’s throw away.  Hide has given up the pompadour hairstyle he wore during the hall tour in favor of his usual wavy, shaggy style, his newfound rock-n-roll attitude continues to grow and blossom.  Sidling right up to the edge of the stage, bouncing his new white guitar against his hip, Hide grinned and made faces at all the fans in his vicinity as if he knew each and every one of them personally, tossing out picks and acting out shading himself from the imaginary sun.  Imai’s face, on the other hand, remained completely frozen and expressionless throughout the whole show.  Sakurai, for his part, mimed the lyrics more sexually than ever before.

“Okinawa!” Sakurai called when the song was finished.  “Let’s dance!”  And now, the band took a break from the Yumemiru Uchuu material by playing “Alice in Wonder Underground,” followed by “Zekkai” and “Coyote.”

Ever since Buck-Tick have separated from Ariola, all the band members have appeared visibly more comfortable and at ease in all aspects of their work, and this show just made it more apparent.  Rather than playing the same slew of greatest hits at every single show, as they were wont to do while they were still beholden to a major label, many of the song picks for this show felt like a grab-bag of the band members’ own personal favorites.  In interviews, Sakurai has made no secret of the fact that “Zekkai” and “Coyote” are two of his favorite songs, and his love for these songs was abundantly apparent in his performance.  Though the dim lighting, low stage and smoky air made the band members intermittently hard to see, Sakurai had a passionate, intense energy about him that transfixed the crowd even though he seemed to be having trouble with some of the lyrics and spent much more time gazing downward at the lyrics monitor than outward toward the audience.  After so many years of performing, he’s learned how to wear his miss takes so well they don’t even come across as mistakes.  Eyes downcast, he appeared compellingly lost in his own world—though he also may have had a cold.  During one of Imai’s solos later on the in the show, Sakurai sneaked over to the edge of the stage and signaled to a staff member, who promptly procured a box of tissues.  Sakurai extracted a tissue, wiped his nose, then started laughing.  Perhaps he thought the fans would be too focused on Imai’s red-hot guitar to notice.

From here, the show continued with “Zangai,” a song which Buck-Tick played at the first show on the hall tour back in October, but then discarded from the rest of the tour, probably because it made the overall set list overwhelmingly dark and heavy.  At this show, though, “Zangai” fit right in, as a great excuse to jump and dance.

A little surprisingly, “Zangai” was followed by “Yasou.”  Though this is my personal favorite song on the whole Yumemiru Uchuu album, I never expected it to make it to the standing tour—I assumed it would be deemed too shibui, too much of an acquired taste.  But then, I have a strong sense that “Yasou” is another favorite of Sakurai’s.  He seems to have a fondness for these dark, sensual yet vaguely intellectual songs that don’t fit the profile of mainstream hits, and once again, there was a special kind of strength and intensity to his performance.  Though unlike on the hall tour, he had no taxi driver/male stripper hat at his disposal to aid him in sexing up this song, he managed to convey the right atmosphere of erotic desperation perfectly well, simply by reaching one of his black fingernailed hands right down the front of his slightly-too-big pants.  Perhaps to the dismay of the fangirls, the pants were still tight enough that he only managed to wedge his fingers partway into the waistband before giving up…but the retreat was only temporary.  At the end of the song, having realized that fingers wouldn’t work, he changed his tactic and stuck his wireless microphone down his pants instead.  As might be expected, the microphone didn’t fit very well either.  As one fan so astutely observed after the fact on her blog: “Acchan’s choice of a three-piece suit as a costume for this tour enables us to easily observe which direction he’s pointing at any given moment in the show.”  Sorry, Mike, those pants are already occupied!  (Oh dear was that a COCK JOKE that we just made?  What is this site coming to??????)

Undaunted, as the last strains of “Yasou” died out, Sakurai pulled the microphone back out of his pants, raised it to his mouth, and started breathing heavily.

“Ohhh…ohhh SEX!” he moaned, and the band started into one of biggest fan favorites from the hall tour, “Kimi no Vanilla.”

“It’s been so long since Acchan has said the word ‘sex’ onstage,” the fangirls gushed after the show.  “It’s a sound for sore ears!”  But whatever one’s preferences are on aural sex, this new rendition of “Kimi no Vanilla” is certainly spicy.  In addition to playing the explicit kissy-kissy noises that appear on the beginning of the Six/Nine recording of the song over the PA before the song started, Sakurai sang all the lyrics live, rather than relying on a backup track for the second voice part, as he has sometimes been known to do.  Though Hide did not deign to play keyboards, during the instrumental break, Imai played circus melodies on his guitar while Sakurai went all the way down to Hide’s corner of the stage, perched his pointy boots on the railing, and made enthusiastic love to the air in front of him.

Like all the best sexual escapades, no one wanted “Kimi no Vanilla” to end so soon, but soon, the song had, in fact, finished, and Imai was back to diddling noisily on his guitar.  Sakurai growled into the microphone, imitating the guitar effects.  

“Something tells me…you’ve heard this song somewhere before!” he gargled, and the band started into “SANE –type II–,” another song perfectly suited to the intimate energy of a live house.  But the next song threw everyone off guard—“Bolero,” for the first time since the Razzle Dazzle hall tour back in 2010.  This, I feel sure, was Imai’s pick, probably because it’s a song with personal meaning to him.  And though it’s not really a top favorite of mine, I’d much rather hear the songs the band members want to play than yet another performance of “Aku no Hana,” any day of the week.  “Bolero” is also a song that shows off Buck-Tick’s skills in their best light.  The slow, swoopy melody highlights Sakurai’s voice to best effect, and belying the indifference of his expressionless face, Imai played a meticulously accurate solo.  In fact, when the show continued with “Miss Take” and “Inter Raptor,” Imai nailed those solos, too—could it be that he’s left his “interpretive” approach to solos behind?  “Inter Raptor” has a classic technopop beat, and I expected the fans would dance up a storm, but they didn’t.  Then again, the fans in Okinawa didn’t seem much into dancing in general.  You’ve got to dance, people!  Imai wants you to!

“Inter Raptor” marked the end of the main set.  Fans were a little surprised; the show had seemed short.  But soon enough, the band members were back out for an encore, with live favorite “Spider,” during which Sakurai entirely missed his cue after the instrumental break and didn’t even notice that he had until Hide gave him a warning look.  Grinning, Sakurai shrugged and jumped in partway through the next line. Next came “Tango Swanka,” another encore staple, on which Imai seems to have finally mastered playing a cheeky little melody on his guitar while simultaneously performing his spoken-word vocals—this, yet he still won’t show us a high kick on the line, “one, two, high-kikku!”  Cayce to Imai: I’m still waiting.

When the song was over, Sakurai spoke to the crowd again.  “Hey, everyone from Okinawa!” he called, and the fans cheered.  “And hey…everyone who came here from… lots of other places!” The fans cheered even harder.  Indeed, a lot of fans had followed Buck-Tick here from Tokyo.  Perhaps they were happy to know that Sakurai was onto them.  Sakurai continued.  “You wanna go with me?  We can go anywhere!  Let’s go!” 

Of course, he meant all of it as sexual double entendre, because the next song was “Climax Together.”  Yutaka, who had spent most of the evening hidden at the back of the stage, took this opportunity to come right down front, while Sakurai acted out those “come/go” sexual double entendres over and over, and Imai and Hide switched sides, to play to fans in the opposite corners.  When the song was over, Imai and Hide were still on the wrong sides of the stage, giving Imai a chance to throw lots of Hide’s picks into the enthusiastic crowd before leaving the stage just in time to avoid Hide, who had come over to give him a mock dirty look.

We’d been hoping that during the encore, in honor of the location, Buck-Tick would perform “Rokugatsu no Okinawa.”  By fan report, they did do this at one Okinawa performance several years ago, but that was when they actually performed in Okinawa in June.  This time, in January, they didn’t do us the favor.  Instead, they opened the last encore with “Dokudanjou Beauty,” followed by “Physical Neurose,” which Sakurai erroneously introduced as “a song from our debut album.”  In fact, “Physical Neurose” is from Seventh Heaven, which is the second album Buck-Tick released after their major label debut…but it’s a well-known fact that often, obsessive fans keep better track of artists’ work than the artists themselves.

And then it was time for the closing number, “Yumemiru Uchuu.”  Despite the dim lighting and the bittersweet, almost melancholy quality of the lyrics, throughout the song, Yutaka could be seen swaying back and forth, singing along with all the words, a huge, bright smile on his face.

“We hope to see you again before end of the tour,” Sakurai said at the end of the song, walking along the front edge of the stage and reaching out his hands to the adoring fans.  “Take care, and good night.”  The fans pressed up close to the railing, hoping for a farewell handshake, while Hide tossed pick after pick at oblivious Acchan fangirls who weren’t even looking at him.  Then Sakurai was off the stage, and the band members each took their turns saying goodnight in their traditional ways—Yutaka by wiggling his butt at the fangirls, and Toll by bouncing his drum stick off the stage floor.  Toll had a lot of trouble getting it to bounce this time, and when it did bounce, it bounced so high, it hit one of the lights and boomeranged straight back at him.  Startled, he tossed it into the crowd, stuck out his tongue and made his exit, leaving Imai alone, to finish off the evening with more wailing guitar.

When the tour continues at bigger venues, there are bound to be more sets and special effects, and it will certainly be easier to see Toll and Yutaka.  But there’s no doubt that all the fans are right, and that seeing Buck-Tick live in Okinawa is a special, unique experience.  For one thing, this is the only place you will ever be able to stand in the fifth row at one of their standing shows without anyone shoving you.  It’s too bad that Buck-Tick only seem to make it to Okinawa about once every two years, because we’re dying to go there and see them again soon.



Set List
07. Zekkai 
08. Coyote 
09. Zangai
10. Yasou
13. Bolero

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