Buck-Tick
Tour 2014 Arui wa Anarchy
June 18th at Olympus Hall Hachioji
June 21st at Ichikawa City Cultural Hall
July 6th at Shizuoka Citizens’ Cultural Hall
July 30th at Shibuya Public Hall
July 31st at Shibuya Public Hall
August 9th at Omiya Sonic City
August 10th at Yokosuka Arts Theater
Live Report by Cayce

Ever since Buck-Tick left the sexy synth grooves of Mona Lisa Overdrive and the gothic grandeur of 13kai wa Gekkou behind, opposing camps of fans have been clamoring for their return.

“Enough of this rock-n-roll stuff,” cried the lolitas, shaking their frilly heads.  “We pine for more Romance!” 

“Where did the synthesizers go,” cried the Rivetheads.  “Tell us cyberpunk’s not dead!”

Though the inscrutable Imai Hisashi walks his own path, and never does anything the same way twice, perhaps he picked up on the fan vibrations nonetheless.  For now, a rough decade later, Buck-Tick have released a new album that sounds like Mona Lisa Overdrive rubbed its silver boobies all over 13kai’s frilly ballet shoes and begat a baby album, and the name of that baby was Anarchy.

Though it pulses with futuristic synth beats and electronic distortions, Arui wa Anarchy nonetheless brings us back in time—if not quite all the way to Vlad Dracul, then at least to Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Renaissance Venice.  While the Mona Lisa Overdrive DNA is strong in tracks like “Devil’N Angel,” “Dada Disco” and “Uchuu Circus,” calling to mind the industrial, rap and punk of “Limbo,” “Mona Lisa” and “Genzai,” the theatrical romanticism of “masQue,” “Phantom Voltaire” and “Melancholia” are nuts fallen straight off the 13kai tree.  Experimental electro and trad goth have both been major flavors in Buck-Tick’s music since the beginning of the 1990’s, but never before have the band combined the two so seamlessly on the same album, and the result is a perfect balance between throwback and newness, guaranteed to please the fans who longed to have the bats and bleeps back, without sounding stale or obsolete.

However, the standout characteristic of this album is not the music itself, but the concept behind it: Surrealism.  Ever since he started blogging, Imai has made himself known as a lover and collector of avant-garde art, but he’s not the only band member on whom the visual arts exert a strong influence.  Before the remodeling of Buck-Tick’s official website, Sakurai had listed Gustav Klimt, Marc Chagall and Egon Schiele as “favorite artists,” a term generally understood in Japanese to mean musical, rather than visual artists.  It’s clear that an album based around art history has been gestating in Imai’s brain for a while, and with so many years of art nerd-dom behind them, the band members were able to pack in so many internal and external references and meta-references that the whole album becomes a metaform of its own.

Arui wa Anarchy doesn’t just name-drop Andre Breton and leave it at that.  The album explores the history and philosophy of Dada and Surrealism by both exposition and method, through overt references to key figures and ideas, and through deliberately Surrealist-style compositions.  The writings of Charles Baudelaire may have been a strong influence on the Surrealist movement, but Imai Hisashi’s “Baudelaire de Nemurenai” is less of a biographical homage a la “Django,” and more like the musical version of Surrealist automism, something unfiltered, fished directly from the depths of Imai’s subconscious.  Similarly, from its title right on down to its deeply symbolic psychosexual themes, “Mudai” comes across less like a rock song and more like a musical interpretation of a painting by Tanguy (whose name crops up in “Dada Disco” for good measure.)

As befitting an album inspired by the visual arts, the visual production for Arui wa Anarchy has been no less involved.  Drawing heavily on imagery from Russian Constructivism and the Soviet revolution, all of the visual materials related to Arui wa Anarchy and its leading single Keijijou Ryuusei make use of the same repeating symbols, most notably the red flag, which I’ve already written about extensively.  To be successful, a concept album needs to stay consistent, and Arui wa Anarchy has achieved this to a degree not found (get it?) in any of Buck-Tick’s other works except for Six/Nine and the aforementioned 13kai wa Gekkou.  And just as with Six/Nine and 13kai, the visuals are a vital part of the package.  Surely, we could expect that the live tour this time would be visually stunning.

What some of you may not know is that this time, in line with their wholehearted appropriation of Soviet iconography, Buck-Tick had originally planned to have this tour be a tour of Russia.  As their recording sessions drew to a close, tour planning progressed apace, and the band began busily preparing to fly west and visit all the great cities of the Motherland, from Volgograd to Vladivostok.  But then, just as their plane was ready to take off into the great unknown, President Putin imposed punitive sanctions banning all imports of Finnish cheese and Japanese rock bands into the Russian Federation.  The private Airbus Fly High 6969 that had been chartered to fly Buck-Tick to Moscow was forcibly grounded at Narita, and the band members had no choice but to commiserate over the sad twist of fate with a bottle of Tsarskaya Gold, and this set of custom matryoshka dolls, a consolation gift sent by our good friend Maria Anastasia Hisashiyevna Sakuraina.


The rest of the band members were disappointed that their first foreign tour was over before it started, but Imai, who hates airplanes, was secretly pleased. Snickering internally, he opened up his matryoshka doll, poured some vodka in the bottom, took a big swig, then called up the band’s manager and asked him to start booking a Japanese tour on the double.

I’ve gotten a lot of emails from Russian fans lately, asking me why Buck-Tick don’t tour in Russia.  Friends, this is why.

Anyhow, in light of this unfortunate development, Buck-Tick’s Tour 2014 Arui wa Anarchy began at Olympus Hall in Hachioji City, Tokyo—a venue no one seemed to have heard of, far, far away in Tokyo’s uncharted Western reaches, and probably closer to Moscow than to Shibuya.  Given the location and the fact that the show was held on a Wednesday night, it was a wonder so many fans showed up, but despite the huge size of the hall, it was entirely sold out.  Endless lines of fans streamed up the escalator toward the venue doors, many of them already decked out in tour goods they’d purchased online before the tour had even started, others wearing the red bandanas that had come with the giant-sized big ass kick ass limited edition of the new album.  It turned out these red bandanas were too small to wear as scarves, so most fans wore them as wrist bands, though one dandy gentleman we know preferred to wear his as a pocket square (full marks!)  More ambitious fans took this trend even further and wore entire outfits inspired by the album design—shirts, dresses, or even yukata covered with geometric patterns in black, white and red, the red scarves tied around their necks marking them as members of the Buck-Tick Red Army.

When these fans got inside the venue, they realized, much to their delight, that they matched the stage.  Since no curtain hid the stage from view, before the show even started, we could all see how most of the stage floor was covered in curved stripes in black, white, and red, just like the inside of the limited edition album box.  As usual, Sakurai’s mic stand stood on a special circular platform in the center, while Yutaka’s bass and Toll’s drums stood on a higher rectangular platform at the back.  Behind the stage, a massive dark grey backdrop reared up, full of oval holes through which an LED projection screen showed through.  Whether the ovals were intended to be moon craters or simply abstract shapes, it was hard to tell.

When the lights went down at last, the tension began building—literally.  The stage entrance music for this tour is industrial in its most original sense.  Completely lacking a melody, the piece is constructed entirely of layered rhythms, big, loud and metallic, clanking like the clamor of heavy machinery echoing off concrete factory walls.  As the beats chugged away, images of gears and pulleys appeared on the backdrop, moving mechanically in time to the music, showing us the progress of an assembly line…but what was it manufacturing?  And then, as Yutaka ran grinning onto the stage, we knew.  At last, a melodic bassline thrummed into life, and the machine images pulled apart to reveal the product of their labors: a giant Anarchy “A,” rendered in stencil.  The other band members joined Yutaka onstage to wild cheers, and a moment later, the band had launched into “Dada Disco –GJTHBKHTD–.”

Buck-Tick’s shows always start with a bang, but “Dada Disco” is something special, and it’s deliciously meta.  Both the Dadaist and Surrealist movements began with a manifesto, and with this song, Imai has created a manifesto for his Surrealist concept album as well—a lyrical collage of references to everything that shows up in later tracks, set to a killer dance tune.  The band have been known to make mistakes early on in a tour, but on “Dada Disco,” they were perfectly on point from day one, with Hide’s guitar cutting providing a musical backbone over which Imai could layer melodic decorations while spitting out the tongue-twister lyrics one after another.  Though Imai had his face half-hidden under a red bandana tied bandit-style over his nose, he looked a little overwhelmed.  Saddled with both lead guitar and lead vocals, he had no mental room left to focus on dancing, and instead chose to perform the song while sitting on a stool, holding the Dazzler across his knee.

At first, it was hard to tell that he was even sitting down.  The stage stayed very dark, punctuated only by flashing white strobe lights, as the main light show bloomed across the backdrop, a complex montage of more industrial machines, combined with images from Soviet propaganda—broadcasting towers shooting out radio waves, swirling concentric circles and bursting black-and-white lines, and then, on the chorus, Rodchenko-style letters spelling out “GADJI BERI BIMBA” and “GJTHBKHTD” in a faux-Cyrillic font.

The vocals on the studio recording of “Dada Disco” are mixed in such a way that it’s nearly impossible to tell whether Sakurai’s voice is on there at all, but during the live performance, Sakurai became indispensable, covering for overworked Imai on every other line.  Standing in the center of the black platform, his face half-obscured by a large floppy black hat, he acted out the song in mime, raising his hands and shrugging his shoulders on “so what, so what,” raising his hand in a toast while singing “wain wo nomu darou,” and squealing “gadji beri bimba” in falsetto, a full octave above Imai’s vocal.  Sakurai and Imai traded off every other syllable during the “da da ga ga” lines, but on other lines, they sang in unison, which created a disconcerting effect: “Johnny Fuckin’ Cool” started out sound like scratchy-voiced Imai, but somehow ended up echoing smooth and full of vibrato.

If Imai has one overall weakness as a composer, it’s his tendency to repeat the chorus part of his up-tempo songs a few too many times.  However, in the case of “Dada Disco,” the repetition is the point, like the musical equivalent of all those repeating red and black squares and lines.  It just gets more fun with every go-around, and when the song is finally over, you’re almost tempted to skip the CD back and listen again—but this was the live tour, and we didn’t have that option.

When “Dada Disco” finally finished, the lights came up orange and green, Sakurai came bounding down the stairs onto the main central platform, to mambo straight into “Survival Dance.”  I would have thought this song would appear later in the program, and it almost seemed a waste for the band to play it so soon, before everyone was properly warmed up, but clearly, they wanted to get fans dancing right away, though sadly, no one had brought Mr. Sakurai any tequila.

Still, at least the lights were bright enough now that we got a proper look at the band members’ costumes.  For the most part, the Buck-Tick members seem to choose their stage outfits independently of one another, without any effort to coordinate or match, but this tour proves to be an exception.  On opening night, all five of them came onstage in black, accented with anarchist red.  Toll wore a black military-style suit with the band’s red triangle emblazoned on the back, while Yutaka preferred a jacket-and-kilt combo, trimmed with red piping, a Pioneer tie, and a red hankie handing from his belt.  Hide, as usual, preferred a minimalist and drapey style, but still wore his shiny silver boots to spice things up.

Imai and Sakurai, meanwhile, had decided, for once, to match.  Both appeared onstage in sleeveless black tops.  Imai’s was a leather biker vest, but Sakurai’s may have been the same vest he wore to the Kishidan festival last year—trimmed in black sequins, with an epaulette of black feathers over one shoulder, worn over a loosely draped sleeveless tunic, the better to compare biceps with Imai (verdict: Imai is going to have to get more tan and eat more protein if he wants to catch up. Acchan-chan is now Kinniku Man.)

However, it was their matching Really Sparkly Pants that stole all the attention.  At a distance, it was difficult to tell whether the sparkles on the pants were glitter, sequins, or lamé, but one thing was sure: they were tight.  Imai had demurely hidden the tops of his under a fringed skirt, while Sakurai sported a long, lace-trimmed sarong, lined with red satin.  Though Sakurai intermittently attempted to use the sarong as a prop during his performance, for the most part it seemed to cause him more trouble than it was worth.  He couldn’t seem to decide whether to tuck it up or leave it down, and it kept getting caught on the transmission box for his wireless microphone, yet he seemed loath to take it off…why?

It wasn’t till the Yokosuka show that we got close enough to find out.  Completely fed up with the sarong, Sakurai came back for the encore without it, and now, we saw for the first time that the Really Sparkly Pants weren’t pants after all.  In fact, they were more like Really Sparkly Jeggings.  The lyrics of “National Media Boys” may tell us he dresses to the right, while our team of observant fangirls have informed us that actually he dresses to the left (jeez and you call yourself a Buck-Tick fan), but the Really Sparkly Pants left no room for dear Mr. Sakurai to dress any way but dead center.  And since Imai was wearing the exact same pants, you can bet that up under his fringe kilt, Imai was dressed dead center too.  Now we know for sure: the only thing shinier than a Buck-Tick member in shiny pants is TWO Buck-Tick members in shiny pants.  And if you can’t figure out what I mean by “member” in this context, I think perhaps you’re a fan of the wrong band :P

Anyhow, after such a display of Wow, Such Sparkles, Much Glitter, it was no wonder that Buck-Tick’s alternate set of costumes proved to be a bit unexciting. The band always has two sets of costumes for a tour.  After all, when they play a hot steamy show on Saturday night, what are they supposed to wear at the show on Sunday while the Saturday clothes are being dry-cleaned?  On this tour, I think the answer to that may very well be “costumes from previous tours.”  Toll’s alternate outfit included a blue jacket that looked suspiciously like something he wore during the Yumemiru Uchuu Tour, while I could have sworn I’d seen Sakurai’s white ruffled poet shirt and vest at least a dozen times before.  Imai, however, never lets us down in the fashion department, and appeared in slim suit pants and a tailcoat, both cut from a white fabric so busy with black spirals you almost couldn’t look straight at him without going cross-eyed.  The suit itself was dapper enough, but the piece de resistance were his boots—white leather, calf-height, appliqued with red and black diamonds a la 13kai, and ending in curly little elf toes.  Between the tailcoat and the curly toes, every time he kicked his feet out, he reminded me of a giant beetle.  Or, perhaps, Beetlejuice.

And on that note, let us return to the show.

Survival Dance” gave way to “Devil’N Angel,” and a dizzying pattern came up on the backdrop—concentric red, black and white stripes, radiating outward from the center of the screen in a kind of gothic arch shape, pointed on the top and rounded on the sides.  A little bit of asking around confirmed that Cayce was far from the only person who, upon seeing it for the first time, was immediately struck by its resemblance to a Vanilla.    Is it any wonder, then, that Mr. Sakurai was standing right in the center of it, grinning?  (And if you can’t figure out what I mean by “vanilla” in this context, I think perhaps you’re a fan of the wrong band.)

With its retro YMO-inspired electronic beats, “Devil’N Angel” has become an immediate favorite of the longstanding Japanese fans, but my guess is that this song, like “Survival Dance,” won’t quite reach its full potential till the standing tour—there’s just a limit to how much the fans can rock out when stuck behind a row of concert-hall seats, and the lighting onstage remained so dark it was difficult to see the band members clearly.  Still, the show maintained momentum through elegant segues in the set list.  Before the Anarchy Tour started, plenty of fans probably hadn’t noticed just how similar the beat of “Devil’N Angel” is to the beat of “Iconoclasm”—but the tour changed that.  “Devil’N Angel” didn’t so much finish as morph, blending seamlessly into the clashing rhythm of “Iconoclasm,” as the band treated us to our first back-catalogue number of the night, and fans put up their hands to dance along wildly.  No matter how great the new album is, old favorites always produce a special kind of thrill.

At the first two shows on the tour, in Hachioji and Ichikawa, “Iconoclasm” was followed by “Montage,” but by time the Shizuoka stop rolled around, they band had cut “Montage” from the main set entirely, so as to focus more on tracks off the new album.  Starting in Shizuoka, when the last clashes of “Iconoclasm” died away, the stage stayed dark for a few moments, drowning in echoing, dripping synth sounds that sloshed back and forth between the speakers, until they finally resolved themselves into the opening of the night’s first ballad, “Baudelaire de Nemurenai.”

While it’s hard to tell whether Buck-Tick will continue to perform this song after the Anarchy tours are over, there’s no question that this, too, has become an immediate fan favorite.  But though the soothing, surf-rock melody evokes lazy summer days on the beach, the lyrics tell a different story, riddled with existential angst.  Correspondingly, though the stage stayed dark through the whole song, the ovals in the backdrop lit up light and bright, with scenes from “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by the 15th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch.  Given the painting’s complex, obscure symbolism, it seemed a perfect thematic choice.  Meanwhile, white lights shone out from the back of the stage, right into the eyes of the audience, strong enough to make us really feel that “mabushikute, mabushikute” refrain—though the line I sympathized most with was, “it’s too beastly hot, I can’t stand it anymore.”  This is the problem with a summer tour: in Japanese summer, no matter how high you crank the air conditioning, cram 2000 people into the same hall and the results are sweltering.  At the Shibuya Kokaido, Sakurai even remarked on it from the stage.

“Take care you don’t get heat stroke,” he said, and the audience laughed, but given the rivers of sweat running down our backs, I appreciated his concern—it seemed well-founded.

At the early shows, Sakurai was so focused on simply performing that he didn’t have enough extra energy to really act out the songs, but like always, his performance grew bolder and looser as the tour wore on.  “Baudelaire” was one of the songs he acted out the most literally, fanning himself against the heat, stumbling around attempting to dance, and crawling around on the floor under a blue spotlight, while the other band members played on in deep shadow.

The theatrical drama of the show only continued from there.  Following “Baudelaire” came another blackout, as staff scrambled to switch the electric guitars for acoustic guitars, and switch Yutaka’s electric bass for an unusual acoustic bass that, rather than standing on the floor, hung over his shoulder just like a guitar. Sakurai, meanwhile, had pulled out his white Venetian mask, and held it up to address the audience in much the same way he used the Skull-baby on the Memento Mori tour. Over the screaming of the fangirls, it was often a little hard to tell what he said during these MC sections, but as the tour wore on, he took to addressing the audience in Italian.

“Buonasera!” he called.  “Come and dance with me, show me your grotesque masks! Grazie, grazie!”

The fans laughed and cheered, and Toll began pounding out the opening rhythms of “masQue.”

Sakurai seems to have a thing for acoustic guitars.  “Zekkai” and “Coyote” are well-known to be personal favorites of his, but it’s clear that his latest favorite is “masQue” (I have to assume the reason he titled it “masQue” rather than “Masquerade” had to do with not wanting to confuse it with the Der Zibet song of the same name on which he performed guest vocals.)  Though Sakurai spent most of the performance sprawled in a chair, he didn’t have to stand up to capture the attention of the audience.  Using the mask alternately as a cover for his own face and as a partner to sing to (and occasionally mack on), he acted out the drama of the song in pantomime while seductive images of masks, lips, and half-hidden eyes swirled across the screens above.  And for those of you who are curious: yes, he did mime sticking his tongue in the mask’s eyehole on that eyeball-licking line.  If that doesn’t turn you fangirls on, I dunno what will.

But while “masQue” is more or less a light-hearted song and Sakurai said he intended it as such, it also breaks refreshing new ground for Buck-Tick as a band. Previously, when Buck-Tick have written acoustic songs, they’ve stuck with orthodox acoustic-style arrangements—but not here.  This time, both Imai and Hide bent over their acoustic guitars as if they were ready to play something as psychedelic and blistering as “Motel 13,” yet there’s something about the bulkiness of an acoustic guitar that resists rock-n-roll, which made for an entertaining contrast between attitude and execution.  In addition, rather than the band’s usual split, where Hide plays pure rhythm while Imai plays loosey-goosey melody, “masQue” is an ensemble piece where both the guitar parts are created equal.  But perhaps the most unusual element of this song is the fact that, when you peel away all its layers of affectation, it’s the most classic-style blues song the band has ever written.

Whether intentionally or not, Sakurai plays it up.  Blues vocal lines derive their power not from melodic complexity, but from charismatic performance, and Sakurai unleashes something in his vocals for this song I don’t believe I’ve ever heard from him before.  Previous Buck-Tick blues numbers (“Mr. Darkness and Mrs. Moonlight,” “Yougetsu,” “Yasou,” “Motel 13”) have all stayed on the smooth and sensual side of the spectrum, but Sakurai summons a novel roughness in the opening lines of “masQue,” especially in live performance.  He’s had gravitas and swagger for a good long while now, but this is the first time I’ve ever imagined him challenging Tom Waits to a drinking contest.  I’m now taking bets on who would win.

Following “masQue,” the stage stayed good and dark, as the band continued with “Phantom Voltaire.”  While it would have been nice to be able to see the band members better, this kind of performance is what makes a hall tour special—all the gothic pomp and circumstance of the fancy stage design.  Thanks to the oval projection screens, the live version of “Voltaire” became like a living music video, lush with images of burning candles, haunted houses, graveyards, champagne, and TV static, a bit like a cross between The Ring and the PV for “Sabbat.”  Meanwhile, on the stage, Yutaka bounced and grinned his way through the heavy bass line, while Sakurai shook his hips on every potentially sexual-sounding lyric, cackling gleefully.

To round out the dark and gothic section of the program, the band followed “Voltaire” with “Satan.”  Those of you familiar with Cayce’s tastes probably won’t be surprised when I confess that this is my favorite song on the album.  It’s got a little bit of everything that makes Buck-Tick a great band—the Eros, the bitterness, the funk, the in-jokes…after all, after last tour, how could we expect anything less than a song including the words “RAIN” and “SEX” in English, in all caps, with little nods to “Tango Swanka” (all the alley cats are dancing down their swanky tango!), “Zangai” (deeper deeper, in the rain!), and “Diabolo” (blue velvet…and the Devil!), thrown in for good measure?  Plus, as Hide wrote it, methinks it even contains a bit of the magical spirit of his ultra-sexy mole.

But it’s not just me.  It’s easy to see that Sakurai loves this one, too, if for no other reason beyond the rain and the sex, and the live performance was commensurately stunning.  As soon as the song began, the whole stage came up in a downpour of red rain, projected on the band members and the backdrop alike, as momentary cuts of other disturbing images flitted across the screens—pinned butterflies, wheelchairs, blood dripping and mingling into water—all remaining just disembodied and surreal enough that they didn’t come across as too much.

But as always, it was Sakurai’s performance that carried the song, even if it took him a little while for him to get into his groove. This, more than anything else, suggested to me that the song means a lot to him. Something about his movements across the stage reminded me of his performance of “Adult Children” on the Yumemiru Uchuu tour, and though none of the audience could see what he’d done wrong, it was clear from the way he grimaced as the song finished that on the first few tour stops, he didn’t think he’d done nearly a good enough job.  As the tour heated up, though, I began to see echoes of Ai no Wakusei, especially the way in which he took to miming impaling himself on the microphone stand at the end of the song, in much the same style as his performance of “Shingetsu” back in 2004.

Hide, for his part, shines on this song more than any other on the album, particularly at the beginning and the end.  Perhaps y’all thought that electronic glissando at the beginning and end of the song was nothing but computer-generated cake decoration, but if you did, you’d be wrong—Hide plays the entire thing raw and real on his guitar (something to do with an infinite sustain, and the whammy bar.)  I look forward to hearing this song on the standing tour, so I can see it up close.  This is another thing that makes Buck-Tick a great band—for all that they rely on electronic backtracks, their most unusual sounds are the ones they play live.

Then again, considering the next song in the set list, I might have to eat those words whole.  It seemed a cruel twist of fate, that after getting us all wet, slippery, and worked up with one dark sexy song after another, they had to woodchuck our woodies and de-bone our boners by playing “The Moon is Made of Green Cheese.”

I admit that before the tour started, I had earnestly hoped that the band would choose not to play this song live at all, but I knew that was wishful thinking.  Then again, Buck-Tick have always been a live band first and foremost, and their songs never sound quite as good on CD as they do in real life.  Might the live performance bring a new light (see what I did there?), even to a song I thought was unredeemable?

I confess that, even after attending seven stops on the tour, I still don’t know the answer.  At the first two shows on the tour, this was the song where the band seemed to lose their energy all at once.  Though the stage design was quite beautiful, with a galaxy of twinkling stars on the backdrop during the verses exploding into luminous Hubble images of nebulae on the chorus, the stage remained so dark that the band members aside from Sakurai were nearly invisible.  Sakurai, for his part, sang the song while seated in a chair, and proceeded to confuse “nuguu” and “sukuu” every single time, despite the fact that he was looking straight at the lyrics monitor the whole time.  If I had to take a guess, I’d have guessed he was Not That Into It.

Then again, as the tour went on, the whole band seemed to find their stride on the song a bit more, with Imai introducing some long, buzzing shoegaze riffs which very nearly drowned out the utterly derivative piano arrangement.  But at the same time, we’re not sure we can be objective on this one, because by this point in the tour, Cayce had taken to using this song as a Tequila Break, and everything sounds like a Shakira dance tune once you've had tequila. All I remember beyond that is, we danced.  We have to dance at the things we can’t change.

Once Upon a Time,” however, is markedly better live than on CD.  Though it’s neither memorable nor stylish, it worked well to lighten the mood in the hall.  At last, the stage lights came up bright enough that the audience could easily see all the band members, which gave the band members a chance to interact a bit with the fans.  In Sakurai’s case, this meant running from once side of the stage to the other, holding out the microphone so the fans could sing along with the chorus, though for his part his voice is so well suited to this melody that at times he seemed in danger of overloading the sound system and drowning out the instrumentalists, which I take as proof that he’s continued with voice training.  Imai, meanwhile, took advantage of Sakurai’s absence to climb up on the center stage platform and alternately sit, roll, dance, jump, and spin, showing off his rock-star style—but for real rock-n-roll, we had to wait for the next song.

“Dance, dance with me!” Sakurai shouted, as Imai twisted the dials on his synthesizer, and the band started into “Limbo.”  Though the electronic dance beats of this Mona Lisa Overdrive era live hit blend perfectly with synth-heavy tracks of Arui wa Anarchy, I have a feeling that this song made it into the set list mainly because of its title.  Sakurai name-checks “Limbo” in the lyrics to “Survival Dance,” and I kind of think that’s where they got the idea.  That, and “Limbo” is a killer song, exciting enough to work fans up into a sweat even in the confines of a seated tour.  Strobe lights flashed continuously into the crowd as the band members ran wild across the stage, not stopping till Imai was the only one left playing, drawing out the ending for as long as possible, slowly sauntering back over to the synthesizer and twiddling a few bleeps and bloops out of it before setting it up for the next track—“Uchuu Circus.”

Speaking of Mona Lisa Overdrive parallels, “Uchuu Circus” reminds me a lot of “Genzai,” and fills the same function in a live set: dance like crazy.  All the same, I think this one, too, will be more at home on the standing tour.

Nevertheless, by the time this song was over, fans were gasping for breath from dancing too much, and the clean minor scales of “Melancholia” felt like a splash of cool water.  After experimenting with various performance techniques, including the “oh shit, my kilt is caught on my wireless microphone, better take it off immediately, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” awkward impromptu strip-tease act in Ichikawa, Sakurai settled on performing this song with his top hat and cane, standing on one leg like a Baron Samedi scarecrow. I was impressed he could manage it at all—his boot heels must have been ten centimeters tall, at least.  On the backdrop behind, blinking eyeballs and buzzing insects swarmed across the screens in black and white, but blood-red lights came up from the rim of the central platform each time Sakurai sang the phrase “bloody melancholia.” On the lines about the white feathers, he mimed stabbing himself over and over, which may provide a clue as to his preferred interpretation of the obscure lyrics.

After “Melancholia” came “Not Found.”

“Pay attention to Yuta!” Sakurai called as the spotlights came up on Yutaka during the bass-heavy intro.

The band played most of the song bathed in deep green light, calling to mind the Matrix with a network error.  Only on the bridge did the colors change, highlighting Sakurai alone in a cone of magenta spots, fading to purple.  Despite the fast beat, this song isn’t really a dance number, and it took the band a few tries to get it right.  Uncharacteristically for him, Imai played the guitar solo the exact same way each night, but Sakurai worked in a little improvisation, singing half the B melody lines in falsetto, to great effect.  By the time the Yokosuka stop rolled around, he had also taken to putting his silver mask on top of the mic stand, letting it stand there in the background like the personification of the idea that got away.

Buck-Tick often shuffle the end of the set list over the course of the tour, and this tour was no exception.  Starting somewhere between Shizuoka and Shibuya, they began ending the main set with the obvious choice for a closer, “Keijijou Ryuusei.” Before that, however, they ended the main set with “Mudai,” and the effect was startling.

As I had suspected from the beginning, “Mudai” is a song that can’t be fully experienced until you hear it live—or in this case, perhaps a better phrasing would be “see it live.”  With the staging of “Mudai,” Buck-Tick took the visual theme of the album to the next level.  The whole stage remained in darkness for a moment as Imai let feedback echo into the void, and Sakurai shrieked into the microphone.

“Mama?” he wailed in falsetto.  “Papa?”  The words kept repeating after he’d spoken them, as if echoing endlessly off icy cave walls.

Then, at last, the static intro came up, and so did the lights—such that there were. No spotlights shone on the band during this song.  Instead, the whole stage was bathed in a projection of writhing colors.  Oil in water, oil on glass, or oil on canvas?  It was hard to tell which.  Rather than painting a picture of the song with their performance, the band members were drowning in the artwork as it took shape, barely visible through the kaleidoscope of light, bass turned up to maximum volume, throbbing in the floor like a pulsing heart in the womb.  This song needs to be heard big and loud to be appreciated, and a home stereo simply can’t do it justice.  With the second verse, the scenery on the backdrop changed to an eerie dreamscape of mountains and dunes, no doubt a representation of the “mental landscape” Sakurai speaks of in the lyrics.  But by the time the roaring bridge had come along, the colors were back, seething and pulsating with the beat, then fading out to bright white as the song ended, and without a word, the band turned their backs on the audience and left the stage.  The set was over, and the audience was dumbstruck.

Ending with “Mudai” was a jarring surprise, which was precisely what made it so effective.  There’s no resolution or explanation in the song, and the band members gave none when they left, either.  Tension swirled through the blackout before the encore, as if we were all still stuck in that surrealist dream, and I would have been just as happy to see this continue through the whole tour.

However, it seems the band members decided that the main set deserved a little more closure.  I could see why, too.  “Keijijou Ryuusei” was the only album track they hadn’t played during the main set, and its solemn, contemplative mood didn’t quite fit with the rest of the encores.  Following from “Mudai,” “Keijijou Ryuusei” preserved the aura of mystery through to the end of the set.

I have to say it again—“Keijijou Ryuusei” is a beautiful song.  Though it stays firmly within well-trodden Buck-Tick territory both musically and lyrically, there’s something about it that creeps up on you, growing more haunting over time. Perhaps it’s the delay on the vocals and guitar, like reflections in the water, like the song is running ahead of you off into the mist, or perhaps it’s the slow buildup and breakdown, culminating in that singalong coda that somehow manages to be both sad and joyful all at once.  As for the PV, it’s surely one of the finest the band has ever released.  If there are a few others that are as good, I can’t think of any that are better, and I think perhaps the band knows it, too.  For the live performance of “Keijijou Ryuusei,” we were treated to a live version of the PV, complete with new black, red, and white geometric animations across the backdrop, which faded out to pure white on the chorus.  On the last repetition of the lyric “yume wo mita,” the white suddenly fractured apart, fragments scattering into blackness.  At the end of the song, the backdrop came up white again, and Sakurai made a dramatic exit, seeming to vanish into the black between two of the screens.  As usual, the other band members remained on stage for a few more minutes, to toss picks and sticks into the crowd before departing.

The encore sets have already gone through multiple evolutions over the course of this tour, and there’s still room for them to evolve further before the tour is done. 

On opening night in Hachioji, the band returned to a brightly lit stage and proceeded to perform the new Lolita-enhanced version of “Victims of Love.”  As I already mentioned on Blog-Tick, this song didn’t really work live.  While I don’t think Kokushoku Sumire added anything to the song to begin with, having to listen to recorded versions of their parts played over the PA detracted from the excitement of hearing the song live.  Furthermore, Sakurai performed the entire song while sitting in a chair, and while this may have worked for “masQue,” it did not work for “Victims of Love.”  Between pre-recorded violins and Sakurai’s lack of dynamic physical expression, the whole thing came across as far too static and flat overall. The band clearly realized this very quickly, because by the time the Shizuoka show rolled around, they had axed “Victims” from the set list entirely.  Too bad such a great song has fallen so far.

On the other hand, the band have pulled out some surprising back-catalog numbers for the encores on this tour.  While they did continue to perform excruciatingly over-played encore staples like “Alice in Wonder Underground” and “Muma the Nightmare,” as well as throwbacks from the last tour such as “Kirameki no Naka de” and “Coyote,” they also dusted off some improbable picks that I’d never have expected would come back.

On opening night in Hachioji, when Toll launched into an aggressive, tribal drumbeat accompanied by jingling bells, I was so surprised I didn’t even recognize the intro to “Gesshoku” until Sakurai began singing.  Of all the songs on 13kai wa Gekkou, I’d never have expected this one to make a comeback—it’s neither catchy, nor danceable, nor radio-friendly, nor a fan favorite.  In fact, it’s arguably the most esoteric track on the whole album.  While I kind of suspected Sakurai might have a fondness for this song, given the intensity with which he performed it on the 13kai tours, and his general affinity for ambiguously sexual use of candle wax and down-tempo gothygoth numbers devoid of slick licks, I had assumed, prior to the release of Arui wa Anarchy, that even if the band had wanted to perform it, they wouldn’t—it simply doesn’t fit with the rest of their recent material.  However, in the context of songs like “masQue,” “Mudai,” and “Melancholia,” “Gesshoku” suddenly starts to sound a lot more plausible, and I rejoice, because frankly, I fucking love this song, and I would choose it over a thousand Mumas any day of the week.

Buck-Tick’s performance this time around did not disappoint.  Though they’ve only performed it at about one out of every three or four shows, every time they do perform it, it’s stunning, and made all the better by little nods to the past—in Shibuya, Imai jumped up on the central platform and began marching in circles around Sakurai in his pointy-toed diamond boots, just as he did during the 13th Floor tour.

The other big surprise encore number was “Thanatos.”  Just like “Mudai,” this one really needs to be seen live to be believed.  Only massive banks of bright white strobe lights can unleash its true power.  While I think the band probably chose this song because the Icarus references in the lyrics tie in with the Arui wa Anarchy imagery, I also see a strong parallel between “Mudai” and “Schizo Gensou,” both in sound and in lyrical content, so the invocation of Sexy Stream Liner seemed right on the mark.  I’ve often wondered why, the only track off Sexy Stream Liner the band play with any regularity is “My Fuckin’ Valentine,” and I wouldn’t be sorry at all to see “Thanatos” again on the standing tour.  Let’s fly!

At some shows, Buck-Tick also performed “Mona Lisa” and “Les Enfants Terribles,” both of which fit in well with the new material, particularly “Mona Lisa,” which feels like a retro version of “Dada Disco," though in my opinion it will never be quite the same without that weird montage video of the band members’ eyes on the backdrop.  “Les Enfants,” on the other hand, strikes me as a perfect example of the sort of song Buck-Tick should play a lot more often—it’s catchy and up-tempo, great to get the fans dancing, but it’s also not a very well-known song, so unlike “Alice” and “Muma,” it still feels fresh.

The band members reshuffled these songs as they saw fit, playing a different combination during the first encore set at each stop on the tour.  For the second encore, though, they had a different plan. This time, they spent extra time backstage changing costumes.  Sakurai reappeared in a sheer, drapey black coat that hung burlesque-like off his shoulder, coquettishly revealing a sliver of his giant muscles and doing little to hide the wonders of the Really Sparkly Pants, while Yutaka came bounding back on in the red Pioneer t-shirt, grinning like a little (Soviet?) boy. Imai, as always, was the flashiest of the bunch, coming back onstage in the Dada tour t-shirt and a very tall stovepipe hat accented with a red and white striped feather.  It matched his curly-toed boots well, but he didn’t wear the boots every day—with his black costume, he had chosen to wear black leather sandals instead. We decline to comment on whether or not we saw his scandalously nude, unpolished little toeses.  (Hint: we saw them.  We saw Imai’s toes naked.  Sorry, fans.)

Thus freshly attired, they proceeded to engage in a humorous ritual whereby Imai and Yutaka would each attempt to take blog-ready photos of the other while the other was busy photographing the fans.  Hide, meanwhile, posed sexily, grinning and winking at any and all fangirls in his vicinity, while Sakurai had taken to sneaking onto the stage behind Toll, and if he were feeling especially mischievous, giving him a shoulder massage. Then, Toll would start into the martial ratta-tat-tat of “Steppers –Parade–.”

I never expected the band would continue to perform this song live beyond the Day in Question Tour, but I’m pleased they haven’t ditched it just yet because it’s too much fun to waste, and the long instrumental break gives ample opportunity for Imai and Hide to strut their stuff on the hanamichi while Yutaka shakes his butt across the center platform.  At every show, the band followed “Steppers” with “Love Parade,” which somehow felt lively rather than weepy.  Perhaps it was Sakurai’s invitation to the audience before the song started that made the difference—

“Follow me,” he said.  “Let’s keep the Parade going, forever.”

With the exception of the first two stops on the tour, every night, the show ended with “National Media Boys.”  This one may be a bit overplayed, but the chromatic, schizophrenic melody ensures it will never get old in the same way “Muma” already did many years ago.  Plus, who can resist a song that always ends with Mr. Sakurai standing on one leg while singing about ballerinas?  However, the real reason they chose “National Media Boys” to round out the set list for this tour should be obvious to anyone who’s seen the PV—it’s full of red flags and Cyrillic letters galore.  And since it was released when the U.S.S.R. was still a real place, this song has old-school cred.  In Russian fashion, let’s make a speech and drink to that!

With “National Media Boys,” the show was over, and the band threw their last kisses and departed into the wings for beer, but as with all tours, no night was quite the same as any other.  Though for the most part, the fans were better behaved than I’ve ever known them to be, a few bloopers were bound to happen.

For example, on opening night in Hachioji, Cayce ended up seated next to a whole family of Buck-Tick fans, including a mother, an auntie, and two small daughters, one of whom clearly had a crush on Yutaka, the other of whom we were tempted to label Not Greatest Child. Obstinately refusing to have fun while her sister screamed and screamed for Yutaka, halfway through, Not Greatest Child pulled out her pocket-sized game system and began to play some sort of itty-bitty videogame, upon which we glared at her in dignified disapproval until her mother (quick on the uptake, bless her) bustled her out into the lobby. While I commend the mother for understanding that playing videogames during a concert is not acceptable behavior, the third time the mother tripped over me in the dark while dragging her daughter back out into the lobby to give her yet another talking-to, I really started to wish she’d used the 7000 yen she spent on the kid's ticket to hire a babysitter instead.

The second night of the tour, in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, the thrill of opening night had worn off, and band morale was at an ebb.  All the members made small mistakes, but Sakurai, who seemed to be having problems with his wireless microphone pickup, appeared the most distracted.  When he started singing a completely different melody on “Limbo,” I thought for a moment he’d gotten sick of the old melody and decided to improvise.  The “oh, shit” face he made a moment later proved me wrong.  Cayce to Sakurai: you may not realize it, but most of the time, the fans can’t tell when you’ve fucked up.  Own your mistakes!

By the time the tour got to Shizuoka, though, the band had more than recovered, and were riding high, delighted to be able to enjoy the wackiness of the rural fans. Though nothing this time could top the Nut Grabbing Incident of last tour, some of our same favorite fangirls were back, and wilder than ever.  Flashiest of the bunch was a tall, curvy tattooed creature with flaming orange hair, who arrived at the venue dressed in nothing but booty shorts, a bikini top, and giant eyelashes.  If the band members didn’t notice her screaming for them, they were surely willfully ignoring her.

Other fans, however, were less resourceful. At Omiya Sonic City, the security guards were out in force, but that didn’t stop one enterprising young fangirl from making a mad dash for Acchan-chan as he strode over to her side of the stage. Hand outstretched, she hurled her body towards him, but not soon enough—no sooner had her mouth opened to scream his name than two security guards had caught her on either side and forcibly pulled her backwards away from the stage. From where I was sitting, it looked like excessive use of force.  Police brutality isn’t funny, kids.

Though at the same time, to the numerous foreign fans who attended this tour, perhaps Japan seems like a welcome oasis of calm.  Just think—no rockets, no race riots, and no struggle to retake rebel-held cities!  In short, nothing but tidy, orderly anarchy!  Perhaps Sakurai noticed that there were lots of foreigners in attendance, for he started out singing “Five for everybody” on every other line during “Iconoclasm.”  However, by the Shibuya shows, he gave this up and simply stopped singing the last chorus entirely, turning instead to the fans to sing along on their own.

Here at Not Greatest Site, we’re glad to see that so many Blog-Tickers got to fulfill their dreams of seeing the band in person, but we’d also like to remind you—live shows are not YouTube!  When watching a rock show, one does not simply stand there, slack-jawed and open-mouthed.  Also, holding your arms out rigidly without moving is liable to convince the band members that you’re secretly a robot.  If you want to express your love for the band (and you should!) then for St. Pete’s sake, dance, people!  Many overseas fans have told me they feel unsure about how to dance at Japanese concerts, but really kids, it’s not that hard. Just watch the Japanese fans, and do what they do.  My personal feeling is that a Buck-Tick fan who doesn’t dance during "Iconoclasm" is no Buck-Tick fan at all :P

The tour continues, and given the imminent appearance of Kokushoku Sumire, it’s entirely possible we’ll be publishing another live report before the tour is out.  But in the meantime, we’ll leave you with the funniest blooper moment we’ve yet seen, which occurred at the show on August 10th at the Yokosuka Arts Theater.

Coming out for the encore, a staff member brought Yutaka’s wooden standup bass onto the stage, and proceeded to bend over and peer closely at it to make sure all the settings were correct—neglecting to hold the bass as he did so.  Before Yutaka’s startled eyes, the bass fell over with a clang, and the other band members, who were in the midst of checking their instruments, turned around with expressions like they couldn’t decide whether to laugh, or to tease Yutaka, who was now frantically trying to retune the upset bass with minimal delay.  Imai began tootling on the guitar to cover for him, glaring at Yutaka in mock annoyance, while Sakurai, who usually saves his entrance for the last possible minute, sneaked onto the stage without anyone noticing or cheering, and went straight for the staff member who dropped the bass, giving him a hearty poke in the buttock.  The staff member whirled around in surprise, Yutaka laughed and grinned, while downstage, an oblivious Hide stood posing and preening for the crowd, winking at the fangirls, lining up this evening’s dates as if he were the only member in the band.

That, my friends, is why even if you had bad seats, live tours are always better than YouTube.  Sometimes you just had to be there.

Set List

-05. Montage (Hachioji and Ichikawa only)-
07. Satan
10. Limbo
14. Mudai
15. Keijijou Ryuusei (second half of the tour only)

encores varied depending on the show.


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