Buck-Tick Metaform Nights ~or Anarchy~ Tour 2014
November 12th at Roppongi EX Theater
November 13th at Roppongi EX Theater
November 16th at Club Citta’ Kawasaki
November 23rd at Namba Hatch
December 14th at Zepp Tokyo
Live Report by Cayce

Metaform Nights or Anarchy: if that title sounds less like a string of rock shows and more like an ultra-hip DJ dance event at Club Ageha, it should.  Buck-Tick’s Summer of Anarchy national hall tour may have resembled a staged version of a gallery exhibition, with its focus on lush visuals incorporating works by artists as diverse as Bosch and Rodchenko—but that’s the hall tour, where the point is to stay put, watch and listen. At the beginning of autumn, as the hall tour drew to a close and the weather turned cooler, Buck-Tick turned the heat up on their live circuit, moving from grand concert halls into intimate rock clubs, pulsing with psychedelic light displays and synth-heavy grooves made for dancing.  Move over Melancholia, now it’s time for Electria!

For those of you who just became fans five minutes ago (and I know there are a lot of you, you can’t fool me)—some background.  For at least the past decade, Buck-Tick have always started their album-support tour cycles with a hall tour (held in concert halls with actual seats), and then follow up with a live house (or “standing”) tour, held at midsize club-style venues that are largely standing room only.  At hall tours, four times out of five you, as an audience member, are liable to get stuck with a bad seat and end up viewing the show through opera glasses, but at standing tours, you’re free—free to dance, free to go crazy, free to push as far up to the stage as you dare.  Anarchy may be Order without Power, but at Buck-Tick’s standing tours, Anarchy is Power without Order!  At standing tours, the name of the game is mayhem.

The mayhem of this particular tour kicked off with a Fish Tank only gig on October 25th at Akasaka Blitz, followed by a Love & Media portable members-only gig on October 26th at the same venue, at which Mr. Sakurai, much to the secretly-titillated annoyance of the fangirls, chose to perform while bearded, thus kicking off all kinds of frenzied meltdowns on social media. Cayce, however, was otherwise occupied on this particular weekend, and is therefore unable to report on this part of the tour. Sorry, fans. We didn’t get our chance to join in the action until the next round of Tokyo-area shows, on November 12th and 13th at the EX Theater in Roppongi.

EX Theater is a brand-new venue which just opened in 2013, presumably to help address the serious shortage of live houses left by the closures of Shibuya AX and Yokohama Blitz (we loved you, Yokohama Blitz. You will always remain near and dear in our hearts.)  Naturally, being so new, the EX Theater had not yet experienced the transcendent ecstasy of having Buck-Tick’s members inside it up until this point. This, my friends, was EX Theater’s First Time with Buck-Tick! And just in case anyone was in doubt, I hereby declare that I bore witness to the red Anarchy flag that hung over the theater door like a bloodstained sheet, signifying the loss of its Buck-Tick virginity.

However, I admit that even so, my expectations for this venue were not high. Roppongi has undergone quite a change over the past two decades, and not for the better.  Once upon a time in the early 90’s, Roppongi was known as an edgy district full of weird nightlife for the underground hipsters, punks, strippers, goths, and hipster-punk-stripper-goths.  Once upon a time in the early 90’s, Roppongi was even home to an H.R. Giger theme bar!  These days, however, Roppongi is less known for Giger bars than Gaijin Bars—the places where you go drinking if you’re a white expat boy with minimal Japanese skills, a bad case of Yellow Fever, strong repressed anxiety over being in the racial minority, and a lifelong ambition to write indignant opinion pieces for The Japan Times.  It’s also known for being full of a plethora of sex clubs and their associated hazards – street touts and drunk patrons who block the narrow sidewalks, mouths loaded and locked with obscene comments ready to shoot in your direction as soon as you try to pass them by.

These days, all in all, it’s hard to be a hipster-punk-stripper-goth in Roppongi, though there are still a few holdouts here and there. One such holdout is Saori* (*a pseudonym), a professional dominatrix who has worked in Roppongi for over a decade, and still runs her own establishment there—a cozy members-only bar done over in black leather and red velvet, decorated with enough whips, Venetian masks, and sexy female mannequins to make Acchan-chan cry blood tears. Over a glass of wine and the gentle sounds of a salaryman being punished at the next table over, we asked her if she would be willing to offer a comment for this article, and she was more than happy to vent her frustration.  “These days, at the end of the night, the Filipino girls from the massage parlors walk down the street and take wallet after wallet from the men passed out drunk on the sidewalk,” she lamented.  “But I can’t say I blame them!  I can’t believe what this place has come to.  It used to be a playground for beautiful freaks, and now it’s nothing but trash.”

In a predictably capitalist attempt to clean up the trash, Roppongi has also recently been injected with a hefty dose of gentrification money, and it shows. The Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Mid-Town uber-upscale mall complexes now dominate half the district, and the EX Theater falls right in line with the same rich-people’s-playground aesthetic—its wooden roof terrace is dotted with manicured trees illuminated from below by itty-bitty yellow bulbs sunk into the floor, lighting the way to a ritzy café which doesn't actually open until the show’s about to start—therefore, completely pointless from the perspective of those of us who like to indulge in pre-show drinks but also actually watch the show.

Even on this slow Wednesday evening, just to make sure that the scads of wayward rock-n-roll fans didn’t tarnish the venue’s ultra-slick image, the management had sent out a veritable army of Queue Inspector staff—small, mousy young men who paraded around the perimeter in full theater livery, continuously scolding any and all fans for having the audacity to be standing wherever it was they were standing at the given moment.  Japan has always been a country with a strong devotion to rules, order, and staff members in uniform, but all the same, I can’t shake the feeling that there are consistently more of these Queue Inspectors than there used to be.  Back in the halcyon days of Yokohama Blitz, I can’t remember the staff members addressing the fans for any reason other than to call line numbers, but at EX Theater, it seemed that simply having feet was already too much.

“We kindly ask you to not to stand here,” the Inspectors repeated ad nauseam in their high nasal voices, puffing out their chests importantly as if trying to compensate for the fact that height-wise, they couldn’t hope to compete with gangs of threatening middle-aged goth ladies in mile-high boots.  “Please kindly do not stand there either,” they continued, watching as the fans milled around like chess pieces in a game of Minesweeper, trying to find safe squares, but there were none.  The third or fourth time this happened to us, we tried a different tactic.

“Oh, shut up, would you?”

Amazingly, when we came out with this remark, the Queue Inspector in Question (call him the QIQ!) actually did as he was told.  Staring at his shoes, he clammed up and immediately scuttled away to bother another group of fans who looked like weaker targets.

And as a side note on this, I'll say that while I'm usually the first person to advocate a "when in Rome" approach for foreigners in Japan, there are still cases in which insecure, underemployed boys with very small balls and very large chips on their shoulder will use "the rules" as an invisible stick to beat you with. Perhaps they're scared of foreigners, perhaps they think you look easy to bully, or perhaps they're worried that being paid by the hour means they need to earn their keep by high-handedly invoking any small authority they may have at every conceivable opportunity. Perhaps they're simply not very intelligent. Most of them work either as security guards or clerks at mobile phone shops, where they act like signposts that always point the wrong way. It's the inevitable dark flip-side of the Japanese culture of politeness: passive-aggressiveness fills in for straightforward aggression when straightforward aggression is taboo. If you encounter a person like this while traveling in Japan, the only way to deal with him is to smile pleasantly and tell him to kindly fuck off. Nothing else works.

Still, it was a relief to actually get inside the venue.  Like many Tokyo venues, the EX Theater space is largely located underground, with the main floor three stories below ground level, reachable by a long sequence of escalators.  However, far from the dizzying video-game maze of Tokyo Dome City Hall or the claustrophobic catacomb of Zepp DiverCity Tokyo, EX Theater somehow manages to feel both spacious and cozy—the place is big enough that it doesn’t feel overcrowded, yet small enough that there’s no danger of getting lost.  Beyond that, the crowd who had dragged themselves here in the middle of the workweek seemed too tired to bother with pushing or fighting.  They streamed through the doors looking relaxed and maybe a little dazed, blinking in surprise as they redeemed their drink tickets for bottles of water and were offered a complimentary Japanese bon-bon to go with. Fans who opted to get alcoholic drinks instead weren’t entitled to a bon-bon, but that seemed only fair, considering that EX Theater has an unusually well-stocked bar for a venue of its size, with all kinds of atypical offerings (the most notable of which was Toll’s third-favorite brand of box wine.)

After stowing bags and coats safely away in the coin lockers, fans draped their panda tour towels loosely around their necks and headed down to the floor.  On Hide’s side, they waited patiently for the show to begin, intermittently nodding their heads to the minimal noise music that bleeped and blooped softly from the speakers. However, fans on Imai’s side could never be content with such self-restraint, and compacted violently into the front railing at least ten minutes before the show was due to start, shrieking and squeaking as they attempted to straighten themselves into a comfortable configuration while ascertaining that Mr. Imai had not, in fact, come onstage yet—it was only a guitar tech, come to give the instruments a last minute tune.

Holding Imai’s red guitar right-handed, this tech delicately strummed the strings, his small figure dwarfed by the massive semicircular screen of lights that wrapped around the entire back of the stage, extending from just above the tech’s head all the way up to the top of the ceiling—definitely the largest, most impressive set piece I’ve ever seen at a Buck-Tick standing tour.  Due to the smaller size of live house stages, sets at standing tours tend to be minimal, but this screen was so large and imposing that it threatened to upstage the band members entirely.  When the lights went down and the thumping, bumping electro-dance beats of the stage entrance music came up, the whole backdrop lit up at once in an animated sequence of light, lines and shapes, making the tour feel more like a techno club night every second…at least until the band members themselves came on at last, and jumped right into “Iconoclasm.”

Backlit as they were by the light screen, the band members were visible at first only as silhouettes, and when viewed from close to the front of the hall, the images on the screen also appeared blurry and pixelated.  Since the hall tour had already been heavily backlit, and part of the point of the standing tour is the intimacy factor of getting close enough to the stage to read the band members’ expressions and watch their fingers on their instruments (cue saucy chuckles!), I personally wished that the band had made slightly less use of the screen, though some of our correspondents reported that from the back of the hall, it looked fabulous.

It was indeed effective for “Iconoclasm,” displaying images of sparks flying from sharpening blades, in between cuts of strobe lights flashing in time to the driving industrial beat.  “Iconoclasm” has evolved in a countless series of iterations over the two decades since its release, and in recent years, Mr. Sakurai had largely shifted from singing “five for Japanese babies” to singing “five for everybody,” no doubt a nod to the band’s increasingly large numbers of overseas fans.  However, for Metaform Nights, Sakurai gave up on singing these new lyrics during extra repeats of the chorus, choosing instead to stand back, stay silent, and let Imai’s guitar work take the spotlight.  Though we felt a little disappointed that he backed off from inclusiveness, I suspect it was an artistic decision, rather than a political one—my guess is that he wants to take the song back to its minimalist roots, or perhaps simply change it because he’s sick of doing it the same way every time.

Next, in a direct inversion of the hall tour set list, before the last beats of “Iconoclasm” died away, the band launched straight into “Devil’N Angel.”  But sadly, despite the presence of the backdrop screen and the suggestive design of the tour tote bag, on this tour, there were no animated lady vanillas to be seen - just psychedelic flashing lights.

The infamous Metaform Nights Vanilla Tote Bag

Following “Devil’N Angel” came “Phantom Voltaire,” during which Sakurai spun about the stage in near darkness, occasionally forgetting the lyrics as he mimed lewd dances behind a grinning, winking Hoshino Hidehiko, who we could only see intermittently through the strobe light chiaroscuro. (Wow, such art, much art terminology!)

After “Voltaire,” the band took a short water break, Imai plucking long, cool tones on his guitar before starting into “Baudelaire de Nemurenai,” a welcome down-tempo number after the violent crowd crush of three consecutive dance tunes.  Set lists for standing tours are usually heavy biased toward up-tempo songs, but there’s something special about watching Buck-Tick perform their dreamy ballads in the intimate context of a live house.  Not only does the smaller stage increase the chemistry between the band members, but Sakurai and Imai have turned “Baudelaire” into a sort of stage play, trading back and forth between Imai’s meandering, zoned-out solos, and Sakurai’s elaborate pantomime of the story—though I couldn’t fail to notice how Mr. Sakurai seems to have re-interpreted the line “my hips too unsteady to dance” to mean “my hips do a pelvic thrusting dance,” which he demonstrated without fail at every single show.  Yet be this as it may, by the end of the song, he was back on track with Imai’s original theme, clawing at his chest on the line “every one of you, leave and go outside,” as if to pull a multitude of unwanted alter-egos out of his soul.

As the song ended, Sakurai addressed the audience with a simple command—“Dance!” And next moment, the lights had come up bright and glittering to the opening beats of “Dokudanjou Beauty,” shining down on the stage and giving us a chance to observe the details of the band members’ costumes at last.

Regarding costumes, Buck-Tick’s general practice is that each of the band members has two outfits for a given tour, which they alternate on consecutive nights, so over the course of the two nights in Roppongi, we were able to see both looks on the runway, as it were.  (As to why they can’t wear the same outfit two nights in a row—much gross, very sweat, so dry cleaning!)  Anyhow, rather than continue in the Red Flag of Anarchy theme of the hall tour, on the standing tour, the band members opted for a more sleek-but-funky look, with the exception of Toll, who finally got the overdue message that the tour color this year is red, not blue, and strode out onstage on Night One dressed in a blazing crimson military jacket with the red Buck-Tick pennant down the back and an armband bearing the album logo on his left arm.  On Night Two, he outdid himself in a slim black leather jacket with the mask-and-triangle tour logo painted punk-style on the back.

Hide, meanwhile, preferred minimalism, appearing in a white suit the first night and a black suit the next, while Imai took the suit look a step further and opted for an Austin Powers-style white jacket over a gold sequin shirt open to below the breastbone, alternating with a zoot suit made of fine black velveteen, accented with white polkadots.  As if this weren’t already dapper-funky enough, some of the white polkadots had been filled in with silver sequins, and they sparkled in the light as he kicked his leg up, squinting at the fans from under the fringe of his overgrown hair, now brown, wavy, and rigid with a halo of hairspray.  In keeping with the Very Serious Art theme of the album, Imai seemed determined never to smile at the fans on this tour, and remained resolutely expressionless for most of the show.  The same could not be said of Yutaka, who grinned maniacally at anyone he could spot smiling in his direction, bouncing back and forth in a grey-and-red plaid outfit like a men’s version of a schoolgirl uniform, with a blazer and kilt worn over matching trousers.

As for Mr. Sakurai and the allegations that he appeared onstage with a long beard wearing a “silver lamé mini-dress,” we regret to report that by the time the Roppongi shows rolled around, chaetophobic fangirls had successfully pressured Mr. Sakurai into shaving the beard off altogether.  (Chaetophobia=fear of hair.  You learn something new every day!)  Here at staunchly pro-beard Not Greatest Site, all we can say is, Acchan-chan, we frankly don’t care if it’s not the greatest beard, so long as you can put Dali wax in it.  That is all.

Beyond that, the Mini-Dress in Question also turned out to be a mere rumor—in fact, it was a tunic, worn over a pair of red-black double-weave flocked brocade superhero tights, designed to show off how all those Goth Pilates floor workouts have created Thighs of Steel—but that was Night Two (for more info on Goth Pilates floor workouts, watch Buck-Tick: The Movie, Part II.)  On Night One, Mr. Sakurai opted for a close-fitting Mandarin jacket made of black and gold lace, with sheer sleeves and minimal rolled ruffles down the front, plus a large, flowing scarf made of the same material and trimmed with blingy gold coins, which he draped over his head for good measure.  Under the jacket, he wore wide-legged black stretch pants, loose at the bottom, tight at the top—but not too tight, as Mr. Acchan-chan values freedom above all else, and he wants you to know it.  Whenever he takes the stage, he vows to be bold and show the world that he will never, never suffer in secret under that despotic oppression, that stretchy cotton tyranny that unenlightened sheeple like us call “underwear.”  Never dare to ask why there’s no underwear line called “Sakurai’s Secret.”  Mr. Sakurai has no secrets.  Mr. Sakurai has no underwear.

Anarchy may be Order without Power, but Pantarchy is Anarchy without Panties!

And on that note…back to the show.

Following “Dokudanjou Beauty” came “Limbo,” in the same new arrangement that was featured on the hall tour, heavy on Imai’s distorted guitar line and the random bleeping of his small glowing synthesizer (no that’s not a euphemism), which he also employed later in the show on “Uchuu Circus” and “Melancholia.”  “Limbo” is a song made for dance clubs, but it has been my general experience that a typical Buck-Tick standing tour resembles a dance club a lot less than it resembles Fight Club, where the first rule is “That spot at the front was destined for you. That someone else is standing in it does not matter. Elbow her out of the way.”  Yet amazingly, in Roppongi, the fans somehow managed to dance together without attempting to kill each other.

Perhaps mid-week, tired salaryfans are less inclined to violence, or perhaps they were all too busy staring at Hide, who has amped up his flirt-with-the-fans routine higher than ever, and spent most of the show preening on the edge of the stage, pointing and winking and making mojo faces at the fangirls while they shrieked and cheered, lapping up the attention. Internet rumor-spreaders may love to tell tales of Sakurai’s flirtations with front-row fangirls, but these are mostly fairy-stories. The fact is that the lead vocalist, most of the time, Sakurai really hasn’t got much room to look at or notice individual fans—between staying on pitch, remembering the lyrics, gyrating his pelvis and making sure he doesn’t get pulled off the stage, he’s usually got too many balls in the air at once (get it?).  Hide, however, can afford to take his time—when he looks at you, he looks you right in the eye, and you can tell that he sees you.  It’s very effective.  Even more than on the last tour, I get the strong sense that Hide is looking carefully at the crowd, genuinely interested to know who’s there and how much they’re dancing, and that kind of connection with the audience means everything.

Imai had been trying this too, for a time, but on this tour, he seems to have lapsed back into his old ways.  While Hide spent his solos standing on the edge of the stage extension, grinning at the ladeez, perhaps hoping that sometime soon they would start feeling up his legs (they did eventually, it just took a little while), Imai preferred to stare down at his guitar in fervent concentration, or barring that, gaze aimlessly off into space.  Yet eventually, the atmosphere of fun got the better of him, and he could no longer suppress a lopsided grin, the stage lights glinting so brightly on the golden B-T letters in his teeth that our correspondents reported the sparkle was visible from the balcony.

After the madness of “Limbo,” we were treated to even more madness, in the form of…what else but “MAD”?  The band do perform this song with some regularity (I believe the most recent instance as the Razzle Dazzle hall tour), but they’ve kept it in the box for long enough that it feels fresh, and in any case, it’s a great pick for a standing show—slow enough to give the fans in the pit a break from the pushing and shoving, but fast enough to keep up the momentum of the performance.  For most of the song, the lights stayed low and green and the backdrop stayed largely dark, illuminated only with blurred flashes of color, in reference to the over-exposed handheld footage used in the original PV, released back in 1991.  Imai sauntered back and forth across stage right, occasionally pausing to sit down on one of the monitors or even dangle his legs off the stage, repeating his psychedelic staccato riff in a perfect loop, his face still totally expressionless.  Playing such an early song seemed to have taken Yutaka back to the old days, too—rather than smiling or bouncing, he stood stiff as a soldier, swaying slightly, his face furrowed in concentration.

Sakurai, on the other hand, relished a chance to act out another narrative number. Staying well clear of the edge of the stage, he paced around and around in tight circles, clutching at his hair, rolling his eyes, picking up the floor lights and flashing them on the crowd, darting Peter Murphy-style in and out of the shadows, before flinging himself to the floor and crawling catlike up center stage. Whether he did this to imitate his beloved felines or to show off his satin-clad butt to his fangirls, it’s hard to say.  All we can say is, Mr. Sakurai has no secrets.  Mr. Sakurai has no panty lines.

“Rain…rain…rain…” Sakurai growled at the audience, in the silence after “MAD” had ended.  “Love…love…love…SEXXXX!”  He made an exaggerated moan into the microphone, the fans cheered, and the band launched into “Satan.”

This song was already one of the most impressive numbers on the hall tour, and on the smaller stages of the standing venues, it continued to evolve. The hall tour rendition featured a beautiful collage of bloody, rainy, dreamy images, but for the standing tour, the band decided to forego the backdrop entirely and focus on the performance. This is also still clearly one of the songs that Sakurai enjoys performing the most, and he played up the sensuality more than ever, turning his back and miming a hot and heavy self-makeout session (a la “Climax Together”) while Hide played his extended guitar solo, before picking up the heavy microphone stand one-handed, as if it weighed nothing, and miming stabbing himself brutally through the heart, even more dramatically than he had done on the hall tour.

Yet for all its dark romantic decadence, there’s still something slightly amusing about “Satan,” probably related to the fact that the lyrics are such a grab-bag of Mr. Sakurai’s apparent fetishes—rain, cats, and speaking the word “sex” aloud. What some of you may not know is that back in the day, young long-haired Mr. Sakurai was so well-known for calling “sex shiyou ze!” (“let’s have sex!”) to the audience in between songs that if you were to go out into the Tokyo streets, look for the first man you could find with a passing familiarity with Buck-Tick, and ask him to do his best Acchan impression, he’d be likely to proposition you then and there—“sex shiyou ze” appears to be the Japanese national consensus for Most Famous Quote Ever by Atsushi Sakurai.

But Mr. Sakurai’s got an admirable streak of cheeky snark in him, and at this point in his career, everyone else takes him so seriously that he seems delighted by any chance to subtly poke fun.  Shouting “sex!” at the audience just to hear them squeal was something he started on the Cosmic Dreamer tour, as an introduction to “Kimi no Vanilla,” but this year, he decided that simply hearing the fans squeal wasn’t enough to satisfy him anymore—he wanted them involved.  By the time Night Two in Roppongi rolled around, instead of merely shouting “sex!” at the fangirls, he held out the microphone toward them and gestured enthusiastically to shout “sex” back at him (sex by proxy, isn’t that the next best thing to a fangirl’s dream?)  Ms. Fanny Cockshott-Shufflebottom swears that he initiated this call-and-response game because of her, claiming that he stared desperately into her eyes while holding the microphone out toward the audience, as if to say, “I know you speak English, so shout it loud and proud in your native tongue!”

Unable to resist a direct request from Acchan himself, Ms. Fanny shouted back at him in a booming voice, but unfortunately, she was one of only a handful of fans who complied. The front section Japanese fangirls were a bit shy on the uptake, and most of the other fan shouts came from much further back in the hall.

Cayce to front-row fangirls: loosen up, y’all.  I can’t say for certain, but something tells me that Mr. Acchan prefers ladies of the enthusiastic variety.

But after the inferno depths of “Satan,” it was time to look back up to heaven, and reach for the stars.  Just as “Message” didn’t make it to the Memento Mori standing tour, I never expected that “The Moon is Made of Green Cheese” would make it into the setlist for Metaform Nights, but Imai appears to be far too in love with this song to let it go anytime soon.

“The world is ripe with darkness,” Sakurai murmured, settling himself down on a stool as the backdrop came up with a slow-twinkling galaxy of stars.  This song does sound significantly better live than on recording, and it also presented a unique opportunity to witness Imai with an actual expression on his face—in this case, an expression of intense, soulful passion.  The other band members remained quite still throughout, and even Sakurai kept his movements to a minimum, singing the first verse while sitting down, then standing up on the second verse, turning slowly to point at each band member in turn on the line “look up and see, there’s a new light.”  Coming from Sakurai, this seemed somehow more genuine than making an effort to sing about Imai’s baby.  (After all, this same baby was also the subject of “Devil’N Angel,” with quite a different message—welcome to the real world! Words for Imai himself to live by, I might point out.)

During this number, even the most violent fangirls kept their elbows to themselves and watched the proceedings with sentimental solemnity, but as the tour went on, I couldn’t shake the sneaking feeling that Sakurai was secretly longing to break out into some cheesy idol-style dance moves.  Every so often a stray fan would let go, raise her hands and cheer, and each time this happened, I could have sworn I saw Mr. Sakurai’s face twitch with a flicker of a smile, just as his hands twitched with a tiny flicker of para-para.  Imai, meanwhile, took no notice, bending over his guitar and strumming it as if it were the last guitar in the universe, and he were the last man, and his baby were the last baby, drawing the ending out for an extra minute into long, buzzing major-key arpeggios of feedback. His fans cheered for him the entire time.

When Imai’s chords had died out at last, Sakurai addressed the audience again.

“Roppongi!” he called.  “We’ve never performed at this theater before.  It’s very beautiful, isn’t it?  Thank you all for coming.”

Fans cheered, but Sakurai raised his eyebrow and continued with a smirk. “Don’t succumb to Roppongi’s other…temptations.”

The fans laughed at the joke, but what they may not know is that as far as succumbing to the temptations of Roppongi is concerned, Sakurai has a secret history of his own.  An unscrupulous fanboy friend of ours loves to relate the tale of how, one night back in 2009, he was walking through the streets of Roppongi minding his own business, when who should he espy but dear Mr. Sakurai himself, walking down the street in the opposite direction. Our friend, suddenly overwhelmed by an unfamiliar yet not entirely unwelcome sensation of ambiguous arousal, swiftly changed course mid-stride and shadowed his beloved Acchan-chan down the street, wanting to see where he would go.  He wasn’t disappointed, for a few blocks down the street, Mr. Sakurai turned and entered an establishment that has now become world famous for copious amounts of foam, froth, and milky fluids of all kinds—I am referring, of course, to Starfucks I mean Starbucks Coffee.

Yet instead of entering the Starbucks himself and posing as a customer so as not to blow his cover, our friend chose instead to stand sketchily outside the window, face pressed fish-like against the glass, goggling at Mr. Sakurai’s poise, grace, and fetching long legs (his words, not mine) as he contemplated the items on the menu.  Whereupon Mr. Sakurai, sensing that he was being watched, turned around to look behind him, just in time to catch our friend in flagrante delicto of fanboy rapture. Sense of personal security now irreparably violated, Mr. Sakurai turned tail and fled back into the night, leaving the mystery of his favorite Starbucks beverage forever unsolved.

"To this day, I'm still wondering," our friend confessed with a misty sigh. "What's Acchan's favorite coffee?"

We were too polite to tell him that we already knew the answer - a Vanilla Cream Soda Fapuccino.

Perhaps next time he comes to Roppongi on his own time, Mr. Sakurai ought to wear a mask.  It might not keep him hidden from his fanboys, but at least he’d have fun—if his performance of “masQue” is anything to go on, that is.  This is another song that the whole band clearly enjoys, Sakurai most of all.  As the tour went on, he took to introducing the band members one by one at the beginning of the song, calling “Acoustic bass, Higuchi Yutaka!  Acoustic guitar, Hoshino Hidehiko!  Acoustic guitar, Imai Hisashi!” but they couldn’t stay acoustic for long.  After “masQue,” Imai turned back to his glowing synthesizer, twiddling the dials to send cascades of electronic noise through the speakers as Sakurai moaned and sighed into the microphone.

“Black hole…I want your black hole!  Five, four, three, two, one…LIFTOFF!” And right on cue, Hide cut into the jangling chords of “Uchuu Circus.”

When the album was first released, Sakurai claimed in official interviews that he was inspired to write the lyrics for this song by “imagining a lonely rocket floating around in orbit,” but by this point, he’s completely given up the pretense that this isn’t a song about sex.  As with “Satan,” his introductory MC sections before this number evolved over the course of the tour, culminating at the tour final at Zepp Tokyo, where he took his sweet time with the countdown from five, moaning heavily, then copiously faking an orgasm as he turned toward stage left, putting his leg up on the monitor, waggling his bum at the fangirls before leaning in close to Mr. Hoshino and sighing “Hideee!”

Slashfic writers, rejoice.  NicoNico even caught the precious moment on video.

"Uchuu Circus" explodes like a giant firecracker, and with its fast stop-start punk beat, it's far better suited to a standing tour than a hall tour—dancing is not optional, it's required! If the fans hadn’t been sweating before, by the end of this song, they were drenched—aided somewhat by Sakurai’s tendency to pour whole bottles of water on the front of the crowd, or even, if he were feeling ambitious, bend his head low over the audience so the fangirls could pinch his cheeks and yank on his hair (it’s a wonder he has any hair left!)  Not wanting to be left out, the other band members soon joined in the fun, pushing right up to the edge of the stage extension as “Uchuu Circus” gave way to “Once Upon a Time.” Imai and Hide stole the show, crisscrossing center stage, pausing here and there to let the fangirls grab their knees and bootheels, while Yutaka spun down front to shake his butt at the crowd, and Sakurai paid visits to both hanamichi, trying to make sure that the fans over at the edge of the stage didn’t feel ignored.

But even when the song ended, the tension kept mounting as Sakurai announced the next song, which he introduced as Melancholectria” (Or was it “Electrolia”?) 

We’ve all been waiting to hear this one live ever since the Keijijou Ryuusei single came out, and it did not disappoint.  Here, the background screen set the perfect mood, blinking geometric shapes and sound waves that warped and evolved, shifting and pulsing in time with the beat. On the studio recording of this song, the guitar parts were replaced entirely with electronics programmed by guest musician Yow-Row of GARI (who previously worked with Sakurai on his solo project re-interpretation of chanson classic “Ai no Sanka.”)  However, pre-recorded electronics wouldn’t make for much of a live show, so Imai had decided to write a new arrangement—similar to the original, but with a new guitar line brought to the fore.  As on the hall tour, Sakurai continued to demonstrate his excellent balance by standing on one leg during the verses, but he also introduced a slightly different interpretation during the chorus, pointing at his own head instead of the audience on the lines “there’s just one/there’s only me.”

In an elegant continuation of the bloody theme, the band followed “Melancholia” with “Makka na Yoru” under deep red lights, then “Zekkai,” with a beautiful backdrop of grey clouds and orange sunsets, before finishing the main set with “Aku no Hana,” in honor of the song’s 25th anniversary. Since “Aku no Hana” remains Buck-Tick’s number one hit of all time, I suppose it’s only fair that they play the song so often, but for a while there, they were playing it so often that I was getting sick of hearing it.  Plus, there are ten tracks on the Aku no Hana album and these days, the band only ever play three of them with any regularity…wouldn’t hauling one of the old forgotten ones out of the closet be as fitting an anniversary tribute as anything?  And yet, on this tour, they forced me to eat my words.  “Aku no Hana” is a hell of a cool song, no doubt about it, and when played at searing speed with new guitar hooks by a band with three decades of experience under their belts, it’s a show-stopper like no other.  By the time it was done, both the fans and the band were so tired there was no choice but to turn off the lights and break for an encore.

When the band returned to the stage, they made their usual greetings to the fans—Yutaka grinning and waving and shaking his bum-bum while Hide tossed a towel or two and Imai snapped pictures on his phone. However, once they had settled themselves behind their instruments once more, they made it clear they were starting a new chapter of the show.  Imai jangled the strings of his guitar, as if to make absolutely sure he was ready to do the thing properly.  And by “thing,” I mean “things” plural—that is to say, stand on his feet, play guitar, and sing, all at the same time.  Next moment, the spotlight came up white and cold on Hide, as he struck the opening chords of “Dada Disco.”

If there was one song on Anarchy that came together so well on the hall tour that it was nearly impossible to imagine in the context of a live house, it’s this one. It’s essentially the theme song of the album, and the album is about art, so how could any live performance of this number be complete without all that animated Constructivist imagery to go along with? The band seemed to feel the same way. The imagery they used this time was more minimalist than on the hall tour, but impressive nonetheless. Massive turning, churning metallic gears filled the background screen, overshadowing the band members, who were bathed in red and white flashing strobes. Imai didn’t miss a note, despite the fact that he no longer had a conveniently placed chair to prop him up, while Sakurai spent most of the song prancing around on the stage extension, holding the microphone stand out perpendicular to his body and running his hands over it suggestively, his performance growing more provocative at each subsequent show until at last, on the tour final, he flung the stand away entirely, dropped down on his hands and knees and crawled in a slow semicircle all along the edge of the extension platform, seeming to luxuriate in the forest of fingers that reached out to grasp at his every dada and gaga.

The band then continued the encore with “Not Found,” abstract green shapes covering the backdrop screen like stray bits of data from the Matrix, while spotlights highlighted Yutaka and his heavy bassline. Sakurai used his skull-topped cane to illustrate the story, but when it wasn’t expressive enough for his liking he used Hide as a prop instead, miming pulling Hide’s heart out of his chest and breaking it on the line “vanishing like the sparks that burst and fly away.” Next came “Keijijou Ryuusei,” minus most of the fancy red and white projections, but beautiful as ever, lulling the crowd into contemplative silence before the last dark, abstract piece in this mini-gallery of musical paintings—“Mudai.”

While Sakurai has flatly refused to explain the meaning of this song’s cryptic lyrics, he was perfectly happy to explain in an interview to Fish Tank how he gave close directions to the stage designers about the pulsing, psychedelic collage of wet paint and fractured images that drenched the whole stage during this number on the hall tour. At the hall tour’s opening show in Hachioji, the band finished the main set with this song and left the stage in near-total darkness, a brave and shocking move that seemed to embody the whole confrontational spirit of Dada. In the same interview, Sakurai also explained that ending the set with this song had been his idea, and how he had been disappointed that he was soon overruled by the other band members, who suggested that changing the lineup so the set ended with “Keijijou Ryuusei” would give a better sense of closure (I’d argue that the idea of closure is antithetical to the idea of Dada.)

However, the standing tour presented an opportunity to do things a different way, and this time, they honored Sakurai’s vision—as well they might, since however much Imai shook his sweaty head, frowned and tore at his guitar strings during the song’s dramatic finale, “Mudai” is basically a polite code word for “The Atsushi Sakurai Show.” Watching the other band members during this song seemed a waste—not only was Mr. Sakurai’s performance riveting, but it was also slightly different every night. One night, he acted out the part of a nursing child, but the next he dragged his hand across his heart on the same line, snagging on the buttons of his shirt so they came open to reveal the (shockingly sexual and scandalous!) black t-shirt he was wearing underneath. Yet Mr. Sakurai was so involved in his performance that he didn’t even notice his own wardrobe malfunction, standing, looming, crouching, and crawling through the shadows as the screen above drew brushy figures of white light like pendulum sand paintings in the dark space overhead. When the song ended, the stage stayed dark, and the band members left without a word.

Back onstage for the last encore, the band quickly lightened the mood with “Survival Dance,” followed by various other up-tempo numbers that changed depending on the night.  On Night Two in Roppongi they ended with “Muma –The Nightmare–,” which was a mistake—Cayce’s personal feelings about the song aside, it’s a deep, dark, negative downer and not remotely suitable for a rousing end to a hot and heavy standing show.  Other encore picks included “Tenshi wa Dare da” and “Physical Neurose,” and while I still would have preferred to hear some more unusual selections, at least these songs are fun to dance to, and give the band members some more opportunity to interact with the crowd.

However, the unquestionable encore standout had to be “Revolver.” Though the arrangement remains unchanged from the original Tenshi no Revolver version, the song still got a Constructivist makeover, with stark black silhouettes of the tanks and towers of oil refineries rearing up against a blood-red backdrop as Toll tapped out the martial opening rhythm on the snare drum, then twisting and flashing into red and white circles as Yutaka dropped the bass, bathing the band members in the shape of anarchy one last time. Imai has made no secret of the fact that he’s uncommonly aroused by the sight of large factories, so doubtless this was his idea.  

Either way, it was a perfect way to end the tour in the spirit of Dada—after all, many of the Dadaists were violently anti-war, yet in a way, “shoot it” was their motto.

Set List

08. Satan
10. masQue
15. Zekkai

~en. 1
20. Mudai

~en. 2
22. (varied depending on the night)
23. (varied depending on the night)

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