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Kishidan Expo 2013

Kishidan Expo 2013
Featuring Buck-Tick, hide with spread beaver, & many more
September 14th, 2013 at Shimizu Octo Sodegaura
Live Report by Cayce

The Kishidan Expo: like Buck-Tick Fest, except hosted by Kishidan.  What’s the difference, you ask?  Everything, my friend.  Buck-Tick are cult heroes and proud of it, but Kishidan, while they may appear on the surface to be a comedy band with niche appeal, want to make it known with their festival that they are a Big Fucking Deal.  Why else make the title of the event “Banpaku,” which literally translates to “World’s Fair”?  As demonstrated by their festival lineup last year, Buck-Tick really care about quality, but to Kishidan, with their flair for the dramatic and overblown, quantity is what matters.  The bigger, the better!  Kishidan wanted to make their festival so big that it wouldn’t fit in Tokyo, so big that it wouldn’t even fit in Chiba City, so big that they’d be forced to take it out into the countryside to their hometown of Hipsterville Sodegaura/Kisarazu.  Hipsterville because you probably haven’t heard of it.  And you probably haven’t heard of it because it’s not a real place, it’s an impossible-to-reach mythical locale a zillion and a half miles away from civilization.

Okay, maybe we’re being a tad bit unfair here—after all, Kishidan Banpaku is nowhere near as big or hard to get to as the king of all Japanese festivals, Fuji Rock, which hosted Bjork, The Cure, and Nine Inch Nails this past summer, and is located at a ski resort up in the mountains of Niigata.  But we confess that even so, it was a bit of a novel experience for us.  Most of the time, we stay hidden in the underground tunnels of indie rock clubs, indoors, at night.  It’s very rare that we venture out in daylight to experience what’s going on in music in the mainstream.  For us, going to an event like this felt a lot like learning about “what the kids are doing these days.” Unfortunately, we soon realized that we were probably better off not knowing.  Buck-Tick’s good taste has left us spoiled rotten.  My apologies if you’re a fan of the bands in this lineup.  This review is solely my personal opinion and you’re perfectly entitled to disagree—but I have to say that for me, this festival was a big reminder of why I prefer to stay underground in indie mouseholes most of the time. Anyhow, if I sound too grumpy in this report, all I can say is: show me some good music and I’ll write you a good review.

But boring lineup or no, middle of nowhere or no, we see it as our journalistic duty to boldly go wherever Buck-Tick goes before.  So get on that train we did, and two hours later, we disembarked in Sodegaura and found ourselves, not at a festival, but in the middle of Kansas from the opening sequence of the The Wizard of Oz.  Brownish, empty fields stretched out around the train station on all sides as far as the eye could see, and the faint smell of burning filled our nostrils—the farmers of Chiba prefecture, burning their agricultural waste.  FYI, Chiba received a hefty dose of fallout from Fuckin’ Class Nuclear Reactor On The Beach Fukushima, so when the farmers set fire to piles of dead leaves, it’s like a bunch of massive cones of Cesium Incense, straight from Shiva, right into your nose.  You’re welcome.  If it turns out that Kishidan causes me to die prematurely through their miserably inconvenient choice of location, I’ll kill them.

However, though we had arrived in Sodegaura, our journey still wasn’t done, because the venue was located so far away from the train station that it was impossible to walk there in a decent length of time.  It would have been handy if a tornado had come along to carry us there, but though the incidence of tornados has been increasing in Japan of late, and a few highly destructive twisters ripped through Saitama and Tochigi just two weeks ago and tore the roofs off people’s houses and stuff and it was Serious Shit on the evening news, unlike Kansas, in Sodegaura on Saturday afternoon, there were no twisters in sight.  Therefore, we were forced, like everyone else, to take the Shuttle Bus.  Even on the Shuttle Bus, it took fifteen whole minutes to reach the venue, but luckily, the bus was packed with awkward fanboys in eyeliner, and we even glimpsed one of our favorite Sakurai impersonators out the window of the bus on the way.

The venue, Shimizu Octo, is situated right on the waterfront, with the sea breeze to chase away the stench of some of that radioactive smoke, and offered beautiful view of the skyline of all of Tokyo and Yokohama from across the Tokyo Bay.  The advantage of being way out here in Nowhere is that there’s much more space.  The grounds for this festival were far larger than the grounds for Buck-Tick’s festival.  In addition to several different sets of food stalls and tents by sponsor businesses including a bakery and a recruiting agency for part-time jobs, there were several different picnic and relaxation areas where armies of Kishidan cosplayers in elaborate Regent hairdos and embroidered kamikaze coats could be seen reclining on colorful plastic tarps, sipping at various boozes purchased from the waterfront bar tents (when we introduced ourselves to the bar tent managers as representatives of Not Greatest Site, they offered us free vodka, leaned close to us and whispered conspiratorially, “not to encourage alcohol consumption among fans, but send our regards to Acchan-chan.”  Based on this remark, we’re not sure if they intended the vodka as a gift to us or a gift to Acchan-chan.  In a desperate selfish desire to get as wasted as possible before having to suffer through the woeful moe of Nogizaka 46, we drank it with our own mouths, but to make up for it, we imagined that it was Acchan-chan’s mouth drinking it the whole while.  But that’s neither here nor there.)

Annyhow, it’s worth noting that though there seemed to be more booze available at this festival than at Buck-Tick’s festival, everyone seemed a lot less drunk, and the proof is in the pudding: there was no queue for the pottyloo.  Granted, there were a lot more pottyloos this time around.  However, there were also a lot more fangirls.  Therefore, I think we can conclude that Buck-Tick fans are, on the whole, the drunkest of the drunk when it comes to Japanese rock fans, and the lowered ratio of Buck-Tick fans to fans of other bands in turn lowered the rate of drunkenness considerably.

To be quite honest, I didn’t expect there would be many Buck-Tick fans at this festival, due to the expense of the tickets and the transportation and the general lack of other good bands.  Boy, was I wrong.  There seemed to be almost as many Buck-Tick fans as Kishidan fans, and all of Buck-Tick’s tour t-shirts had been sold out since first thing in the morning.  I suppose that after six months of letting the Buck-Tick members rest their tired old bones, I think all the fans were feeling as I was: developing the warning signs of scurvy from being cooped up on the U.S.S. B-T without our live-gig vitamins.  Ready to charge the stage like a pack of sailors at a whorehouse their first night of shore leave.  That is to say, ready to burst out of our britches and climax together.

Unfortunately, before we got to see Buck-Tick, we had to put up with the rest of the lineup.  I did not see all the acts at this festival so I certainly can’t speak to all of them, but the acts I did witness failed to inspire.  I would have liked to see Kishidan perform, but their set was scheduled for 11:30AM, and that, my friends, is just way too early for Cayce on a Saturday—not when Buck-Tick, the next band I want to see, isn’t due onstage till 5:10PM.  Therefore, as it happened, I arrived at the venue in time for HY, who hail from Okinawa, and incorporate Okinawan folk sound into their work.  As I happen to love Okinawan folk music, the opening shamisen riffs got me excited, but as soon as I started wondering whether I might actually enjoy this band after all, the music devolved into lightweight, derivative R&B, complete with aimless, tuneless rapping, and big, cheesy, overblown pop choruses, indistinguishable from every other shitty pop band on Top 40 radio, and I gave up listening.

Following HY came a “halftime show” by a character calling himself “Moriyama Naotaro, The Eternal Boy.”  At this time, I didn’t have much of a desire to get closer to the stage than my picnic blanket, but from what I could discern, Eternal Boy wore a schoolboy outfit complete with knickerbockers, as he strummed lightly on an acoustic guitar while whining soulfully like a castrated cat in love, his piercing yodel climbing high up into registers in which, in my opinion, no self-respecting man should ever sing (…unless he’s a registered counter-tenor, but that’s quite another proposition entirely.)  Luckily, he left the stage quickly.

By this point, the sun was going down, and the Buck-Tick fans were beginning to make their moves, casually sauntering into the arena, pretending they were actually interested in Nogizaka 46, the AKB-48 knockoff idol group that was scheduled in the time slot directly before Buck-Tick.  Yes, you heard me right.  An idol group was scheduled in the time slot right before Buck-Tick, but they weren’t alone—there were at least three idol groups on the bill for this festival, though most of them played on Sunday, no Saturday.  As for the question of why Kishidan booked so many idol groups at what was ostensibly a rock festival, I have two possible answers for you: 1) idols have taken over the Japanese media so much at this point that if you want to sell a big huge gigantic festival you need the idols on your side, and 2) the Kishidan members fancy idol girls.  Take your pick, but I suspect it’s a bit of both.

However, odd as it may seem, an idol group performing before Buck-Tick offered numerous advantages.  Namely—a pit full of soft, shy otaku men utterly unseasoned in the ways of rock-n-roll, who parted like plastic balls in a ball pit before the onslaught of the squadrons of Buck-Tick fans who mounted concentrated attacks from either side in spear formations, wearing the devil-horned BT tour towels on their heads like an army of bathhouse Vikings.  A sharp-elbowed fangirl at the point of each spear would push her way into the narrow spaces between the otaku, digging with her elbows left and right, driving gaps into the crowd so that hordes more Buck-Tick fans could press in behind.  The NGZ-46 fans, clutching glowsticks in their sweaty hands and awkwardly mouth-breathing at the troupe of perky dancing schoolgirls on the stage, barely registered what was going on.  Before long, there were more Buck-Tick fans in the front than fans of Nogizaka 46.

To their credit, I have to say, the Nogizaka 46 girls were indeed very cute.  Lucky they were, too, because cuteness seemed to be their only selling point.  It’s par for the course for idols to lip-synch rather than singing live, but part of the reason for this is that it’s difficult to sing well while dancing.  Therefore, I admit I did expect them to know how to dance, but unfortunately, they didn’t.  With their mismatched heights and not-quite-matching costumes, it felt a lot like watching a high school talent show.  I gather that lack of any real talent makes idols “more relatable” and thus more “moe” in the eyes of their fans but, to coin a phrase—bitch please.  I paid money to this pain.  I want to see me some dancing.

As soon as the last of the perky girls had run off the stage, the Buck-Tick fans began their onslaught in earnest.  The crowd crush was so swift and so sudden that the remaining Nogizaka 46 fans didn’t even know what hit them.  Trapped up front in a tangle of bodies, they appealed to the security guards in front for help, and were summarily lifted out of the pit over the railing one by one.  Judging by the alarmed expressions they had on their faces, this was the first time anything of the kind had ever happened to them.  Here’s betting the seasoned Buck-Tick fans could teach them a thing or three!  I was quite surprised that the crowd was this violent even before the show started, because I’d been standing in more or less the same spot at the Buck-Tick festival last year.  There had at least been breathing room then, but this time, there was none.  Nevertheless, some intrepid teenage fanboys of Man With A Mission (up after Buck-Tick) were determined to wait out Buck-Tick’s set at the front.

“A word to the wise: get out while you still can,” I cautioned one of them.

No doubt attempting to be macho, he ignored my advice and claimed he was “fine.”  But after more than half an hour of being buffeted, elbowed, and having “Acchan!!” screamed in his ear over and over, he was looking like he miserably regretted his choice.  If I’d had a chance, I’d have told him to just let go and enjoy it, seeing as it’s likely the only time in his life that he'll get to squish his bits up on so many strange women at once with no fear of getting arrested.

If anything, Kishidan are more devoted to their comedy than they are to their music, and this being their festival, they had the freedom to make as many jokes as they wanted to.  Thus, they had recorded special introduction videos for each band, in which they discussed the band’s significance.  And since the Kishidan members are all shameless Buck-Tick fanboys, Buck-Tick’s introduction video was by far the most amusing.

“Buck-Tick were the band that turned us on to rock-n-roll,” Show Ayanocozey solemnly intoned, over a montage of Buck-Tick video clips.  “The first girl I ever liked was a Buck-Tick fan.  She told me that to prove my love, I had to sneak into her house late at night and serenade her with ‘In Heaven’ on my guitar.  And oh, how miserably I failed!  I felt like such a loser!  But what I did not fail in was losing my virginity to her that night!  And it was all thanks to Buck-Tick.  Buck-Tick lost me my virginity.  Our gratitude to you, Buck-Tick, forevermore!”

After a short clip from the “Miss Take” PV, big white words came up on the screen: BUCK-TICK: THE LIVING LEGEND.  The fans cheered wildly as the words were replaced with a brilliant manga-style drawing, in which all the Buck-Tick members were pictured as hakama-clad, katana-wielding samurai.

As the drawing vanished from the screen all too quickly, “Theme of B-T” came up over the speakers, and the fans pressed closer and closer to the railings, screaming themselves hoarse until Yutaka bounded out of the wings, grinning as usual.  I think he’s cut his hair since Toll’s birthday party, but I suppose there’s only one man whose hair length y’all care about, and it’s not Yutaka.

The band members’ costumes this year vaguely echoed the costumes they wore at their own festival last year, though they were slightly less flashy, as if to respectfully acknowledge that this time, it wasn’t their festival.  Ever in the casual elegance camp, Yutaka wore a silver-grey jacket over a heather grey tank, while Hide showed his surfer style with a black net jacket over a white t-shirt.  Toll, meanwhile, seems to have had some shiny blue satin leftover from the jacket he wore on the Yumemiru Uchuu hall tour last year, because the jacket he wore this time wasn’t that jacket, but it was certainly made of the same fabric.  This year’s jacket, rather than a suit jacket, was more of a sports jacket, accentuated with a number of zippers.  Imai, as always, was the flashiest of the bunch, this time appearing, sans baby papoose, in a shiny mottled red satin shirt overlayed with a long black cotton vest, artfully tattered along the bottom hem, with torn strips of brightly colored fabric braided into the tatters.  Sakurai, however, was back in black, in a spiderweb fishnet shirt under a belted, sleeveless black leather jacket with an epaulette of black feathers across one shoulder.  As a break from his usual superhero-tight, plum-squishing trousers, this time, he opted for loose black pants reminiscent of the outfit he wore way back in the day for Climax Together ’91, which remains one of the best costumes he has ever worn.  No doubt relishing the freedom these uncharacteristically loose togs afforded him, and feeling at the summer’s end the need to let go and live in the moment, he seems to have cast off the concept of “underwear” entirely.  If our greeting to him had been, “Hey Acchan, how’s it hanging?” we suspect he would have answered with a wink and said, “You can see that for yourself.”  But in case that doesn’t stand up your attention enough, we can also note that Mr. Sakurai also seems to have been unusually nostalgic at this show, because he’d actually gone so far as spraying his hair up—but only halfway.  Hanging down over his scowly face in the front, it only stood up in the back—not straight up in the air, mind you, but poufy, like a parrot (or maybe a little like Robert Smith.)  Up there in the center of such a big stage, he probably felt the need to make his head look larger than usual, but all told, it wasn’t a bad look.

However, it seems that just as mainstream rock festivals aren’t Cayce’s natural environment, they aren’t Buck-Tick’s, either—at least, not if it’s not nighttime and/or pouring rain.  That, and I suspect the band members may be a bit slow coming back from their holiday, but I suppose it’s not surprising that they were a bit low-energy at this show, seeing as it often takes them a while to work up to full power, and a 40-minute set doesn’t allow much time for building momentum.

Of all the band members, Imai seemed to be most in his element, no doubt because he was excited to be playing Matsumoto Hideto tributes later in the evening.  Hoshino Hidehiko was also wide awake and ready for action, grinning at the crowd and demonstrating that his newfound swagger hasn’t deserted him even though the band has been on vacation.  Sakurai, on the other hand, looked like he was putting a lot of energy into trying to appear energetic, and not quite succeeding.  Judging from the fact that he kept exchanging signals with the staff members in between songs, I suspect there may have been some issues with the sound system, and though Sakurai maintained his self-control enough to prevent any mic-throwing incidents, he seemed far more focused on going through the motions of the performance than in actually interacting with the audience, though he certainly shot a few cheeky winks at the cameras in his vicinity.

I suspect it may have been difficult for Mr. Sakurai to adapt to the unique shape of this festival stage, which in addition to ramps on either side, also had a long catwalk extending out front and center into the middle of the crowd.  This catwalk would have been an ideal place for Sakurai to strut his stuff, but for the fact that instead of the wireless microphone he usually performs with, the festival venue had a wired microphone, which limited his range of movement.  Though he ditched the microphone and stepped halfway out the catwalk during the solo section of “Climax Together,” he didn’t return in time, and appeared dismayed when he dashed back to the lyrics monitor and realized he’d missed his cue and the fans were singing his lines at him.  As for the microphone cable, though he was very careful to neatly pay out and rewind the loops of cable as he moved back and forth across the front of the stage, I imagined I could see a little thought bubble of concentration over his head, repeating, “must not trip on mic cable,” over and over, and it ate into his ability to interact with the audience.  This is not to say that I blame him—outdoor venues are much more difficult to deal with than indoor venues all around, especially at large-scale events, and if anything, Sakurai’s ability to hold himself together enough to sing well (and shake his hips a bit) despite the fact that he probably wasn’t having his best day ever is a testament to his professionalism.

Even so, Buck-Tick delivered a fluid, polished performance, despite the inherent limitations of an outdoor sound system.  Our only real disappointment was the fact that despite printing the phrase “Love Steppers Parade” on all their tour goods, they played neither “Steppers” nor “Love Parade” (which, if you haven’t been keeping up with the times, were the theme songs for Buck-Tick: The Movies.)  Fans I spoke to agreed that it was a bit silly to advertise these songs on the tour goods without actually performing them, but mused that even if Buck-Tick had played the new songs, the fans don’t yet know them well enough to get excited.  I have to disagree on this one—“Steppers” is so catchy, simple, and easy to remember it could very well end up as a children’s summer camp song, while “Love Parade” is a dreamy ballad that calls for quiet, contemplative listening no matter how many times you’ve heard it.

In any case, the band did not give us the pleasure of experiencing these songs live, and we can only assuming they’re holding back until the Day in Question.  Instead, they treated us to a set made up entirely of up-tempo crowd-pleasers, to keep up the festival atmosphere.  Opening with “Dokudanjou Beauty” and continuing with “Elise,” they focused mainly on their recent work, though they did play “Aku no Hana,” which Sakurai announced was “a present for Kishidan.”  Following “Aku no Hana” came “Hamushi no You ni,” and then Sakurai stopped to talk to the crowd again.

“Last year was fun,” he said, and perhaps it was my imagination, but I thought he sounded slightly wistful.  The fans gave a deafening cheer. “Do you want me to talk more?” Sakurai continued.  “I would talk more, but there isn’t enough time.  So, shall we go, then?”  Gripping the microphone stand between thumb and middle finger at hip height, he stroked it a bit, to let us know what he meant, as if we didn’t already.  “Get ready to get off!” he called, and the band started into “Climax Together,” now practically a requirement for a festival set list.  During the extended instrumental break, Imai took full advantage of the catwalk, running all the way out to the end to solo in style.

The outdoor festivals generally call for up-tempo numbers, I wouldn’t have minded at least one ballad, if for no other reason than to let the crowd relax a little bit.  As it was, the crowd crush was so intense that we were already getting tired, but no rest for us, because after “Climax Together” came what a Japanese journalist described as “the heavy jungle beats of ‘Memento Mori.’”  And a word about those jungle beats—fans appear to be worried yet again that Toll’s a tired old man and he’ll soon crack under the strain of those heavy rhythms, but I say, have no fear—however dour his face and however slumped his shoulders, that man lives for drumming, and he’s a lot tougher than he looks.  I don’t see him quitting voluntarily any time soon.

After “Memento Mori,” that all-too-short set finished with “Iconoclasm,” during which Sakurai replaced the lyrics “5 for Japanese babies” with “5 for Kishidan babies” every other line.  When the song finished, the band members threw a few token items into the crowd and disappeared from the stage far too quickly.  Based on the timetable, I had expected they’d be playing a 50-minute set, but in fact they only played for 40 minutes.  Not sure why it was necessary to leave a full half hour in between each band; that was another thing that I felt the festival organizers could have done better, particularly considering that a week later at The Solar Budoukan, despite a less than ideal 2:10PM time slot, they were allowed to play for longer.

Buck-Tick were followed by recently-popular five-man outfit Man With a Mission.  Though I found Man With A Mission’s hard-ish rock-ish music mostly enjoyable (ish), it seemed that they were howling at the moon with fanboy sorrow that they weren’t playing opposite Kuroyume on Sunday…their songs may be catchy, but nothing about their work is the least bit original.  Their one claim to distinctiveness is the fact that they wear giant wolf heads while performing, preventing anyone from ever catching a glimpse of their pretty (?) faces, and while it’s amusing for a song or two, it gets old and gimmick-y very quickly.  Please, Mission Kids, if Imai’s okay with showing his adorable drug-lined potato mug onstage, you should be okay with ditching those wolf heads now and again.

And speaking of Imai’s drug-lined potato mug, it was the sole reason we were still in Sodegaura.  Under normal circumstances, considering the hassle of the long trek home, we might have left after Buck-Tick’s set was over, but as it was, Imai was scheduled to appear as a guitarist in the Matsumoto Hideto tribute band, so we decided to stay, not only out of love for Imai, but also to satisfy our curiosity.  After all—it’s really too bad Mr. Hideto isn’t a zombie, considering all the different tactics his posthumous promoters have used over the years to try and bring him back from the dead.  Would it be a hologram this time?  A life-sized cardboard cutout?  A human impersonator?  How could any of these come off as anything but tawdry?

I recognize that a lot of people, both in Japan and overseas, continue to have a lot of feelings about Hideto Hide’s untimely death.  Not only was he a fiercely talented, firebrand performer, he bridged the gap between underground and mainstream music in a way that helped keep the rock-n-roll spirit in Japan alive and strong.  It’s impossible to measure what sort of effect he might have had on the continuing evolution of Japanese rock music if he had lived, but others have pointed out, and I tend to agree, that the Japanese music scene would have stayed a bit darker and more irreverent longer than it did.  Imagining what the rock world could have been, if Hide had lived, and looking at what the rock world has become now without him, it’s hard not to feel regretful that his life and career were stolen away so soon.

On the other hand…he’s gone, and there’s no bringing him back.  He’s been gone a long time now, and however much his fans would like to believe that his spirit lingers on at all these tribute concerts, my personal hunch is that his lemon-flavored shade has moved on to the pervert mound of its beautiful stupid next life.  Continuing attempts to resurrect him, especially as the “headliner” at a major festival, ring false with me.

I was curious to see this set mainly because, according to the advertising, a pickup band of all-star performers would be there to support the Shade of Hide—not only Buck-Tick’s own Imai Hisashi, but also Hisashi of GLAY, Tetsu of D’erlanger, J of Luna Sea, and Ken Morioka formerly of Soft Ballet.  How often do these guys ever play on a stage together?  It had to be worth watching.  But as it actually happened, we were first treated to a lengthy introduction video starring Yoshiki and his pursed-up little plastic-surgery-enhanced mouth.  Next we got the “Pink Spider” PV, followed by live footage of “Pose,” “Bacteria,” Beauty & Stupid,” “Flame,” and “Tell Me.”  Though the stage lights lit up to simulate a concert atmosphere, no actual human beings were present on the stage during this video section.  Many of the fans appeared very moved, and had tears in their eyes, but my personal feeling was that if I wanted to have a good cry over some Hide videos, I’d rather do it alone in my room with YouTube and a bottle of lemon vodka.  If I’m going to drag my ass all the way out to Sodegaura, I want to see something I can’t see at home.

Furthermore, when the video concert ended at last, the band that took the stage wasn’t the pickup tribute band—it was Kishidan.  All six Kishidan members came out dressed in uniforms made of Hide’s signature print of red hearts on lemon yellow, eliciting laughs from the crowd.  But amusing as this was, it would have been a lot more amusing without having to stand through all that DVD footage first.

After a short speech honoring Hide’s memory, Kishidan vocalist Show called Tetsu, Hisashi, and Ken Morioka onto the stage one by one, but stopped short of calling J and Imai.  Instead, this three-piece band, plus Show, performed “Ever Free” all on their own.  Mercifully, there was no Hideto hologram.  Instead, Show had left Hide’s guitar in the center of the stage as a sort of silent invocation...but rather than doing the obvious thing and having Show do vocals, the vocals for the performance were provided by a video of deceased Mr. Hide.  I assume that the live instruments were mixed in with the video sound, but in the overall fuzzy acoustics of the outdoor venue, it was very difficult to tell which instruments were being played live and which were pre-recorded, which made it an awful lot like watching karaoke.

Following “Ever Free,” J joined the band onstage, cracking a few jokes at the audience before striking up “Pink Spider,” with PV footage for backup.  Though this was a different version of the PV than the one we’d already watched, featuring Hide himself in a glass cage, rather than a nude female model, playing the same song twice in one evening felt redundant.  “Pink Spider” may be Hide’s greatest hit, but he had a lot of other good songs, too, so why do this one twice?

After “Pink Spider,” Show called Imai to the stage at last, and I get the sense fans cheered harder for him than for anyone else.  As usual, his face betrayed little emotion, but it was clear from his posture that he was excited.  Dressed in the Mickey Mouse t-shirt we saw him wearing in Buck-Tick: The Movie, with his hair sprayed up and his Stabilizer slung across his back, he was in high enough spirits to actually speak to the crowd through his microphone—something he basically never does when Sakurai’s onstage with him.

“Hey,” he call to the crowd in his scratchy voice.  “Are you having fun?”

The fans cheered.

J laughed.  “What song do you want to play, Imai?” he asked.

Imai paused for a long moment, face twitching slightly, as if he were debating whether or not to answer the question or completely ignore it, but finally he opened his mouth and drawled, “Dauuuuuuuto!”  And “Doubt” they played.

Even for non-Buck-Tick fans, this must have been the highlight of the set.  At last the mixing of the live instruments was coming through more clearly than the pre-recorded vocals, though I couldn’t help but wish that they’d invited Sakurai out to do guest vocals on this one—Buck-Tick’s cover of “Doubt” for the Hide Tribute Spirits album was just as good as the original song, and Sakurai did an admirable of channeling Hide’s unique gargly nasal voice.  As I’d expected, Imai soon made another trip all the way out to the end of the long catwalk, staying out there for most of the song, scanning the crowd around him for familiar Buck-Tick fan faces.  He was joined for a time by J and Hisashi, and even Ken Morioka made it out halfway, sashaying back and forth in a white shirt and black pantaloons, looking entirely too mod for all this rock-n-roll, holding out a microphone to the fans so they could sing along.

For a finale, Show picked up Hide’s guitar with reverence, planted a little kiss on its neck, and hung it over his shoulders to play and sing “Rocket Dive.”  Though it was nice to see the full band playing live, it would have been a more climactic moment if most of the “Rocket Dive” PV hadn’t already played through as a backdrop to the video with Yoshiki at the beginning.  Imai stayed closer to the main stage during this number, but came back out the catwalk with all the other band members for a final bow at the end—a big bow for a tiny set.  It was hard not to feel a bit let down.

When the performance ended, crowds immediately started herding for the exits.  Here was the biggest disadvantage of all to the venue’s remote location: everyone wanted to get back to the station at the same time, but there were nowhere near enough shuttle buses.  The wait was long enough that some intrepid fans chose to walk back to the station through the dark instead.  NGS and friends did manage to find seats on a bus at last, but it took a while, and we just barely made our last train out of Chiba.

Over the course of the long ride home, in a car crowded with exhausted Buck-Tick fans, we reflected on two things.

First: though it was nice to see BT again, the whole festival production had been a lot of effort for a comparatively small reward.  Was it worth it?  We have to say yes, seeing BT is always worth it, of course...but I think it would have been much better if Buck-Tick had been the headliner.  Not just because I think it's about time we let Hide rest in peace, but also because going to this festival made me realize again just how dog-determined Buck-Tick's fanbase can be...even for such a truncated set, the Buck-Tick fans showed more enthusiasm than half the other fans put together.  Maybe it's just that they were more drunk, but still.  Did they really need to put fake Hide on the stage to sell more tickets?  I'm not sure they did.

Second: Raise your hand if you think “steppers” would be a good slang term for amphetamine pills.  Not that Imai would know anything about that sort of thing.

Buck-Tick Set List:

SE. Theme of B-T

hide with spread beaver Set List:

01. Pink Spider (PV)
02. Pose
03. Bacteria
04. Beauty & Stupid
05. Flame
06. Tell Me

07. Ever Free
08. Pink Spider
09. Doubt
10. Rocket Dive

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