~Sponsored by Luna Sea~
June 28th at Makuhari Messe
Live Report by Cayce
“Lunatic Mess”—no better words to conjure up an image of mayhem!
But wait—make that “Messe,” not “Mess.” For the Lunatic Festival, a two-day extravaganza hosted by first-wave visual kei titans Luna Sea to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their major debut, was held at Makuhari Messe, a huge convention center multiplex famous for hosting large-scale musical events. In fact, the Lunatic Festival is far from the biggest musical event ever to have taken place in Makuhari—that honor goes to Summer Sonic, probably Japan's biggest rock festival after Fuji Rock. Buck-Tick themselves even performed at Summer Sonic once, back in 2003, and for all we know, the Lunatic Festival marked the first time they'd set foot in Makuhari Messe in twelve years.
Did they feel nostalgic? We couldn't say, but one thing was certain: there would be no rain on this festival. Unlike so many other festival venues, Makuhari Messe is located entirely indoors: a sequence of cavernous exhibition halls like something built by dwarves from Middle Earth, but less stylish—all functional concrete and steel struts up to very high ceilings. In many ways, with the Lunatic Fest, Luna Sea appeared to be copying off Buck-Tick's own 25th anniversary festival three years earlier, but holding the Lunatic Festival indoors gave it a very different flavor from Buck-Tick's oh-so-rainy Parade Fest. Which would turn out to be better? We could only go and see for ourselves.
Even in a city as gigantic as Tokyo, events this big tend to make themselves known. Though we did not attend the first day of the festival and went nowhere near Makuhari all day, still in the evening we saw pairs and trios of people leaving train stations and wandering home dressed all in red-and-black rock-n-roll style, carrying overflowing tote bags emblazoned with band logos. Coincidence? Perhaps, but we doubt it. Tickets for the first day of the festival had sold out almost immediately after going on sale, apparently due mainly to X Japan, and to sell out Makuhari, you have to sell a LOT of tickets. Those festival-goers were legion, and sure to attract notice.
But whether the people we spotted the previous night had been Lunatics or not, when we ourselves set off for Makuhari bright and early on the morning of June 28th, we ran into fellow travelers almost right away. Even before 10AM, the platform of the Rinkai line outbound for Shinkiba was already crowded with bevies of people young and old, wearing band t-shirts and toting band bags. Luna Sea logos were a given, and there were a fair few X Japan fans as well (despite the fact that X Japan wouldn't be performing today), but Buck-Tick's fans are a fanatically loyal bunch, and by the time we reached the platform of the JR Keiyou Line for Keihin Makuhari, the station nearest the venue, based on the number of goods-draped Buck-Tick fans on the train, if I hadn't known better, I'd have guessed that Buck-Tick were hosting the festival and that Luna Sea were the guests, not the other way around.
It was a sunny Sunday, and as the Keiyou Line passes right by Tokyo Disneyland, the train was crowded with harried parents and Disney-crazed badly behaved kids, who ran up and down the aisles shrieking and tripping as the train jolted over switches in the tracks. But as soon as the doors opened on Disneyland, the crowd dispersed like sublimating ice into the heat, and the only people left in our part of the train car were wearing Buck-Tick shirts. They looked at us, and we looked at them, and neither of us said anything, because we didn't need to—some things are simply understood.
Twenty minutes later, disembarking the train at Kaihin Makuhari, we saw that the trickle of festival-goers had now swollen to a river. Mostly dressed in black, despite the hot sun, they made their way at a leisurely pace down the clean boulevards in the direction of the venue. Makuhari is a relatively newly developed area largely built on reclaimed land, and just like Disneyland, everything here is artist-planned and eerily clean. But in a metropolitan area as crowded as Tokyo, new developments like this are the only places with enough open space to build venues of any significant size. Coming from crowded Tokyo, the open space feels like an exciting luxury, and perhaps this was why the stream of fans heading for the venue seemed so relaxed—clearly, there was more than enough room for everyone.
To their credit, Luna Sea had hired more than enough staff for the event. When we arrived at the ticket checkpoint, there was no line whatsoever—we received our wristbands right away, and headed on towards the venue proper—yet it still appeared closer than it actually was. The layout of the venue seemed to have been designed in order to give fans the maximum possible workout, in that the entrance to the actual festival was located at the furthest point from the wristband check-in—fans were forced to walk the length of the hall, enter the venue proper, then double back—to get to the stage from the entrance here required another 400-meter walk back in the direction we'd just come from. Could it have been better planned? Almost certainly.
As it stood now, upon entering the venue, we found ourselves looking out at the line of goods booths stretching out into the distance...but though the booths were mobbed with fans, the goods themselves were in insultingly short supply. At the time we arrived, the festival itself hadn't even started yet, but the lines of fans already snaked back and forth several times the length of the massive hall. For half an hour, we waited in line with Buck-Tick fans pressing in from all sides, listening to a digest of hit songs from the various artists who would be performing today playing over the PA system—though there was plenty of Luna Sea as a matter of course, we also caught “Aku no Hana,” “Kuchizuke,” and “B612” by minus (-), among others. In addition to a separate goods booth for each artist, there was also a festival goods booth, sporting an impressive array of Lunatic Festival merchandise, including such unusual items as trench coats, stockings and tissue boxes emblazoned with the logos of the performers, all in a uniform color scheme of red on black, as well as approximately fifteen different types of t-shirts, many of which were sold out already, even at this tender hour of the morning.
But when we drew near to the Buck-Tick booth at last, it was only to be forced to wait in another line. Though the goods booths for the other artists had attracted only a few fans each, the Buck-Tick fans had formed four parallel lines in front of the Buck-Tick booth, pushing in closer and closer, breathing down the necks of the fans in the front who were busy agonizing about what to buy—though already, there wasn't much to be had. By the time we reached the table ourselves, it less resembled a fish tank than a fish skeleton, picked clean down to the bones by a flock of coyotes. The overworked booth staff couldn't mark items as sold out quickly enough, and as we reached the front of the line, we saw that every last item was completely gone, but for the hooded towel with the devil horns—and right before our very eyes, the fan in line ahead of us bought the last one!
We checked our watches—it was just past 11AM. Since Buck-Tick wouldn't be coming onstage until 5PM, many Buck-Tick fans hadn't even arrived at the venue yet, so the short supply of goods seemed doubly silly. Tour goods are an easy way for the band to make money, yet Buck-Tick's management has been consistently under-producing goods for special events for years. Why doesn't Banker wake up to the wasted business opportunity here? And yet, we had to be impressed that Buck-Tick had inspired such fervor even as a guest at the festival of another artist who are arguably more popular. The moral of the story: never underestimate the power of a rabid cult following!
Defeated, we went on to inspect the goods for sale by other artists, most of which we were still available. We might even have been persuaded to purchase one of Ka.F.Ka's t-shirts, but for the fact that they all looked like they'd been designed in Microsoft Paint by a colorblind cat who just recently learned to use a computer. It's common knowledge that Issay has all his clothes custom-spun from the silken threads of a team of magical orb spiders in Transylvania, while Tsuchiya Masami, who dresses like Imai's twin brother from a parallel universe where Imai can actually distinguish ugly from awesome, favors polkadots, stripes, leopard print, and Beatles-face print in equal measure, and at this advanced stage in his career owns so many fancy coats that they won't fit in his closet anymore and he was forced to give some of them to Issay (who was spotted by the Hisashi Inquirer last year at a live house in Shibuya wearing the very same coat Mr. Tsuchiya wore at Buck-Tick's 20th anniversary festival, despite the fact that it was not hand-spun by spiders. Sharing clothes: it's not just for teen girls anymore!)
As for Ken Morioka, he's in a class by himself (if you don't know what I'm talking about, watch this video. So how did a band fronted by three of the most notoriously fastidious style icons in the whole Japanese music scene end up with t-shirts designed by a technologically-challenged cat? These two photos may help explain.
Cayce to Tsuchiya Masami: you may be quite literally pussy-whipped, but next time, do please invest in a good designer. If you think anyone goth enough to like your band would be willing to be seen in public wearing that hideous lavender color and cheap iron-on print of the album cover, you need to re-acquaint yourself with the style tastes of your fanbase.
Thus defeated by the tour goods, we set off to inspect the rest of the festival.
The next hall over from the Goods Hall was the Food Hall. Since so many of the food vendors at the Lunatic Festival had also put in appearances at the Parade Festival in 2012, we'd been expecting a similar atmosphere—at the very least, seats for tired fans to rest their butts on, and a bar with some fancy cocktails. No such luck! Here again, the Lunatic Festival displayed a distinct lack of planning. There were seats aplenty, but as they were all located outside under the baking hot sun, without so even so much as the decency of a tent awning, no one wanted to sit outside, and instead, everyone was sitting directly on the hard concrete floor of the indoor hall, stuffing food into their faces in an ungainly and thoroughly unladylike manner, all because the festival staff couldn't be bothered to provide indoor food court seating.
As such, fancy cocktails were out of the question. To help fans get their drinks as quickly as possible, the bar had been split into three sections: beer, wine, and chu-hi—meaning, of course, beer, Hyouketsu lemon, and fresh boxes of Franzia, decanted into a pitcher to disguise their identity for a hot minute—just long enough for the unlucky drinkers to make their way away from the bar before drinking and being disappointed. Taking a long draught of the well-chilled wine in our plastic cups, we tasted that familiar sulfite-heavy metallic finish, and sighed, closing our eyes and thinking back to three years ago and the cocktail bar at the Parade Festival, where we had selected from the list of 25 original cocktails a concoction called an “Italian Red,” involving blood orange juice, vodka, and probably a dash of Acchan-chan's tears of pleasure, for good measure.
Then we reflected that the last time we had the pleasure of drinking with Mr. Sugizo, he'd been drinking green tea from a tiny iron teapot at two in the morning, while those around him knocked back beer after beer. Perhaps the man simply doesn't like alcohol, and therefore, unlike the incurably alcoholic Buck-Tick members, didn't feel moved to provide good drinks for the fans at his festival. Or perhaps, he only deigns to drink beverages if they're just the right shade of green. As we left the main drink bar with our bad wine, we noticed that there was a whole other separate special drink bar serving three drinks recommended by the Luna Sea members: Pocari Sweat Ion Water (not alcoholic, but we happen to know this is a favorite stage drink of Mr. Sakurai, so full marks for that one), J's special mojito (which as far as we could tell was a bog-standard mojito), and Sugizo's original green smoothie, containing blended avocado and probably spinach, spirulina, and kale juice as well. In truth, it looked delicious, but at the moment, we didn't feel like waiting in line for fifteen minutes just for the privilege of sampling one, so we moved on.
Thankfully, at the very end of the hall, the line for the Turkish kebab stand was blessedly short, and soon we went off searching for a spare patch of floor where we could sit down and devour something the Turkish man at the booth called a “Turkish hot dog”—a big fat beef sausage and a fistful of lettuce stuffed into a pita and drowned in sauce which turned out to be a mixture of yogurt, mayonnaise, garlic and curry powder. Now this is what I call festival food! It might be messy enough to ruin your makeup and maybe even stain your blackest goth clothes with easily misinterpreted and awkward-to-explain droplets of white goop, but it's so delicious it's worth every indiscretion. Kebab Istanbul, banzai!
Anyhow, there being no chairs nor tables, we sat there on the concrete floor with our legs sticking out in front of us, getting yogurt all over our hands and faces, and laughing as the passing fans continually tripped over our feet—because that's right, there wasn't even a rope or barricade to delineate the sit-and-eat area from the run-every-which-way-and-squee area. Everywhere we looked, we saw standing fans tripping over seated fans, spilling drinks as they did so. No doubt the fans in the tented outdoor smoking section felt relieved simply to get away from the stampede.
Finishing our lunch, we made our way into the hall proper, just in time for minus (-). Though we'd hoped that the smaller Shine and Fate stages would be separated from the large Moon stage by a sound-proofed wall, enabling longer sets from each band, the festival planners hadn't bothered to implement any plan nearly so intelligent. All three stages took up one corner each of the same giant hall, so that only one band would be playing at a given time. The only virtue of having three separate stages rather than one main stage was in expediting each band's set-up, sound-check, and take-down, and in spreading out the massive crowd over a larger area.
All the festival-goers had been provided with free program booklets upon entry to the venue, but while the booklets contained extensive information about the time table, the food booths, and the goods for sale, they contained nothing but a minimal map of the stage hall. Though it was now sunny high noon, and visibility would have been good if the festival had been held outdoors, inside the vaults of Makuhari Messe it was as dark as night, and while a gargantuan inflatable moon globe hung low over the center of the hall, it cast no light on the lost fans below. We might as well all have been floating in outer space—bumping into each other, tripping over each other, none of us able to find out which direction we should head in in order to get closer to the stages. Crowd-control barricades reared up at every turn, and spots that looked like passage corridors from a distance revealed themselves on closer inspection as staff-only restricted areas. The longer we wandered through the dark maze, the more we felt like we were in one of those anxious dreams where you search and search for whatever it is you're looking for, yet every seemingly open avenue ends maddeningly in a locked door.
At last, we made it close to the front railing of the Fate stage, just as minus (-) were due on—only to discover that we'd accidentally gone to the wrong place, and that minus (-) would be playing on the Shine stage instead! Not a moment later, minus (-) appeared on the stage far across the hall from us, and by the time we made it through the zig-zagging barricades over to their neighborhood, the show had already begun. Without really thinking, we headed down the left side of the floor toward Ken Morioka, then realized we were stuck here: the left side of the crowd was separated from the right side by a double barricade, and we couldn't have defected to Fujii Maki's side even if we'd wanted to.
As we assessed the situation, the hand of a careless fan shot out of the darkness and spilled half the remainder of our hard-won bad box wine. Sippy cups and brass knuckles: every festival-goer needs one of each.
For those of you unfamiliar with minus (-), some background: back in the late 80's, Soft Ballet were the second successful band to be scouted by Sawaki Kazuo, head of Taiyo Records, who was also the man who scouted Buck-Tick. He fancied himself a fortune-teller of sorts, and claimed to be able to read the future success of a band from the vital statistics of the band members. After Buck-Tick made their major debut in record time, Sawaki had some evidence to back up his claims. With Soft Ballet, he remained on his game. Consisting of Endo Ryoichi on vocals, Morioka Ken on keyboards, and Fujii Maki on more keyboards, Soft Ballet drew heavily from British and German new wave, synthpop and electronic influences to create their own Japanese brand of dark but danceable glammy glittery goth-pop with more than a hint of gay. Endo Ryoichi may have captivated certain girls with his smooth baritone voice, darkly handsome looks and abstruse, intellectual lyrics, but Morioka Ken's flamboyant retro-future costumes and provocative dancing undoubtedly played at least as large a role in propelling the band to stardom.
In the early 90's, Soft Ballet, Luna Sea and Buck-Tick had enough fans in common that they launched a joint tour called the LSB tour in August of 1994, where they were joined by guests including The Yellow Monkey and Die In Cries (fronted by Kyo, formerly of D'erlanger.) Around the same time, Imai also launched the Schaft side project together with Fujii Maki of Soft Ballet. Schaft also included Raymond Watts, who would later go on to join Schwein, and the Schaft live tour also featured Motokatsu (now a member of Ka.F.Ka) on drums. Basically, in the Japanese music scene, everyone has
made out with I mean played in a band with everyone else.
But what is minus (-), you ask? Well, unlike Buck-Tick, Soft Ballet broke up in the mid 90's, and the members each went on to have solo careers. Word was there was bad blood between the members, and though rumors of a reunion surfaced from time to time, others insisted that the three would never reconcile, though they maintained their connections with Buck-Tick. In particular, Fujii Maki appeared on stage with Sakurai in 2004 as a member of Sakurai's solo project band (you can see him on the Ai no Wakusei DVD—he's the weird guy with the black stripe across his face, playing the computer!) In addition, in 2008, Imai played a Lucy reunion gig alongside Acid Android and Suilen, Fujii Maki's project du jour. More recently, Morioka Ken appeared as a guest pianist on Buck-Tick's studio recordings of “Victims of Love (featuring Kokushoku Sumire)” and “The Moon Is Made of Green Cheese
,” ahem, I mean “Sekai wa Yami de Michiteiru.”
Still, there was no sign of any sort of reunion among the Soft Ballet members...that was, until the formation of Ka.F.Ka in 2013. Ka.F.Ka is Tsuchiya Masami's band, and Tsuchiya Masami's a living national treasure of the rock scene—someone who knows and is respected by everyone. After inducting Morioka Ken into his band, he made it known that he thought it was a damn shame Soft Ballet wouldn't get back together, to the point that, as he told it onstage at Ka.F.Ka's Fantome Noir gig at Shibuya WWW on April 11th, 2014, he secretly called Fujii Maki to a live show without telling Ken about it, then set up a situation where Maki and Ken could meet. Reportedly, the two were furious at first, but somehow worked out their differences to the point that they decided to give things another go-around. Endo Ryoichi was adamant that he wouldn't be involved, so Ken and Maki were forced to start something completely new—and thus, minus (-) was born.
Since neither Ken nor Maki are primarily vocalists, it's not surprising that minus (-) is a much less vocal-centric band than Soft Ballet. With this new project, Ken and Maki have left the more aggressive up-tempo pop elements of Soft Ballet behind, instead diving into deep, introspective electronic landscapes punctuated by little eruptions of both dubstep beats and classical music (the final track on the group's inaugural album, D, is an electronic re-imagining of Beethoven's beloved Moonlight Sonata.) There are still pop hooks and melodies, but they've been stripped down into the most minimal of intervals, open fourths and fifths, music perfectly matched to the group's main lyrical themes of alienation and nihilism. Unlike Soft Ballet, whose work often felt weighed down by Endo Ryoichi's self-consciously ponderous neo-archaic Japanese, minus (-) has so far employed English lyrics almost exclusively, checked for accuracy by Englishwoman Lynne Hobday, who previously worked on songs such as Guniw Tools' “Border of Taboo” and L'arc-en-Ciel's “Spirit Dreams Inside.” The English lyrics to “Spirit Dreams” may have had more than a whiff of hokeyness, but this time, minus (-) have managed to achieve a tone closely aligned with comparable Western groups like Ladytron and Delerium—a mystical, time-out-of-mind feel, but colored with the group's signature dark existential despair. Though minus (-) employed several high-profile guest vocalists for the recording of D, including Ken Lloyd of Oblivion Dust and Kent of Lillies and Remains, the vocals are mixed in so thoroughly with the music that they sound less like human beings and more like the voices of ghosts preserved on tape, empty, hollow, and transparent.
band, minus (-) are still treading familiar territory—their smooth
electronic sound is just the right balance between darkness and
chillout to be the perfect thing for a cool, cloudy, comedown Sunday
afternoon, but nothing they've done yet could be called
revolutionary. Yet paradoxically, breaking free of the need for a
charismatic frontman may allow them to grow more experimental in the
long run. This is a group to keep your eye on.
wondered how minus (-) would manage to express the sonic world of D
through live performance. Without any guest vocalists to rely on,
and with both Ken and Maki stuck behind banks of synthesizers, how
would they keep up the tension between the audience and the stage?
In fact, we hardly should have worried—Morioka Ken got his start
playing keyboard in Issay & Suicides (the forebear of Der Zibet)
when he was only 17 years old, and he's been performing more or less
non-stop since that time. He knows how to keep the fans engaged!
While Maki put on his usual sulk behind a wall of mixing consoles,
laptop screens, and dark eye makeup, Ken had made sure to position
his keyboard and synthesizer console at a steep angle, in such a way
that the audience could see him head to toe, and know for sure he was
dancing. Though Ken has now largely abandoned the flamboyance of his
Soft Ballet years, today he brought a little of it back, appearing
onstage in a tattered black tunic cut high at the front and back, the
better to emphasize the impact of his shiny, skin-tight spandex
leggings. Hipster girls in New York who wear leggings as pants, eat
your hearts out—Morioka Ken has you beaten, hands down. Over the
course of the festival, we saw all sorts of stage costumes, but none
of them could top this one's daring.
The other factor that contributed greatly to the dynamism of minus' performance was the fact that rather than use a drum machine, as one might have expected, they played with a live drummer—and a woman, no less. Female instrumentalists in male-fronted Japanese bands are as rare as unicorns, so it's always exciting to see high-profile male performers help strike a blow for gender equality. Beyond that, the contrast between Ken's hip-shaking hair-gelled queerness and the drummer's tomboyish bowl haircut and androgynous square-shouldered clothing added an interesting layer of gender-bending to the whole scene, and this drummer played with abandon, demonstrating all the emotion and movement that the sterile sound of the band deliberately avoids. If she hadn't been playing with them, they might have been just another pair of computer nerds with keyboards, but the presence of her live beats allowed the true value of the electronics to shine through—electronic sounds used not as a crutch to avoid dealing with real instruments, but as instruments of the future, with their own unique and valuable sound. I'd almost go so far as to say that without a drummer, they wouldn't be a band.
By the time we made our way up to the front of the crowd at the correct stage, minus' set was already well underway, and the band were in the midst of an up-tempo song that didn't appear on D. Ken Morioka was dancing and clapping with his hands high over his head, and the fans were joining in enthusiastically. Soft Ballet had a higher percentage of male fans than Buck-Tick, and the trend persists with minus (-). The crowd was full of shy fanboys, but Ken, as usual, was far from shy. In fact, he looked more excited and involved than he has at some of the solo concerts he's given over the years, but he was at a big advantage on this huge festival stage—not only did he have more room to move, but also, over the massive sound system, each of the individual parts came through loud and clear, which is often not the case at small live houses. Furthermore, for the benefit of all the fans who weren't close enough to see the stage, the whole performance was being filmed live and projected onto big screens on the side walls. Ken and Maki might not be tall in real life, but on the big screen, they were giants, every carefully smoothed hair and smudge of eyeliner clearly visible.
The set continued with various tracks off D. For the most part, Ken took the role of the vocalist, dancing back and forth between his keyboard and the edge of the stage, twiddling dials in between vocal phrases, and returning to the consoles for some dubstep mixing during the instrumental breaks. Part of the concept for minus (-) includes not bothering to give the songs traditional titles, but rather to give them inscrutable numbers like Borg drones, so it hardly seems worth mentioning the songs by name, but for “B612” the standout track on D, which the band chose as their closing song at the festival.
This track incorporates a blend of catchy synth-guitar riffs with a slow and meditative minor-key melody about a transcendental suicide wish, beautifully rendered with glassy nonchalance by the vocalist who calls herself “Kugatsu Has Come” (“September has come”) who reportedly is actually Sato from the band Kinoko Teikoku (“mushroom empire.”) How could a pair of men mimic such ethereal female vocals in a live stage environment? Just as I was wondering whether they'd take the cheap way out and simply pipe the vocals in over the PA, reverse-karaoke style, Fujii Maki bent his face close to his microphone and began singing—and amazingly, thanks to the layers of voice filters, he sounded nearly indistinguishable from the original vocalist. A tad more macho in places, perhaps, but if I hadn't known better, I might never have realized the song was being sung by a man. People have made all sorts of claims about the future of gender, but one thing is for sure: in the icy electronic future predicted by minus (-), we will all be androgynous, and we will probably all be miserable.
Still, someone else's misery can make for great music. The whole set had been thoroughly enjoyable, and it was hard to believe it was over already. With a last wave and bow, Ken and Maki were off the stage, and the techs were swarming out to set up for Ka.F.Ka.
minus (-) Set List
03. PEEP SHOW
05. B612 (ver.0)
Again, for those of you who don't know Ka.F.Ka, some background: Ka.F.Ka is the new band formed by legendary guitarist Tsuchiya Masami in 2013. The lineup includes five super-star members, each with long careers in the Japanese underground rock scene, but Tsuchiya Masami is indisputably the biggest super-star of the bunch. After making his debut in the 1970's with the dreamy synthpop band Ippu-Do (best known for their hits “Starlight Shower” and “Sumire September Love”), Tsuchiya briefly joined JAPAN, the British art-rock group fronted by vocalist David Sylvian and famed for their winding, twisting, imagistic, esoteric journeys into the land of sounds made possible by new guitar effects and new music technology generally.
JAPAN the band achieved wild success in Japan the country, joining a kind of artists' salon of collaborations with Japanese techno pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra, who were the Hottest of the Hot Shit at the time. Membership in JAPAN cemented Tsuchiya Masami's star status, and even after both JAPAN and Ippu-Do ceased activities, Tsuchiya continued to release records under his own name, often in collaboration with celebrated former JAPAN bassist Mick Karn.
Tsuchiya Masami's solo debut album, Rice Music, released in 1982, was hugely influential in the Japanese music scene at the time, due to its innovative blending of Asian folk music with experimental electronic and guitar sounds and samples. One of the tracks on Rice Music was entitled “Kafka,” and featured an iconic Mick Karn bassline with a vocal sample over top repeating words that translate to “do...not to be...or, rather, to be, or, rather...we are...we are.” Tsuchiya Masami later explained that this was in reference to the fact that, when written in Japanese, the word “Kafka” could be read as “Ka-Fu-Ka,” meaning “possible-impossible-possible.” Either way, thirty years before the band's genesis, the Ka.F.Ka concept had been born.
In the years following Rice Music up until 1998, Tsuchiya Masami went on to release a further six solo albums, including both vocal and instrumental tracks on which he played multiple instruments and also sang lead vocals, demonstrating a great versatility with chromatic, complex and unusual chord progressions, melodies and timing. His work, full of haunting key changes and tangled arpeggios, has a fierce distinctiveness instantly recognizable even on songs he has written for other artists—most notably the song “Shingetsu
,” which he wrote for Sakurai Atsushi's solo album Ai no Wakusei
in 2004. In fact, six years prior to this, Tsuchiya had already employed Mr. Sakurai as a guest vocalist for two tracks on his solo album Forest People, “Midsummer Night's Forest
” and “Goblin Forest
,” so by participating in Sakurai's solo album, he was returning the favor. Though Tsuchiya lived in London for many years and speaks quite passable English, his work is little known outside Japan and his collaborations with Mr. Sakurai are the main reason why any overseas fans outside of the JAPAN/YMO fandom know his name.
Though he largely ceased solo activities after 1998, Tsuchiya went on to cover “Mienai Mono wo Miyou to Suru Gokai Subete Gokai Da” for Buck-Tick's first Parade tribute album, released in 2007, and also appeared as a guest at Buck-Tick's 20th anniversary Parade festival, as well as the Tokyo stop of the Parade tour earlier that year (if you're curious, read Cayce's live report of that show HERE), but the Lunatic Festival marked the first time he would appear alongside Buck-Tick at a festival since 2007.
Most of the other members of Ka.F.Ka also have close ties to Buck-Tick. Ka.F.Ka's keyboardist is the aforementioned Morioka Ken, whose relationship with the Buck-Tick members goes all the way back to Soft Ballet's debut. Ka.F.Ka's drummer is Motokatsu, formerly of punk sensation The Mad Capsule Markets, who played drums with Imai's side project Schaft during their live tour, and is a long-time friend and drinking buddy of the Buck-Tick members. Ka.F.Ka's bassist, Ueno Kouji, of Thee Michelle Gun Elephant and The Hiatus, may have fewer filled-in squares on his Buck-Tick bingo card, but the B-T bingo is more than completed by Ka.F.Ka's vocalist, Issay of Der Zibet, who Sakurai cites as an early influence, and someone he admired since first moving to Tokyo sometime between 1985 and 1986, when Der Zibet were rapidly rising stars and Buck-Tick were still broke and unknown.
These days, it's Der Zibet who are largely unknown among third and fourth-wave visual kei fans young enough to be their children, but whether known or not, there's no question that Issay's theatrical stage persona, steeped in glam sensuality and cabaret decadence, had a significant influence on the visual kei scene to come. If the movement has a secret godfather, Issay's probably it, and his earliest convert was none other than Sakurai Atsushi. The two have collaborated numerous times over the years, but I already wrote about that in this article
, so go read it if you're curious to learn more.
Anyhow, it seems like a miracle that a group of musicians of such stature would start a band together at this late date, but chalk it up to Tsuchiya's star power—every rocker in Japan dreams of being in a band with him, and when he calls, they can't refuse, even if he can't offer them the kind of money that they're used to. As for what Tsuchiya Masami dreams of, it seems he has a bit of a sweet spot for romantic dark-haired goth vocalists. Get him started on the subject of the awesomeness of Acchan-chan and he'll go on all night, so it's probably no surprise that he took to Issay in the same 13-year-old-girl's-first-crush fashion as Mr. Sakurai did all those many years ago. Put the two together and you have the perfect sort of tension to keep a band interesting: Tsuchiya adoringly creating a dark world suitable for his new vocal muse to inhabit, while said muse trembles with nerves over the pressure of having a lovestruck rock-n-roll god as his new boss, and the other guys cling to the bandwagon for dear life.
The band first appeared in early 2013 with a “maiden voyage” live at pre-war rice warehouse-cum-live house Kyoto TakuTaku, but they had a few fits and starts getting off the ground, when they lost their first bassist, KenKen, due to persistent scheduling conflicts. In November 2013, Tsuchiya released Swan Dive, his first solo album in 15 years, which featured Issay's vocals on three tracks which would later go on to be staples of Ka.F.Ka's repertoire. However, Ka.F.Ka didn't officially release anything as a band until early summer of 2014, when they came out with the digital single The Prisoner/Silent Party. After playing a series of three gigs entitled “Fantome Noir,” featuring Der Zibet, avant-garde keyboardist Hoppy Kamiyama, and Sugizo as guests, Ka.F.Ka finally released their first album, also titled Fantome Noir, in May of 2015. The Lunatic Festival would be the band's first show since the album release, and everyone was curious to hear if they'd perform the new songs live.
Due to the fact that Morioka Ken plays in both minus (-) and Ka.F.Ka, the two bands were scheduled back-to-back on the same stage, to make it easy for Ken's roadies. Ken uses a different keyboard rig for Ka.F.Ka than for minus (-), but some of his equipment remained on the dark stage as the crew swarmed out to prepare for Ka.F.Ka.
Meanwhile, over on the Fate Stage, far across the hall, AION were playing some sort of feel-good hard rock that wasn't quite metal, and the Ka.F.Ka fans were torn. Should they watch AION's performance, or should they watch Ka.F.Ka's crew setting up? There were no curtains whatsoever for any of the stages, so any set changes occurred in full view of the fans, and despite the fact that it was quite dark in this part of the hall, the figures on the stage were clearly visible—the band members themselves had all come out to personally tune their own instruments, and the fangirls were breathless with excitement.
Over on stage left, Tsuchiya Masami, dressed in a dapper Beetlejuice-style black-and-white striped jacket, bent over his battered-but-beautiful guitar, while on stage right, Ueno Koji appeared, looking like the sartorial soulmate of Hoshino Hidehiko in a plaid garment that was too long to be a shirt but not quite long enough to be a dress, his face covered with devil-may-care stubble. While Ken's roadies adjusted synth rigs, Issay skulked deep in the shadows of stage right, pacing back and forth, intermittently disappearing and reappearing as if unsure whether to run and hide or step out and soak up the attention of his terrifying fangirls, who despite the heat of the day, the early hour and the expense of the tickets, had made it all the way here, just to cling white-knuckled to the front railing and stare at him hungrily with their greedy, gleaming red eyes. (I swear I'm not exaggerating this out of poetic license. They are really like this. If you don't believe me, go and see for yourself. They never miss a single show.) But then it was time for the mic check, and with a toss of his freshly-ironed curls, Issay stepped up to the main microphone and began solemnly intoning “check, check, one, two, one two.” The fans squealed and applauded wildly. Ten minutes later, the show was ready to begin.
This would be Ka.F.Ka's first performance on such a large stage, but as seasoned professionals, they took to it with aplomb. As usual, the four instrumentalists appeared first, and launched straight into Tsuchiya's no-vocals guitar epic, “Spiders and Pirates.” This song has gone through numerous iterations over the years—the first time we saw it live was back in July 2007 at Zepp Tokyo, when Tsuchiya played alongside Buck-Tick on the first Parade tour. Tsuchiya then performed the same song at the first Parade Festival in September of the same year, and a filmed version of that performance appears on the live DVD of the festival, so watch it if you're curious. However, the Ka.F.Ka version of this song is very different—faster tempo, fewer breaks, and the Spanish riff is almost entirely cut. If I had my druthers I'd prefer the old version back, but Tsuchiya Masami's a force of nature when shredding up a fretboard, and he held the audience spellbound from the moment he picked up his guitar.
Then, too soon, the band cut to the ending cadence of the song, and Issay marched slowly onto the stage like a vampire who'd just been woken from a hundred-year nap (though the effect was slightly marred by the fact that we'd all seen him checking the mics ten minutes earlier.) In Der Zibet, he's the Primitive Star, dressed in red and purple velvets, drinking wine out of the bottle and showering the audience with glitter, but in Ka.F.Ka he's the avatar of all the ghosts and demons and sociopaths whose spooky, sensual, grief-stricken tales populate the Fantome Noir album, and Tsuchiya Masami therefore expects him to conduct himself accordingly, and remain as dark and aloof as a belfryfull of bats. During Ka.F.Ka's early performances, Tsuchiya didn't even allow Issay to speak while onstage, but it appeared he'd dispensed with this rule for the Lunatic Festival, for it was Issay who addressed the crowd this time.
“Good day to you, we are Ka.F.Ka. We're newbies who have just released our first record. Please treat us with care!”
At this, the audience burst out laughing—Tsuchiya and Issay were two of the few performers at the festival who the Buck-Tick members actually have to address as “sempai.”
Issay continued. “Please listen to a song from our new album, Fantome Noir. This is 'Jack the Midnight
Whatever you may have heard of Ka.F.Ka on recording, I can promise you right now, it's nothing like what they sound like live. Both Tsuchiya's guitar tone and Issay's vocals have a subtle elusive quality that's nearly impossible to replicate on recording—inevitably, some of the nuances and flavors are lost every time, and without a big sound system, the impact of the driving bass really doesn't come through. If you want to really hear these guys, you have to hear them in person. I'd been afraid that the echoes off the high ceilings of Messe would cause the subtle interplay of melodies to be lost in fuzz, but I shouldn't have worried—in fact, the giant speakers showed off Ka.F.Ka's full musical prowess to the fullest possible extent. As if to revel in it, the band took “Jack the Midnight” at a slower tempo than on the studio recording, making it sound almost like some kind of funky funeral march for the undead. The fact that Issay really did look much like a skeleton in a tuxedo only served to enhance the effect.
The band continued from there with the second track on Fantome Noir, “The Prisoner
.” True to Tsuchiya Masami's concept of Ka.F.Ka as a revival of the 80's and 90's, this song, built around a fiendishly catchy repeating guitar riff, sounds like the Sisters of Mercy in a parallel universe where Andrew Eldritch can actually sing. Tsuchiya Masami's fans were dancing wildly on the right side of the floor, but Issay's fearsome charisma owned the stage as he acted out the lyrics, miming being a sniper and shooting at the audience, perhaps in retribution for the fact that no one on the left side of the floor was dancing at all.
What was wrong with these fans? They seemed not to understand they were at a rock festival, and stayed stock still as Ka.F.Ka's set continued with “Last Shadow
,” a quintessential vampire tale they've been performing since the beginning, full of more dark, trance-like, bass-heavy grooves, like a more propulsive version of “Shingetsu.” The band members had never looked so alive, nor sounded so good, but the fans on our side of the crowd didn't seem to be able to make heads or tails of them. Was it possible that most of the people in the crowd had never heard of this band before now, and were simply too impressed to dance? In the weeks following the festival, we heard from numerous people around Tokyo that Ka.F.Ka's awesomeness had taken them completely by surprise, so perhaps, thanks to the publicity blitz, things will be looking up for this band in the future.
Sadly, they were only allotted 25 minutes to perform at this festival, and their time was quickly running out. As “Last Shadow” finished, they were down to their last song, and now it was time for them to announce their special guest. We'd known this was coming—through the whole set, there had been another microphone standing like a phantom beside Issay's main mic stand, and it seemed unlikely that the roadies had put it there just to underscore the ghost-story theme. It looked like a vocalists' microphone, and there were no extra instruments in sight. Could it be that the special guest was a vocalist? Could it possibly be that Mr. Sakurai would take this opportunity to come out and complete the Triangle of Terror? The crowd was rife with murmurs, but quickly the speculations were laid to rest as more roadies swept onto the stage with a guitar and a bank of effect pedals. No guest vocalist after all, which meant that Ka.F.Ka's special guest today could be only one person—Sugizo!
But as Sugizo swept on from the wings in all his rockstar glory, he drew our eyes over to the edge of the stage, where a tall skinny person who looked suspiciously like Mr. Sakurai was standing, watching the show. Privately, we wished that Tsuchiya would run over and drag dear Mr. Sakurai out onto the stage for a big ol' gothic jamboree, but Tsuchiya's too polite for that, and in all likelihood, Mr. Sakurai was enjoying the chance to be a fanboy for once. Sorry, fans. Better luck next time.
Still, Sugizo and Ka.F.Ka are an electric combination. Sugizo's got enough presence and power to completely overwhelm a typical band, but Ka.F.Ka's no typical band. In fact, if anyone was struggling at this point in the show, it was the audience—where to turn first?
As a grand finale, Tsuchiya announced that Ka.F.Ka would perform a cover song that has become a staple of their repertoire—Joy Division's “Transmission.” Though Joy Division only ever had one guitarist, who at the time, had about as much technical prowess as Tsuchiya Masami's little finger, they left an indelible mark on the music scene that followed them, to the point that not only do hipsters these days wear their t-shirts without ever finding out who they are, but also that Tsuchiya Masami himself has said, “back in the day, I never thought Joy Division were that good, but now in my old age I realize their true value.”
In fact, Tsuchiya Masami has said in multiple interviews that his re-discovery of Joy Division at this late hour was one of the main factors that led him to form Ka.F.Ka in the first place—the other factor being his re-discovery of Issay's vocal talent. Between two superstars like Tsuchiya and Sugizo, it would have been easy for the guitarists to have stolen the stage completely while the other band members burnt up like moths in a flame—but not so with Issay on the stage.
There's something about the nostalgia of a cover song that gives even pro musicians the freedom to let go. Performing one's own work holds one accountable, not only to the audience, but to the deeply personal emotions that went into the creation of the work in the first place, whereas performing the work of someone else allows the artist to put his concerns and insecurities aside for a moment and channel a higher power—the music itself.
Unlike the tortured Ian Curtis, who never lived long enough to fully come into his own as an artist, Issay seems to grow younger when he sings this song, reveling in the live transmission of the joys of the radio days across the decades to the children of iphones, who drown in so much data they hardly know how to stand still and pay attention—but not if Ka.F.Ka can help it! While Sugizo paced back and forth across the stage, coming face-to-face with Tsuchiya, then turning outwards in the other direction and raising his guitar aloft to hail cheers from the crowd, Issay commanded the heart of the stage and the heart of the song, summoning a level of confidence and warmth Ian Curtis could never muster, throwing off his jacket, tossing back his hair, darting up to the edge of the stage and striking dramatic poses, then turning his back on the audience and shamelessly shaking his butt in its silver-black pants, while Tsuchiya Masami frowned and grimaced over his guitar, his fingers a blur. By the time it was over, even the most still and serious fangirls seemed like the might possibly maybe be on the verge of dancing. After all, live music is far better to dance to than the radio.
After taking deep bows, Ka.F.Ka were off the stage. The set seemed to have ended almost as soon as it began. We can only hope that in the coming months, the band can sustain enough forward momentum to pick up the pace and earn themselves longer time slots in years to come.
Ka.F.Ka Set List
01. Spiders & Pirates
05. Transmission (Joy Division cover, with Sugizo)
By this point, it was 2:30 in the afternoon, but Buck-Tick weren't due onstage until 5PM. A break was in order, so we left the stage hall and went on another tour of the premises, spotting some VIPs (Kaoru from Dir en grey!), cosplayers (dressed as Luna Sea from the early 90's!) and TV camera crews interviewing busy interviewing a “representative sample” of the fans (if you call all the youngest, hottest girls in the venue a representative sample, that is.) But after getting some more bad wine, speaking to a few Tokyo indie rockers at the festival on the down-low, and being asked by a stocky otaku boy wearing a very cheap Sailor Venus cosplay wig if we would consider our outfit of the day to be “the quintessential Buck-Tick-kei” (whatever that means, but yes of course!) we headed back towards the stage. The crowds were growing thicker every minute and it looked like it would take a fair amount of time and effort to work our way to the front for Buck-Tick's set.
Thus fortified, we headed into the confounding maze of crowd-control barricades blocking the entrance to the floor in front of the Moon Stage. Too late, we realized we'd gone into the side section, and there was no way out except forward—but no matter, right? Watching the tail-end of Mucc from the back of the section, we were able to appreciate just how thoroughly they've become a Japanese version of an American nu-metal band without anyone bumping into us and spilling our wine.
However, as the crowd switched out in anticipation of GLAY's set, we dove forward and soon found ourselves packed in cheek-by-jowl with the GLAY fans—equal parts fat otaku fanboys and hyperactive teenyboppers who just happened to be in their 20's and 30's. When GLAY themselves came on the stage, the crowd began dancing side-to-side, so enthusiastically that pretty soon, try as we might to stay upright, our whole section had gone down like dominoes, and this, my friends, is the first and hopefully only time Cayce has ever, ever been knocked down at a concert. By GLAY fans, no less! We're not sure we can stand the shame.
Even when we got back to our feet, the travails weren't over—mainly due to the fact that the fangirl in front of us was wielding a cylindrical strobe light device like a miniature lightsaber. No doubt she thought it would attract the eyes of the band members in her direction, but the band members were still at such a distance that we found it unlikely she succeeded. She did, however, succeed at smacking us on the nose with the thing several times while cheering wildly without paying any attention to the people around her, and combined with the heat and pressure of the crowd, between the intensity of the thing's light and the speed of its strobing, we soon found ourselves unable to focus on the stage and dangerously close to having a seizure. Since she clearly didn't understand that miniature strobe-lightsabers were out of order, despite the fact that not a single other person in the hall had one, we had no choice but to tell her like it was.
“For the love of fuck, get that thing out of our faces and put it away!” we asked her, very politely. To our extreme surprise, she apologized and complied with our request.
And yet, GLAY's set just about made up for everything. We freely admit that we hadn't listened to this band since approximately 2003, and therefore, we weren't expecting to hear them play any songs we knew—so color us surprised when they took the stage and opened with “Heavy Gauge,” just as good now as when it first came out! GLAY appear to be one of these bands who have aged like wine, and every minute they spent on the stage, it was a pleasure to watch their charismatic maturity. If you're a new Buck-Tick fan who's either never heard of GLAY or never considered listening to them—give them a chance, you might find you like them more than you thought you would. Teru may not be Sakurai, but he's got a powerful voice that's both adult and understated, rather than given over to the operatic melodrama of Luna Sea's vocalist Kawamura Ryuichi—a comparison that was made plain when GLAY played a cover of Luna Sea's “Shade” and actually made it sound good. (If you want to fight with me about Luna Sea, let's step outside right now.)
Still, like any band worth their salt, GLAY sounds their best when playing their own work, none better than their huge crowd favorite “Till Kingdom Come,” which was punctuated by bursts of fire, and raised the tension on the floor to near-explosive levels. Buck-Tick's cool-as-ice reserve is one of the things that gives them their mystique as a band, but every so often it's nice to see an act like GLAY, who are far less self-conscious, and therefore willing to run willy-nilly across the stage like kids with toy guitars, simply having a good time. If you're ever at a festival where GLAY are playing, they're a must-watch.
GLAY Set List
01. Heavy Gauge
03. Binetsu A Girl Summer
04. Tsuki ni Inoru
06. Shade (Luna Sea cover)
07. Kanojo no “Modern...”
08. Till Kingdom Come
After finishing their set with their song “Heroes,” (no relation to the David Bowie song of the same title), GLAY were off the Moon Stage, while D'erlanger were soon due up over on the Shine Stage, and the massing crowds of Buck-Tick fans who had been lying in wait knew it was time to make their move. As soon as the GLAY fans began to shift backward, the Buck-Tick fans barreled forward into the empty space, launching a full-scale invasion on the front railing, and taking a few hapless Luna Sea fans along for the ride. Thus, the negotiations began.
“I don't care about your Luna Sea,” declared some of the Buck-Tick fans. “I promise I'll be out of the pit after Buck-Tick's set is over, so for the moment, would you kindly let me stand in front?”
Some of the Luna Sea fans were more than happy to indulge these requests (perhaps they'd noticed the Buck-Tick fangirls had very sharp claws and very large teeth.) Others, however, got defensive.
“But I want to see Acchan!” declared a fanboy in a Luna Sea t-shirt, stalwartly attempting to hold his ground as the invasion raged from all sides. A few minutes later, it was over: the crowd had compacted into the railing as much as physically possible, and there was nowhere else to go. Till the end of the set, we were all stuck here, unless we fancied having the security guards lift us out from the front of the pit. This was all well and good for the NGS team, who after a courageous battle had planted our flags right on the front railing in front of Imai, but slightly less good for the festival noobs behind us who slapped, prodded and poked our buttocks as if hoping to make them disappear. Nonplussed, we turned around to give them a piece of our minds.
“As you may have gathered, the human body takes up space, and as you may have noticed, there is no more space to be had,” said we to the guilty party, a Japanese girl in her early 20's. “Also, not being Fanny Cockshott-Shufflebottom, we're not exactly amenable to having our posteriors fondled in such a fashion.”
“I told you you shouldn't have done that,” whispered the girl's companion—an older woman who was probably her mother—but the girl stared at us defiantly, as if full of outrage at the laws of physics and determined to break them.
Realizing there was no reasoning with her, we resigned ourselves to being punched and pummeled from behind for as many songs as it would take for her arms to get tired of hitting us (the final count was two songs. Fangirls don't get much exercise outside of concerts most of the time.) In all my years of concert-going I still don't understand why people feel the need to behave this way—to demand to stand in a space where someone else is already standing, and resort to physical violence if denied. All I can say is, I stand by what I said before: brass knuckles and sippy-cups of wine are two things every aspiring festival-goer desperately needs.
At last, D'erlanger's set was over, and the hall went dark. The screens exploded, announcing, “BUCK-TICK!”
The fans shrieked, and “Theme of B-T” came up over the speakers, accompanied by a vast projections that filled the whole backdrop, nearly from floor to ceiling. Rather than the gears and futurism of the Anarchy tour, the image this time was of classic psychedelia—pulsing, lysergic fractals breaking and reforming into smaller and smaller thorny spirals of muted green, blue, gold and silver. The whole effect was so overpoweringly druggy that when the band strutted out onstage and launched into “Dokudanjou Beauty,” it didn't seem quite right—wouldn't “Speed” or the newly-revived “Heroin” have fit better, thematically?
But then we noticed the band members' costumes. Whatever they said in the Fish Tank newsletter about having spent their time off lolling around their houses in delicious idle bliss, based on what they were wearing, it looked like they'd crawled straight up from Alice's Adventures Underground. Though Hide and Yutaka were much in keeping with their usual style, in understated silver-gray jackets and black pants, in preparation for his solo tour, Toll had gone full-on classic rock mode in a bubblegum pink leather biker jacket with black lapels. Meanwhile, Imai, in his silver boots and matching red-and-silver leather diamond-pattered jacket, his now-crimson hair styled into cornrows that clung tight to his skull at the front of his head, only to explode into a feathery blood-red crown behind, might easily have been trailing some spiderwebs and magic mushrooms straight from the Red Queen's dumpster.
On the other hand, Sakurai appeared to be wearing his usual favored combination of slick black separates under a long, swishy black coat—but for two unusual elements. First, the swishy black coat had a giant hood attached, allowing Sakurai to reap the benefits of putting a scarf on his head without having to actually deal with putting a scarf on his head. (For those of you who just became Buck-Tick fans yesterday: in addition to rain, cats, and butts, Mr. Sakurai really really really likes putting scarves on his head, and the blacker and gothier the scarves, the better. If there were a word for “sexually aroused by having large black scarves completely covering one's head,” there would be a picture of Mr. Sakurai right there in the dictionary next to the definition. But that's probably more information than you wanted out of this live report, so let's move on.)
Second, under his shimmery, shiny, stretchy, slinky top, Mr. Sakurai appeared to be wearing a corset. After all, what else but a corset could explain the suspicious lines etched across his midriff? For a moment, we wondered—could it be that the fangirls who've been constantly spouting doom-laden laments that Acchan-chan is getting fat in his old age are right at last, and Acchan's got a gut now and he's had to adopt corset-wearing to rein it in?
But just as we wondered this, Mr. Sakurai passed by our side of the stage, and we saw the answer to the riddle for our very own selves: when is a corset not a corset? When it's a six pack.
Yes, that's right, fanboys and fangirls, Mr. Sakurai, like Rocky Horror before him, having developed Thighs of Steel and Guns of Steel, has taken the natural progression toward Abs of Steel, and his shiny slinky top was nothing more than a calculated method of showing them off. And if you think men with many muscles are even more gross than men with beards, please by all means post all about it in the comments section on Blog-Tick, as we take nothing but the utmost delight in the horrified reactions of fangirls to the fact that their one-time favorite swoony gothique vampire prince is now an iron-pumping macho man. But let's leave that for the comments...back to the show!
Despite the six-month hiatus from touring, Buck-Tick were in top form tonight, and the giant projection screen allowed them to pick up where they left off last year at the Budoukan—drenched in visuals so rich they might as well have been playing in a gigantic art museum. “Dokudanjou Beauty” may not be a drug song, but they kept the psychedelic theme going with projections of disco balls, galaxies, and pulsing networks of nodes and ley-lines of shifting white light, slamming straight in the performance without preamble, as if they'd already been on the stage for an hour already, the guitarists crossing the stage mid-solo so that Hide could greet Imai's half of the crowd and vice versa.
The tension mounted even higher as the band continued with “Melancholia -Electria-,” transforming the entire hall into a giant rave party as the stage lights went low and blue, highlighting the evolving montage of sound waves, abstract shapes and lines that covered the screen behind the band. It was the same montage that Buck-Tick used last year on the Metaform Nights tour and at the Budoukan, but the smaller size of the venues for Metaform Nights meant that the imagery wasn't very visible to fans in the front part of the crowd, and the Budoukan was just one night that went by far too quickly to appreciate the impact of those visuals in full. But with the end of the tour, I'd thought they were gone—so how lovely to see this bonus reprise! Soon, even the festival noobs were dancing up a storm.
Next, in an unexpected twist, came “Django!!” and Sakurai put on his top hat for good measure, twirling about with his cane. Imai claimed that his main goal in choosing the set list was to pick songs that even people unfamiliar with Buck-Tick's work could enjoy, and I think “Django” certainly qualifies—but with its own set of dance moves, it's also the perfect way of distinguishing real Buck-Tickers and BiTches from Luna Sea fans in disguise—anyone who doesn't count to three is here for Luna Sea! We looked around, but saw no such people in our general vicinity. Doubtless the Buck-Tick fangirls had beaten them all out cold.
“Django” was followed by “Memento Mori,” and since these were both picks for Buck-Tick's 25th anniversary festival, as well, this is a place where the contest between the Lunatic Festival and the Parade Festival ends in a tie. I'd have liked to see more fire on “Memento Mori,” but it seems the fire had been all used up for GLAY.
However, Buck-Tick still had a number of surprises up their sleeve. When “Memento Mori” was over, it was time for a special guest. And though we'd have dearly loved to see Fujii Maki, Tsuchiya Masami, Issay or all three on Buck-Tick's stage, this being Luna Sea's festival, the guest had to be a member of Luna Sea—which meant that who else could it be but J?
J not only recorded a song for the first Buck-Tick tribute album, as well as performing with Buck-Tick during the Parade Tour 2007 and the Parade Fest 2007, he's also reputedly a regular drinking buddy of Hide and Yutaka, so he was the obvious choice for a special guest. Sakurai announced his arrival and he came out onstage to roaring applause, greeting the Buck-Tick members with a grin.
“Is it true what I heard, that you haven't been doing any band activities lately?” he asked Sakurai, appearing surprised.
“Yes, that's true,” Sakurai replied.
“You mean you came out of your vacation just for us?”
“Because you asked us to!” said Sakurai. “If we're specifically requested, we're happy to play!”
The audience cheered even more loudly, while J moved over to Hide's side of the stage, shouldered his guitar, and joined right in as Buck-Tick ripped into “Iconoclasm.”
Since J covered this song for the first Buck-Tick tribute album, he had no trouble joining right in, trading off bits and pieces of the vocal line with Sakurai. However, not having a proper microphone himself, he had no choice but to use Sakurai's microphone, which he soon claimed as his own. This part was clearly unplanned. With J standing front and center, right in Sakurai's spot, Sakurai had nowhere to go—so he had no choice but to run over and join Imai, singing the next few lines into Imai's microphone before crossing back over to Hide to use Hide's mic, then crossing back to Imai again, looking increasingly flustered. But by now the song was almost over, so Sakurai rejoined J by the vocal microphone, trying and failing to get a word in edgewise.
“One for the money, two for the X!” sang J, over the last chorus.
Sakurai's smile faltered for a split second, and we fancied we knew exactly what he was thinking—damn you J, those are the wrong lyrics! But J couldn't be too much of a stage hog, so he gave Sakurai the last word—“5 for Japanese babies!”
Soon after, J was off the stage. Stage guests are like house guests, after all—let them stay too long and they mess everything up.
Now, after the bright lights of J's guest appearance, Buck-Tick quickly took things back into darker territory with “Makka na Yoru,” the stage bathed in blood-red the whole time, while Sakurai flipped up the giant hood of his coat over his head and menaced the audience like a retro sci-fi villain aroused by his own evil.
“Makka na Yoru” is a staple of Buck-Tick's encore sets, but next came a more surprising pick: “Keijijou Ryuusei.” For the most part Buck-Tick don't really play ballads at festivals, but since they're at their finest on the slower songs, it was a wise choice, particularly because the giant projection screen behind the stage was the ideal vector for the accompanying graphic display of white, black and red. This was another spectacle that I never expected to see again, and it was lovely to have it back, since in its own way, it's every bit as iconic as Iconoclasm.
And yet, nothing could prepare us for the splendor of the final number. No doubt most of the fans in the audience were expecting that Buck-Tick would end on an upbeat note, with some classic closer like “National Media Boys,” “Revolver,” or “Climax Together”—but not this time. As the last echoes of “Keijijou Ryuusei” faded, the stage stayed dark, with the massive sound system magnifying the echoes of string scratches and feedback from Imai's guitar.
“Mama,” called Sakurai, the sound repeating over and over like a voice in a cave, as the stage was drenched in a projection of blobs of dark paint, and the band started into “Mudai.”
I admit that I'd hoped we hadn't seen the end of this song. It's as daring as anything Buck-Tick did in the experimental mid-nineties, and clearly also a song that means a lot to Sakurai. Musically, “Mudai” echoes a lot of the material on Ai no Wakusei, and the performances Sakurai gave of the song during the Anarchy tour are no doubt a preview of what he has in store for us with The Mortal—during “Mudai,” he has always commanded the stage so thoroughly that the other band members seemed almost like disembodied sounds, instruments playing themselves simply to help create his dark, introspective world.
Onstage at the Lunatic Festival, the song came to life just as beautifully as it did in the Budoukan, with the projections of wet paint taking the focus off the band members and onto the world of the song. According to the Fish Tank newsletter, Imai picked the whole set list for the Lunatic Festival, but for this song, which Sakurai demanded that the band play—and he was absolutely right to demand it. Any band can write a feel-good rock song, but “Mudai” is the kind of thing that only Buck-Tick can do. The song is filled with so much of their unique energy that they seem subsumed inside it, artists eaten by their art—a metaform in action!
Just like the first day of the Anarchy tour, when the song was over, Sakurai turned and left the stage without so much as a smile. The stage stayed dark during the final chords, and the other band members soon followed Sakurai into the wings (though Toll and Yutaka couldn't resist waving at the fans just a little bit.)
According to other reports, some festival-goers who weren't particularly familiar with Buck-Tick didn't quite know what to make of this kind of finale, and assumed that Sakurai was angry. But if they were confused, so much the better. Anarchy and Surrealism never meant to play nice, and neither should rock-n-roll.
And now, after a tremendously long, exciting day, the festival was over...at least for us. Luna Sea would be up next after a half-hour break, and more power to them, but our work here was done. Bidding farewell to the giant moon globe hanging overhead, we left the stage hall and headed off to put up our tired feet and have a quiet drink—but a crew from TBS television stopped us for an interview on our way out.
“Which artists did you come to see?” they asked.
“Minus, Ka.F.Ka, and Buck-Tick,” we answered.
They didn't question the fact that we didn't mention Luna Sea at all. Sorry, Luna Sea. I guess that's what happens when your friends are cooler than you are.
Buck-Tick Set List
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