Despite my love of fairly obscure, fringe genres of music, and the fact that I always feel most at home at concerts of a couple of hundred people in small, dingy bars or basement clubs where the volume is far too loud, and the pit far from safe, I also harbor an enormous affection for popular music.
Especially popular rock bands that communicate across genre and language. I’m thinking of Led Zeppelin, Queen, Guns and Roses, Stone Roses, Waterboys… but there hasn’t been a band like that since the early 90s. Blur, Oasis, Pearl Jam, Queens of the Stone Age, Killers, and some of the post-grunge bands have tried hard to pick up the mantle, they never quite hit that 50,000 people screaming their name in a stadium level. Even today, I can’t think of a rock band that can hold an entire stadium in the palm of their hand with epic, soaring guitars and vocals.
However, in the 90s, there was exactly such a band in Japan, playing to sold-out stadiums and living as gods among men. I discovered X-Japan through anime during college, and they remain one of my favorite bands despite the fact that they broke up in the late 90s.
They’re very similar to a Guns and Roses sound, ranging from double guitar attack and soaring solos to rock-piano ballads and all the excess of the genre. Every cliche of late 80s hard-rock band can be found here, right down to guitarist Hide’s huge bright-pink hair. It certainly helped that the band was made up of downright gorgeous boys who were all accomplished musicians. They ooze rock-star charisma and saunter with the confidence of young men who know exactly who they are.
Of course, they broke up in 97 and have had a number of ill-advised reunions since then, but since Hide death after the break-up, it’s never really been the same band.
The ultimate experience of the band, I think, is their last concert, a 3.5 hour long feast for the senses called “The Last Live”. The full experience can be found on YouTube and is well worth a listen. From the explosive opening set to the melancholy ballads in the middle, and the hyperbolic melodrama of the weeping band-mates at the end as they play farewell songs – it’s a signature performance.
What makes it especially poignant I think is that the band isn’t winking at any point. They mean it, with every drop of energy and emotion, they aren’t cynical and this isn’t a show, it’s really an earnest effort, and that shines through the language barrier
If this band wrote English songs, I think they might have taken over the world, at a time when western music lacked any focus or direction. No, nu-metal, rap-metal and boy-bands were not a direction despite what the charts might tell you about the late 90s.
Rather than regret the lack of good music or muse over what might have been, just have a listen to what was, because it was pretty damned good. And we’re lucky to have a record.