X Japan: Reborn in the U.S.A.

X Japan: Reborn in the U.S.A.

In their first North American tour, Japanese mega-band X Japan impresses hardcore fans but leaves some a little mystified

Despite being dubbed "bigger than The Beatles" in Japan, and having sold more than 30 million records since 1982, rock group X Japan is largely unknown in the West. 

Now, after years of promises, the band is finally touring North America. So how are the hairtastic rockers going down Stateside? 

X japan US tourX Japan have their name in lights at Oakland's Fox Theater.Oakland, California

The second stop for the group's North American tour after opening at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles on September 5 was at the Fox Theater in Oakland, California.

Despite being dubbed "bigger than The Beatles" in Japan, and having sold more than 30 million records since 1982, rock group X Japan is largely unknown in the West. 

Now, after years of promises, the band is finally touring North America. So how are the hairtastic rockers going down Stateside? 

Playing to a mostly Asian audience, the show pulled in men and women mainly in their 30s and 40s, from around the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Fox Theater has a maximum capacity of 2,800, much smaller than the 50,000+ mega-domes the band usually play at home. But even this proved difficult to sell out.

Nevertheless, in clear homage to X Japan's early years, some veteran fans with teased and crimped hairstyles camped out in front of the theater the day prior to the show to ensure a front-row view.

Fan feedback

Others, like San Francisco State graduate student Keme Bonnet, attended by chance. "Going to the concert was a spur-of-the-moment decision," she says. 

"My roommates were on their way to the concert and had an extra ticket. I didn't know what to expect because I had never heard X Japan."

Experiencing X Japan fever in her high school years, Osaka native and resident of San Leandro, Hiroko Nakajima, went for the once-in-a-lifetime chance.

"I was not a fan first-hand, but my high school friend was a huge fan and I ended up learning all the lyrics from our nights out singing karaoke in Osaka. Even though some of us here today are not die-hard fans, my Japanese friends and I all agreed that it was a rare opportunity to watch X Japan in concert and decided to go together," she says.

And then there were the American fans that had been waiting for the chance all along. Kenji Lance Imamura, a San Francisco native and president of Polaris Tours in Concord, has been a fan since 1997. He first heard X Japan's music in college and says, "I truly didn't imagine that the day would come to see them live." 

X Japan 全米ツアー
全米ツアーを通し、馴染みのない会場でライブを行う X Japan。
The performance

The two-hour show at Fox Theater was jam-packed with power metal songs, epic ballads and lots of rock and roll. Despite the smaller-scale venues, the band's effort was huge.

Lighting and fog effects plus a 20-foot pedestal-like white staircase housing band leader Yoshiki's drum-kit and piano proved that these guys hold professional rock-star status. The sound was loud and the energy high. 

X Japan's belief that their lifeline is their fans is reflected in the performance of their song "X" when the band beckons the audience to jump in unison and yell "We are X."

The set list for the Oakland show includes the band's hits "Silent Jealousy," "Kurenai" and "I.V." and was punctuated by violin, piano and drum solo interludes. At the finale, the boys went out with a bang -- an encore including "Endless Rain" and "Art of Life." 

Concert-goers react to X

"Yoshiki's charisma absolutely impressed me," says Nakajima. "After last night's show I understood fully why my high school friend was so enamored by Yoshiki. His smile was spectacular."

Hearing and experiencing X Japan for the first time, Bonnet notes, "I was blown away by their talent! These guys are amazing musicians and there was nothing fake about this show."

All five members of the band reflected the enthusiasm of the crowd, bringing a constant joy to their performance. After the show was over, the band members were seen taking photos of themselves on stage, documenting the occasion.

X Japan 全米ツアー
8 月 8 日ロラパルーザで演奏する X Japan。
Mixed press reaction

With coverage anticipating X Japan's tour dates in central and eastern states and reviews from the California shows rolling out from blogs and other media outlets, the momentum for X Japan in North America is slowly mounting.

ABC World News aired an interview with Yoshiki on August 10 including clips of X Japan in concert, warning the United States of a possible "Japanese invasion," not unlike the British invasion of The Beatles in the 1964.

SF Weekly's Kirsty Evans was clearly one reporter who had been convinced, commenting, "If there was ever a band that demonstrated exactly why charisma and the ability to connect with an audience are so important, it's these guys. Frankly, I was never an X fan, so I went in not expecting to be all that impressed, and yet impress me they did."

The Oakland Tribune was less enamored however. Jim Harrington describing Yoshiki as the "...resident king of the rock cliché, pounding out meaningless drum solos while shirtless and acting so overcome with emotion that he slips off a piano bench, right onto the floor, while continuing to finger the notes. He's a showman, that's for sure, but his actions seem so canned that they're embarrassing."

The Future of X Japan in North America

Armed with the future release of an entire album in English, details of which are yet to be specified, X Japan believe they have the chance to strike it big in the United States.

Still, current fans in America see the feat as being much more of a challenge. "X Japan's music crosses many genres which is rarely seen in American or European rock groups," says Imamura. "And with their extreme costumes, the United States might still need a few more years to accept them."

Given that no Asian band has yet to see significant stardom in the United States, X Japan may not catapult to the top of the American charts.

But it is too soon for predictions since this is, after all, their first North American tour. One thing is for sure -- the band is picking up new fans, instigating a rebirth for the group already nearly 30 years old.

The X Japan North American tour continues at these venues:

October 6 - Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL 

October 7 - Massey Hall, Toronto, ON 

October 10 - Roseland Ballroom, New York, NY    

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Yoko Kumano is a food blogger for Umamimart.com. She lives and works in Tokyo.
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