YOSHIKI | “YOSHIKI CLASSICAL WORLD TOUR PART 1”
San Francisco, CA - Davies Symphony Hall (4/28/14)
The day I saw X JAPAN’s Blue Blood Tour Bakuhatsu Sunzen Gig on VHS was the day I tumbled down the visual kei rabbit-hole. I was captivated with the band’s bombastic stage presence, gravity-defying hair, and their beautiful melodies combined with intricate instrumentals. Although more famously known for their speed metal songs, my favorite part of the video was YOSHIKI’s piano solo. The unusual mix of Bach’s Fugue in G Minor with X JAPAN’s “Unfinished” was like the calm in the middle of the storm. As I looked into more of X JAPAN’s catalog, I was fascinated by how heavily they were influenced by classical music, incorporating works, such as Tchaikovsky’s Seranade for Strings in C major and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, in the background of YOSHIKI’s grandiose drum solos. Songs like “Alive” included Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and “Rose of Pain” with Bach’s Fugue in G Minor. It was this unlikely combination of rock and classical music that initially drew me to X JAPAN and YOSHIKI, forming the soundtrack of my youth.
As I watched YOSHIKI’s concert at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, my head was filled with nostalgia. Like Anton Ego in the movie Ratatouille, I was transported back to my childhood days, listening to J-Rock, flipping through the pages of magazines like SHOXX, and scouring the Internet for hours on end.
It was the second stop of his “YOSHIKI CLASSICAL WORLD TOUR PART 1,” and the last performance in the US before heading to Mexico, Europe, and Asia. Being only the second large-scale production since his “2002 Symphonic Concert” at the Tokyo International Forum, it was a rare opportunity to see the rock star drummer perform entirely on piano, and drew fans near and wide from the US and Japan, including Shinya of DIR EN GREY.
Opening with the song “Miracle,” a short video about YOSHIKI and X JAPAN was shown on a large LED screen, introducing the artist to those unfamiliar with him and his history as one of Japan’s biggest rock legends. A burst of cheers erupted around the hall, as the artist entered the stage, sat down at his piano, and opened with X JAPAN’s famous ballad “FOREVER LOVE.” The gentle melody flowed from YOSHIKI’s piano like a music box, while images of stars flowing through a purple galaxy filled the background, giving the vibe of a classical performance within the atmosphere of a rock stadium.
The set list spanned across YOSHIKI’s entire career, including songs from X JAPAN, Violet UK, as well as his solo, all beautifully rearranged especially for the tour for piano and a string sextet, dubbed the “YOSHIKI Sextet,” making the night’s performance a truly unique live experience. It was a celebration of his previous works, Eternal Melody and Eternal Melody II, and his new international release, Yoshiki Classical, which debuted at #1 on the iTunes Classical Music chart in 10 countries.
While mainly an instrumental performance, guest vocalist Katie Fitzgerald appeared for Violet UK’s “Rosa” and the newly unveiled Saint Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary theme song, “Hero,” in addition to a special appearance by X JAPAN’s Toshl for “I.V.” and “Tears.”
Songs like “Anniversary,” composed in honor of the 10th anniversary of Japanese Emperor Akihito’s enthronement, and his piano solo, which included Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Suite (op. 20), covered the entire length of the piano in a myriad of cascading arpeggios and were a testament of YOSHIKI’s technical abilities.
Despite his shy persona, YOSHIKI addressed the audience between songs and shared some personal stories. “Tonight’s the second date, but it feels like I’ve toured the world already,” he confessed, and thanked his agent for talking him into touring. As he warmly greeted his friend Marc Benioff in the audience and played “Happy Birthday” for Marc’s mother, the concert felt like a small casual performance, despite the hall’s 2700 capacity.
While YOSHIKI smiled and laughed with the audience most of the night, the air became rather emotional in the second half of the concert. Hesitating as he spoke, it seemed difficult for him to gather his thoughts while introducing the song “Without You.” “I wrote this song for hide. He passed away after X JAPAN. He’s still the guitarist of X JAPAN. Sometimes, we take life and everything for granted. TAIJI also passed away. While you can, please give all your love to those you care about. I dedicate this song to hide, TAIJI, and my father.”
The lights dimmed, as the music accompanied the LED screen filled with an assorted montage of X JAPAN’s past performances with hide, the reunion with TAIJI in 2010, and other concert scenes, interspersed with photos of hide and his funeral, YOSHIKI as a young boy, and his father, who committed suicide when he was 10 years old. Weaving in and out between the piano and the violins, the requiem ended with the sextet slowly fading out, segueing into a short rendition of X JAPAN’s major debut single, “Kurenai.” The main theme passed from YOSHIKI to the concertmistress, before leading into a beautiful violin cadenza.
Continuing to the next song, YOSHIKI turned to the keyboard behind him and played the main phrase of the piano solo from X JAPAN’s epic 29-minute piece, “Art of Life.” As the notes continued to play on loop through a sequencer, he warped the sound with a low pass filter effect on an adjacent DJ controller, giving the song a modern twist, then returned to the piano for an adlibbed solo. Inspired by Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony No.8, the song depicts YOSHIKI’s early life and how he felt suicidal following his father’s death. The feeling of confusion and insanity filled the tense atmosphere, as accented dissonant chords battled against wavelike runs, while the sextet was divided into 2 separate counter melodies spaced at differing intervals, like a round. Slowly building up momentum, the soaring strings joined together at a full fortissimo, and with the wave of YOSHIKI’s hand, ended in a dramatic and abrupt cut-off. As the piece transitioned into the finale, the key changed from A minor to C major, signifying YOSHIKI’s emergence from the darkness and finding the strength to continue living. The main theme flowed from the piano to the 1st violinist, before ending with all instruments in unison. Like the roar of a full orchestra, the grand masterpiece finished with a definitive, anthemic grace. It was a powerful performance that conveyed the message of life through the language of music.
Towards the end of the concert, YOSHIKI announced that X JAPAN will perform at Madison Square Garden on October 11, 2014. YOSHIKI asked, “Is Toshl still here?” as his friend joined his side, and mentioned that Toshl just learned of the big news earlier that day. With feelings of surprise and excitement, Toshl commented, “I will do my best!”
The night ended with X JAPAN’s “Endless Rain.” As requested by YOSHIKI on Twitter, the audience joined in at the last chorus, singing, “Endless rain, fall on my heart and its scars. Let me forget all of the hate, all of the sadness,” mimicking the traditional ending at X JAPAN’s concerts.
YOSHIKI and all the performers gathered on stage and made their final bows, while rose bouquets and an American flag signed by fans were brought to the front. Meanwhile, YOSHIKI amped up the crowd with his screams of, “We are…!” while the audience shouted back, “X!” and raised their arms crossed in the X sign. After taking some pictures with himself and Toshl in front of the crowd, the two waved goodbye and exited the stage.
The night was a celebration of YOSHIKI’s life and music. Showcasing his background as a classically trained pianist, it was a performance that blurred the line between the rock and classical genres. As a longtime fan of X JAPAN, it was interesting to hear his two halves come together and present his songs in a brand new light. However, most impressive was YOSHIKI’s ability to channel his past experiences into his work and connect with the audience through his music. Whether on drums or piano, or with a band or orchestra, his music has the power to resonate within the hearts of people around the world.
SE - Miracle
Golden Globe Theme
I.V. ~ Tears
Kurenai ~ ART OF LIFE
SE - Say Anything
For more information on YOSHIKI and his “YOSHIKI CLASSICAL WORLD TOUR PART 1,” please visit yoshiki.net.
Special thanks to JQ Magazine and Davies Symphony Hall for their coordination and making this review possible.
Also in JQ Magazine: “Yoshiki Classical World Tour Dazzles San Francisco with Surprise X Japan Guest”