X Japan Rocks New York's Madison Square Garden
Japan’s Greatest Rock Band Takes a Bite out of the Big Apple
On October 11, 2014, X Japan did what most Japanese bands and performers have only dreamt of doing for decades. They played the most revered concert venue in the United States–Madison Square Garden–on the stage that has been graced by the likes of Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, The Who, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Elton John and Michael Jackson. X Japan is one of the most successful Japanese rock bands in history with more than 30 million albums, songs and videos sold. They sold out the 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome 18 times, and in fall of 2014, just prior to their historic Madison Square Garden concert, the band returned to their old stomping grounds for a two-night stint at Yokohama Arena. X Japan pioneered an entire musical genre known as visual kei, fusing glam rock, punk rock and heavy metal with wild hair, androgynous makeup and flamboyant costumes. Formed in 1982, X Japan was one of the first Japanese bands to achieve mainstream success while on an independent label. In their three-decade career, they have released five studio albums, six live albums, eleven compilation albums and numerous videos. They’ve had their share of drama with the tragic deaths of their beloved guitarist HIDE and bassist TAIJI. At HIDE’s funeral in 1997, more than 50,000 fans came out to mourn his passing. At the same time, lead singer Toshi was struggling with the beginning of a horrific 12-year experience of being abused and taken advantage of by his wife and her co-conspirator as described in his alltelling autobiographical book Brainwashed. After X Japan’s breakup in 1997 and reunion in 2007, fans around the world have been eagerly awaiting a new album and another world tour. What’s in store for X Japan? The following is a series of interviews carried out by Tokyo Journal Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie with X Japan, including a pre-Madison Square Garden New York interview with the entire band and pre- and post-MSG interviews with the individual band members. These interviews with bandleader Yoshiki (drums and piano), Toshi (vocals), PATA (guitar), HEATH (bass), and SUGIZO (guitar and violin) took place while the band members were in Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo.
TJ: Before we talk about Madison Square Garden, let me begin by asking Yoshiki about his classical world tour that just finished. What kinds of fans attended?
YOSHIKI: It was a mixture of rock fans and classical fans. I really appreciated the support of all of the fans that came out. I played in 10 different countries and it was just amazing.
TJ: How was it to have members of X Japan like Toshi and SUGIZO join you on your classical tour?
YOSHIKI: It was great. Toshi kindly joined me during the San Francisco show; SUGIZO was also kind enough to play violin during my first show of the classical tour in Costa Mesa, California; PATA and HEATH joined me in Baltimore; and we all got together in Tokyo. It was great having their support.
TJ: How was it for you guys to perform with Yoshiki in a classical concert?
TOSHI: It was great. I want to say from the bottom of my heart how glad I am that his concert was a massive success. I’d really like to support him as his friend and as a member of the band. I was very happy that I got to see him in person producing in his own way with people around the world supporting his music and that I was able to join for a little bit of it. I hope Yoshiki continues his solo career, spreading his great music with his unique worldview all over the world. Yoshiki doing a solo classical tour called for a celebration. I was so happy for him.
SUGIZO: Once again, I deeply felt how wonderful the songs were. Various kinds of energy came through the warmth in the music and I felt it. It was amazing. I played the violin and Yoshiki, the piano. It was very experimental. This show was very interesting because he’s a rock musician, but he was able to perform a classical concert. Not traditional classical. It’s a very new style and I think it’s cool. It was a big challenge. What I remember the most is that we didn’t have time to rehearse. It came up very suddenly and Yoshiki hadn’t picked a song, so we didn’t rehearse until I arrived the afternoon of the concert. We only practiced one or two times together before the show.
TJ: Wow! That’s amazing because it was awesome! I was there to witness the two of you collaborating and the audience absolutely loved it.
SUGIZO: I hope they enjoyed it even though we didn’t have much time to prepare.
TJ: Would you like to join Yoshiki on a future classical tour?
SUGIZO: Of course, if we have a chance. I’m ready any time. I really like his music and the way he plays. I think it’s rare that this rock band has both a pianist and a violinist. It’s very, very rare.
TJ: Yes, it is very special.
SUGIZO: So, it means we should enjoy this situation. I really love him and playing violin.
TJ: Yoshiki, your classical tour schedule was very tough. Do you feel stronger after completing it?
YOSHIKI: Yes, I think mentally I am stronger. Just like with the X Japan tour when we toured 15 countries, that made us a lot stronger. Also, as a band we’ve gone through a lot of things with HIDE, TAIJI, Toshi, everybody–including myself. There is tons of drama with our band, but we overcame a lot and we are still here.
TJ: Do you feel fortunate that a number of you have classical backgrounds?
YOSHIKI: Completely. Without classical music, I could not compose our music. So, it’s totally helpful and I have to thank my parents. They didn’t really force me to play the piano. They bought me a piano and got me a teacher. So, they made it possible for me to play the piano and that was one of the best things to ever happen to me. As you know, Toshi and SUGIZO also studied classical music. Toshi’s mom was a piano teacher.
SUGIZO: When I was a child, I really, really hated classical music. I hated it. But now, I think classical composers rock! I really like them. They are all era-wreckers. I like their spirit. It’s very cool if you listen to their music with a good understanding of their spirit. Their music is really cool.
YOSHIKI: Yeah, it’s like classical composers were the punk rockers of their era, you know? It’s kind of cool. I love composers such as Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Mozart, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky.
SUGIZO: Tchaikovsky’s music is very cool and has influenced my music a lot.
TJ: How was it to perform at Yokohama Arena?
YOSHIKI: It was amazing. It may have been one of the best shows that we ever performed. It was the first time for us to play in Japan since 2010 when we went on a world tour to North America, Southeast Asia, Europe and Latin America. It was amazing to be back again and I think we were in the best shape ever.
SUGIZO: After doing a world tour, we finally came back to Japan and showed the best of X Japan in Japan. There were so many old songs we wanted to play together. It was the first time for us to do the best of X Japan during those two days. I think the fans were also very happy, so I’m really happy that we did this concert.
TOSHI: I thought X Japan’s performance was good too. I felt a sense of unity, heat and power. Like we always say; “Share the same destiny.” It felt like we created the show together with our fans, which is great because we only exist because of them.
PATA:Yeah, we are just following our destiny.
HEATH: It was one of the best shows we’ve ever done and I can’t wait to do it again, but this time at Madison Square Garden.
YOSHIKI: Like HEATH said, it was one of the best shows we’ve ever performed. We’re gonna bring that same vibe to Madison Square Garden.
TJ: What does it mean to you, personally, playing at Madison Square Garden?
SUGIZO: We are honored to perform on the sacred stage that so many great musicians like Led Zeppelin have performed on in the past. I’m so excited about it. I’m going to perform with all of my soul on the stage that so many influential musicians of our time have played on.
TOSHI: It doesn’t feel like it’s actually happening. It won’t be real until I get up on the stage, but I’m very happy that I’ll be able to perform at the mecca of all concert halls. Madison Square Garden is a place our band has always dreamed of playing at. It’s a very big stage and performing on it will bring back many of the feelings we had when we were still amateurs standing on the very first stage.
PATA: I personally really appreciate this opportunity. It’s more than a dream come true and I’ll try to do my best.
HEATH: I’m so excited I’m getting confused. Let me just say I’ll do my best.
YOSHIKI: Like Toshi said, Madison Square Garden is one of the most prestigious places in the world to perform. We are going to turn it into a live house [small club] atmosphere just like the ones we played in the early days. This isn’t the completion of our goal. This is just the beginning. We are opening a new door–a new chapter of X Japan and we’re kicking it off at Madison Square Garden. We’ve played at Tokyo Dome 18 times and I want to start the same kind of tradition by performing every year at venues like Madison Square Garden.
TJ: Are you looking forward to performing in front of the New York audience?
YOSHIKI: Yes, we want to create with our audience. They are very important to us and together with the audience here in New York we want to make a great show.
SUGIZO: This is going to be such a very big show. I’m putting all my energy into this. I think it will be our best show.
TJ: What comes after Madison Square Garden?
YOSHIKI: We’ll continue to perform these insane shows. You know, it doesn’t really matter if the place holds 50,000, 5,000 or even 500. Wherever we perform we are going to try our best. X Japan is a live band and we want to give our best no matter what size the venue.
TJ: Are there any bands you would like to tour the U.S. with?
SUGIZO: It doesn’t matter who we play with. We’ll do great (laughs).
YOSHIKI: I think we’re up to playing with anybody. We are pretty strong.
TOSHI: I grew up listening to KISS when I was in elementary school and then I started a band with Yoshiki so I’d like to play with KISS.
TJ: Any message to your fans before the Madison Square Garden concert?
YOSHIKI: I just want to say thank you to all of our fans. We really, really appreciate all the support. We wouldn’t be here without you. We’ll keep rocking as long as you’re there. tj
The original article can be found in Issue #276 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.