During their initial breakout years in the '80s and '90s, X Japan would have been used to the sight of swarms of fans surrounding the band members on the streets, dressing in their signature outrageous "visual kei" aesthetic and jumping along to their mix of heavy-metal-meets-orchestral-ballad music. But it's March 4, 2017, X Japan hasn't released a new album in 20 years—and yet there is a rabid, cult-like following outside of London's Wembley Arena all for this Japanese rock outfit.
A day earlier, X Japan held a CD signing in London's famous HMV on Oxford Street for the soundtrack to their just-released documentary We Are X. While any passerby could see that the line for autographs wrapped around multiple blocks, what they didn't see was the extreme fandom that took over the store and made X Japan the first act in the store's history to sell out of physical copies for a signing, according to staff members. Some were shaking as they made their way to the autograph table, some had mini dolls of the band members, and they were all there to celebrate lead singer Toshi, guitarist Pata, bassist Heath, guitarist-violinist Sugizo, and their frontman, leader and drummer Yoshiki—all of whom would later be mobbed by the fans when they made their way to their separate private cars after the event.
Playing London's iconic Wembley is no minor feat and X Japan certainly has the stats to back up their headliner status. Since their 1982 debut, the group has reportedly sold more than 30 million albums and played everywhere from Tokyo Dome to Madison Square Garden. The Wembley show was both a concert and doc screening making it all the more special after initially being set for March 12, 2016, and only now finally coming to the arena.
Before the 6pm screening of We Are X, the scene at Wembley was already bustling with activity as fans waited in long merch lines and took photos with other attendees, many of whom were dressed up and paying homage to the band's visual kei aesthetic that included majorly teased out tresses, punky makeup and tons of leather. A closer look and you'd notice many fans were wearing merchandise from past concerts including gear from the band's 2016 Madison Square Garden show. Before showtime, the crowd would begin shouting the band's signature call-and-response "We are...X!" chant that sees everyone cross their arms and scream on the "X!"
The documentary began and instead of the blood-curdling screams you'd expect to hear if, say, a One Direction movie began, there was a controlled roar one might hear at a particularly lively football game and loads of applause once Yoshiki came onscreen. During the docu's most intense and intimate moments—like when Yoshiki reflected on the death of former bassist Taiji—there was a respectable silence where the only noise one could hear was a soft murmur from the production team's walkie talkies. That respectable excitement would continue when the band finally made to their way to the stage a little after their 7pm start time.
The members entered the stage in their gothic-punk look, a sunglass-clad Toshi greeting the crowd with a high-pitched shriek while a shirtless, neck-brace-wearing Yoshiki pounded on the drums behind. The crowd was already hooked as the pumped their first in succession of the drum beat during the first two songs, 1994's No. 1 hit "Rusty Nail" and "Hero."
"Finally! We are here!" Yoshiki greeted the crowd in between songs. "We've been waiting for this moment for a long, long time. We're here!"
“I know you won't believe me...but we're adding the last touches.”
And if the fans felt like it was a long wait, well, they luckily got everything they could have wanted from an X Japan show. Of course, the band brought their KISS-meets-Led-Zeppelin blend of heavy-metal music and classical-style ballads—all centered around Yoshiki's intense drumming skills that saw the 51-year-old nearly pass out onstage multiple times. Standouts included the singalong styling of "Kiss the Sky," the hardcore nature of "Born to Be Free" and "X" which saw every crowd member jumping along with the guys. Of course, the band also made sure to pay tribute and honor their deceased members, Taiji and hide, with videos of classic footage of the stars playing as the crowd cheered the guys on just like any other members onstage.
The band also brought a few surprises, like when Sugizo performed a violin arrangement of David Bowie's "Life on Mars," which would later be followed by Yoshiki busting out covers from other British greats including "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen plus Bowie's "Space Oddity."
During an endearing back-and-forth banter session between Toshi and Yoshiki, the guys gave an update on their long-awaited comeback album. "I know we were supposed to release it last year," Yoshiki told the crowd when addressing the LP originally slated for 2016. "I know you won't believe me...but we're adding the last touches. We want to record your voices, we're adding all your voices, [and this concert is] our last voice recording." He then led the audience to sing along to "Kiss the Sky," making one think there will be a new, special version of the song on the album that features audience recordings from their various concerts.
“I never thought in a million years we'd be here.”
After not one but two encores, X Japan had truly exhausted their discography and selves—Yoshiki had drenched himself in water bottles after his last drum solo on the second encore—but made sure the importance of this concert moment was not lost.
"It was our dream to be here," Yoshiki told the audience while reflecting on their first London show at the smaller O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire. "We promised at that moment to come back...After we broke up, I never thought in a million years we'd be here, especially without hide. Without you guys, I don't know if I'm even alive. You guys gave us a second life, so, we're going to keep fucking rocking."
The guys ended the show on a more tender note by brining out their cell phones to take selfies of themselves at the venue with the massive audience behind them. Despite how larger-than-life X Japan still seems years after breaking out, this show was the clear indication that these are five guys who truly love their fans and love, as they say, "fucking rocking." That's the passion that has kept supporters just as excited and passionate as ever and why their next step—whether its an album, world tour, documentary or something else—will be well received, no matter what.
X Japan's We Are X soundtrack is available now with the documentary in theaters.
Kiss the Sky
Beneath the Skin
(Pata Guitar Solo)
(Heath Bass Solo)
(Sugizo Violin Solo)
Born to Be Free
(Yoshiki Piano Solo)
(Yoshiki Drum Solo)
Bohemian Rhapsody Cover
Space Oddity Cover
Art of Life