July 25, 2009
Review by Kirsty Evans
Better Than: A weekend vampire movie marathon.
It was hard to tell what to expect from VAMPS before Saturday's show, as singer/guitarist Hyde (L'Arc en Ciel) and guitarist K.A.Z (Oblivion Dust) come from such different backgrounds. What kind of music would this collision of radio-friendly poppiness and straight-ahead rock spawn?
Dirty sexy rock and roll, as it turns out. A little bit of punk, too, and the occasional nod to the sort of balladry that's almost obligatory for rock bands in Japan. Normally the presence of ballads in a generally more hard-edged set can be annoying, but in the case of VAMPS it worked, simply because Hyde has the kind of voice that really deserves to be heard up close and personal.
It's easy to assume that vocals like Hyde's must be the result of studio wizardry, but during Saturday's show he officially proved that theory wrong. Some may still prefer the deeper, rougher, growlier end of his vocal range, which was on full display for most of the performance, but there's no denying his impressive ability to convey yearning and hit high notes with crystal clarity.
They're a cool looking band, VAMPS, all tattoos and bed-head and aggressive snarls, so their underlying humor and sense of fun was unexpected. The cover of girl band classic "Trouble" was a perfect example- who would have expected a bunch of rockers to even try that one, much less pull it off with such aplomb? (It was a shame that Hyde didn't change into the rather kinky boots that he was sporting in the video for that song, but hey, you can't have everything.) Well chosen covers are a VAMPS trademark- "Life on Mars" was a nod to some classic influences, and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was deliciously trippy. Single "I Got a Kick Start Now" got the biggest rise out of the crowd - which, by the way, was unusually diverse; I don't think I've ever seen that many men show up to see any Japanese band other than Boris before.
VAMPS occupy an entirely different space than most of the Japanese bands that make it over to the U.S. - they're a straight-up rock band with punk influences, and as such they may well have a decent chance of appealing to a mainstream audience. Songs like "Love Addict" and "Sex Blood Rock and Roll" would fit right in to American radio formats--and who knows, with the album available on iTunes and a genuine effort being made to sell VAMPS not as a "JRock band", but just as a band, maybe they'll get a shot. I hope they do, because live they really were a lot of fun.
Personal Bias: Hyde could read his grocery shopping list aloud and
people would probably pay to listen, his voice really is that special.
He's pretty funny too. You had to love his announcement that he loves
San Francisco for our steep streets and, um, our clam chowder?
Random Detail: VAMPS have a special line of make-up available from Shiseido
By the way: You can also check out their videos and assorted other goodies here.