After the parade of former protégés who've hit American shores over the past few years, it's cool to finally see X Japan doing a tour of its own.
The question is, can the band pull it off? With a singer who's been mostly out of the business for a decade and a drummer who's dealing with multiple health problems (including one that put him through surgery a couple of years ago) the odds would seem to be against it. And then there's new guitarist Sugizo - there's no question that he's brilliant, but he's also replacing a legend whose distinctive style was quite different from his successor's. With all the obstacles in its path, can this iconic Japanese rock outfit really still be the band that spawned a thousand imitators?
How to describe that sound? A bit of hard rock, strong hints of '80s hair- and speed-metal, some heavy classical influences, and a lot of very emotional, tear-jerking ballads. OK, so the ballads aren't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but you have to give credit where it's due - Yoshiki is a hell of a piano player. In fact, musically, all of X was rock solid. Singer Toshi has a voice that people tend to either love or hate, but whichever camp you fall into, you have to admit that it's held up well over time. He was still able to hit those high notes, and he was able to sustain them too, something that's not always the case with vocalists once they hit their 40s.
Last night's show felt like a family reunion. The audience was full of fans that had flown in from Japan, many holding cute little dolls as a tribute to much-missed former guitarist Hide. The crowd was a good mix of old and new - people in their forties mingled with teenagers, and it was sometimes hard to tell the difference without getting a close look at the faces. X Japan fans have been waiting a long time for this - the band broke up before it was able to do an American tour, and so there are a lot of American fans who never thought they'd get the chance to see X live. Those older fans may well have been the second-most thrilled group of people at Fox - some of them were too grown up and dignified to actually scream like teenagers, but nothing could put a damper on the overwhelming air of excitement.
Yoshiki wasn't the only one reveling in the moment. Singer Toshi was clearly happy to be back too, and even the more reserved Pata and Heath cracked a few smiles. The show also proved that adding Sugizo to the line-up was a good decision - you'd think it might not work, having two performers as showy and attention-grabbing as he and Yoshiki in the same band, but they played off of each other brilliantly, sharing the spotlight in a way that conveyed clear mutual respect for each other's considerable talents.
Highlight of the show? Definitely when the band stopped playing in the middle of "Endless Rain" and just let the audience sing it back to them. I've never seen anything like it - an entire audience singing in key and in time with each other, and all of them seemed to know every word. Beautiful.
Personal bias: I never really understood why this band in particular was so huge, so much bigger than all the other Japanese bands that on the surface seem equally competent. All it took was one show to make it very clear why X Japan is such a phenomenon in its homeland. 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. There aren't many bands that do that.
The crowd: Diverse in age and gender but leaning heavily Japanese. It was particularly cool to see so many people in their 40s turn out to see a show.
Random notebook dump: I have never seen this many men turn out to see any Japanese band other than Boris. Don't get me wrong, I love how woman-friendly VK is, but it was really cool to see a more even gender balance for once. Also, I am now convinced that Yoshiki has discovered the fountain of youth, because in person he looks about 25. If he could bottle his anti-aging secret he'd be the richest man in the world.
Did you know: This is the first American tour for X Japan, but if it goes well it won't be the last - Yoshiki stated that this tour is an "experiment". It's looking good so far.