The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

X Japan, Defining Epic

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 6, 2010 3:45PM

X Japan at Lollapalooza this year. Photo by Jim Kopeny
X Japan is accustomed to selling out 55,000 seat venues in Japan. They're one of the largest and most popular groups in the world. Their shows are orgasms of pyrotechnics, drama and excess that makes Lady GaGa look downright lazy. And you've probably never heard of them.

We caught X Japan at Lollapalooza unsure of what exactly to expect and were caught totally off guard by the band's performance. The band was primarily active between 1982 and 1997, only recently regrouping to mount their attack on America, but you wouldn't be able to tell they've taken any time off. Their music harkens back to the days when Judas Priest and Iron Maiden ruled the land, and their lyrics are stuffed with their own mythologies and self-histories as weird and winding as a live action anime. Vocalist Toshi's unapologetic operatic wail soars over guitar lines that shear through the air propelled by songwriter and drummer Yoshiki's prog-rock on speed rhythms. It's all the excess and none of the smirk of hard rock's halcyon days. X Japan may come across as living cartoons, swathed in leather, topped by spiked manes and studded all over in metal, but they are intensely focused on their music.

The only thing more focused than X Japan when it comes to the band's output is their fans. We saw firsthand the screaming throngs -- a mini-Shea Stadium circa 1965 -- crying and waving dolls of the band and fainting (?!) as Yoshiki glided onto the stage. The crowd reacts as if about to be plucked up by the rapture at the start of each song, and the seas of girls and boys dressed in a strange amalgam of goth and their favorite animated characters crossed with fashion tributes to the band creates a visual spectacle the fireworks on stage have to work to surmount. We can't imagine how intense their show is going to be as the band is forced to condense it to fit a room as small as The Riv when they play Chicago tonight, but we suspect they'll do so without losing any of the live experience's force.

To walk into an X Japan show is to walk into a parallel universe. You've probably never seen something like this. And yes, you will probably stand there, mouth gaping, unsure how to react in the face of the extreme over-stimulation. Trust us when we say whatever response you feel is just fine as long as you simply allow yourself into the experience.

X Japan plays tonight, October 6, at The Riv, 4746 N Racine, 7:30 p.m., $29, all ages