It’s an interesting thing to witness a nearly perfect Japanese rock performance in the context of hard rock as a global, and historical movement. I realized something last night while taking in the Luna Sea show at the Palladium in Hollywood last Saturday–it is no longer fair, nor appropriate to compare Jrock artists to vintage American & British metal, for sake of explaining it to the uninitiated. This is something different. This is its own movement, informed by classic rock and blues metal, certainly, but this has a life all its own, and with a longevity that challenges the progression of hard rock in the U.S. Last night, for those lucky to be at the show, we witnessed hard rock as an art form, in fine form.
Luna Sea came about in the late 1980s, when American metal was at the tail end of its peak–the charts dominated by the likes of Whitesnake, Cinderella, Motley Crue, and a plethora of other hard rock acts both silly and serious. However, as Luna Sea was coming up, things on the U.S. side were already coming to an end. As the new decade began, Nirvana’s stripped-down, back-to-basics, and subversive sound obliterated the American metal movement. it wasn’t their fault–they were something so raw, provocative and fresh, so ahead and apart from their time, that they rewrote the popular music playbook overnight. In a very short amount of time, American metal came crashing down.
Whatever its faults or excesses, American and British hard rock and metal was built on a solid musical platform–with its historical roots in blues, soul, and classical music, and following a prestigious list of modern anscestors that included the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Who, Jimmy Hendrix, Queen, Sweet, T-Rex, and Aerosmith, among others. It was easy to dismiss this movement by lampooning the hair, the tights, the make-up, and the ubiquitous fantasy novel imagery–but behind the visual side a wealth of musical artistry could be heard, in the aggressive operatic movements of Metallica, the intricate finger work of Yngwie Malmsteen, or the lush, wall-of-sound engineering behind a Def Leppard album. Somewhere in the American consciousness, an appreciation for that was lost.
The British scene quickly recovered, re-inventing popular music with the Brit-Pop movement, and the likes of artists like Oasis, Blur, and Suede. Elsewhere, however, something different was happening–which brings me back to Luna Sea. It was fascinating to realize that, as hard rock and metal as a movement was dying in the U.S., a new generation of artists was emerging in Japan that’s part of a continuity that exists to this day. Sure enough, this show was part of a 20th anniversary reunion tour–and it must be recognized that Luna Sea and their contemporaries, X Japan, have gone through periods of hiatus and inactivity. What I saw last night, though, was something with a history that was also vital, and relevant. I’m hesitant to to use the term Jrock here, but in this case, I think it suffices–just as U2 or Coldplay shows that Western rock is alive and well, Luna Sea demonstrated last night that Jrock, too, is alive and well.
Vocalist Ryuichi, Guitarists Sugizo and Inoran, Bassist J, and Shinya on drums delivered a nearly flawless performance from a technical perspective. After some necessary adjustments in the opening numbers, the band really kicked it up after an inspiring solo by Shinya (who was eventually joined by J for a fantastic display of the power of Luna Sea’s rythm section). Importantly, beyond their technical artistry, it was their enthusiam that was also on display. They’ve been at this for two decades, but there was an energy to their performance that suggested otherwise.
That U.S. fans were treated to this first-time appearance stateside was a treat for both Jrock enthusiasts, and hard rock afficianados. It may have taken twenty years, but if Japanese hard rock and metal acts are to find success and thrive in the U.S., it will be for the efforts of these artists–like Luna Sea and X Japan–willing to trade the the larger fan bases and venues in Japan for the U.S. market–for a chance and making new friends and fans throughout the world, thereby establishing a broader legacy and recognition for Japanese rock.
These shows don’t happen easily, and fans in the west should understand that tours like this are both rare, and the best opportunity to exercise their support for these artists–and for Japanese rock as a movement. Music is commodified differently now, and as CD sales have gradually dithered, the revenue from touring has taken on greater importance for all musicians worldwide.
Los Angeles was lucky to have been chosen as a stop by Luna Sea on their 2010 world tour. It may seem obvious that an act from Japan would chose LA, but that doesn’t detract from the notion that last Saturday’s show was special, and I urge everyone who regards Japanese rock as a true musical movement to attend, and support Jrock acts that come through here in the future.
DJ and Founder, Tune in Tokyo