Five Reasons Not to Miss X Japan's American Debut / by Doyle Armbrust

Barring Erykah Badu disrobing onstage to re-create her eyebrow-raising music video for “Window Seat,” the only act threatening to out-spectacle Lady Gaga this weekend is hair-metal übergroup X Japan. Never heard of it? You’re not alone. But festivalgoers bypassing worthy Brooklynites Yeasayer on Sunday 8 will witness one of the rarest performances ever to sonically obliterate a Lolla stage. The pants are suffocatingly tight, the makeup excessive and unapologetic, the drumming machine-gun fast and the ballads so melodramatic you’ll be clutching your Hello Kitty plush for reassurance. Here are five good reasons this Mothra-sized Tokyo export will be the sleeper highlight of the festival.

This is X Japan’s first U.S. performance
“Wow, Lollapalooza—it’s an honor for us!” drummer, pianist and songwriter Yoshiki tells us by phone from a Parisian suburb. For a fivesome that’s been shredding since 1982, with 21 million albums and singles sold and countless maniacally loyal fans worldwide, not even the band cofounder has a good answer for why it’s taken this long to cross the Pacific. “We feel like we are going back to the beginning,” Yoshiki says, giggling more like a teenage garage-rocker than a cultural icon.

There is drama of epic proportions
In May 1998, lead guitarist hide (pronounced “hee-day”) was found dead in his apartment. A towel suspended from a doorknob encircled his neck—an apparent suicide, according to authorities. Some 50,000 grieving fans flooded the streets surrounding the funeral; dozens were hospitalized. One copycat suicide took place, and two were attempted. In 2000, the Hide Museum opened—yes, a massive, free-standing building in Yokosuka, designed in the shape of one of the musician’s guitars and containing his instruments and dazzling concert garb.

“Psychedelic Violence Crime of Visual Shock”
It’s a slogan crisscrossing the cover of X Japan’s wildly successful 1989 album, Blue Blood. The phrase is inseparable from the genre the band helped pioneer, “Visual Kei,” ’80s Japanese glam-metal. The quintet’s chandeliers of fiery blond and crimson hair and full-blown gothic costumes were hugely influential in the Japanese anime aesthetic. During its massive Tokyo Dome reunion concerts in 2008, performing to 150,000 fans over three days, the band took visuals to a new level: Holographic technology resurrected guitarist hide to perform alongside his former bandmates. “It was too realistic for me. I broke out in tears,” Yoshiki tells us. He may not be able to promise Lolla fans a virtual hide, but he does divulge, “We are planning pyrotechnics.”

Sheer talent
“To me, rock and classical are the same,” the traditionally trained pianist Yoshiki shares. Seeing the 44-year-old drummer unleash brutal blast-beats is reason enough to head south of Buckingham Fountain, but Yoshiki is also known for his prowess on the Steinway—or, well, his see-through acrylic Kawai grand piano. In 1999, the (obviously unnatural) strawberry blond was commissioned to write and perform a piano concerto in celebration of Emperor Akihito’s ten-year reign. For Lollapalooza, the producer and Extasy Records owner says he will focus on harder songs: “In America, playing the heavy song and then the ballad is a no-no.” We’re not sure who convinced him of this fallacy (Slayer?), but we don’t entirely trust Yoshiki. Given lead singer Toshi’s propensity for Steve Perry–like balladry, we can expect at least one slow dance.

There’s only one chance
X Japan has translated much of its catalog into English for Western audiences and infiltrated the film-soundtrack market (Saw IV). The group sells merchandise ranging from a jewelry line to condoms. Clearly, Yoshiki and the rest of X Japan have achieved a KISSian level of fame and success. There is, however, only one opportunity to be able to boast, “I saw them first in America.” C’mon, Yeasayer has been at Lolla before and will be here again. Spark up a lighter and sing along: “Can’t live without you / Silent jealousy.”

- Doyle Armbrust

published in Time Out Chicago on August 4th, 2010