X Japan may be Japan’s biggest rock band, playing arenas and stadiums throughout Asia for many years. But the group has long dreamed of touring the United States, even if it meant performing at small venues.
“Oh, my God,” band leader Yoshiki (Hayashi) said by phone from his hotel in San Francisco. “Even when we started in the ’80s, it was our dream to come here.”
The Japanese heavy-metal band, which has sold more than 30 million albums and DVDs, made it s U.S. debut at Lollapalooza in August in Chicago. In its review of X Japan, Time Out Chicago thanked Lollapalooza co-founder Perry Farrell for booking “the coup of the festival.”
USA Today wrote that “the pop-metal band was fast and furious” and compared Yoshiki’s drumming to “Keith Moon on Red Bull.”
“There were so many great bands there,” said the soft-spoken drummer, pianist and composer. ” It was an honor to be part of it.”
The band’s short U.S. tour commenced Sept. 25 at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. The trek includes a show Friday night (Oct. 1) at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre. Tickets are $42 at Ticketmaster.
“It’s kind of a showcase tour, just seven dates,” Yoshiki said. “We just had the first show in Los Angeles and it went fairly well.
“We have not performed these kinds of small venues for a long, long time. About a month ago in Japan, we performed before 65,000 (concertgoers) in two nights. The other night in Los Angeles, we did about 2,500.”
Indeed, for Yoshiki and bandmates Toshi (vocals), Heath (bass) and Pata and Sugizo (guitars), playing in the U.S. is like starting anew. Though there is a bit of a buzz among those familiar with the group’s powerful shows in Asia, many U.S. rock fans have never heard of them.
“At Lollapalooza, there were a lot of people who were seeing us for the first time, but they were very supportive,” he said.
Yoshiki said he loves the excitement of starting over in the world’s biggest rock ‘n’ roll market.
“I like that because how many artists can do their career twice?” he said. “We kind of appreciate the chance to go back to the basics. Because when you’re performing stadium shows for so many years, you start taking everything for granted. But now we’re appreciating everything we do. And I’m really enjoying it.”
Yoshiki, dubbed “the Bono of Japan,” fell in love with Kiss when he was 10 years old.
“That album opened the door to Led Zeppelin and all those hard-rock bands,” he said.
Originally called simply X, the band formed in 1982 as a power/speed-metal band, with classical touches added by Yoshiki, a classically trained pianist, and oversized hairdos.
Later changing its name to X Japan because of the Los Angeles band X, the group pioneered “visual kei,” a musical movement that featured androgynous looks, flamboyant costumes, big hair and lots of makeup. It sparked the Anime craze.
The group broke up in 1997, after selling out the 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome 18 times. X Japan later reformed in 2007 and relaunched the powerful shows that had been their trademark.
Yoshiki and his bandmates — all natives of Japan — are on a mission to bring “the drama back to rock ‘n’ roll.” They are not fans of shoe-gazing rock. Flamboyance is the name of the game.
On the U.S. tour, Toshi is singing most of the songs in English. Next winter, the band will release its first U.S. album, with lyrics that will be “90 percent English.”
“We are translating our old hits into English,” Yoshiki said.
The band’s first single will be “Jade,” which is featured on the current U.S. tour. The song was a highlight of the band’s Lollapalooza show.
Yoshiki is optimistic about the band’s chances for success in America. But he isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I don’t know if we will be successful,” he said. “But music breaks down barriers. And good music is universal.”
Visit X Japan’s Web site here.