Long report, but it was a great show.
BUCK-TICK Tour 2010 'Go on the RAZZLE DAZZLE'
10-15-10 Live at Saitama City Cultural Center
Ah, the first day of the tour. More exciting than any other day, except perhaps the tour final. So many questions anxiously await being answered. For example, will there be real fire on the set again this time? Will there be a high-tech opening sequence? Will Imai have taken a hack saw to his hair again? What will all these new songs sound like live? And most importantly, will the band have rehearsed and rested enough not to make ridiculous mistakes that prompt me to write a sympathetic but amusingly sarcastic live report that gets me branded as a poison-pen tabloid writer and slanderer of dear little U-ta? Well I’ll tell you up front, ladies and gentlemen: no worries. The first day of the Memento Mori tour may have been a demonstration of how the Buck-Tick members are loveably fallible human beings, but the first day of the Razzle Dazzle tour was a demonstration of how the lovably-fallible-human-being thing was actually all just an act, put on to make sure we didn’t accuse them of having sold their souls to the Devil, when the next tour came around and they were so spectacular that there might have been supernatural powers involved.
I tend to think that if Buck-Tick ever sold their souls to the Devil, they did it back when they were making Kurutta Taiyou, and that it’s a lot of rehearsal, moderation of drinking, and a good night’s sleep that wrought the wonders in their performance this time around. But, since I am a lovably fallible human being myself, I could be wrong.
For all the fans who lamented with the release of Tenshi no Revolver that they wished Buck-Tick would cut the baloney and return to their roots, Razzle Dazzle should be an exciting wish come true. Over all, Razzle Dazzle may be a fresh, surprising new sound for Buck-Tick, but at the same time, it contains many elements that were hallmarks of their music in the late 90’s yet all but vanished post-Mona Lisa Overdrive. I’m talking about the quirky, catchy synthesizers and programming that defined Buck-Tick’s music for a third of their career, and made them impossible to classify into any existing genre. No matter how fine their recent records are, to yours truly, at least, there has always been a little lonely place where all the blips, bleeps, and techno beats once were. With Razzle Dazzle, the electro is back with style, combined with a healthy dose of Seventh Heaven-era straight-faced retro humor. Just like Buck-Tick’s earliest work, Razzle Dazzle is full of musical jokes, and that deadpan musical mocking is just about the closest to Buck-Tick’s real roots as it might be possible for them to get, in this age of slick production technology and superior guitar skill. How could you be serious as a 19-year-old with your hair sticking up a foot in the air? How can you be serious now, as a 45-year-old with only half a set of diagonal bangs? It amounts to the same thing.
But return to the roots or no, the superficially light, glittering tone of Razzle Dazzle may have put off some fans longing for Buck-Tick’s signature darkness darker than darkness. How could any album with a misty pink cover yield a satisfyingly fanged, gothical, hip-thrusting, blood-sucking live tour? But if you worried about this, you are forgetting the most important thing: before anything else, Buck-Tick are a live band, and their live energy is propelled by the singular charisma and stage presence of Sakurai Atsushi. And he may be famous for having the capability to razzle-dazzle every woman he meets into a puddle of cream soda, but he is never, never pink and glittery. The power of his “so goth he shits bats” aura automatically dims the lights of any room he walks into, no matter how much retro pop rock and female backup vocals Imai pulls out of his basement. The result is the ultimate irony: Memento Mori may have been trashy death-themed rock-n-roll where Razzle Dazzle is smooth and shiny dance pop, but turn up the bass and add in all the Moulin Rouge and rotten speakeasy glamour hiding in the techno beats, and the Razzle Dazzle tour ends up being six shades darker. As you like it!
Last year’s tour kicked off in the bustling center of Kawaguchi, but this year Buck-Tick has moved a few stations over, to the Saitama City Cultural Center, located in the nowheresville of Minami-Urawa. An unbroken river of fans tottered in ten centimeter heels past the station bus terminal and down the narrow sidewalks, their black clothing melting into the darkness as the number of streetlights decreased and the shopping district immediately gave way to empty suburban streets, already deserted at the tender hour of 6:00PM. It wasn’t dark for long, however—soon, the fans were gasping and cheering as the growling hulk of the Razzle Dazzle Light Bus drove by at a crawl, with larger-than-life photos of the band members illuminated on one side and the album promo shot illuminated on the other. On the truck’s rump was a blowup of the album cover design. There was no music blasting into the night, but with so few cars on the roads, the driver of the truck could afford to be obliging as the fans chased after with their cameras and cell phones, calling out “wait, please wait!” when their stylish but pathetically impractical shoes prevented them from running fast enough to catch up. For a few minutes, the truck pulled over to the side of the road to “pose,” as the fans furiously snapped as many pictures as possible. Then it was on its way again, lighting the way, leading the parade onward to the venue.
As usual, the lobby was decorated with rows of Razzle Dazzle promo posters, bouquets of flowers from various music industry organizations, the requisite fan club application booth, and goods tables covered with all the tour goods that have been released so far, with the notable exception of the Gretsch Super Toll limited edition t-shirt (who needs Yoshiki and Stan Lee’s musical superhero when you have Super Toll?) Inside, the fans were given a window into Imai’s vision of the world of the album, as they listened to the pre-show set list that ranged from big band jazz to down-tempo industrial. And then the lights went down, and the show began.
The hall was plunged into pitch dark as Imai’s extended version of “Razzle Dazzle Fragile” burst out aggressively from the speakers, the frenetic motion of the music contrasting sharply with the scene that was slowly being drawn on the semitransparent scrim obscuring the stage. Line by line, the various grotesquely beautiful fairytale characters from Aquirax Uno’s album artwork began unfurling in ice-white laser projection on the blackness of the scrim, as if being drawn by invisible hands. As they expanded, they gave off curling plumes of white smoke like liquid nitrogen. The music raced ahead, but the drawings continued to appear slowly, character by character: here’s the exotic dancer, now here’s the cat lady in evening gloves, and now the unicorn princess. The slowness of the animation only added to the building tension. At last, as the band’s logo began burning onto the scrim, the band themselves came out one by one, to wild cheering from the fans. And the next minute, the bank of lights over the proscenium arch of the stage flashed bright white, and the curtain flew open.
“Action!” shouted Sakurai and Imai together, and the band ripped into “Razzle Dazzle.”
Initially, the stage appeared to be quite bare, with no ornamentations save the blue mosaic tile pattern on the front wall of the platform that supported Toll’s drums and Yutaka’s little wiggling butt. But as Sakurai’s voice vaulted up into the Broadway drama of the chorus, the light bank over the front arch of the stage came up flashing with an image of old-fashioned molding, like the proscenium of a classical theater. Broadway and electronics—clearly, the razzle dazzle was all here already. And if the band members seemed a little more focused on their instruments and reluctant to go gallivanting all over the stage right from the start, they made up for it by not making a single mistake.
After “Razzle Dazzle,” the band took the tone back down again. The lights lowered and they moved directly into “PIXY,” giving the audience the first inkling that this show might be heading in a dark direction. Heavy on the red and purple overhead spots, the lighting stayed very dim, with only one large white light illuminating Sakurai from below. It made him look just a little bit like a Puck or Pixy himself, as he cackled between phrases and spun a fey, magical atmosphere, playfully ominous and deeply sensual. He rubbed his thighs, throwing his head back with an expression of bliss, before crouching low over the light on the floor and grimacing at the audience, extending a goblin-like finger to damn his rival in love. The guitar delays and heavy drum beat reverberated through the whole hall, giving the song much more fullness of sound than it achieved on the album.
The stage stayed mostly dark as the band continued with “My Funny Valentine,” a little less meltingly romantic than it has been in some renditions, but still blending perfectly with the tracks from Razzle Dazzle. And if the show had started off a little dark and moody, it was all faster and hotter from here. If anyone was thinking that with the change of a few letters, “Django” would be “Goblin,” well, the band thinks like you—without a pause, they dove straight into “Goblin,” and the crowd went wild. Sakurai mimed the saxophone trills with his fingers, while Imai, warmed up by this point, started kicking and spinning.
With a little more light on the stage, the band members’ costumes became visible. This time, the band was presenting a far more unified look than on the Memento Mori tour, and they were keeping their costumes closely aligned with the themes of the album. Imai was razzling and dazzling in a pair of silver-spangled wide-legged white satin pants, sewn with the crotch down around the knees and balloons of fabric over the thighs. On top he sported a purple satin shirt with a ruffle down the front, surmounted by a gold-trimmed velvet jacket that eventually proved itself to be not black, but dark green. His ironed black hair fell over his shoulders and tossed as he played guitar, the jagged spikes of his angled bangs obscuring most of his face most of the time. Hoshino was playing up the Latin atmosphere with a long, fringed sweater in black and gold, paired with a large neck kerchief tied in a triangle over one shoulder, reminiscent of the “Miu” PV, and particularly flattered by his acoustic guitar. Higuchi has cut his hair surprisingly short, and wore a dark suit with spangled accents, while Toll, trendbreaker as usual, wore a smartly tailored khaki military uniform, with the sharp dandelion points of his hair exploding in all directions through the top of his fedora. Unsurprisingly, Sakurai was dressed in a version of his favorite black coat-vest-ruffles-shiny pants combination, this time with a Spanish twist—shiny, high-heeled boots flared out and folded over at the top, and a bright red rose embroidered on the back of his black vest. He also wore a pleated black kilt around his hips, which tried and failed to disguise the fact that his pants were too big for him yet again (he had to spend half the concert hiking them back up at regular intervals). Sakurai, too, has cut his hair shorter than it’s been since the Six/Nine tour, and wore it slicked back Peter Murphy style with industrial strength hairspray that refused to budge even after two hours of sweating and head-shaking.
But next up wasn’t head-shaking, so much as booty-shaking. For all that Imai claimed not to have enjoyed Lady Gaga, he’s certainly veering close to Gaga and Kylie Minogue territory with all the electro-pop glory of “Hamushi no You ni.” With this song, the whole hall might as well have been transformed into a giant dance club, yet the fans seemed confused, and mostly stood still and refused to get their groove on. I was hoping for disco balls, but it seems this is one of the songs the band will have to develop as the tour progresses. They played it straight, but didn’t take it further than the studio recording. All the members except for Sakurai, that is, who has recovered wonderfully from the vocal problems that plagued him on the last tour, and sang much more smoothly and beautifully than he did on the recording.
“Hamushi” was followed by “Bolero,” led by an enthusiastic Imai who urged the audience to join in on singing “da doo bee da doo bee da BEE da.” Behind the drum set, Toll was looking tired and low on energy, but it is a testament to his skills that he played perfectly anyway.
When the song finished, the stage went dark, and after a moment of silence, the hall was filled with a slow, bubbling electronic interlude, while flower-shaped lights shone down on the stage, changing from deep purple to sea green and then through silver, magenta, and blue, as the roadies brought out freshly tuned instruments and a metallic backdrop slowly came down behind the band members. The backdrop consisted of shiny silver beams, shaped to evoke the drapes of a curtain, and hung with rows of lightbulbs with mirrors dangling behind them, to reflect the lights outward. As the interlude music died out at last, the backdrop lit up with dazzling brightness and up came the infectious mambo beat of “Django!!!”
It’s a show-stopping number and they know it. Hide was fairly tearing the strings off his acoustic guitar as the backdrop lights changed colors along with the proscenium light bank. Imai’s expression never changed, but he kicked and spun enough to make it obvious he was having the time of his life. When the line, “he’s a trickster” came around, Sakurai put on an evil grin and pointed straight at Imai, snapping his fingers like castanets as the fans danced and counted 1-2-3.
After “Django!” came another break, the darkness filled this time with silver spots and eerie guitar noises. The glittering backdrop receded back into the ceiling, but was simultaneously replaced with a full-sized projection screen, just in time to welcome the videogame synth sounds of “Kyoki Deadheat.” And what kind of videogame is it? Just the kind that Sakurai likes, apparently. The lights were back down to their low level, leaving the band members except for Sakurai barely visible, and enabling the audience to concentrate on the 3D computer-animated video that rushed past on the screen behind: a school of shiny silver sperm, rushing down a twisting, cybernetic-looking red and black tunnel in a large cloud. The audience gave a collective gasp and giggle of surprised as the sperm first made their appearance, and Sakurai grinned at Hoshino, squealing “Usoo~” and sounding satisfyingly like an anime girl getting her skirt flipped. Though he had to flip his own skirt, as there was no one there to do it for him. The shots of sperm alternated with shots of clouds, and at last, as Sakurai sang “The goddess is smiling on you/In the crazy deadheat/You Win!” the sperm sailed out of the tunnel and gushed triumphantly into the clouds in a blaze of light. Maybe it’s not quite as good as the buxom Mona Lisa Overdrive mic stand lady, but it’s pretty far up there. Count on Buck-Tick to think of something new every time.
The show was getting hot and heavy now, and next up came “Sakuran Baby,” like an instant flashback to the One Life, One Death era with the heavy, driving bass filling the whole hall and vibrating deliciously in the floor. Higuchi shook his hips back and forth, grinning madly at being able to produce such a huge, intense sound as electronic glissandos poured from the speakers on all sides like meteorites falling from the ceiling. On recording, this song was catchy, but live, it’s stupendous, with the rumble of the bass paired with Sakurai’s perfect voice on the melodic chorus making it one part pop, one part hard club industrial.
Did I say industrial? For sure, Razzle Dazzle has the electronic funk and humorous weirdness that was also a pervading theme on Cosmos, but no one in the whole hall expected what came next. The stage went pitch black, and on the projection screen up came a low-resolution graphic of the folds of brain tissue, followed by a gray version of the Matrix—pixelated gray letters in Courier font, changing and shifting in tight-packed vertical rows all up and down the screen, spreading out over the proscenium light bank as Toll hit the drums and electronic bouncing and buzzing noises ricocheted around the hall, magnified to grandiose proportions by the huge space. The letters on the screen flashed and then up came more letters, giant and red this time, spelling out “SANE,” right over the drum set. The audience roared.
The stage stayed in near darkness as the song began, and Sakurai picked up a large red plastic megaphone wrapped in black tape. As he chanted the lyrics, the megaphone distorted his voice, and the blinking cursor on the projection screen spelled out the words of the lyrics in type, sometimes erasing them to type a new line, other times scrolling down to add more, and from time to time the words short-circuited, flashing and shooting back and forth across the screen at light speed, multiplying into infinity before resolving back into the blinking cursor again, then exploding into the Matrix once more for the chorus. The lights stayed down the whole time and Sakurai stood still, foot on the monitor, cackling into the megaphone while Imai spun through the darkness. Live, the song held much more menace and aggression than the recorded version. It buzzed in the floor, blasting with an artillery of sound, then pulling back again, strobing, pulsing, drawing the audience into its disturbing, world of madness.
When “SANE” was done, rather than breaking the delicious dark spell that had been cast, the band kept it going with “Uta,” blinding white lights flashing until everyone was dizzy. After “Uta,” Sakurai addressed the audience.
“We have a few more songs for you all to enjoy before it’s over,” he said. “I want you all to have as much fun as possible, all the way up to the second balcony!”
He held out the microphone, and the people in the second balcony screamed, sounding very high up and far away to everyone down on the ground floor.
“First balcony!” More screams, closer this time.
“Orchestra!” And the ground floor screamed, clapping, cheering, and shrieking the names of the band members.
“Now we’re going to play a song from about twenty years ago,” Sakurai said. “Imai rearranged it and now…it’s quite different. See if you recognize it!”
The lights went down again, and the projection screen came up with bubbles of eerie silver and green. Lights came up behind the rhythm section platform as Toll pounded out a hard, driving rhythm and Higuchi plucked at the strings of his much-admired standup wooden bass. The heavy rhythm grounded a wailing forest of dirgelike guitar chords in the harmonic minor. There was something distinctly cabaret-style about this arrangement, like Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam,” infused with a heavy dose of gothic rock. But what song was it? And then Sakurai started singing “Still smiling like I’m freezing…”
Victims of Love!
If Sakurai had had skull-baby with him, she would have fit right in. This is the third time Imai has rearranged “Victims of Love,” and this version is by far the darkest and most full of despair. The graphics on the projection screen reflected the mood appropriately, displaying blurry images of the hands and face of a drowned woman, shining green with corpse-light like the faces in the Dead Marshes in Lord of the Rings. The stage was equally as dark and green, with the band members staying solemnly still, Sakurai crooning into the microphone as though in pain, reaching under the pleated kilt to stroke himself and shiver with an act of repressed, intense erotic feeling. It was just as persuasive as the shamelessly provocative “Climax Together” version, but much creepier.
“That was ‘Victims of Love,’” Sakurai said when the song had finished. He gave a long pause. “For anyone who couldn’t tell.” The audience laughed and cheered.
It was nearing the end of the main set, and it was time to turn the heat back up. Now the lights were coming up, and Sakurai crossed the stage over to where Imai was standing, putting his arms up behind Imai and cackling until Higuchi rolled into the heavy, retro bassline of “Tango Swanka.” Imai pulled out his Sid Vicious beach attitude for his first lead vocals of the evening, his rough spoken-word sections contrasting sharply with Sakurai’s velvet smooth melody. By the time the chorus came around, everyone was dancing and singing along with Imai, who spun around a few times, then came all the way down the left hanamichi. He shuffled back and forth in front of the crowd of women who had rushed up to the edge of the stage to greet him, tossing his hair and making an elaborate show of pretending they weren’t there, while playing a red-hot guitar solo. Sakurai, perhaps feeling a bit ignored, shouted “KISS ME” at the top of his lungs, then teased the fans in the front row.
“Don’t touch me!” he sang, darting up to the edge of the stage, reaching out his arm, then pulling it away as soon as they grabbed him.
After “Swanka” came “Mugen,” as big and cheesy and feel-good as Hide promised, and then the band finished up the set with “Dokudanjou Beauty.”
Okay, I asked for disco balls. And we may not have gotten any on “Hamushi,” but on “Dokudanjou,” they gave them to us, and how. One disco ball of galactic proportions rose out of the floor on the back platform and started twirling, while three more descended from the ceiling. The projection screen in the back came up with an image of scores more disco balls flashing rainbow lights across the screen, as the stage swirled in a dizzy cloud of lights from the real live disco balls, which were all turning in opposite directions. They razzled and dazzled, tangoed and djangoed to a fever pitch as the band played a wonderful rendition of the single mix of “Dokudanjou,” mercifully free of preposterous guitar solos and unnecessary guest vocals. Then, with a few nods and smiles, they were off, and the house was dark again, and unusually, the scrim was back in front of the stage.
It took the venue staff two tries to get the scrim on right—on the first try, they discovered that it was still tied together at the bottom, and had to haul it back offstage and untie it, before closing it for real. After a short break, the lights went up on the stage, and the band members came back out, but the scrim stayed closed. Blurred projections of cherry blossom petals and ocean waves came up on the proscenium light bank and spread onto the scrim, where they warped and danced and resolved into a giant full moon as Hoshino struck the first mournful sounds of “Yougetsu” on his guitar. Sadly, unlike “Dokudanjou Beauty,” the band had decided to play the album arrangement of “Yougetsu” rather than the far superior single version, but live, it hardly mattered. The floor spots were back, and traded off illuminating Sakurai, Imai, and Hoshino as the song focused on their various parts in turn. Sakurai was in his element, commanding every inch of the dark, surreally obscured stage. Once again, he crouched dramatically over the floor spots, calling to mind his brilliant performances of “Gesshoku” on the 13th Floor with Moonshine Tour, and “Shingetsu” at his own solo live at NHK Hall in 2004. The projected moon image sank lower and lower until it filled the whole scrim, whereupon it turned from pearly white to deep blood red, bathing the band members in a crimson glow that remained as the song ended and the scrim was drawn aside to reveal an octagonal lighting apparatus that slowly descended from the ceiling to hang in the air above Sakurai’s head like a gigantic cursed halo.
The other band members waited in the gloom while Sakurai stood majestically in the center of the circle of red light, and the repeated music-box tone of a high A began to drop from the upper speakers like little drops of blood.
If any song in the whole show required the live performance to bring out its full potential, it was “Kuchizuke.” Fans seem to have been quite divided on their opinion of this song, which also served as the opening theme to the anime series Shiki. But if the studio recording of this song was the tiniest bit lacking in gravitas, the live performance made up this lack tenfold. All the whimsy of stylized anime character designs, homely girls dancing on tables and inexplicable burning wheelchairs was gone in an instant, replaced with a thunderous, threatening aria of darkness. The bass resounded through the floor and walls and the guitars scraped through the shadows outside the circle of red light, which remained focused on Sakurai the entire time. It lit up the whites of his eyes as he leered at the audience, singing “I’m going mad in a vicious thirst.” He proves his authenticity by continuing to look convincingly creepy and dangerous in this sadly emasculated age when vegetarian vampire schoolboys dwell on every corner.
As “Kuchizuke” finished, the audience was silent for a breathless moment, before the loud, metallic beat of “Iconoclasm” roused them into dancing action—more joy for anyone who missed Mona Lisa Overdrive, because the band is back to a hard, industrial arrangement full of pulsing strobe lights and Imai making lewd, V-shaped gestures at the audience with his fingers and tongue on “2 for the X.”
The band went offstage again after “Iconoclasm,” to return a few short minutes later, without having changed costumes at all. After a few guitar screeches from Imai, they went straight into “Speed,” the only choice in the set list that might be considered a pointless crowd-pleaser, but at least it wasn’t “Aku no Hana.” It did give Hoshino an excuse to come halfway down the left hanamichi, grin awkwardly at the audience, then flee in terror as a group of girls rushed up under the glaring eyes of the security guards, reaching toward him and squealing.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you’ve been enjoying the show,” Sakurai said as the song finished. “Before we play our last two songs, I’d like to do some band member introductions…” His statement lacked conviction, and a few of the audience members laughed.
“There might be people in the audience who are seeing Buck-Tick for the first time, so…I’ll introduce the band members…on guitar, Imai Hisashi!” Cheers, and Imai struck a single, jarring chord on his guitar.
“On drums, Yagami Toll!”
The lights came up on Toll, and he stuck his tongue out and winked at the audience before starting one of his amusing drum solos—little tinkling drum rolls on the snare, then the cymbals, then a few big crashes, then the plunk of a cowbell. Assuming Toll had finished, Sakurai turned towards Higuchi and opened his mouth to speak again, but Toll drowned him out with a loud crash cymbal, then a few little taps on the bell of the ride. The audience laughed.
“Bass, Higuch—” Sakurai began again, but Toll cut him off again, and Sakurai turned around to look at the drum platform, giving Toll a look that said, “are you done yet?” Toll nodded contritely and Sakurai turned away, then crash crash crash went Toll’s drums. The audience was roaring with laughter now, and so was Sakurai, who tried again to introduce Higuchi but was now unable to speak, he was laughing so hard, so Toll just continued with the drum solo, Higuchi shaking his hips, waving and smiling until Sakurai recovered himself enough to introduce Higuchi, Hoshino, and himself, which he did in his usual embarrassed manner, mumbling “I’m…vocal…Sakurai.”
Then he took a deep breath, and the band started into their all-new fangirl favorite, “Gekka Reijin.” They played it through straight, without embellishment, but the song is more than strong enough to stand on its own and speak for itself.
Naturally, the last song of the evening was “Solaris.” Lyric-wise, this song is thematically related to “Kimi ga Shin…dara,” one of the great ballads of Buck-Tick’s experimental electronic golden age. The graphics on the projection reflected this accordingly, bringing up images of psychedelic butterflies followed by deep ocean blues and Nautilus shells, like a vision of prehistory, or perhaps, the otherworldly ocean the song’s title makes reference to. A little emptier and more solemn than “Heaven,” there’s a beautiful sort of hope in the freedom of loss that this song expresses. It may be Buck-Tick’s first real song, not just about death and the brevity of life, but also about growing older. There couldn’t be a more appropriate ending song, because this song is about endings.
This show, however, was about the beginning of the tour, and far from making the audience lonely, the end of this concert just built up the anticipation for the start of the next one. Another show exactly like this one would be more than enough for any fan, but in the coming weeks, the performance is bound to grow and evolve. And on his blog, Imai promises many new developments to come, so stay tuned!
SE - Razzle Dazzle Fragile
01. Razzle Dazzle
03. My Funny Valentine
05. Hamushi no You Ni
08. Kyouki Deadheat
09. Sakuran Baby
12. Victims of Love
13. Tango Swanka
15. Dokudanjou Beauty
20. Gekka Reijin