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Metal/Prog Metal Concert Reviews

D'espairs Ray

Live in Los Angeles, CA, September, 2007

Review by Rick Damigella

Music was the universal language one recent summer night in Los Angeles when the JRock revolution tour rolled into Los Angeles for two nights at the Wiltern Theater. Over the course of two nights, nine bands from Japan rocked the venerable stage of the Wiltern with sounds that were altogether unique yet strangely familiar all at once. With sounds ranging from very Japanese styled melodic rock to face-melting hardcore metal, the concerts were a fantastic show case for bands you would likely never have heard of before.

The two nights of shows began with quite a show outside the theater. A day before the first show, the line started outside the theater for the standing room only floor section. When I say line, I mean a line. Not a couple hard core fans waiting. This being Los Angeles where no one waits in line for concerts like this a day before the doors open, imagine the locals’ reactions when a line started outside the theater featuring exotically dressed Asian music fans with all manner of Japanese pop-culture haircuts and outfits. Indeed, the show before the show was nearly as good as the line ended up stretching for a couple blocks around the corner from the theater. It was like Sunday morning in Harajuku, seeing die-hard fans and cos-players dressed in their best anime inspired finery.

I attended night two of the show where four bands completely blew me away with their sounds, passion and energy. The first bands I caught were Alice Nine and Merry, both very melodic sounding bands that leaned into an almost pop-rock mode. Next up was Mucc, also quite melodic but very heavy. This band is a guitar fan’s dream, with lots of leads that many modern American bands seem afraid of or incapable of performing these days. Their sound featured classic Japanese pop arrangements. This is a very hard thing to describe properly if you are not familiar with the sensibilities of Japanese popular music. While I am a long time fan of Loudness and Shonen Knife, I can not claim to be an expert, but the style tends to feature catchy, hook laden riffs that are repeated often during songs and get stuck in your head in a good way. There is a ton of passion in the way Japanese rock bands play and that is shared by the reactions from their audiences. Mucc really knew how to get the crowd going with their unique variety of metal.

The hard core metal groove of Girugamesh was something to behold, with power laden songs and a grinding metallic sound that likely left anyone not wearing ear pro with tinnitus for the next several days. The headliner of the night was D’espairsRay. While their album is fantastic, their live show was positively incredible. They are not easily classifiable in terms of style as they include a mixture of alt metal, power metal and very progressive playing and song structures. Their already heavy songs on disc were made into even better versions live. The bombastic style with which they played had a mini-mosh pit erupt off to the side from where I was watching the stage.

The fans at times seemed to scream louder than the bands were playing. Most everyone in the audience were fans as they knew all the lyrics from each of the bands. It was also obvious when a hit was played as the crowd would go crazier than most live audiences you normally see these days. Frankly, it was hard to decide what was more entertaining to watch. The bands in their cyber-punk inspired costumes or the fans who would jump up and down, bang their heads or scratch at the air in front of them (I nicknamed this the kitty cat dance) to every song played with unrelenting enthusiasm. I also observed what I can only describe as “throwing the heart.” Instead of the traditional index and pinky extended salute universal to metal shows, many fans would press both hands together, making the shape of a heart with their fingers and thumbs and hold this up to the bands as they played. Despite the cultural differences, when it came right down to it, each band that took the stage knew how to rock hard and give a good performance, which is really what you want from a concert.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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