D’espairsRay Live in NYC: Human-clad Monsters

Acey Slade and The Dark Party took their bow, in a manner of speaking, and with a word to prep us for the madness to come, left the stage. A slight hum returned to the crowd as everyone lingered in that strange twilight zone of neither relaxing and just chilling, nor spazzing out totally (aka shrieking their heads off every time a sound guy appeared on stage. This audience, unlike others I have experienced, actually seemed to be able to recognize the band members themselves…well, that is, aside from when Tsukasa came out to check his drum set and everyone was murmuring “is that Tsukasa? I don’t know…what do you think? Is it?” Just for the record, yes, it was.). The crew bopped on and off stage, taping down set-lists, testing mics, drums, etc. At this point the adorable girl standing directly behind me leaned over my shoulder and said, “I’m trying not to let the people behind me crush you, but when D’espairsRay comes out, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do anything. I might fall on you.” A pretty apt foresight of the show, really.

I’m not sure how long exactly we waited between acts, but it wasn’t terrible. Considering everything we, and especially the band, had done to arrive at this point in time, this place, in this city, time was absolutely irrelevant (another way of putting it would be that I didn’t check my watch). That is, it was until the lights flickered, dimmed out, and the shadowy AA-Pass-wearing ninja faded from the stage, and a group of figures–or rather, a cloud of pulsating charisma– emerged from the back. And damn, it was about to get funky in there. As soon as the members appeared, it was like the entire audience, which had merely hovered during the opening act, became instantly vacuum-packed. The entire crowd surged in toward the stage, and suddenly there was totally no space to move, barely enough to breathe. Everyone was magnetically pulled as close to that rough wooden stage as possible, drawn by the gravitational pull of D’espairsRay.

They sauntered out, suited up, Tsukasa settling at his kit at the back, Karyu moving off to the right, and Zero Monster assuming the bassist’s place about 15″ from where I was standing. The audience flipped out. Did HIZUMI say something then? I can’t remember. Whatever slurred Engrish welcome he may have given us was lost in a roar of general insanity from the audience.

And then the drums rolled, Karyu started shredding, and Zero’s fingers began flying. With HIZUMI howling hoarsely into his mic, DEATH POINT opened the show.  Although the song is fresh off the press, the crowd was extremely receptive, with everyone chanting along to des poin des poin des poin…by the end of the first song were our throats already totally dry and hoarse? Why yes, how did you know. The only let down to the opening masterpiece was that there were no mics kicked over, and no water sprayed. Karyu did not suddenly grow claws and start transforming into some kind of horrific Pokemon about to jump into the mosh-pit and devour an innocent fangirl. He had cool contact lenses, though.

DEATH POINT was followed by a flood of thrashing epicness. The energy of the band, the excellent set-list, the hectic drive of the crowd, HIZUMI’s MCs (I almost wish he had just spoken Japanese, then I may have understood him) all fused together into one nuke of an experience. In a way, it almost became difficult to separate where one aspect of the show ended and another began. Being that close was incredibly intense; it was like the venue condensed into one circular pulse of…well, insanity. Although fan-service and activity was generally mild, and the band’s behavior was relatively reserved (surprisingly, I thought), they had this incredible, perceivable, dark aura that showered down over us.

The first ¼ or so of the performance, the crowd was pretty mild. Some crazy headbanging was carrying on, but the moshing wasn’t horrible. About halfway in, though, as songs like Devil’s Parade, Garnet, Dope and Sixty + Nine started cycling through, it became quite rowdy. The second row seemed like a tough place to be, as it felt, physically, like the entire audience was trying to close the distance between the third row and the stage. I was crushed between everyone around me so tightly, I probably could have completely lifted my feet off the ground and been totally supported. Doing my best to keep the danger of a broken nose at bay, however, I didn’t give that a try. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a mosh-pit like that, and although the adrenaline rush was intense, it was wicked fun.

By ¾ into the performance, the claustrophobia and heat started to take its toll on me. My arms ached from the furi, my ears were throbbing from being directly under the left speaker, my neck hurt, and I would have killed for a bottle of water. But instead of the velocity abating at all, it steadily increased. Now that D’espa had warmed up a bit, they started pulling out the really heavy stuff, the classics. HIZUMI was screaming – everyone was screaming. A crowd at a show like this is like a force of nature; a body of water. It has ebbs and flows that are dictated by the music and the energy of the band in the same way the tide is orchestrated by the gravitational pull of the moon. The instant you start to resist that flow, you get sucked under and you drown. The best thing you can do is just relax as much as possible and match that flow, go with it, and know that at the end of every Jrock live, there is water. I somehow remained psychologically sound enough to remember this.

Alright, I can’t put it off any longer. Here’s the tally: Touched HIZUMI once during the actual performance. He mostly stayed toward the middle of the stage, and only moved over, at least to our side, once or twice. Karyu mostly stayed off to the right, as well, although he did wander over two or three times to dangle his ratty blond locks into wriggling droves of grasping fingers. Touched him twice. Also got to touch both his and HIZUMI’s hands when they were…at risk of sounding strangely awkward, touching hands before leaving the stage. ZERO was so close the entire show, and spent half the time standing right at the very edge of the stage, looking down on us with this sultry smile, I got to touch him so many times, had it been off-stage, it would probably have been considered unseemly groping and I would have been lynched by a 250 pound Russian bodyguard. Just telling it like it is. Dedicated a handful of ZERO to @kimber_leigh.

Set-lists never catalog themselves properly into my brain. However, along with the aforementioned songs, they played, among others, Human-clad Monsters, 13-Thirteen-, Mirror, Falling (not positive about this, though). Not too surprisingly, LOVE IS DEAD was easily one of the most memorable songs of the night. The instant the disco track started up, the entire audience began moving. HIZUMI’s hoarse Shall we dance hissed over the audience, and some rambunctious movement broke into intense moshing and dancing. The energy was terrific,  from the audience as well as the band.

Just as I anticipated, Abyss closed the show. The minute I heard it on the album I figured it would. The sense of melancholy mixed with triumph that floods those chord-progressions and choruses were too perfectly suited to the emotional rise and fall of a show’s climax and close.

At the end of the show, Zero (designated fan-servicer) opened a couple of bottles of water and spat most of it on us. After getting two healthy facefuls of Zero’s spit, I felt satisfactorily baptised.

After we stood there for a few minutes, ears ringing, drenched in sweat, Zero’s spit, and the tingling energetic residue of a mind-blowingly rockin’ show, we realized, with some resignation mingled with relief, that the band wouldn’t be coming out for a second encore. The lights went on (kind of), and the crowd began shifting toward the back of the venue where the merch stand was. As we moved away from the stage, a whitie venue staffer came on the speakers and announced that we weren’t to go far, as the band would be coming out to sign posters. I stopped by the merch stand for a poster, hoodie, postcard set, and the Askew magazine special live-tour edition and a few packs of buttons. They also had about three designs of t-shirt, a folding fan, and live-limited guitar picks signed by Zero and Karyu. I think that was everything. The merch stand was hustlin’, but both people who gave me my stuff were friendly.

After we got the goods, everyone was instructed to organize into lines to get to the table where the signing would happen. If there are two words that fall on deaf ears in a Jrock live show venue, they are organize and line. Needless to say, everyone sort of organized into a great blob full of random people without posters (I don’t even want to know what they asked to have signed), half of whom seemed to weirdly disappear after a few minutes. The band came out, flanked by security and some venue staff, and took their place at the long table near the entrance. Despite the lack of order in the club, people filtered through quickly (a thoughtful staff member instructed, via loudspeakers, that no one was to tell them their life-story, and it seemed like people obeyed). In a way, it almost went way too fast. When it was my turn, faced by this row of quiet, suddenly very-Japanese-seeming guys who had just completely demolished us musically, those careful sentences I figured I should have said went right out of my head. Each member was patient, and seemed a little shy. They signed my poster, shook my hand, and thanked me for coming (in English). I managed to say something to each of them in Japanese without completely mangling their language, as far as I could tell, and then some Japanese woman rolled up my poster and it was over.

As Kaxxina put it right after the show, “That was violent in so many ways.”

D’espairsRay Live in NYC: Opening Act

D’espairsRay Live in NYC Part 1: Opening Act – Acey Slade and The Dark Party…or

How White People Can Be Cool Too.

Living in one of those places from which you truly “cannot get there from here”, any sojourn out of the shire and into the big, wide, real world inevitably turns into quite an adventure. When I initially purchased tickets to see D’espairsRay live in NYC, I had little to no idea how I was going to make it happen, but reassured myself by saying ‘It’s going to be easier than getting to London for a.b.s.’. Although it took a lot of planning, a 5 hour car trip, a 3 hour train ride, walking until I wanted my feet amputated and a hearty dose of Hydrocodone, it proved to me two things: 1: it was, in fact, much easier than sailing off overseas into some Jrockian sunset; and 2: you never realize how worth it it all is until you get there.

I arrived at the venue around 4PM Thursday afternoon to find a moderate, although not unruly, queue already assembled outside Webster Hall. The movie-theater neighboring the venue had posted signs in the windows asking, in a courteous tone, that all Webster Hall patrons resist the urge to block the theater doors, as it posed a fire (and economic) hazard. They were expecting us. Or, then again, maybe they put them up when they saw people camping out on Wednesday night. I wandered the length of the line taking a few pictures and chatting with some fans until around 4:30, when I met up with Kaxxina and Jesus.

The bleak, rainy evening and a large poster for an entirely unnecessary and superfluous new Julia Roberts movie made for sub-tedious queuing, and I must say, the side street on which Webster Hall is located was vastly less entertaining than the life-or-death intersection at which we waited for MIYAVI in Boston. That being said, it was cool getting to meet some people outside of the blogsphere, and it was an unusual experience discussing Death Point and Love Is Dead actually using the spoken word. I’m glad I was able to connect with those guys, and it certainly made standing in line bearable having some people to chill with.

The venue started letting us in around 8:00, as promised. The Studio at Webster Hall feels somewhat like a slightly industrial living room. The stage is diminutive, literally screaming first come first serve at you as you walk in the door. We got an awesome spot, second row on the extreme left, right in front of the bassist’s place.

Acey Slade

After some 40 or so minutes of standing there sensing the floor filling up behind us, listening to (speaking of superfluous and unnecessary) Tool background noise, the energy in the club shifted, and several people emerged on stage. A very bassist-y type assumed his expected spot right in front of us, and a guitarist with one of those bleached blond sub-mullet/mohawk hairstyles took his place. These two rockerish types were followed shortly by the rockerishly named Acey Slade (and a drummer. I swear drummers practice an ancient form of Ninjutsu. You don’t even see them coming, they just are suddenly there).

First of all, I was surprised to approve of Slade’s getup. Snakeskin-print torn pants and matching jacket are a foolproof fashion choice, and his makeup and hair were passably cool – Visual Kei, even. I had no idea that whities could look cool.

His act kicked off moderately well- I was struck by a slur of high-pitched English lyrics my Japanese-programmed mind processed as some foreign language and that Alice Cooper-ish creepiness that rings of riding crops, leather, and drollness. The jacket came off, the microphone went dead, and the blonds standing in the front row seemed afraid Acey Slade was carrying some horrible disease, and gave each other worried looks every time his personage was extended over the front row. Although the vocals strike me as somewhat of an acquired taste, I was impressed by the instrumentation and song composition. The music had a good, thrashable feel to it and the band had quite a decent stage presence. Their performance had tons of energy which improved as the setlist wore on, going from a faintly lukewarm opening to a rockin’ mid-point and steady climax.

Acey Slade himself had an awesome stage presence. His classicist jumping, prancing, and fan service was all well done, decently moderated, and carried out with panache. However, aside from the gaggle of fangirls standing directly to my left who were shrieking and headbanging without discernment, the rest of the crowd only responded passably to the music. Slade was a good sport about it, though, making comments about how “it obviously has nothing to do with me. The venue sold out before I was even announced…”, and did a good job at setting up for D’espairsRay, calling out several times, “Are you ready for D’espairsRay!?”

As far as I’m concerned, live music is live music, and being able to see a band perform live is a privilege, whether you signed up for it consciously or not. If there’s a band on stage in front of you, whether it’s your favorite band or one you have never heard before, it’s pretty awesome either way. Acey Slade and The Dark Party had some great energy, and I respect them for being able to warm up a crowd obviously not interested in any secondary, English-spouting bands. I enjoyed their show, and were it convenient to do so, I have to say I probably wouldn’t be unwilling to see them perform again.

Check out Acey Slade and The Dark Party at their official MySpace page . I congratulate him on being the first non-Japanese artist to appear on SG.

Photos: Grand Street by gacktpause, Acey Slade taken from randomcandle.co.uk and flickr

At the Heart of Brock’s Jelly Donut

I was just on Purple Sky reading their interview with D’espairsRay, anticipating the release of their latest album MONSTERS, and preceding the onset of their world-tour which kicks off this month with dates across the US. Reading through the questions, I admit, although the band members were quite entertaining (e.g. when asked which Monster he would be, HIZUMI answers “Pokemon”. Vuvuzelamon? Or is that Reggae? Visual kei has too many random cross-references in it now, I don’t even know who I am anymore.), the more I read, the more I found myself getting riled up. Had I not known  that this interview was only sitting in my feed for a week, the questions posed to the Monsters would have led me to believe this was posted sometime in 2004.

I realize this sounds harsh, but taking that risk, I’ll say it. Are all Japanofiles neanderthals?

I’ve been following the Japanfandom thing for 5 years now, and seeing as Alzheimers hasn’t totally set in yet, I recall quite clearly the discussions and FAQs of the era. Unless of course journalists are simply given a sheet of preset questions that are never updated, I want to know why exactly they still insist on asking the droll, pointless, unenlightening questions of our generation’s troubled, AMV-watching youth? I was under the impression that we were advancing in the world. That the Japanese music scene in the West was beginning to liberate itself from the clinging, snotty tentacles of the emerging, adolescent internet and bloom into a better blogsphere. That we have actually been evolving over the past five to ten years. Apparently, as it was made clear to me this evening, this is far from the truth. At least in some respect, all Japanofiles are inherently neolithic, and while a few of us may have advanced to the Bronze Age, more or less we’re still wallowing in a dark, cave-like existence devoid of fire or arrowheads.

In response to this mind-blowing interview, I would like to pull those questions that particularly offended the intelligent Japanofile in me, and address them, hopefully, for the benefit of Ogg and Zug, my brethren:

1. Illegal downloads: The illegal download phenomenon exploded on the Internet many, many years ago. I remember Limewire from way back when Yoshiki was still a Japanese man (okay, well, that’s kind of a hard line to draw, but hey), and billions of websites and programs have since enabled such notorious activities. People download illegally off the internet– all it takes is one Google search and you have new albums for free. Entire websites and blogs have emerged devoted specifically to “promoting” their favorite bands by having one person acquire the album, and then upload it for the masses to leech off of.  This is not breaking news. We are no longer excited about this topic.

Musicians create music because it is their calling, passion, talent, or simply what they want to do as their job. Be that as it may, they do actually do this for their job– a job being, that is, a means of acquiring the papery stuffs we use in daily business in order to survive: in layman’s terms, money. When a band releases an album, DVD, or otherwise product, they do put it on the market for sale. That is to say, to be purchased using money. Obviously if they wanted people to download it for free, they would upload it onto the internet as free downloads. Asking bands what “they think about illegal downloads” is absolutely pointless. Unless one is fishing for that one band to say “Oh yeah, we just love it when everyone refuses to support our livelihood and just downloads for free everything we release.”, there is no longer any answer that can result from this question that can possibly shine a light. You have limited time to ask the band questions: for all our sakes, use it well.

2. People download illegally because Japanese CDs are “expensive”:

The Japanese music industry works slightly differently than the Western one. For example, in the West it’s not that common to release singles every other day. Most artists release albums frequently instead. In Japan, however, bands release full-length albums much less often, but tend to release singles several times throughout the year. A Japanese single typically costs around $10.00 – $12.00, and you get anywhere from 1 to 4 songs. Full-length albums typically cost around $30 – $35, with some as low as $25 and others as high as $40. Assuming it’s being shipped, that adds anywhere from $5 onwards in shipping fees, depending on who you buy from, method of shipment, and how much you order.

The misconception is that because it’s going to cost $45 to order an album from Japan, it’s okay to steal it by downloading online. Because a pair of denim from a chain store costs roughly $60, does that mean everybody shoplifts? No, I don’t think so. And yet does everyone wear denim?

“Expensive” is basically not an excuse. CDs, like everything, cost money, even if they come from Japan. If you have no money, get a job.

3. Japanese CDs are unavailable for Westerners to buy:

If you live in a rural part of the United States, let’s say like Wisconsin, where there are no strip-malls, no FYEs, no chain stores, no Hot Topic, and you have no access to the internet or a computer of any kind, then yes, Japanese CDs are totally unavailable for you to buy. Also, if you live in one of these places, you probably are out digging potatoes and not listening to Japanese rock music and Visual Kei on your 16G iPod with Skullcandy headphones.

Many popular Jrock bands are available on the most simplistic platforms such as iTunes and other online MP3 stores. Anything you can’t find there is readily available through a multitude of respectable English or multilingual websites dedicated to making Japanese music accessible and available to non-Japanese.

Get out from under your rock.

4.Westerners have no means of sampling/hearing the music:

MySpace, Facebook, iTunes, Amazon MP3, official websites, this amazing invention we all should have heard of by now: YouTube.

Get out from under your rock.

5.”Its either people don’t hear your music, or they download it illegally.”

I suggest moving from Wisconsin. That is all you can do.

In the beginning of time, these were once relevant, interesting topics, the answers to which many young Padawans were eagerly seeking. They were, yes, interesting topics back in a time when we all thought onigiri were donuts because Brock and Misty thought we couldn’t handle the truth. Now, however, we know what lies at the heart of the rice-ball, just as we now know that there are a lot of people out there who download music illegally. However, unlike being asked and consulted about the existence of illegal downloads, we are no longer constantly told “those are not jelly donuts. They are sweet rice packed around a shriveled plum with a little seaweed slapped on them.” And over and over again we do not go “oooh…is that what that is.”

The reason for this, is that a cultural awareness has developed in the West for things Japanese. We have learned about the existence of rice on earth, and even that it is shaped into triangular luncheon friends. As a media-driven, entertainment-industry society, we have evolved since the days when we were watching Pokemon on VHS. Although I never had problems inputting search queries into Google and clicking through results, I do recall that time when it seemed as though everything was truly on the other side of the world.

As of the year 2010, though, I really believed that our cultural consciousness around Japanese rock and Visual Kei had, like our awareness of onigiri, evolved and developed. CDs, merchandise, product, and even live shows are at least moderately available.

In response to the above mentioned questions, all I can say is, are all Japanofiles still completely paleolithic? Am I the only fan of Japanese rock music who has whole CD racks full of Japanese CDs that were neither unavailable, extortionately priced, or downloaded illegally? No. I am not. So why are we still asking these questions.

No disrespect to the folks at Purple Sky.

D’espairsRay Adds 2nd NYC Show

Note: this show was canceled.

Wow, this whole D’espairsRay world tour thing has really had us all on tenterhooks since they first started hinting at the possibility. It’s amazing to think back to all the anxiety and excitement there was leading up to the official announcement/confirmation. All that wondering if it was really going to happen, and whether or not they would come to a City Near You.

It hasn’t been a wicked easy ride, either. They had to scrounge a bit to get their visas in order, but fortunately some awesome fans from all around the world chipped in to get them all the materials they needed in order to get the big brother’s OK to enter our domain and rock our souls with their gnarly rhythms.

Then, last week they (very) unfortunately canceled the three southern shows, Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas. This jumped the sold-out NYC show at Webster Hall to the finale spot…Until, that is, this morning, when I checked my email only to find…some random spam note from somebody I don’t know. And then I saw the subject, and had to stop for a moment. Oh, I guess D’espairsRay isn’t classifiable as spam.

Due to the swift selling-out of the tickets, and the uproar caused by under 19’s about the 19+ show on the 12th, a 2nd NYC show has been added for Friday, August 13th, at the same venue. Woah. I just realized that’s Friday the Thirteenth…That really jammed my thought-process.

Moving on. Not only that, but the show will be All-Ages. This means they will be satisfying everyone. The youngsters, hardcore fans, and those who missed out on tickets for the first show will all get what they want. And don’t worry, guys, our 19+ show will still be elite.

Tickets are on sale via Ticketweb as of 10 AM today, July 27th. $18 in advance, general-admission, all-ages. Doors are at 6PM and show starts at 7PM, which leaves enough time for the kids to make it home before curfew…and hopefully leaves enough time for me to catch the last train from GCS. Although I’m already going to the August 12th show, I just ordered another set of tickets for the 13th as well. This will be my first time ever attending the same show two nights consecutively… As long as something bad doesn’t happen to me on Friday, it should be killer.

Monsters Not So “Human-clad” After All?

Is it just me, or does Karyu give anyone else the creeps? It’s just sort of a casual habit, but I like listening to music while I blog. Lately I’ve been listening to this (yes, this is a teaser) metal song where an intro leads into the sound of sirens. Well, as I was looking at this image, my eyes went steadily from Zero (who finally doesn’t look like a pedophile anymore, thank goodness), to Tsukasa, to Hizumi (nice, uh, trumpet you got there), and then right as they locked on Karyu, the sirens started up in the song–I don’t know if it was just my imagination or not, but the siren seemed to actually wail the words Karyu wants to eat you. I got so creeped out I had to change the song to U+K.

That is to say, D’espairsRay has created an official page where you can check all of the dates and the statuses of each concert in their world tour. Thank you for this, D’espairsRay! It’s incredibly aggravating having to go to each venue directly to check the status. So although they just gave me nightmares for the rest of the week, at least they made my daily life much easier.

World Tour 2010 Human-clad Monsters Official Page

D’espairs Asks– Fans, Respond!

In anticipation of their up-coming world tour, D’espairsRay has put out a survey where fans can vote on which songs they most want to hear during the tour. While there are no restrictions, the band has asked that only people who live in the US/ will be attending a live in the US vote on this survey. A survey for the European leg of the tour is currently pending. Check the link here.