14 June 2009

Playing with firecrackers

One of the main reasons for my visit to Japan was Buck-Tick.

This firecracker of a band had kept me both sane and entertained during the gruelling studies for my comprehensive PhD examinations, blasted motivating exercise tunes, and provided me with mellow wind-down music after late evenings at work. Recently, I've successfully completed that hellish academic rite of passage, improved my abs of steel, and even gotten back into traditional drawing. And, now that our misguided and intrusive local government forced all businesses to charge for plastic bags, the Memento Mori tour bag has become quite handy.

Is there anything Buck-Tick can't do?

I started this blog a week ago, edited it almost daily, but could not bring myself to publish it. Why has it taken me so long to pin down a brief record of a simple concert experience? Perfectionism? Laziness? A genetic Russo-Kartvelian susceptibility to be overwhelmed by Japan's exoticism, perhaps, not unlike Boris Akunin?

I have been listening to rock music since childhood, and, after exploring many dozens of bands, I'd like to think that I’ve developed a fairly discerning taste. With it, however, it has become progressively more difficult to find something new and worthwhile. Not too long ago (!) I discovered Bee-Tee's twenty-five years of material – the necessary critical mass, which pushed me to visit Japan.

A definitive sign of musical worth – the kind of worth that evades description!

If I were to tally up all the costs associated with concert tickets, air and train fare, accommodations, and, of course, merchandise, then this trip becomes the most expensive band-focused endeavor I've ever undertaken, even trumping last year's United Metal Maniacs in Germany. And, I'd do it again in a drumbeat.

I must've entered my late 20s in an entirely socially unacceptable way.

The 17.v.2009 Kumamoto concert and 24.v.2009 Hiroshima performance were polar opposites. A week apart, the former dumped stormy rain water onto my no longer painstakingly straightened hair, while the latter had not a cloud in the sky. Kein Problem: my curls, curves, and an "American Nightmare" dress made me stand out beyond being the only white woman in the audience in Kumamoto. (I was the only white woman at the Hiroshima concert too, but I opted for more modest black.)

Getting there was tougher than my ab workouts: a direct, twelve-hour trip to Narita; frantic luggage storage; a bus to Haneda; a domestic flight, and, of course, substantial sleep deprivation. I don't know if Sakurai likes Poe, but surprisingly huge, menacing black ravens seemed to follow me around Kumamoto. In addition to palm tree-bending storm and my first Buck-Tick concert, this southern city introduced me to endless mall arcades and a famous castle.

Having climbed the Alpine Salzburg fortress last year, I entered this castle with a smirk, but exited in awe. Despite the meticulously landscaped grounds, it was not difficult to imagine them covered in excessive flora, making the edifice seem even more impenetrable, as it had once been during the days of the Satsuma rebellion.

I was (willingly!) "double-scalped" for the 17.v fan club tickets months in advance by FDJP.com, a steep, but reliable purchasing service. So, I got to see the concert up close from the 7th row and shamelessly waltzed my Western booty to the front whenever the strict, but compact-sized bouncers were not looking.

I suppose, being a North American fan, I should also be particularly impressed by my unexpectedly superb guitar-pick-grabbing skills. After all, Buck-Tick Zone claims that obtaining autographs and the like from the band is extremely rare.

Getting to the Hiroshima concert involved a different kind of dedication: a 5-hour train ride on two Shinkansen from Tokyo; a mad rush to eat and a madder rush to leave my things and freshen up at the hotel prior to check-in time; a regional train on the JR West Sanyo line (thanks, Wikipedia station listings!); and wandering through Hatsukaichi suburbia with every environmentalist's worst nightmare - multiple Google map pages in at least two languages.

There, a broken Anglo-Japanese request for directions at a local 7-11 led to a friendly couple giving me a ride directly to the Sakura Pia venue. Afterward, a random fellow BT fan, Chiaki, led me all the way to the JR station through near-total darkness, despite the language barrier. Finally, unfolding the map turned into more courteous direction-giving during next morning's brief sight-seeing venture. Every time. A-Bomb-Dome-City truly became the most welcoming place in my Japanese experience. Even local turtles resembled the camaraderie between three tank drivers from a famous enemy - Soviet - WWII song.

In contrast to Kumamoto, I bought the Hiroshima tickets from Lawson late and on a whim and, as a result, sat far back. This time, I was able to take in The Spectacle in its entirety: Imai's token rhythmic stomping, the "Memento Mori" nightmarish video sequence, Sakurai's theatrical limp with a cane – worthy of timeless, unholy Woland transplanted to an equally timeless, holy Mount Misen...

The most surprising aspect of live Buck-Tick was not Acchan's newly grown facial hair, unfortunately reminiscent of Johnny Depp. (Johnny is no match for the Most Stunning Man in the World!) Rather, it was the fact that the band played almost the entire new album consecutively, with the exception of leaving "Galaxy" for one of the two encores and playing the perfect blend of rock and dance – "Baby, I Want You" – instead. Again, my rocker seniority did not save me from utter confusion. At least, while the set was identical in both cases, the encores differed. For example, "Romance" in Kumamoto was replaced by "Alice in Wonder Underground" in Hiroshima.

Any band that can make me, a seasoned metalhead, who avoids clubs like communism, get up, do the "hippy-hippy-shake", and dance my heels off for two hours non-stop, has earned my money and respect. Oh, and, above all – the motivation to engage in rigorous air miles collecting in order to attempt this insanity all over again.

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