20th L'Anniversary Live
Rapture and Rhinestones in the Rain
The movie theater at Union Square was a quarter full with a mix of Japanese young people and other New Yorkers. What drew this group together — one of many around the world who turned out for the special screening event on November 29th — was the L’Arc~en~Ciel 20th L’Anniversary Live concert film.
The film documents a two-day retrospective concert event, celebrating L’Arc~en~Ciel’s two-decade career as one of the biggest rock bands in Japan. Two consecutive days of rain dogged Tokyo Ajinomoto Stadium, so the movie features crying fans wearing plastic hooded ponchos, their tidy plots of folding chairs enclosed by barricades. They didn’t use their chairs much, never seeming to tire of singing along, shaking their gold streamer pom poms, or waving their glow sticks with surprising precision.
However, the center of attention for the two-hour plus movie was the band’s flamboyant frontman Hyde. In smokey eye make up, sparkly drum major jacket, to-die-for chapeau and long braids, Hyde was a kaleidoscope of rock star glamor, projecting a combination of Boy George, Adam Ant, and Slash. With a smoldering glare and trademarked coy wiggle, he reclaimed the subversively seductive androgyny of ’80s hair metal. But he’s not the only snappy dresser in the band. While guitarist Ken’s look is comparatively restrained, the camera liked to linger over bassist/vocalist Tetsuya’s metallic gold high tops and drummer Yukihiro’s lace cuffs.
The music is as fabulously accessorized and the frontman. Non-J-rock fans can be dismissive about the quality of song craft in the genre, implying that the movement is all style and no substance. But for those with unjaded ears and a not overdeveloped musical conscience, L’Arc~En~Ciel offers a garden of baroque delights. Their multi-million album selling sound filters the most chart topping of UK music through J-rock’s prismatic lens — and then piles on the gaudy flourishes. Imagine The Cure, U2, Oasis, Blur, The Smiths, and Andrew Lloyd Webber rolled into one band and totally cleansed of any Western hang-ups about melodic or sartorial embellishment. (Is there such a thing a progressive power pop?)
Though they started out as a visual kei group with a straightforwardly post-punk sound, their song structures have become increasingly more elaborate and the songs ever more emotionally florid à la J-pop in general. It can be a lot to handle, but if you happen to be both an Anglophile and a Japanophile, you would struggle mightily to resist the quartet’s charms.
As for musicianship, Hyde has a ridiculous set of pipes, Ken is a great soloist, and Keith Moon has nothing on Yukihiro. They live up to their namesake the rainbow with an all-encompassing and colorful sound created with the aid of five-string bass, a drum kit with two kick drums and a battery of cymbals, and, on the occasion of their anniversary shows, pre-recorded strings and synth.
And, while Hyde’s stage manners might be maddeningly coquettish, he sings from the very pit of his stomach and gives the audience everything they could possibly ask for — and then some. I’m thinking of the moment when he finished playing his harmonica at the end of “Flower” and licked it before tossing it into the crowd, all while gazing into the camera.
In fact, L’Anniversary Live creates a portrait of an entire band giving their all across two days of performing in inclement weather. When the cameras showed each member, all of them now in their 40s, grinning like school boys right before the finale of “Blurry Eyes” it was hard not to smile too. The legendary group made operating with consummate professionalism look badass. Or maybe it wasn’t professionalism. Kicking the puddles and spinning around in the rain, they looked a lot like four children who never had to grow up. And what child wouldn’t be thrilled to play on that giant stage, flanked by multi-storey video screens shooting flames, fireworks, and laser beams into the sky?
After the first song, gold confetti and streamers fell from the sky as the entire stadium jumped up and down in ecstatic unison. Experimental noise acts performing in lightless basements are cool and all, but L’Anniversary had the power to convince a crusty critic that there could be something truly glorious about a show this … big.
The American man sitting next to me in the theater was an obvious convert. He didn’t seem like he could help himself as he sang along with the group’s early song “Blurry Eyes.” In the theater, the rest of the audience seemed to be working at keeping things subdued, only clapping politely. The film and concert drew to a close but not before a heartfelt but simple speech from Hyde and a curious ritual in which Tetsuya and the rest of the band drew bananas from a basket, kissed them one by one and threw them into the crowd. Fruit flinging aside, it’s not hard to see how they’ve managed to be so loved for so long.
Photo Courtesy of L’Arc en Ciel