By Shirong Gao (Shiga-ken, 2005-07) for JQ magazine. A member of JETAA Northern California, Shirong is a graphic designer, Illustrator, and breakfast food lover who worked in a Japanese countryside as seen only in Studio Ghibli movies. For more, visit gaoshirong.com.
Every night, as a child drifting off to sleep, I looped a rock ballad. My personal lullaby. A song by multi-million-selling heavy metal band X Japan, the Rising Sun’s answer to KISS. Yet not even in dreams did I see myself growing up to one day meet its leader, Yoshiki, and witness how far he’s come in his career.
A classically trained musician turned rock legend, Yoshiki has now returned to his more refined roots, embarking on a world tour of Yoshiki Classical concerts featuring music from the eponymous solo album released last year in collaboration with talents the likes of Beatles producer Sir George Martin and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
On April 28, Davies Hall, home to the San Francisco Symphony, was packed on a Monday night to host only the second date of Yoshiki’s tour following its debut in Costa Mesa three days prior. “Definitely a different scene from a typical classical concert,” commented attendee Arisa Takahashi (Nara-ken CIR, 1991-92), who has also performed at the hall as part of the Sing Out, Davies! choral workshop. “There were people with blue hair, dressed in their frilly Lolita finery, sitting alongside classical music attendees.”
The show began with a video introduction on a giant panoramic backdrop as Yoshiki explained how he first got into music as a boy after his father died, followed by a quick cut to him at an X Japan concert, violently beating drums to vent his frustrations. Typically at these shows, tranced and mesmerized, while headbanging viciously, he’d fall off stage, injuring himself, only to continue performing wearing a neck brace. Juxtaposed over this are images of him playing the piano with finesse and poise.
In a gentle, almost shy voice he joked with the audience as he introduced the songs. Visual effects on the big screen colored the ambiance of the entire performance. The night offered something for everyone in Yoshiki’s ability to merge and bring together different genres and listeners and touch the collective beating heart therein.
“Even though I’m not familiar with Yoshiki’s earlier work, I like his newer classical works,” Takahashi said. “I’d be happy to go see him again.” For classical music connoisseurs, Yoshiki’s selections that night included the 2012 Golden Globe Awards theme, a concerto for the Emperor of Japan’s 10th anniversary, and the Aichi World Expo theme, “I’ll Be Your Love.”
Meanwhile, longtime X Japan fans cheered the renditions of beloved rock hits which translated seamlessly into classical pieces. Katie Fitzgerald lent her dramatic soprano voice to the evening’s vocal parts, including “Hero,” Yoshiki’s theme song of the upcoming Saint Seiya animated movie. However, during “Tears,” Yoshiki called his surprise guest, X Japan’s lead singer, Toshi, to take the stage. Together the two revealed news of an upcoming X Japan concert scheduled at Madison Square Garden on October 11. Fans sang along to the chorus of “Endless Rain,” the final number with Toshi before the audience rose to a standing ovation while admirers rushed the stage, screaming, and snapping photos. Yoshiki and Toshi stood in the limelight, raising the American flag signed by their San Franciscan adorers, and shouted, ”We are!”
“X!,” the fans answered back, crossing their forearms to form the letter. “We are!” “X!” “We are!” “X!”
Yoshiki’s true accomplishment lies visible in baring the soul and taking us on his life’s journey. Despite the rock star persona, at Davies Hall he was still the little boy wearing pull-up knee socks at his piano recital when he plunked out “Happy Birthday” for the mother of a dear friend, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, before walking to the edge of the stage to embrace her. Dedicated to the loss of his father and fellow X Japan bandmates Hide and Taiji, the song “Without You” segued into “Kurenai,” before finally giving way to the epic “Art of Life” to close out the show.
For Yoshiki, it had been a life spent using his creative abilities in music to cope with the most difficult times. Revealing this vulnerability, he stood on stage as he beseeched us, “Before it’s too late, give all your love to someone you care about.”
The first leg of the Yoshiki Classical World Tour continues through June 17 and features dates in Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, and Osaka. For more information, visit www.yoshiki.net.