Live Gig Review and Photos by: Zenae Zukowski
The multi-talented songwriter, composer, record producer, and co-founding member of the iconic Japanese heavy metal band/Visual Kei pioneers X Japan Yoshiki, performed at the famous Carnegie Hall on not one but two nights (January 12 and 13). Presented by Knitting Factory, we were able to sit comfortably to hear Yoshiki play a handful of tunes from his original compositions, X Japan classic hits, and a few heartfelt covers with the help of the famous Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. The shows were both streamed online for fans as it was referred as Yoshiki’s Classical Special World Tour. We managed to make it to Thursday’s show, January 12 kicking off at 7:35 PM sharp, led by conductor Yuga Cohler.
Carnegie Hall, one of the most beautiful venues in New York City, with classical music intact, you could hear all sorts of sounds rumbling in the background including a pin drop. It was a different atmosphere from what we are used to, such as loud heavy clubs raising the amps to 11 and blasting all kinds of metal. It was a night to hold your bladder until after the applause and a bladder worth holding. For an event like this, the key thing is to expect the unexpected. One would naturally find their seat and listen to Yoshiki master his way through classic X Japan tunes, his solo efforts, and moving along to a straightforward performance. However, Yoshiki brought his heart and soul to the venue, emphasizing his personal turmoils that made him question his career in music altogether.
The evening began with images fluttering on screens from above the stage, shuffling through old footage capturing his career. Alluring all, the set began with “I’ll Be Your Love,” followed by “Last Song” featuring guest female vocalist Katie Fitzgerald. The humble and at this point shy Yoshiki, quietly walked to the microphone expressing his gratitude to the packed house. With complete professionalism, each song was properly introduced, including the next “Forever Love.” A piece was written for Rintaro’s animated film “X,” coincidentally, Yoshiki couldn’t help himself but laugh at the name comparison. Moving along, the next song was described as “being at the right time and right place” and went into 2012’s Golden Globe theme song.
Fitzgerald graced the stage once again, introducing her Harvard background. Yoshiki reminded conductor Cohler having a similar educational history with Harvard and finished the comment with “I’m surrounded by geniuses.” Once the introduction was over, it was time for “Hero,” a song written for the animated film Saint Seiya.
The evening took an emotional turn during the powerful performance of the X Japan song “La Venus.” Yoshiki jestered, “I play very crazy drums and tonight, playing the piano.” Once laughing settled, he gave a brief X Japan history lesson. A story he thought was too crazy to be true about him and his friends becoming rock stars at the age of ten. Despite breaking up for a decade, the band united over time and tragically lost two members; Hide and Taiji. While only reaching the surface, Yoshiki admitted it being more complicated and crazy, and moved into “La Venus.” During this performance, the emotional text was written above with clips of both Hide and Taiji.
While the audience was practically in tears, Yoshiki informed that the footage was from the documentary film “We Are X.” Admittedly, he expressed there was a point he couldn’t go back to music, it was too painful, emphasizing that life is a pain, physically and emotionally. This led to the next song, a melody he heard at the young age of 7 or 8, that taught him the word pain. He expressed, “take all of your pain in this performance and try to create art,” and went into Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”
The room filled with silence as Yoshiki walked up towards the crowd, announcing a theme song he wrote around 1999. After the break up of X Japan, Yoshiki became depressed to the point of quitting music. When he was asked to compose a song for the animated film “X,” Yoshiki didn’t feel ready for it but his mom told him to go for it. When Yoshiki took the time to compose this piece that was originally 25 minutes long, he fell in love for music again, realizing the importance it had on his life and closed the first half of the night with “Anniversary.”
After a short break, Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra eased the second half with the TV drama Nikushimi ni Hohoende track titled, “Tears.” Yoshiki graced the stage, this time he brought the lighting technician with him, requesting to move a light that was blinding his eye. As things settled, Yoshiki didn’t want to go according to the program’s plan. It was an honor for him to perform at Carnegie hall and he wanted to play something special for his fans. Yoshiki shared his gratitude to America, emphasizing race didn’t matter, everyone’s equal and moved into the dedicated American classic, “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Vocalist Ashley Knight walked onto the stage reminiscing with Yoshiki, sharing horror stories from previous performances they experienced together. The story led to Yoshiki informing how much fans meant to him, “fans are my life” and went into “Miracle.” Continuing to express gratitude, he moved into a piece from his favorite composer with Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.”
Yoshiki decided to share a funny story during his schooldays, a similar timeframe to X Japan’s formation. It was in a small town near Tokyo, his teacher asked the class what they wanted to be when they grow up. While his schoolmates shared their dream occupations becoming a doctor or businessman, Yoshiki said, Rock Star. His teacher looked at him saying, “you have to be serious.” He laughed and continued to inspire the crowd, “if you believe in it, it just happens.” Yoshiki admitted how life is strange and he never thought he would make it to this point nor did he expect losing valuable members in his life along the way. He lost an incredible amount of people, from friends to his father and dedicated the next song to the departed with “Without You.” The screen generated more images of his time with X Japan that included departed members, resulting in filling Carnegie Hall with the heartbreak of Yoshiki’s painful realities.
Loosening the mood, it was time for back to back X Japan tunes with “Kurenai” and “Art of Life.” Yoshiki thanked the audience for attending and handed out honest advice, informing all to never take anything for granted and how everything is a miracle. He expressed, “we are breathing in the same place and same moment, we should all be thankful for it.” This led to the concluding song “Endless Rain,” providing a remarkable finale with lights gleaming out of the chandelier.
For any Yoshiki or X Japan fan, this was a performance well worth while. The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra were on point and added every emotion Yoshiki wanted to captivate. Word of advice: bring tissues.