Words and Pictures: Adrian Hextall \ (C) MindHex Media
Japanese rock legend and composer Yoshiki made his Royal Albert Hall headline debut on October 13th 2023, marking his first UK appearance in over six years, as part of his latest world tour, REQUIEM.
Widely regarded as one of the most influential artists in Japanese history, Yoshiki is a classically-trained pianist, rock drummer, and leader of the rock bands X-Japan and The Last Rockstars, covering a multitude of genres from classical to heavy metal, and selling over 30 million albums. For this show he was accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and special guests including St. Vincent and Ellie Goulding.
Conceived to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his Yoshiki Classical album (co-produced and arranged by acclaimed Beatles producer George Martin), which debuted at #1 on the iTunes Classical Music chart in ten countries, this performance, one of only four globally, was definitely one to watch.
To give you a sense of what to expect from one of these very unique and limited shows, check out the video below:
At 7:30pm, a full Royal Albert Hall settled down as the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra came on stage and readied themselves. An instrumental piece Amethyst followed to commence proceedings, with the acoustics of the glorious and historic venue proving just why it remains so popular within the classical music scene. The sound filled the spacious hall with ease, somehow allowing you to hear everything at once yet be able to pick out the smallest nuance and note that each of the individual instruments emitted. Of course there’s absolutely no need to state the level of skill involved when you have the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra performing but suffice to say, what you listen to is truly on another level.
As the closing notes of opener died away to applause from the crowd, a hush descended in the hall and then, replete in the finest red coat, black leather trousers and boots, Yoshiki walked onto the stage. His entrance was as understated as it was impactful. Quietly spoken, tremendously polite with nothing less then a smile and an acknowledgement of appreciation in everything he spoke about for the whole evening, the show didn’t carry the raw energy of the X Japan show I saw at Wembley Arena some 6 years ago but nevertheless delivered as much in terms of intensity and emotion.
If you were at that wonderful show at Wembley Arena back in 2017 or want to see why the hysteria that surrounded the band is so well deserved, our review can be accessed below:
Back to the present and classical Yoshiki. As he settled down behind the grand piano that took up the whole of centre stage masking conductor Ward Stare from all but those on the higher tiers. Thankfully though, the orchestra could see the man, hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “A rising-star in the conducting firmament”, and all was well.
X Japan song, Tears followed but it is of course worth emphasizing that these are not songs presented as covers by Yoshiki, these are expertly reworked and the inclusion of the orchestra lifts the songs to the next level. Vocals throughout the main performances came from Beverly Lumbres Caimen, known as Beverly, who is a Filipina pop singer based in Japan and also Yokohama born classical singer Ai Ichihara.
As Yoshiki played the piano, the drive, ambition, musicianship and most importantly, the love for what he does shone through every single song. Whilst I’m more used to seeing him behind the drum kit with X Japan, there’s absolutely no doubting the varied talents of the man make him one of the most versatile musicians on the planet. Each song, be it an original composition of a reworked version of one of the well-known X Japan songs had a story behind it. We were at the Royal Albert Hall, one of only 4 shows, the others being Tokyo Garden Theater (Tokyo), Dolby Theater (L.A.), and Carnegie Hall (New York), because Yoshiki had a moving story to tell and Requiem was his opportunity to do so.
As the softly spoken musician took to the microphone in front of his piano, it was almost with a sense of embarrassment. How and why would these people care what I had to say…. seemed to be the thought process going through his mind at times, especially when he’s talking about personal loss and the grieving process that he entered into when he lost his Mother a while ago. It was of course for that very reason that the 5,000+ people in the venue were so respectfully quiet when he was speaking that you could have heard a pin drop.
His journey to the performance at the Royal Albert Hall was of course tinged with sadness and also fond memories of both his mother and his former X Japan band mates hide (Hideto Matsumoto) and Taiji (Sawada). Video footage of Yoshiki’s time reminiscing about his mother and realising that whatever time you spend with loved ones is never enough was also interspersed with archive X Japan footage showing the good times he and his late band mates had together. Moving, poignant and laying bare all of Yoshiki’s personal feelings made the show feel like it was made for and performed for everyone in isolation. It was easy to forget that you were in a room with thousands of others as you experienced a rare connection with the artist on a 1-2-1 level.
Highlights from the main set included Anniversary, written by Yoshiki for the Japanese Emperor Akihito on his 10th anniversary. Footage showing the Emperor and his wife listening to the performance really brought home what an honour it must have been to be asked to write and perform it. The track RED SWAN which was inspired by Swan Lake also showcased the musician’s classical composition talents, working alongside the original Tchaikovsky piece. Picture the moment if you will as the stage also filled with ballet dancers to really bring home the impact.
Of the special guests, Ellie Goulding and Yoshiki showcased Goulding’s well known Love Me Like You Do with a full piano and orchestral accompaniment and St. Vincent joined him to perform a moving classical arrangement of her hit song New York.
Of course, the X Japan fans still want to hear Yoshiki play the drums and the opening of the second set after a 20 minute break saw an energised and frantic drum solo like no other. It delivered some of the biggest cheers of the night as everyone forget where they were for a moment a dropped into ‘heavy metal gig’ mode.
The night closed of course with X Japan classic and crowd sign along favourite Endless Rain. It’s one of those songs that can last 5 or 50 minutes depending on the appetite of the crowd to keep singing the chorus and the people at the Royal Albert Hall did not disappoint.
The perfect end to a unique, beautifully performed concert.
Tears (X JAPAN song)
Forever Love (X JAPAN song)
Kiss the Sky (X JAPAN song)
Angel (X JAPAN song)
Say Anything (X JAPAN song)
Swan Lake (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky cover)
Without You (X JAPAN song)
OPUS 13 in A-minor
Art of Life (X JAPAN song)
Endless Rain (X JAPAN song)
with Ellie Goulding – Love Me Like You Do (from 50 Shades of Grey)
with St Vincent – New York