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X Japan Kick Off U.S. Tour in Los Angeles

Victor Decolongon, Getty Images

If the average person would have walked by Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theater, they might’ve thought Lady Gaga was playing the famous auditorium later that night, considering the length of the line outside. In fact, fans had been there as early as Friday evening, choosing to sleep on the dirty sidewalk, just to get a prime spot in the queue. So who were all those crazed people waiting for? X Japan of course, and they’re one of the few bands that can incite this kind of fan hysteria.

Formed in 1978 in Chiba, Japan, the heavy metal quintet has sold over 30 million albums and achieved a godlike presence to many fans back in their homeland. Saturday night was the kickoff show of X Japan’s first official U.S. tour, and the noise level within the cavernous halls of the Wiltern reached NFL-like levels. The band hadn’t even hit the stage yet, but that didn’t stop the crowd standing on the bottom level of the theater of shouting “X” over and over again. Slayer fans have nothing on X Japan’s.

The band went on over an hour later than they were supposed to, but as soon as the intro music and stage lights got going, you instinctively knew it was worth the wait. The band emerged, one by one, and things got off to an energized start with ‘Jade.’

Frontman Toshi took quick command of the stage, showing off a range that brought to mind vocal dynamos like Geoff Tate and Marc Storace of Krokus. Not one to be outdone, drummer Yoshiki took every chance to steal a bit of the spotlight, whether it was playing piano during an intro or standing on top of his drum set, soaking in the crowd’s affection. Normally, this kind of showboating would have been distracting, but in the wild context of the X Japan live show, it made total sense.

It’s not easy to describe X Japan’s diverse sound, but here’s a shot. At times, the songs in the act’s set list reminded us of the melodic power metal of Gamma Ray, while some of the heavier moments even recalled mid-period Megadeth. Meanwhile, ‘Endless Rain’ brought to mind something you would hear on an Abba album — albeit with killer lead guitars. Whatever sonic angle they tackled, the group owned it. Their veteran status was proven that night, song after song.

Sure, the X Japan live experience is meant to be seen in the space of a sports arena, but just after a couple of minutes, you felt like you were watching them a few miles away — at the Staples Center.

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