Last time we saw WagakkiBand stateside was at Anime Expo 2015.
As I noted in my previous write-up, they rocked. Since then, the group has followed up their first US appearance with the release of their second album, YASOUEMAKI, in September. Their first album, Vocalozanmai debuted at #5 in the Oricon charts. They were hoping YASOUEMAKI would land in the top 3, and were pleasantly surprised when it opened up at #1 (career achievement unlocked). They were especially proud because it was entirely original material.
WagakkiBand followed the release of YASOUEMAKI with a Japanese tour in support of the album. That tour helped improve the group as a band. I’ll come back to this in a bit.
In January of 2016 the band went to Hokkaido for a ten-day songwriting camp. Good choice, Hokkaido is beautiful
My personal favorite is the Crimson Forest:
Hokkaido is also a surprisingly easy island to flee, with seven airports, as well a tunnel accessible via railway. Despite the easy means of escape, the camp was a rousing success. The band thought the retreat would be difficult, but it worked out very well. They have more than enough material for their third album, and the difficulty now is figuring out what to cut.
Let’s go back to WagakkiBand’s 2015 Japanese tour. I mentioned earlier that the tour helped them improve as a band. They explained that it affected them in numerous ways.
- The band is more relaxed on stage. They still get pre-show jitters (Wababi and Yuko both took care to emphasize that), but they are much better at getting comfortable once the show starts.
- The ensemble has become tighter. They have learned how to better balance their respective sounds to form a more cohesive whole. They’ve also become more accustomed to each other’s timing.
- Yuko learned how to pace herself on a tour to prevent her voice from wearing down. She said this took a fair amount of work and practice.
- Kiyoshi pointed out that they’ve learned how to fill the space in a show. This is an important concept, so let me elaborate on it. WagakkiBand has played in a number of major international shows, but they’ve had to adapt to smaller venues as well. In fact, after playing in New York, they went to Austin for SXSW and had to adapt to the smaller venue.
Some other issues they experienced and learned to deal with on their Japanese tour:
Various instruments have been silent. This is the bane of concert techs and audio engineers. I’m sure you’ve seen microphones go dead in various meetings/events/etc. That can happen with instruments and amps as well, but the show must go on.
Wasabi had to deal with radio silence when he couldn’t hear a track on stage. As a former drummer myself, let me assure you that becomes quite a test. In fact, it’s particularly difficult when you aren’t the only drummer on stage and you have to work in perfect synchronization. No pressure.
Beni endured a shamisen string breaking in practice, as did Kiyoshi with a koto string. You can’t stop the show though, so you can’t stop the practice either if you want to learn how to handle that experience.
All of this has brought them closer together as a band. That proved important when they faced their next major test:
Inaugurated (controversially)*1 as a concert hall by the Beatles. Host of what are regarded as some of Led Zeppelin’s best shows (bootlegs are now widely available online). Deep Purple recorded their Made In Japan live album there (The remaster is excellent). Kiss played five sold out shows in Budokan, breaking a joint record they had held with the Beatles. Cheap Trick became famous after album “At Budokan”. It was a symbiotic relationship, as Budokan became an internationally recognized venue after that, leading to visits from Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, and perhaps most importantly:
Fans of FLCL might also know these guys:
Budokan has a tremendous history, and WagakkiBand did not want to disappoint their fans. How was the show? You can see for yourself:
If you want a bit more info about the release, we have some here.
WagakkiBand sold out Budokan (career achievement unlocked). It was now time to prepare for their next challenge: New York.
When I interviewed the group at Anime Expo, they were quite hopeful that a New York concert would materialize. Thanks to the success of their concert at Anime Expo, their second album YASOUEMAKI, the Japanese tour, and the hard work of manager Kaz Hayashida, the New York visit became a reality. However, the pressure of the New York stage caused Yuko to lose sleep.
Check out her interview with Mu-mo. She credits Budokan for leading her to become a singer. It’s very cool to be able to play the venue that inspired you. Playing in New York, though, is another thing entirely. So, how did they do? Well, if the audience reaction was any way to judge, they did rather well.
Of course, it helped that she threatened to behead any fans that weren’t cheering:
The show itself was pretty sweet:
Iroha Uta and Akatukino Ito were the highlights, although being treated to three different versions of Senbonzakura was an unexpected treat. Now that I have two shows to compare for WagakkiBand, I can go into some depth as to how they’ve evolved. In LA, they were much louder and more frenetic. That’s not to say the New York show was restrained, but it was better balanced. Kiyoshi’s koto and Beni Kinagawa’s shamisen weren’t nearly as overwhelmed as they were in Los Angeles. Beni in particular benefited from this as she sounded great in New York. The dueling drum solos between Kurona and Wasabi were excellent in both locations. It was a little different this time as Wasabi’s technique has evolved. It’s a little more Grohl and a little less… well…:
Machiya was a little more restrained in New York, although part of that was due to space limitations. If you want to see him in a more active light, check out the Budokan show (seriously, check out the Budokan show). Asa and Daisuke were the least affected by the shift from LA to New York.
As for Yuko, she was transcendent.
Her English has also improved, though she was embarrassed when I told her so. She apparently has high standards. When I interviewed the band in New York, Asa and Machiya were busy in the studio mixing some tracks, while Beni, Kurona, and Daisuke were at a photoshoot. I was able to speak with Yuko, Kiyoshi, and Wasabi:
— ニューヨーク・ビズ (@NY_Biz) March 22, 2016
One of the reasons Yuko was so driven to perform in New York is that she wants America to accept traditional Japanese styles. She wants WagakkiBand to return to America, and I’m sure they will at some point. When I asked her whether the band is more focused on their music or their live performances, she explained that their goal is to perform for as many people as possible. While WagakkiBand is most definitely a modern rock band, their essence comes from traditional Shigin Poetry performance and that is something Yuko wants to promote and protect.
Kiyoshi shares Yuko’s desire to travel the world and perform. He feels that WagakkiBand‘s tour has been miraculous and is very grateful for their success.
Wasabi just wants to travel the world and eat:
— ドアラ佐々木 (@wasabist) March 16, 2016
He mentioned during the interview that he wanted to go Peter Lugers, and I am glad he got there. It wasn’t his only carnivorous foray in New York:
— ドアラ佐々木 (@wasabist) March 13, 2016
They explained that they were tremendously jet-lagged. Touring internationally isn’t easy. Neither are the photo shoots:
Because of his style, I asked Wasabi if he ever got cold. He laughed and explained that he was pretty cold in Times Square. He also said he has to take good care of his skin with all the ink he wears on his back. I also want to give credit to Daisuke and Machiya for going barefoot. That couldn’t have been pleasant, but sometimes we must suffer for fashion and art. Finally, Beni’s kimono inspired outfit was absolutely beautiful here.
The band had some fun in New York:
We'll come back soon!!! pic.twitter.com/kOrOh7CwGF
— ドアラ佐々木 (@wasabist) March 19, 2016
They ended up going Broadway to see The King and I. Kelli O’Hara and Sam Watanabe are great, but for me Deborah Kerr and the patron saint of all bald men, Yul Brenner, will always be Anna and The King of Siam.
As for the band’s thoughts on the tour, I’ll defer to Asa and Beni:
— 亜沙 (@bass_asa) March 17, 2016
“American food is delicious, but I’m fat…! So fat…! ・゜・(つД｀)・゜・”
I’m glad you enjoyed the food and the trip. There is plenty more available for you when you return.
— 蜷川べに (@benina1225) March 15, 2016
NY loved you too, and we look forward to having you back. ?
P.S. I want to credit to WagakkiBand for speaking out against drunk driving:
LIVE SDD 2016、ありがとうございました！
DRUNK DRIVING pic.twitter.com/3J8MsHKPuz
— いぶくろ聖志【琴魚ｷﾝｷﾞｮ】 (@bsmpl) March 27, 2016
— ドアラ佐々木 (@wasabist) March 27, 2016
LIVE [email protected]大阪城ホールでした。
STOP! DRUNK! DRIVING!
— 神永大輔 (@daisukekaminaga) March 27, 2016