I was very excited to see Wagakki Band return to New York after a three-year absence. In the music industry, three years may as well be an eternity. I’d been listening to their new music, but I hadn’t had an opportunity to see how they’ve grown as a live band. That chance finally arrived, thanks to the Kinoshita Group and Japan Night.

I arrived at the  theater early, and was able to watch Kurona and Daisuke go through the sound check while Sisyu prepped the calligraphy. In retrospect, I wish I had paid more attention to what Sisyu was doing. I didn’t realize just how complex her performance was going to be, but I’ll get to that.

Japan Night 2019 - Sisyu Stands in front of a calligraphy work

Photo Credit Eric Chu

The show began with Sisyu’s calligraphy presentation. Daisuke and Kurona provided traditional music in accompaniment. The display began as a fairly straightforward event. She painted the outline of a bird of prey. The first sign that something was up, though, was when she painted something on the upper-left of the piece in a clear liquid. There was nothing that we in the audience could see. Sisyu proceeded to go behind the piece. We saw colors fill in around the clear portions that she had painted. That was unexpected and quite cool. Sisyu posted a time-lapse video of the process.

Japan Night 2019 - Wagakki Band - Daisuke

Photo Credit Eric Chu

With the calligraphy display finished, the rest of the band joined Kurona and Daisuke on stage. Yuko came to the front and addressed the audience. It was showtime.

Japan Night 2019 - Wagakki Band - Yuko

Photo Credit Eric Chu

They opened with Akatsukino Ito (sans dragon; customs held firm on this one). They briefly addressed the audience before jumping into Ikusa (remind me never to get into a sword fight with Wasabi).

Japan Night 2019 - Wagakki Band - Wasabi

Photo Credit: Eric Chu

After that, the group switched gears, and showed off their traditional chops with Yoshiwara Lament. There was a brief break while they thanked the audience and spoke about returning to New York.

Japan Night 2019 - Wagakki Band - Group Shot

Photo Credit: Cool Japan Music

Next up was Strong Fate. After that they performed a pair of instrumentals in Tohno Monogatari Kyuuyon and Homura. Check out Homura if you want to see just how talented they are when they want to rock.

Japan Night 2019 - Wagakki Band - Group

Photo Credit: Cool Japan Music

Holmes of Kyoto fans quickly recognized ending theme song Sasame Yuki, but I’m curious how many people were also familiar with Koi no Shizuku (For Love’s Sake). Sasame Yuki was the theme song for the film.

There was another brief address, before they slowed things down a bit with Okino Tayu.

Japan Night 2019 - Wagakki Band - Group Shot

Photo Credit: Cool Japan Music

No Wagakki Band show is complete without a Kurona/Wasabi drum duet. As a Rush fan, drum solos will always hold a special place in my heart. Kurona and Wasabi do a great job of playing off each other, so that was a treat.

Japan Night 2019 - Wagakki Band - Kurona

Photo Credit: Eric Chu

Kishikaisei was up next. Despite coming out in 2016, the video seems perfectly suited to Japan 2020. The flame has been lit.

We knew they weren’t going to return to New York without performing Senbonzakura. The song blew me away the first time I heard it. Seeing it live was when I realized Wagakki Band were off-the-charts in terms of raw talent. Hearing it again in 2019 was a nostalgic moment for me.

Some things have changed about Wagakki Band; they’ve moved away from being a pure rock band. Instead, they have leaned in on their traditional Japanese music. In accordance with that, they’ve further balanced their sound. I could close my eyes and hear all seven instruments distinctly. That’s impressive, given how much louder Machiya’s guitar can be relative to Kiyoshi’s koto.

Japan Night 2019 - Wagakki Band - Machiya

Photo Credit: Eric Chu

The performance itself was electric. Machiya is still the rock god I remember from Los Angeles (where he channeled Jimi Hendrix for the national anthem). Daisuke and Kurona remain masters of the shakuhachi flute and wadaiko drums, respectively. I must confess, though, that I don’t have any frame of reference to compare Kiyoshi’s koto skills to aside from himself. How many modern bands have a koto player? He remained at least as good as I remember him. Certainly, though, this was the performance where I could hear his notes the clearest.

Photo Credit: Eric Chu

Japan Night 2019 – Wagakki Band – Kiyoshi

It’s with Asa, Beni, and Wasabi that I noticed clear evolution in their play. Asa’s stage persona was much fiercer than it was in L.A.. Likewise, Beni’s solos were faster and more aggressive than I remember. She plays a thick-necked Tsugaru Shamisen. It’s built to withstand quite a beating. Her play was a particular highlight this time around.

As for Wasabi, his play was a mix of what I had previously seen from him. He had the same energy I had seen in L.A., combined with the technique he showed at Irving Plaza. I guess that’s what three years of experience on the kit gets you.

Yuko released a mini solo album titled Cradle of Eternity in 2016. It’s worth checking out to see what she sounds like in a prototypical rock band. Don’t let the solo side project fool you, though; she remains the committed leader of Wagakki Band. Speaking of commitment, Yuko noted that the long-sleeved Furisode she was wearing is only worn by single women. A good tip, there. Her English training showed throughout the show, as she was comfortable addressing the crowd in English.

Japan Night 2019 - Wagakki Band - Group Shot

Photo Credit: Cool Japan Music

If you’re curious about her classical piano skills, they’re still sharp. Daisuke and Kiyoshi shine, as well. Also, that koto is bloody enormous.

I was able to speak briefly with Yuko and Kurona after the show. It was Kurona’s birthday week, so we took a moment to commemorate it. We chatted about her English/ninja training. The English training is clearly paying off. I don’t want to find out about the ninja training.

Hopefully, we’ll see Wagakki Band return to America in 2020. It was a wonderful performance, and the crowd loved it.

Set List:

  1. Akatsukino Ito
  2. Ikusa
  3. Yoshiwara Lament
  4. Strong Fate
  5. Tohno Monogatari Kyuuyon
  6. En + Shamisen (Homura)
  7. Sasame Yuki
  8. Okino Tayu
  9. Wadaiko Drum Battle
  10. Kishikaisei
  11. Senbonzakura

Hyde headlined the show. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay for a few songs. I would have loved to see Hyde’s live performance of the Duran Duran classic Ordinary World. From what I saw, though, Hyde still brings it. A comprehensive review from Ken Pierce should go up at Piercing Metal in a few weeks.

  1. FAKE DEVINE
  2. AFTER LIGHT
  3. INSIDE OF ME
  4. OUT
  5. DON’T HOLD BACK
  6. ZIPANG
  7. WHO’S GONNA SAVE US
  8. UNDERWORLD
  9. ANOTHER MOMENT
  10. SICK
  11. MAD QUALIA
  12. ORDINARY WORLD