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Jan 07

[live report] Legacy of LUNA SEA

Writing for an online, blog-style site, I have the liberty of getting a little bit personal with my articles. If a band or artist annoys me, I will bluntly tell you. If someone gives a disappointing live performance, I’ll pinpoint where they fall short. And if for some reason I feel the need to hurl a now retired Walkman on stage while exclaiming, “You’re not funny!” I will most certainly let you know. What, you may ask with a furrow in your brow, does the general readership care about the disappointments of a lowly writer who typically rambles on and on about why music sucks? I’ll tell you the answer with a straight face and a slightly misty eye.

This time, I have nothing bad to say.

On December 23 and 24, LUNA SEA reunited ten years after they disbanded, and a mere three years after their first don’t-call-it-a-comeback performance, for 20th Anniversary World Tour Reboot. This was my first experience with LUNA SEA in all their boisterous, ethereal, and live glory, so my expectations were through the roof. The band had just returned to Japan – home base for the time being – from Germany, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. I decided to avoid most of the buzz around the internet, my cynical mind secretly afraid that the band would appear on stage at the first show in sweatpants and wife beaters, claiming inspiration for their new look and sound as coming from the Jersey Shore. I swore that if I saw vocalist Ryuichi Kawamura fist pump and show off his “situation,” I’d jump into a pit of lava.
December 23 was a national holiday, meaning I spent most of the morning and afternoon mentally preparing myself for the first round of LUNA SEA at Tokyo Dome. I chose this day to go simply as an admirer of their music. I was going to stand with all the little people, unafraid to scream the lyrics while giving lead guitarist SUGIZO the Vulcan salute (it’s an inside thing). And, without an ounce of shame, that’s exactly what I did. I humbly admit that I am a frequent listener and karaoke-er of LUNA SEA songs. Hello, my name is Sarah and I am a LUNA SEA fan.

But I had to buckle down and be professional once the December 24 show rolled around. The 24 hour wait from concert to concert was arduous, but somehow I survived. This time I brought my writer gear (read: a pen and notebook), ready to change my inner fury for the band into the greatest words written about a LUNA SEA show that happened on Christmas Eve (not a lot of competition for that, to be fair). I was going to be critical. I was going to be honest. I was going to be brutal.

As the clock literally ticked into “Time Has Come,” my pen stabbed the notebook to the beat. Some might interpret that as completely voluntary, but for all intents and purposes, I was completely brain dead from the start. The band had an inexplicable ability to create a vortex around the stage, forcing every stream of consciousness to focus all its attention on the sound rumbling around them. I may have had a pulse, but not a single thought managed to make its way down my brain stem, through my fingers, and on to the paper.

It wasn’t until the stand started shaking with the stomping of 100,000 feet that I began to regain conscious thought. I began to wonder what this magnetic pull that made LUNA SEA both artistically and musically successful was. It’s not every millennium you come across a band that transforms bobby sockers into hipsters, and vice versa.

The answer began to come to me with “Dejavu.” This was an excellent example of what I see as one of the three pillars of LUNA SEA’s musical style. On one such pillar, the band creates pop-rock songs not unlike many of their contemporaries: heavy on the rhythm and often with a quick melody line that is most importantly fun. These are the arena rock numbers that light fires under the spectator’s chairs, causing a few paranoid freaks to wonder if Tokyo Dome can handle the magnitude of tens of thousands of spectators bouncing simultaneously. Without a doubt, these receive the most enthusiastic reception from both serious and casual fans because they are easy to wrap our previously MIA brains around.

Another type of song comes in the form of numbers like “I for you.” Sweeping ballads are nothing new. Throw a stone at your local CD store (alternately: at the iTunes store) and you will hit a band or artist that can do ballads. LUNA SEA is not immune to this pop music cliché, but they have a distinct edge over much of their competition.

In his time off from the band, Ryuichi has spent a considerable amount of effort changing his voice from great to… well, what’s better than great? He always had the passion and talent, but comparing his voice with old recordings, the man has taken his musical theater training and transformed himself into one of the greatest rock vocalists in the world. You can write perfect recordings off as the mastery of modern technology, but a voice is nearly naked live. His sound is clear, distinct, and practically pitch-perfect yet entirely human and heartfelt.

However stupefying Ryuichi’s voice may be, there is a reason LUNA SEA is leaps and bounds more successful than his solo work. The band works best as a collaborative effort that creates songs other popular Japanese bands can’t touch. Our third pillar in the grand LUNA SEA scheme doesn’t really have a name or classification. But when songs like “GENESIS OF MIND ~Yume no Anata e~” whispered into existence in the Dome, the audience dared not breathe. These songs are the ethereal heart of the band. With the right technique, any band can shred their way through a power ballad, but LUNA SEA doesn’t take the easy way out. Relying primarily on simple phrasing and a few choice notes, LUNA SEA takes a deceptively straightforward collection of instruments and produces a living, breathing, laughing, crying soul.

I was hard pressed to find one dry eye out of the 50,000 pairs there. Trust me, I looked.

As a long time worshipper of the very CD player LUNA SEA music permeates from, I was nothing short of amazed, moved, and speechless coming out of both shows. However, I have to wonder what the future of LUNA SEA looks like at this point. In an era where excess in every aspect of life is considered wasteful, LUNA SEA’s minimalistic approach to music might work as well as it did in the 1990’s.

New listeners might be a bit wary of jumping into the discography of this already legendary band. And maybe that’s not the point of this revival. When LUNA SEA disbanded, they left a void in the Japanese music scene. While most visual kei bands were emulating the styles of X Japan or Kuroyume, not many attempted what LUNA SEA accomplished. Without many imitators, LUNA SEA’s deceptively simple yet immensely popular style nearly disappeared. The band’s last original album was released over ten years ago, so you have to wonder how their music will translate into the 21st century.

Stepping out of my fan bubble, I am the first to admit that LUNA SEA’s future seems uncertain. Regardless, LUNA SEA can’t undo the majesty and passion of their previous compositions and performances. And I am perfectly content with simply remembering their performances at Tokyo Dome.

Official LUNA SEA Website – http://www.lunasea.jp/

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  1. Kerrie Baile

    Good day I know this is kinda off topic but Id figured Id ask Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest writing a blog post or vice-versa My site discusses a lot of the same topics as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other If youre interested feel free to send me an email I look forward to hearing from you Excellent blog by the way

  2. Nikki

    As always, a great read Sarah! Wish I had been there, so thanks for this. Can tell you really love them, but that you didn’t BS anything just because of that :]

  3. Meg

    Awesome, report as always Sarah! I think you captured the exact feeling of all the fans who got a chance to be a part of this amazing experience. I’m glad so many of us around the world got this opportunity. Love the pictures too haha.

  4. Linds

    I really enjoyed this article — without straying into cliche, and without dumbing it down (OMG What was he WEARING?!), you gave us a sophisticated, realistic glimpse of the overwhelming experience that was their live concert. I agree that a band is most… vulnerable (is that really the word I want?) live, and your line about “a voice is nearly naked live” struck me — no matter how much a recording studio can do for an artist, when it comes down to it, live concerts are where they really prove themselves, and it sounds like LUNA SEA more than lived up to expectations — they blew them away.

    I wish I’d been able to attend the show, but reading your report really gave me an idea of the amazing experience the show must’ve been.

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