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Jun 10

[live report] L’Arc-en-Ciel or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Japanese Music (Part 2)

The second show brought us the 1999 to 2011 songs, a noticeably different atmosphere from the first half of their career. Gone was the need to bare their souls and in came the desire to please a general audience. Granted, this pop-music switch wasn’t out of nowhere; L’Arc-en-Ciel was selling albums in the millions well before 1999. But the 21st century proved to be a musical turning point for the band.  Not only did the tastes of their audience change, but also the cultural make-up. From their first international performance in 2004 to their latest one in 2008, the band had played in three continents, garnering a slew of new and eager fans.

But it’s not the actual fans that can transform a band’s music. It’s the times. While bass was still the underlying spark of L’Arc-en-Ciel’s flame, ken’s guitar started to take a more central role in their music. This could have been due to the general shift in the industry as the electro-dance, block party sort of rock had cemented itself as the face of popular music. Whatever the reason, guitar needed to be more than just a highlight of their songs, and with tetsuya almost purposely taking a backseat, Concert Number Two was ken’s day in the sun (or rain, if we’re going to be literal).

Hair matted on his forehead, ken’s face lit up with every guitar solo, playing each one slightly different from the recorded versions. Before introducing “Seventh Heaven,” ken took to the mic and led the audience in a rhythmic monkey-see, monkey-do of ‘”yeah yeah yeah’s” before fireworks shot off from behind the stage. The crowd ooed and ahhed as the faint scent of sulfur wafted over them. Every band needs the resident MC, especially for enormous shows in the freezing rain, and ken just happens to fit the bill. He’s the somewhat embarrassing but loveable uncle of the band who can bring a smile to your face as he plays a mean lick on his guitar.

However important all the other instruments are, every good rock band knows they are only as skilled as their drummer. Stoic and practically a self-proclaimed robot, yukihiro provides the computer-like precision drumming needed to play racecar-fast tunes like “READY STEADY GO,” “HEAVEN’S DRIVE,” or “Driver’s High,” (Notice a theme here?) Blink and you might miss him, but take him out of the equation, replace him with someone else, and you would get a completely different sound. Despite his android-like exterior, even he snuck in a smile or two throughout the show.

The show closed with “BLESS,” one of those singles that is temporarily floating in L’Arc-en-Ciel hiatus land before it will eventually be slapped on an album. The song has all the skill and mastery of any song done by this band, but as one of my friends would say, it’s a very “L’Arc-en-Ciel song” in that it could more or less fall into any album from the past decade. The late ‘90s and first decade of the 21st century treated L’Arc-en-Ciel well in terms of overall success, but the music started to feel a bit stagnant. And perhaps that’s why the band took a few years off following the release of their album KISS in 2007.

Still, the audience, especially international fans, left the May 29 show thoroughly happy and ecstatic for what was to come: the World Circuit tour that would reach Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taipei, Bangkok, New York City, London, and Paris. Whatever L’Arc-en-Ciel does beyond that point -  whether it be a new album or three-ring circus – will doubtlessly be a hit with fans as this seems to be the band that simply cannot fail.

As for me, I must admit I stepped out of Ajinomoto Stadium with a bitter sweet taste in my mouth, and it wasn’t the bad coffee they were serving. The band had deftly reminded me why I liked them so much in the first place, but like all things nostalgic, you love them because of the experiences surrounding them. When I first got into L’Arc-en-Ciel, discovering new Japanese music was an adventure, I met some of my best friends at their 2004 Baltimore show, and I felt young and pretty then. Now I’m slightly worldlier, much more cynical, and feeling all too much like a grumpy adult.

Perhaps the band feels something similar, but in musical terms. Their most honest work came out of the ’90s, but their international fame, turning middle age, and being a relative cash-cow might have hit them with a dose of responsibility that prevented them from taking risks and fully emoting.  Granted, their recordings are still technically pristine, but the heart and soul of their sound hasn’t come out for a long time. The 20th L’Anniversary gave us a more than obvious wink that the band is making a valiant effort to reach back into their history and rekindle that dwindling magical fire. The L’Arc-en-Ciel spirit is still here; I hope for this band, more than any other artist, that they won’t let it go.

Official L’arc-en-Ciel website – http://www.larc-en-ciel.com/
Photo Credit
Kazuko Tanaka
Hideaki Imamoto
Aki Ishii
Tsukasa Miyoshi
Toshikazu Oguruma

13 comments

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  1. Suomi

    didnt really like bless! but I like goodluck my way because there was something that reminded me of their previous albums! Kiss and Real are my favourite albums though.

  2. Daniel

    although they have become a bit more safe as you said, Kiss was a huge step back into how they used to be and shows their natural maturity which even they can’t fight. As for their change in music it had to happen, times change and although some fans get disappointed you have to realize that the music they write now they actually enjoy, its not just being safe, they really love what they play. And finally we have to remember that their ability to play anything is what made them popular with so many people, if it wasn’t for change we would have 11 Dune albums and nothing such as heart. Excellent report btw

  3. Nick

    Nice review! I have to admit, despite the new music being too safe as you’ve said, they’ve really refined it well. It would be cool to see them keep that refinement and add more feeling back. Bless bored me, but I liked Nexus 4 and Good Luck My Way, and the videos for those two were also so cool. Few things say risk like playing on the edge of a skyscraper! hah

  4. Platypus

    You know, I’m a diehard fan of L’Arc and its members. They would have to release some absolute garbage for me to not like it.

    But pretty much all of this rings painfully true. I’m shocked to see people are getting kind of mad about it because again, I will eat up whatever they release.

    1. Kathy Chee

      I’m the same way. I buy all their new releases (except those best of albums). Even if it were complete poop, I would probably buy it.

  5. RS

    and with the release of GOOD LUCK MY WAY it doesn’t seem they care about getting some of that old magical flame back; GLMW was as redundant as ever…nothing special. They’re in the “safe” boring part of their career singles-wise. I hope they amp it up, it’s too early in this year (well, middle of now) to say they haven’t got more in store…

  6. lumpdechunk

    I’m pretty sure KISS was released around 2007, not 2009.
    Although I disagree with a lot of things that you have said, I’m gonna go ahead and say that this is a very brave report. You’re gonna make some people angry with the stuffs you have said but this may be one of the most honest and personal reports about laruku, really.

    1. Sarah

      You’re right about Kiss. I’ll change that.

  7. RS

    some fans may get butthurt over your review, but your review is awesome and pretty spot-on.

    1. Sarah

      Butthurt is a perfectly acceptable response.

      1. Kathy Chee

        I like butt hurt.

  8. Sarah

    I think a lot of people tend to feel the same way about L’Arc, which I’m a bit surprised about, to be honest. Thanks for reading!

  9. kenryoku

    Brilliant. I appreciate that it’s personal and kinda echoes my own sentiments. I wasn’t able to watch it sadly but I know it in my heart that what you bared here would be what I would have been feeling too.

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