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Apr 04

[live report] Versailles – Born in the 17th Century

There was a sketch back in the ‘90s, when Saturday Night Live was a respected comedy outlet, called “Goth Talk.” In one edition of this satirical talk show, Chris Kattan’s character mutters in a waif-like voice, “We should have been born in the 17th century.”

Every time I hear the band Versailles -Philharmonic Quintet- (formerly and much more simply known as Versailles), I can’t help but think of that overly romanticized picture of a faux pre-revolution France that goths around the globe so deeply yearn to live. The spectacular elegance,the vibrant extravagance, the frilly sleeves, the machinegun rapid-fire electric guitars… all these ring true to an era that never existed, but certainly should have.

That image didn’t fail to float into my head like a stray bouquet of roses when I saw Versailles on February 12 for Versailles World Tour 2012 – Holy Grail – Grand Final ~ Chateau de Versailles~. Even as the audience brandished the metal devil horns, between guitarist Hizaki’s bell-sleeved gown and vocalist Kamijo’s pirate captain coat, the band was one powdered wig away from a retelling of Les Miserables.

Grand costumes and bouffant hair are a given at these concerts, but the band did try to mix it a little with some human props. The show opened with fully cloaked, suspiciously feminine monks marching onto a platform behind the drums. These monks would later reveal themselves to be belly dancers for the song “Rhapsody.” Besides that piece of theatricality and the free-standing band members’ sporadic twirling, the stage set up seemed a bit bare. Even the obligatory audience hand movements were a tad lackluster. Without much of the visuals to concentrate on, I was forced to focus on the music.

Thankfully, Versailles is one of those visual bands that is surprisingly more complex in the music department than they are in the costume department, which – if you’ve seen any pictures of them – is saying something.

This band is power metal to the finger bleeding extreme. The guitars in songs like “Philia” duel with the utmost precision while Hizaki and Teru still make it look as effortless and delicate as sipping tea. While the band’s early body of work is heavily influenced by the technical complexity of classical music, the newer songs seemed to be less Mozart and more pop metal. “Thanatos” brought a mid-tempo pace that focused more on the beat rather than showcasing the guitarists’ otherwordly skill. Versailles even delved into a touch of pop rock with “Libido”’sprominent vocal melody.

But at their heart, Versailles are inarguably the musical speed demons less costumed men would be envious of. The guitars in “Threshold” go so fast, the band might have broken through time and space, traveled back to the real Versailles to have cake with Marie Antoinette, and returned before anyone in the audience could even blink.

With all of Versailles’ impressive and seemingly impossible skills, the costumes are still there, front and center. Granted, they’re gorgeous and I envy Hizaki’s tiny waist, but what would this band be like without the classical period extravaganza? They would probably garner a more proletariat than bourgeois crowd, but the music would still be utterly exciting and mind-boggling difficult. However, Versailles will always be part frilly sleeve, part maddening musical speeds that will make all their fans wish they were born in the 17th century.

[svgallery name="versailles_2012"]

Official Website – http://versailles.syncl.jp/

1 comment

  1. Jen Wang

    Belly dancing monks, eh? That sounds interesting. I’ve always loved how Versailles added frills to speed metal.

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