Live: L'Arc-En-Ciel Land At Madison Square Garden

larcenciel_march25.jpg
L'Arc-en-Ciel
Madison Square Garden
Sunday, March 25

Better than: Hearing critics just talk about weird foreign scenes and stylistic blends and collisions at the EMP Pop Conference.

Japanese hard rock band L'Arc-en-Ciel have been in well-deserved self-celebration mode of late. They celebrated their 20th anniversary with the 2011 triple-disc best-of Twenity, then announced their first U.S. concert in nearly eight years (they'd made their Stateside performance debut at 2004's Otakon anime convention in Baltimore). Originally booked for the Theater at Madison Square Garden, this show was bumped up to the main arena due to demand. And while it wasn't a total sellout, it was damn close. The audience, though predominantly Asian, included folks of every race and color, many of whom doubtless didn't know a word of Japanese and/or first heard L'Arc via games or anime soundtracks (their songs have served as themes for Fullmetal Alchemist and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, among others). I saw a Mexican flag and a Venezuelan flag being waved on the floor at various points.

The group released their twelfth studio album, Butterfly, last month; it's an ultra-slick blend of crunching hard rock guitars, melodies that recall The Cure at their most psychedelic (think "Friday I'm In Love"), frontman and occasional rhythm guitarist hyde's keening, upper-register vocals, and lush '60s pop-influenced arrangements that pile on the strings and horns at times (think the Doors' "Touch Me"). They don't play the cyber-R&B Asian pop most think of when contemporary Japanese music is discussed in the West; L'Arc-en-Ciel are a rock band, straight up, even if keyboard lines borrowed from house music occasionally nudge the guitars out of the way. Their songs frequently feature screaming solos from lead guitarist ken (none of the bandmembers capitalize their names), and drummer yukihiro is a living jackhammer. And the concert included guitar, bass and drum solos, ken's a slow, David Gilmour-esque exercise in spotlit melancholy.

Live, L'Arc are significantly weirder than on record. First of all, hyde has to be the single most androgynous frontman I've ever seen—he makes Antony Hegarty look like Henry Rollins. He wore a waist-length black blazer with shoulder pads over a black tank top, pants baggy enough to hold a spare microphone or two, and his hair was in blond cornrows, dangling loose for better whipping. His primary stage move (other than sticking his tongue out at the audience) is a version of Axl Rose's snake-hips dance, but with added twirls and what can only be described as flouncing. Oh, and five songs or so into the set, he donned a floppy, wide-brimmed hat Alicia Keys would envy, making him look like a '90s R&B diva having a rock moment.

There were a few nods to the location of the event; ken delivered a slightly rambling, but funny, speech in English (read off a piece of paper) describing his trip to the Museum of Natural History (which he wanted to see because he was such a fan of the movie Night at the Museum), and three amplifiers on stage had been painted red, white and blue. The set included four songs from Butterfly, along with a selection of the band's greatest hits, and every selection, even the new ones, was greeted with wild enthusiasm. Some inspired cheers after only their introductory sound effect—like a motorcycle engine revving—or an image on the gigantic video screens had been played. This may have been L'Arc's New York debut, but the audience had clearly absorbed their earlier performances. A lot of recordings bolstered their sound, from strings to keyboards, but aside from the video screens displaying images ranging from coelacanths swimming back and forth to an eyeball that transformed into the Death Star, the band counted on their own charisma—of which they had plenty—to keep the arena enraptured, and it was more than enough.

Critical bias: I'm usually more of a J-pop fan; my iPod's full of Ayumi Hamasaki, Koda Kumi, Ami Suzuki, capsule and Perfume albums. But L'Arc's songs are catchy as hell.

Overheard: Screaming. Lots and lots of screaming.

Random notebook dump: Outside the arena pre-show, a pair of Japanese fans with a pack of markers were asking people to sign a giant card which would be presented to the band later. I demurred—journalistic objectivity, don't you know.

Set list:
Ibara no Namida
Chase [in English]
Good Luck My Way
Honey
Drink It Down
Revelation
Jojoushi
X X X [in English]
Fate
Forbidden Lover
My Heart Draws a Dream
Caress of Venus
Driver's High
Stay Away
Ready Steady Go
--
Anata
Winter Fall
Blurry Eyes
Niji

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52 comments
Payton_vege
Payton_vege

Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

Belle Salvia
Belle Salvia

Really enjoyed reading your review Phil.  Most of the fan comments and Japanese media interviews are redundant and predictable so calling them "weird" is refreshing, because to me they are sooo "safe" these days.  L'arc is very corporate and comparing Hyde's performance here to when he's doing Vamps (think Hyde in heavy metal heaven), they epitomize the pinnacle of Jrock standard. If you are interested in a truly innovative Japanese performer, please check out Miyavi.  He too went through his androgyneous period but these days his Samurai Guitarist shamisen influenced slap guitar playing will probably carry him when he's long past his pretty boy phase.  Added the fact that he is fluent in English and could easily do the talk show circuit like Letterman, Leno.  Unfortunately, his music is less melodic than most Jrock/Jpop so inevitably has less mass appeal making corporate funding on the scale of L'arc doubtful.   To me L'arc will always be easy listening Jrock, Hyde the perpetual Asian eye candy with a voice to match, Ken is the ear candy of guitar solo, and all of them churning pleasurable tunes in a range of styles no US musician will attempt.  Listen to "I Wish" followed by "Revelation", then "White Feathers", "Kuchizuke',and "Jesus Christ" from Vamps, then back to "Hitomi no Jyunin","Link", and something from the Indies days. And who doesn't love the theatrical set up of their concerts, remember when Hyde dressed up in a SS officer type uniform? probably won't go well in NYC though.

Platypus
Platypus

Great write up. I'm rather apalled at the obnoxious, nit-picky comments. As a long-time fan of L'Arc (well, nine years), I appreciate any positive press.

豊美
豊美

I was looking at the live with the simultaneous live broadcast of the movie theater in Japan. The inside of the movie theater was a very exciting atmosphere. It was very wonderful! I am proud of L'Arc~en~Ciel as a Japanese.

someguy
someguy

Was I sitting next to you Phil? 

Andrea C.
Andrea C.

Oh the show was AWESOME! I wish they would've played some older stuff( I was waiting on edge for something from their Dune album, and wishing for The Rain Leaves a Scar) but they really did great. I was looking at some of the suggestions listed and I agree w/ most of them. Definitely listen to some Luna Sea, Ryuichi's voice is so awesome and they have dual guitarists and one of the guitarists is a violinist!(<3 Sugizo) I suggest Gravity from Luna Sea, that song is just awesome. Do check out kaggra,! They're my favorite band right after L'arc en Ciel, but not only are they disbanded, the lead singer Isshi passed away last July. Isshi had a magnificent voice, a beautiful range with a great falsetto. They leave a legacy of awesome music behind, try to focus on the older songs from their earlier works like Nue or Gozen. Gackt...oh Gackt... He's a strange one hahaha but he does some interesting things as well. I don't know why they left out Buck-Tick! They've been rocking for such a long time. My personal song choice from Buck-Tick would be Kagerou, Misshitsu, and dress. There are lots of great bands in Japan, the visual kei scene is difficult to navigate through, and the alternative scene is steadily growing but they both deserve consideration. I'm waiting for Luna Sea's second world tour, I missed them back in 2010 -_-! I went to see Vamps instead (I'm just crazy about hyde) 

Scorpio
Scorpio

Your set list was wrong in one spot. Instead of Jojoushi, L'Arc played Hitomi no Juunin at MSG on Sunday. And I agree with Jackuon, how could you not mention tetsuya (though long-time fans will call him tetsu)?

Jackuon
Jackuon

This was a good review to introduce L'Arc to people who've probably never heard of them. Fair and very positive, properly explaining their immense popularity, talent, and charisma. So thanks.But how could you fail to mention tetsuya, the Leader and bassist of L'Arc?? :P

Gackt's magnum
Gackt's magnum

This is a really interesting article. L'Arc~en~Ciel is an amazing band, but I just think that after all this time, you'd think they would expand their horizons a little more. Really? You don't return to the U.S. for nearly 8 years and when you do, you go to the same place and don't bother visiting I don't know....the Midwest, or the West Coast? Hasn't VAMPS' tours taught you anything? But anyway.....

Before L'Arc~en~Ciel became corporate and started pumping out anime theme songs like there's no tomorrow, they were really raw and created real rock music. See albums: Dune, Tierra, Heavenly, and True. "Awake" is ok too, I suppose.

Ariesspd4
Ariesspd4

I have mixed feelings about this article. Some of sounds good, then some of it, is just down right insulting to L'arc-en-ciel's US fans. Obviously, Mr. Freeman hasn't listened to all of L'arc-en-ciel's music. You never know what this band is going to sound like, until you hear the song. They may have 2-3 different genres of music on one album. They just don't play hard rock, they have songs that are pop, jazz, punk, blues, glam rock, a little reggae, and classical music as well. It's like listening to 10 bands in one, and the only thing that is constant is Hyde's strong vocals. Hyde has an androgynous image because that's the way he started out with the band 20 years. He has a different look when he plays with his other band The Vamps. It is true that most of his fans are Asian, but that is only because they have had more access to the band, and their music. Twenty years ago, you couldn't go to the record store in the US and buy their music, and you still can't today, hopefully that will change. It's only been a couple of years since Amazon mp3 started selling some downloads of their music. I heard their music twelve years ago, and I had a very hard time finding their music until now. I fell in love with Hyde's voice, on the cut Season's Call, wich was featured on the anime show called Blood+. I take great offense, in the comment that you doubted that his non-Asian fans didn't know any Japanese. The group has quite a few songs in english, but true fans love it when they mix Japanese and english together in their songs. It makes you work harder to be a fan. First, we find out the meanings of the songs in english, then we learn the japanese words. I have to admit that some fans probably don't know the meaning of all the japanese words, but trust me they do know the words. If you saw some of the non-asians not singing, that's only because they never heard the song before, we are only talking about a band that has 20 years worth of material. Remember that it is hard to get their earlier music in the US. I was at the concert on Sunday at MSG, and there were 2 songs that I didn't know that well, because I just found them on the internet, a few days before the concert. The funny thing is, they sang the english version of Chase, and XXX, and I was lost, because I only know the japanese versions. We don't play their songs in the US or show their videos here, so if you want to see the band's videos and live performances, you have to go to youtube, courtesy of their fans in other countries. Yes, they are going to have more asian fans, for that reason alone, but they have Black fans, White fans, Latino fans, fans of all different races, ages, and walks of life, and we were present at MSG! I thinking you are missing the point, this bands plays great music, and they give you one hell of a show. That's why people love them. Who cares if you prefer J-pop, that music sounds like the music we already have in the US, and people here are tired of listening to the same old garbage on the radio. We are tired of all the rock, pop, and rnb groups with the same cookie cutter image. Record producers find a sound that sells, then they fashion all the bands they produce to look and sound the same way. That's why we love L'arc-en-ciel, because they are unique, and play real music. They even chose the right name, L'arc-en-ciel means rainbow in french, and they definitely had the rainbow coalition at the concert! I think America is ready for them now! Oh by the way I do speak some japanese, enough to hold a converation, and I can read it too!

Becki
Becki

Great review! Nice to see L'arc getting some positive press over here. =) The show was fantastic. It should also be mentioned though that L'arc are the first ever Japanese band to headline Madison Square Garden.

Katty_sanders
Katty_sanders

They are so amazing, is all (I dont speak engish) I live in Dominican Republic and. I know who They are L'Arc~en~ciel the best

AF
AF

Had the overwhelming urge to storm backstage and throw myself on top of the super sexy frontman.....this is the second concert I've been to where I felt this way (the last concert? Prince.).................

Veronica gonzalez
Veronica gonzalez

IT WAS A FUCKING AMAZING SHOW START TO FINISH !AND I SIGH THE CARD THOSE GIRLS HAD THEY WHERE SUPER NICE !BEST SHOW I EVER BEEN TO !AND I HAVE BEEN TO PLENTY !ALL AROUND GOOD VIBE !

JRockerstar21
JRockerstar21

hyde!"most androgynous frontman I've ever seen" WELCOME TO JROCK YOU HAVE SEEN NOTHIN YET!!!LOL

julnyes
julnyes

Excellent review of an amazing band (though I wish you had used a picture showing all four members). It was fantastic to see them on stage here in New York.

Kyoukaizen
Kyoukaizen

I loved your review! I have been following L'Arc for 16 years now and after living and working professionally in finance in Japan I got to understand the ways of Japanese bands, their androgynous concepts and the musical variations they have. I loved your review because it is an independent one from someone that might not be very related to JRock bands. I enjoyed reading your review and talking with one friend who attended the concert with me. She is a music professor and she told me similar things to what you wrote. I think it was a magical night for L'Arc with Hyde almost crying when saying it took them 20 years to get here. It was a great concert for ll of us who love L'Arc!

Charo Tolentino
Charo Tolentino

I so loved it!  At first, I thought I did not get the fifth row seat I wanted (I thought I would be over on tetsuya's side of the stage, but I found out I was exactly where I wanted to be - on ken's side!  My seat was by the aisle, right in line with ken's position onstage!)   Unbelievable effects, unbelievable backgrounds onscreen, and though I"m not the screaming type, I went along with the audience and also started screaming, jumping, dancing, etc.  I just hope as they return, since tetsuya's parting words sort of suggested that.  Amazing!  (Now if we could just have Luna Sea at some point on that stage...^^)

Julie
Julie

I thought it was absolutely amazing as well. And the setlist was amazing. I'd stalked the setlists of their earlier stops, and had given up hoping to hear Jojoushi (my favorite song), Blurry Eyes, Winter Fall or Caress of Venus. I'm so glad they decided to play those songs.And of course the sing-a-long for Anata was awesome. Although I think Driver's High was the most fun to listen to since it was also really interactive. :P

Theresa Gaffney
Theresa Gaffney

 It was a great show! So glad they were able to move it up to the big stage and show the U.S. what L'arc's magic is up close and personal!

Jessica Canavan
Jessica Canavan

Oh, they were simply fantastic! I'm not a huge fan of L'arc~en~Ciel (I haven't listened to them in ages, though that is definitely going to change), but they were the first J-rock/Visual Kei band that I ever listened to, so they hold a special place in my heart.

The only thing I have to disagree about here is Hyde being the single most androgynous frontman. Androgynous frontmen are very common in J-rock, especially when it comes to Visual Kei. GACKT, Mana, Kaya, and so on and so forth. They are all extremely androgynous.

But, other than that, this is a very nice report. I loved that I had the chance to see L'arc~en~Ciel and I wish the concert didn't have to end!

Vermillion
Vermillion

It was an utterly amazing show! So lucky and thankful to have attended!

Lauren Alba
Lauren Alba

I don't remember them playing X X X...

Epac
Epac

The chick in that pic does NOT look asian...

Jodi
Jodi

The show was amazing, they doesn't look like a 40 years old man. I just a bit disappointed with the sound because I didn't quite can hear tetsu bass sound, but I hope it just me :)

Zasgoat
Zasgoat

Fantastic show! I went b/c my son is a huge fan but I enjoyed it every bit as much as he did. A bit sad wishing they had played Flower.

V-K
V-K

For the record, you really do not know what J-Rock is... and J-Pop for that matter. Do listen more... for a more objective view. Thanx for the write up anyways.

ALC
ALC

 Yes, these comments are killing me right now. Guys, just be thankful that someone was willing to write this article in the first place, and do it in a way that doesn't alienate the general public (like...all of you are doing right now), and also sheds a positive light on an unfamiliar genre of music in this country.  Damn.

Marie
Marie

Nope, the set list is right. If they HAD played Hitomi no Juunin, I would have died of happiness though!

Andi Oji Nuruljihad
Andi Oji Nuruljihad

how the hell is madison square garden the same place as an anime convention in baltimore? MSG is THE VENUE for rock bands around the world. a world tour takes a LOT of planning, especially booking and seating huge venues. you honestly think MSG would've sold as well as it did if Laruku was also headlining in three or four spots around the US? that's just naivete speaking. a single huge concert does more for the bottom line than a dozen tiny ones, that's just the pure economics of the business.

i'll agree their older albums were 'rawer' but i don't think they'd have lasted as long if they never changed up their sound. there are a billion bands that never evolved. have you seen deep purple? or mr. big? or van halen? NOBODY CHEERS when they play their newer songs, nobody in the audience even recognizes them. the fact that 19.000 fans recognized and MEMORIZED laruku's new songs proves their staying power in the industry. nostalgia for 'dem good ol' days' is fine and dandy but means nothing when faced with cold hard facts.

Andi Oji Nuruljihad
Andi Oji Nuruljihad

no need to be offended. the review was glowing and from a fairly unbiased viewpoint. now if YOU were to write the review i'd probably agree with a lot more of your words but respect the source less -- no offense -- just because you're a die hard fan of the band (like myself :D)

Jrockerstar21
Jrockerstar21

Luna Sea is coming to Nekocon 2012 in Hampton Virginia!!!!

Athena99991
Athena99991

 Sorry to disagree, but Gackt is not androgynous at all. He was in his Malice Mizer days, but definitely not anymore.

Charo Tolentino
Charo Tolentino

They did.  (That's the one I remember most because I was bellydancing to it)  Maybe it's because you didn't see the beautiful women on the screen?  Or maybe it's because hyde sang it in English?

marie
marie

Maybe you blacked out from the sheer awesome, but they did. Though that song in particular was hard to distinguish the lyrics to.

Charo Tolentino
Charo Tolentino

 The 'chick' in that pic is not a chick.  That's hyde, who happens to be male.

Phil Freeman
Phil Freeman

Oh, I never claimed to be any kind of expert. My entire knowledge of L'Arc's discography is limited to the three "Twenity" volumes and the new album. But I'm always open to new sounds...who do you suggest I check out?

Scorpio
Scorpio

 I stand corrected. I was drunk!

Charo Tolentino
Charo Tolentino

I am soooo going to die happy if that is true!   Must.see.Luna Sea.

Becki
Becki

It says on Nekocon's website that MC Frontalot is performing. Where did you hear that Luna Sea will be there?

Jessica Canavan
Jessica Canavan

He was still quite androgynous in his early days as well. I do agree with you that as of late he has become less so, but that does not exclude his early works or his Malice Mizer days.

Stevepm
Stevepm

Phil, don't forget two of Jrocks best bands, High and Mighty Color and the Pillows.  H&MC were one of the harder rocking J bands with a Metallica influence, a male rap vocalist, and a great female lead singer.  Check out their hits - Pride, Ichirin no Hana, Over, Resistance, Hot Limit.  Too bad they broke up in 2010. 

Pillows would be considered more of an alternative pop/rock band.  Their song, Ride on Shooting Star, is an all time classic.  Also check out their songs Last Dinosaur and Funny Bunny. 

Also don't ever forget two more of Jrocks best, Cornelius and Quruli, just because people don't mention them.  Check out the Cornelius song Star Fruits Surf Rider.  Check out the Quruli hit Bara no Hana as well as the song Tokyo.  If I were to pick two bands from the list below, I would select the hard rocking metal band Dir En Grey for their unique style/sound and Scandal, one of the best female rock bands I have ever seen and heard.  Scandal's last two albums can sound pretty standard due to the production but live everything still rocks. 

Thanks for the review.

Jessica Canavan
Jessica Canavan

Some more suggestions:

Visual Kei:

Luna Sea (J-Rock)Malice MizerSIDBORNKanon Wakeshima (Kanon x Kanon)KagrraVersailles

Oshare Kei:

An Cafe (Antique Cafe)LM.C (they are a mix between Oshare Kei and Visual Kei, I think)SuG

J-Rock:

Asian Kung-Fu GenerationMiyavi (though, he sees himself as being Neo-Visual Kei)High and Mighty Color

J-Pop/Dance:

T.M. Revolution

Abby
Abby

Great review even though you were limited to L'Arc's discography. I thought it was fair review although some parts were a bit off. 

Some suggestion for Japanese rock:ONE OK ROCK (listen to their song liar)Acid Black Cherry GlayX JapanBzUverworldOrange RangeThe Gazette (visual kei)GacktBump of ChickenAlice Nine ScandalIkimono Gakaridir en grey

Jpop suggestions:

Utada HikaruYUIAngela AkiMika NakashimaEXILEJ Soul BrothersFukuhara MihoYuna ItoPerfume

J-Urban Jasmine (jasmine + jpop on youtube)Daichi MiuraYuya MatsushitaCrystal KayBeniKato MiliyahKuroki MeisaShimizu Shota

Lol If you would have known about visual kei (a Japanese rock movement), you would then disagree that Hyde isn't too androgynous.

Mav
Mav

The revving of an engine that you seemed so surprised about is the intro to their most famous single, "Driver's High". Saying people are excited before the act is like being surprised that fans know the distinctive intro to Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" or U2's "Sweetest Thing". 

I'm not V-K, but there are some suggestions below from Jessica for acts with androgynous frontmen on the J-music scene. 

JRockerstar21
JRockerstar21

That was 2011. it will be announced soon, keep eye on my facebook page JRocker FanClub USA 50 posts a day on what is happening in the world of Jrock, VK etc. new releases, concert info and more!

Phil Freeman
Phil Freeman

Abby, Jessica, Stevepm -

Thanks! I'll definitely check out some of this stuff. Of the ones I'm already familiar with, I like dir en grey, saw them when they toured with Deftones. I like Scandal, too. LOVE Perfume. And while I like a few songs by Utada, she's not really to my taste, especially not when she sings in English. I prefer Koda Kumi and Namie Amuro.

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