Special thanks to fellow reviewer Shane Chandler and site owner Winona Peace for taking notes and providing me with additional perspectives for this article.
the GazettE may be more popular in Japan than in the U.S., but the dedication of the American Sixth Guns was clear. Fans from all over the country began lining up as soon as the Playstation Theater permitted them to at 8 AM on the day of the concert, more than 12 hours ahead of show time. Inside the VIP line, it was clear that everyone here was beyond excited that their favorite band was finally...finally coming to the U.S. to perform. One of the most noticeable things about the fans in line was their fashion. While there were a few cosplays here and there, the majority of fans were wearing their own unique arrangement of GazettE merch, Rad Market or Blackmoral clothing, and/or GazettE-themed makeup. Rather than directly mimicking their idols, the fans had found ways to integrate the GazettE's fashion into their own personal outfits. More than most bands, the GazettE have created their own style for their fans to incorporate into their own images.
Inside the venue, the excitement was palpable. Although the venue wasn't sold out (this leg of the tour had not been heavily promoted), it was comfortably packed, and the crowd of around 2000 felt like a pleasant, intimate gathering of GazettE fans looking forward to seeing this influential band perform live for the first time. The drums on stage displayed the band's Scandal Ring, the key symbol representing the GazettE's PROJECT:DARK AGE, the darkest and heaviest musical era that the band has pursued to date.
As the lights finally dimmed, the epic intro to "NIHIL" kicked in. The heavy, sludgy electronic noises of the track hit the stage hard and the audience went wild as fog soon crept across it. It's worth noting that this track plays very well for an electronic track in a live rock venue. The band members walked out and took their positions smoothly and coolly as if the sole purpose of each member was to utterly dominate the area of the stage they occupied. Last out was vocalist RUKI, who followed the haunting chimes of the intro to "DOGMA" with an absolutely savage growl that kicked off the concert. As polarizing as it is among fans, "DOGMA" is amazing live. The band's theatrics were hauntingly intense, the instrumentation and vocals were crisp and clear, and the ominously grandiose atmosphere of the song froze the entire audience in awe. From the moment the band started playing, it was perfectly clear that the vocalist RUKI, guitarists URUHA and AOI, bassist REITA, and drummer KAI were all experienced showmen that knew how to work together to absolutely dominate the atmosphere of a live performance. Equally striking was the fidelity of their sound - the GazettE sounds almost exactly the same live as they do on their recorded tracks. "DOGMA" built up anticipation before shattering into chaos during its scream- and falsetto-filled breakdown. By the time the song transitioned into its haunting outro, the GazettE had the undivided attention of everyone present.
The band immediately transitioned into "RAGE". RUKI yelled "Hello, New York!" in English to the audience and was greeted by a roaring response from the pit. This song is one of the weaker tracks on the band's latest album DOGMA, but when played live, it does an excellent job of heightening the energy of the crowd. Those of you who are familiar with the GazettE's recent live performances can consider it to be the metal equivalent of "Sludgy Cult" (off the band's 2011 album TOXIC), another track that doesn't hold up very well as a recorded track but is frequently used at performances thanks to its tremendous live energy. The intensity of "RAGE" inspired a few individuals to attempt to form a mosh pit, but the rest of the crowd simply wasn't having it this early in the concert. This was the GazettE's first time in New York City, and the audience wanted to see as much of the band's on-stage theatrics as possible – at least for the first half of the live. Additionally, as with many visual kei bands' live performances, it's fairly well known that the focus of the live is primarily the stage (as opposed to most U.S. hard rock/metal performances, which focus more on the mosh pit and other fan activity), at least until the band starts playing its most energetic and heavy songs.
Following "Vortex" was the first MC session with the audience. The lights came on and the band members relaxed a bit as RUKI made formal introductions to the audience. "Hello New York!" he said, "We are GazettE, from Japan. Having a f**king good time? You ready? Come on!" URUHA then began to play the telltale guitar riff intro to the rocking and sexy "Fadeless". This song introduced the GazettE's highly-acclaimed melodic sound to the New York audience. Swaying hypnotically back and forth, RUKI energized the entire audience into jumping and dancing to the grooving sound of the song. The stage turned red for URUHA'S guitar solo, and the band members' swaying and playing during the beautiful bridge created a classic "the GazettE" moment of melodic bliss for the audience. REITA'S groovy bass ending to "FADELESS" was immediately followed by the pounding beat and the autotune lyrics of an unexpected track: "PAIN, GRUDGE, SORRY, FURY, DELETE, HEADACHE, HANG UP, DIZZY". That's right, the next track was "Venomous Spider's Web"– a fan favorite from the TOXIC album that everyone appreciated. The punk sound that this track is built on really resonated with the audience, and its sensual undertones were turned into overtones by RUKI, as he suggestively twisted and turned throughout the verses. Many fans never expected to see this song at the GazettE's first live in New York City, and were pleasantly surprised to be able to jump and dance to the rock/electronica blended song just like they had done when they first heard the track.
the GazettE's live performance "BIZARRE" was a stunning, show-stopping spectacle. Blinding white strobe lights flashed in time to the song's deep, pounding synth notes, and RUKI used a variety of vigorous, intricate, and flowing hand motions as he sang the clean tenor lyrics. The heavy, scream-filled parts of the song struck an even harsher blow live than on the track, and all the band members worked together to make the performance absolutely epic. AOI, who throughout the entire show could be seen making a variety of flowing and twirling movements as he played his guitar, seemed to move almost in slow motion during this song. It was clear from the lighting and energy that the live performance of "BIZARRE" was inspired by the GazettE's past performances of "13STAIRS[-1]" (from the 2009 album DIM), but the rapidly shifting energy and deep synth notes that power the track created what could be described as a remixed version of that type of performance. The highlight was at the middle of the song, when RUKI knelt down on the platform and leaned over as close to the ground as possible before singing the lyrics, accompanied by nothing besides the same pounding synth notes from the beginning of the song. A red light shone behind him, creating a perfect silhouette of his bowed-over form. This was one of the most dramatic and epic moments of the concert. The elegant intensity with which the GazettE performs is like no other band I've seen live.
After a brief interlude, a remixed version of the dubstep backing "DRIPPING INSANITY" kicked in, followed by the song itself. This slightly slower song off of the band's 2012 album DIVISION was actually one of the highlights of the concert. It fit perfectly in the set list thanks to its fairly heavy sound in spite of it being more of a ballad-esque song, and is absolutely gorgeous live. Its sound was heavy enough to fit the harder theme of the GazettE's DOGMATIC -TROIS- tour, but still light enough to serve as a soothing interlude that slowed down the pace of the live. The chorus, which was laced with female backing vocals, portrayed the melodic side of the GazettE at its finest, something that many in the audience were experiencing for the first time. I found myself closing my eyes during the choruses and swaying back and forth to the elegance of RUKI's singing voice. The singer himself seemed quite caught up in the atmosphere of the song as he danced and swayed; at one point seemingly in a trance, he sucked on his middle finger before stabbing his tattooed forearm with it and writhing in pleasure, as though he was injecting himself with the drug that is this band's music. The screams in the bridge were even stronger than the GazettE's performances of this song during their DIVISION era thanks to RUKI's revamped vocals, and URUHA flirted especially hard with the crowd as he followed with a gorgeous guitar solo. The overall crispness of the song was stunning, and this high-fidelity live sound took the atmosphere to a whole new level.
If "BIZARRE" and "DRIPPING INSANITY" were some of the concert's highlights, then "OMINOUS" was its crowning gem. The stage went dark before becoming awash in a dreary red light that still hid the band members' faces from sight. RUKI held a lamp on a chain (and then, of course, licked it), and as the industrial sounds and piano notes of the track's intro played he began to sing, "Sleep, count me down again..." AOI and URUHA stepped up to their acoustic guitars for a beautiful duet that continued to add to beautifully somber atmosphere. The song built in intensity before hitting the chorus, which melted the hearts of the entire audience. Many consider "OMINOUS" to be the best track on DOGMA, but when performed live, this song is on a completely different level from anything that I've ever seen live. Subdued blue and yellow lights were used to create an almost dream-like effect, as if the band were mere figments of the audience's imagination that had drifted on stage. Watching the live performance of this track actually brought me to tears, and after seeing it live it's clear to me that "OMINOUS" will be one of the most memorable tracks from the GazettE's PROJECT:DARK AGE era. I expect to see it reappear in future performances to be played as one of the bands latest and greatest hits.
"Ikukai?! (Ready to go?!)" Crash! "Ikukai?! (Ready to go?!)" Crash! "Ikukai?! (Ready to go?!)" Crash! "Ikukai?! (Ready to go?!)" Crash! "KAKATTEKOI!! (LET'S GO!!)" Craaaaash!
The stunt proved to be just as effective on this audience as those in Japan, and it sent chills down the spines of those of us who follow the GazettE and have always wanted to see this live. Before the noise from the crowd even died down, the band dove head-first into "UGLY", the heaviest, craziest song of the night. The crowd went nuts; some members were jumping in time to the beat, some were head banging, and quite a few whipped up a mosh pit in the back (it was a much more appropriate atmosphere at this point in the concert), but everyone was moving. During the solo, URUHA hopped up on the platform stage to shred away, but KAI's double bass drumming was so loud that it completely drowned everything else out. It was clear that the band was still working out the kinks of performing something this savagely heavy live, but then again, so has every metal band since the genre's inception. This was also one of the points in the concert where I wish the crowd had been a bit more educated on the different movements common at the GazettE concerts; in Japan, there are very clear points in this song where the crowd members viciously head bang in unison (it's even shown in the music video). Everyone seemed eager to express themselves, but the crowd as a whole was unable to do it as a group effort beyond yelling. It's certainly to be expected given how few visual bands even make it state-side, but in time it would be nice to see from crowds at future visual kei concerts.
After the dust settled from "UGLY", the lights dimmed for the dark-ambient intro to "UNDYING". RUKI lead the charge into the song with a massive scream, and the song's aggressively energetic sound filled the venue as bright white strobe lights flashed. "UNDYING" is one of those tracks where it's hard to tell if the GazettE originally intended to write a ballad or a heavier track when they first started composing it. The song is decidedly heavy, and yet the chorus ties all of the vicious metalcore and gothic metal sounds together with a melodic atmosphere that makes you want to stop headbanging so you can take it all in. Because this track was so new (the UNDYING single had only been released two days prior), there didn't seem to be a large amount of interest in this song from the crowd, but the grand spectacle of the band's performance of "UNDYING" captured the audience's attention. RUKI yelled "Thank you so much New York!" as the song concluded.
The band members eventually returned to the stage after a brief costume change. RUKI shouted "Thank you, New York!" and showcased a specially-made American flag with fan signatures, the GazettE's logo, and PROJECT:DARK AGE's Scandal Ring embroidered in it. The sight of RUKI wrapped in an American flag covered in fan signatures sent chills down the spines of the ecstatic audience members, myself included. It was a moment of realization for us all. the GazettE was finally here. They had finally performed in the U.S., and they had absolutely killed it. The band kicked off the encore set with an old fan-favorite: the rap-rock track "Agony"! The fans absolutely lost it when they recognized the hip hop drum rhythm and opening guitar riff. They rapped the all-English lyrics along with RUKI and danced and jumped throughout the entire song. The band members started to really interact with the audience–REITA hiked his bass up on his shoulder and gestured to the crowd, and URUHA got incredibly close to the fans during the instrumental break. RUKI went full crunk-rock on this track, bouncing and swaying to the beat before showing off his best hip hop moves during the outro.
"Last song! Last song! Last Song! This song is called, 'Tomorrow Never Dies.' Make some noise!"
The flashing lights, catchy guitar riffs, and clean vocals made the live performance of "Tomorrow Never Dies" an excellent way for the GazettE to end the concert on a high note. Fan interaction was at its highest during this final song, and the band members were eating it up–especially REITA, who spent most of the song getting up close on the edge of the stage and leaning into the audience as much as he could while still being able to play bass at the same time. During the bridge, RUKI got the fans to wave their hands in time to the lightest part of the song before URUHA burst into a wonderful guitar solo. RUKI cried out "Thank you New York!" before leading the band and audience through the last chorus and grand finale of the song.
As the song ended, RUKI threw up a pair of devil horns for true rock and roll and screamed, "Thank you! See you again, New York! Bye-bye, I love you. Thank you so much!" Picks, water bottles, and other miscellaneous items were tossed into the crowd by URUHA, AOI, and REITA. The five members of the GazettE then lined up in the center of the stage, held hands, and bowed together. KAI tossed his drumsticks into the crowd, RUKI took a photo of the audience, and AOI snagged a selfie with the fans in the background. Fans with a keen eye got to see REITA run up to RUKI toward the back of the stage and join him in doing a dab (yes, the dance move) together! As the GazettE walked off the stage and waved their final goodbyes, the fans continued cheering, ecstatic and beyond satisfied with the performance they had just experienced.
Fans who shelled out money for the concert's VIP tickets got the chance to meet and greet the band members after the show. It was a very short meeting (not much more than 30 seconds per person), but each of the 250 VIP fans was absolutely ecstatic to meet the band. Many fans were especially surprised with how genuinely excited each of the members were to meet them, especially considering that the meet and greet occurred almost immediately after the live performance. It's clear that the band was very happy to be in the States meeting their U.S. fans for the first time. Fun fact: according to many of the fans, RUKI has an absolutely "gangsta" handshake!
the GazettE's first performance in New York City was a wonderful first introduction between the band and the audience. The crowd, accustomed to the excessively chaotic nature of western hard rock/heavy metal concerts, learned to contain itself and focus on the band during the more theatrical moments of the concert. While the band seemed slightly taken aback at times by the intensity of the US audience, they were also clearly supercharged by the energy that was so freely given to them (compared to Japanese audiences, where they have to work extremely hard to cultivate the same level of energy). RUKI, in particular, seemed genuinely excited to be playing with such an excited audience. The set list was chock-full of the GazettE's latest and greatest hits, and while I selfishly would have preferred to have seen more fan favorites, it made sense to use a setlist like this to give the U.S. fans a crash course in the GazettE's live music. This live struck an interesting balance between the GazettE’s more traditional sound and their current (and much heavier) PROJECT:DARK AGE sound, with all of the older songs benefitting in quality from the band’s harder sound and improved instrumentation/vocals. This cross between old and new was even visually reflected in Ruki’s outfit, which consisted of the black waistcoat and large hat from the UNDYING crossed with a dirty-blonde hairstyle and makeup that both harkened back to earlier styles in the band's career (the music video for "Chizuru" comes to mind). It's also worth noting that the band seemed to be enjoying themselves the most during their performances of tracks from their 2011 and 2012 albums (TOXIC and DIVISION), which experimented with combining hard rock and industrial metal with different kinds of electronic music. There's no denying that every member of the GazettE drastically retooled and improved their skills for PROJECT:DARK AGE, and this only further served to bolster the quality of the performances of tracks from the aforementioned eras. After observing this show, I suspect (and quite frankly hope) that the next music that the GazettE releases will fall somewhere in between the domains of DIVISION and PROJECT:DARK AGE.
Bottom line: if you ever get the opportunity to see this band, take it. Every member of the band had a fantastic live stage presence at this concert, and RUKI cemented himself as the ringleader of the show with his alluring dances and theatrical behavior. The tracks sounded as good or better live than when recorded, and interaction between the band members and fans was intimate and exciting. The band transitioned effortlessly between themes and sounds, creating an energetic and volatile live atmosphere that pulled everyone in. For the longtime fans in the audience, the GazettE's first New York City performance was a dream come true that did not disappoint.
Photo Credit: Syra Sparkle (Instagram | @sparkledeath_syra)
Special thanks to Paul Chu from Zepp Live and John Pantle from APA (Agency for the Performing Arts) for giving us this opportunity, and to Syra Sparkle for the photos!
|the GazettE fans with the signed American flag before the show|
- MC -
06. VENOMOUS SPIDER'S WEB
08. DRIPPING INSANITY
10. THE SUICIDE CIRCUS
14. FILTH IN THE BEAUTY
- ENCORE -
17. TOMORROW NEVER DIES