Proof of the Love

“Proof of the Love” was the name of Panic☆ch’s final tour, which was admittedly the main reason I ventured to Tokyo for a second time.

The concert was held at a venue in the questionable night life district of Shinjuku called Ruido K4. From early afternoon you could see eager fans awaiting their beloved band’s last concert, most of them decked out in lolita outfits. I can’t imagine waiting outside all day like that – the wind was unexpectedly cold, and I wasn’t even wearing a puffy dress. My afternoon was idled away in a Mister Donut several blocks from the venue.

The concert was to start at 4:30 and featured 7 bands in all. Unlike the last concert I saw Panikku at, these bands were all in the same visual kei genre. The majority of the bands were quite unknown. I think I’d only heard of three of them prior to coming to this live. Aside from Panikku the names I knew were SkeltT (because the vocalist is the ex-roadie for Panikku) and Tu[ism], who I believe were the second most known out of the lineup.

The venue was tucked into the second basement floor of some tiny Shinjuku building. Once all the fans were in it was hard to move around and cash in my free drink ticket. With a handful of fliers that were handed to me upon entering as well as a drink and Panikku’s last single, I made my way through the main floor to the front corner of the stage. That’s where I always end up. It’s not too opposing for the fans (Japanese visual kei fans are rumored to be frightening creatures who you try your best not to piss off), yet at the same time you’re still right up where the action is.

While I could sit here typing out descriptions of all the performing groups to the best of my memory, I think talking about the crowd itself is more interesting. Like all of Japanese society, there appeared to be a strict hierarchy. And, just like all of Japanese society, it was a bit hard for me to figure out where exactly I fit into this hierarchy. For example, when you go to see an American concert if fans in the crowd like the band they push their way to the front, no questions asked. It’s survival of the most determined. At this concert, however, there was one girl wandering around who very much appeared to be an alpha female who gathered up all the biggest fans and put them in the front row. If you so happened to be standing in their place she would in a very Japanese and polite way ask you to move… and if you didn’t move fast enough she would simply sweep you out of the way. Everyone followed these quietly spoken rules unquestioningly. Every band that came on had a front row full of fans who knew their names and carried their merchandise. How the alpha female could find these fans in the 50+ member crowd, I’ll never know.

Then was the way people act at these concerts as compared to how they would in America. All of the bands playing were hard rock. That’s what visual kei typically is – the overly feminine costumes are supposed to create a dichotomy with the sound and lyrics, or something of that sort. I could also be reading too far into it. Either way you get my point. While at an American concert you would have moshing, shoving, and constant jumping, the audience members at these concerts appeared to have whole choreographed dances involving graceful arm movements for most of the famous songs. When Panikku played you could tell who the regular fans were simply because of how well they knew these motions.

Of course you also have your typical fist-pumping motion. Then there’s plenty of headbanging, which is a very peculiar action to see groups of cutesy Japanese girls engage in. In the headbanging comes some more Japanese organization – the crowd would at times split into rows, put their hands across each other’s shoulders and all headbang in sync. A really bizarre sight.

Then there’s what appeared to be the Japanese equivalent of moshing. The vocalist would shout, 「飛んで来い!」(tonde koi), a phrase I’d heard before but never understood until seeing it in action. It translates roughly to, “Jump up here!” (tobu meaning jump and koi meaning come). What happened was the girls in the front row would bend over the bar that separated the audience and the stage. This created padding for the people behind them to jump against the bar with their back facing the stage. It’s quite hard to describe clearly, and even when you actually see it, it’s still hard to understand. Once again, it’s one of those things only possible at a Japanese concert. The front row and the first few rows behind have a gap between them, unlike the dense front row crowds typical in America, and the girls seemed to coordinate without words so that no one got crushed, jumped on, or otherwise harmed. If that move was attempted in America I can only imagine the internal bleeding that would occur. When the concert started and all the front-row girls lined up blankets across the bar I was confused, but after seeing this it all made sense.

I remember my freshman year of university I took a seminar class about musicology. At one point we talked about the almost hive-mind effect that occurs at concerts. Though people are fighting for the front and slamming into one another on purpose, everyone is simultaneously looking out for one another. Not only that, but everyone seems to know what to do and how to dance. I remember feeling that very strongly at the concerts I’d gone to in America. When I went to this concert I could see that hive-minded phenomenon around me, but perhaps because I was in a completely different culture, both concert-goer-wise and normally, I felt like the one member of the group who wasn’t in sync. It was a truly strange and lonely sensation.

So, in order to combat the feeling of being an outsider, I tried out a couple of their strange moves. It felt weird to me to make cutesy hand motions at a rock concert, but it was fun. When the rows of people headbanging together started, I joined one row and felt like a member of the group. I even bent over the bar with the other girls – I have some nasty bruises, but it was kind of fun to just forget what I thought was strange and enjoy the show in a new way.

Back to the actual show itself, my favorite performers of the night (aside from the headliner) were a band called Re:dis and the band I mentioned earlier, Tu[ism]. Both seemed very experienced with riling up the crowd, and both vocalists could sing really well. Re:dis’ vocalist switched between shouting and more typical singing styles… while slowly losing pieces of clothing as their performance went on. He also seemed to stick near my end of the stage – I like to imagine he was amused by foreigners (there was a French girl next to me most of the night. Actually, I ended up bumping into her in Harajuku on Sunday – small world, even in Tokyo). I’m fairly sure he stuck his tongue out at me at some point. As for Tu[ism], they had a bit of a lighter sound, but their music was very energetic and easy to bounce around to. There were two girls next to me who were major fans of the guitarist. Whenever he came near they would make heart symbols with their hands and push them toward him. Just to show you how cutesy Japan is.

Naturally Panic☆ch’s performance got everyone moving. They went through their set list and disappeared. The crowd shouted encore again and again until inevitably they came back. It was here that the vocalist began to talk on a serious note. It was their last concert, at least with that line-up. The drummer would be leaving. He gave a few words too. At some time during this encore the vocalist and drummer switched places fairly flawlessly. I remember seeing the switch and wondering, “When did that happen?”

The alpha female I mentioned earlier and the girl standing next to me had tears running down their makeup heavy cheeks. When the band’s final song ended, the bassist broke into tears and hugged the drummer for a long time. The drummer gave a long, seemingly heartfelt speech about how he was thankful to the band members, the staff members and the fans. “What would my life be like without all this?” he mused. When he started to tear up as well he ended his talk, bowed once more, and disappeared.

The curtain closed again and we all shouted for a second encore. We must have chanted for nearly 10 minutes. Unfortunately, our wish wasn’t granted. Slowly realizing our efforts were futile, the crowd began to filter out. There were a lot of tears.

When I looked at the vocalist’s blog the next morning, his whole day had been mapped out with photos. The last photo to be posted was this one from the end of their performance:

He hasn’t posted since. I really wonder – what is it like for him to wake up after nearly 9 years with this band and then suddenly not have it there anymore? I suppose I wonder what it would be like for anyone to have a rug like that pulled out from under them. The thought makes me feel incredibly lonely.

I hope they’ll all doing their best. I hope they’ll all keep moving forward.

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~ by megumiwasframed on March 10, 2011.

One Response to “Proof of the Love”

  1. […] Shinjuku was where I went to see my concert, which I cover in more detail here. […]

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