Monday, February 26, 2007

Dir en grey live report, The Fillmore, 2/25.07

This was originally written for my LiveJournal, which is where all the JRock people hang out, but I thought I might as well repost it here since I post so little nowadays. And yeah, anyone who knows me knows how much I love this band. So, enjoy.
PS Zan - Icon pretty boy? I was happily groping his chest last night, and it is spectacular.

First off, this isn’t going to be one of those reports that’s all about what I was wearing and how everyone else sucked except my cool friends and me and OMG the Lolitas! Because really, it’s a concert, not a prom, so why should anyone really care about any of the superficial stuff?
Dir en grey were amazing last night. I’m probably one of the older fans who went to this tour both in terms of how long I’ve been a fan (since Jealous) and age (I’m 33), and I’ve been waiting a long time to see them. Concert DVDs are great, but it’s just not the same as actually being in the thick of things, with the bass and the drums reverberating through your entire body and the crowd screaming along like one giant organism.
Family Values was actually kind of disappointing for me. The set was too short, and honestly the band just didn’t seem into it. I also went to the show in Tempe, and that was a great show too from a musical point of view, but the vibe in the crowd was just…bad. Bitchy and negative and full of people who seemed to have never been to a concert before and didn’t understand how the pit works (yes, people will push and shove, everyone will steal your spot the moment they get the chance, your feet will get trod on and your ribs will get crushed if you’re against the barrier and it can be hard to breathe – DEAL WITH IT. That’s the way metal, punk and industrial shows always are, and DEG is a bit of all three, so what were people expecting? And no, yelling to people to move back doesn’t help, it just makes you look silly). I spent a good part of that show rolling my eyes at the constant stream of complaints, and the line was full of unnecessary drama. I’m just glad that no-one else seemed to notice Missy Suicide standing at the side of the stage, because that would have just kicked the bitchiness into overdrive.
San Francisco was different. The line was drama-free as far as I could tell, there was some quiet snarking at a few girls who looked as if they must be very cold on a wet and windy day, but nothing big or too blatant. The rain wasn’t fun, but everyone just huddled together and dealt with it, because this is San Francisco and it rains all the time (also, thanks to the tall Japanese guy whose name I’ve forgotten who let us all shelter under his umbrella, that definitely helped!). Everyone seemed to be of the same mind – yep, the line’s a pain, always has been, but it’ll all be worth it once you get inside.
The opening bands were actually a lot of fun at this show. They were doing a bunch of silly end-of-tour shit with TP and little bouncy balls and baby powder (the stage had to be vacuumed before DEG came on), and someone had messed with the projection system so it played random statements like “Everyone point at the bassist and laugh!”. I had heard a lot of unpleasant rumors about the audience booing the opening bands earlier in the tour, and I talked to Fair To Midland’s tour manager and he confirmed that it was pretty hostile at the beginning of the tour. At the San Francisco show, though, the crowd was actually giving the opening bands plenty of love, especially Bleed The Dream, whose singer did a great job of getting the crowd hyped up and defrosted. These are the moments when I love this town.
Those of us in the front also had a lot of fun watching Kaoru, Die and assorted companions sitting up in the balcony laughing at the opening bands throwing shit at each other. There was a kind of “big brother laughing at the crazy kids” vibe – it’s odd for those of who remember them as a wacky little indie band to realize how much older and more established they are now.
The actual show was amazing. This was the show that I was hoping for. The band were all on fire, energetic and engaged with the crowd and looking like they were enjoying themselves up there more than they seem to have been in a long time. It helps that The Fillmore is a great venue with a wide stage – lots of rail – and good acoustics. The crowding was pretty insane at front center, but it was a good crowd and people were looking out for each other and at least trying not to hurt each other more than necessary. I came away with a massive bruise on my hipbone, but hey, it was worth it.
Since I had the first show to just soak up the music, and since San Francisco was a far better crowd, this time I had a chance to really observe the way the band interact with the audience, and it was fascinating. It was hard to see Die from where I was without twisting at an odd angle so I didn’t see as much of him, hopefully someone who was on his side will fill in the gaps, but the other four…
I have to admit that, unlike most other fans, Kyo has always been the one I’ve been least interested in watching. There’s a certain darkness in him that I just don’t empathize with, as much as I admire his talents as a singer and a lyricist. I used to have a boyfriend who cut himself when he was frustrated, and that’s part of it – having been close to that for a while it’s too painful to watch it any more. I understand how cathartic that part of the show is for some people, but there’s a place he goes during shows that I’ve just never wanted to follow him to. I had a moment last night though, when he was staring into the crowd and caught my eye, and for a while I actually went there with him. Concert footage really doesn’t capture how mesmerizing he is in real life, the intensity of his stare when it’s directed right at you, the almost trancelike state he works himself into. He deliberately challenges people, pushes them to places that they would never go by themselves, and it’s an amazing experience. I finally understand why so many fans are so obsessed with him.
Shinya is…Shinya. It’s always amazed me how such a quiet, physically frail-looking man can be such a monster behind the drums, but he really is. He doesn’t interact that much with the crowd, just keeps his head down and focuses on the music, other than the drumstick throwing moment at the end. He’s wonderful to watch though – he was probably the weakest of all of them musically in the beginning, but he’s grown into a hell of a drummer. The look on his face when Kyo threw his box directly at the drum set was priceless, too.
Kaoru live is a thing of beauty, and I don’t mean that in a superficial way at all. He’s the other one who seems to slip into a trance when he’s really into the music – he spends a lot of time with his head down, eyes closed, lost in the music. There’s always been something oddly still about Kaoru, and that quality seems to become more pronounced the older he gets. I’ve always wondered if that’s why so few of the American fans seem to focus on him – in many ways he’s the most overtly Japanese of all of them, and I wonder if people here find that sense of quiet reserve off-putting. He certainly doesn’t get the credit he deserves as being the genius behind the whole thing as often as he should.
He’s been interacting with the crowd a lot more recently, too. Last night he was a fist-pumping, pick-tossing, head-banging bundle of energy. He even came out to slap hands with some of the crowd, and he kept coming right up to the edge of the stage and jamming directly in front of where I was. I haven’t seen him look like he’s enjoying himself so much in years – he looked bored at Family Values. At the end of the night he didn’t seem to want to leave the stage, and after they did finally leave he hung around in the wings just watching the crowd with a smile on his face.
The real dynamo on stage was definitely Toshiya, though. Watching him, Kaoru and Kyo together made something finally click in my head that’s been at the edge of consciousness for a long time. Part of the explanation for the success of DEG, and especially for the sheer fanaticism of the fandom, is that all the members are not only strong personalities, but very different from each other. For every fan there’s at least one band member who they respond to on a personal level, who they feel some kind of empathy towards.
If Kaoru is the pure love of music and quiet contemplation and Kyo is the conduit through which people access the darker side of their own natures, Toshiya onstage is pure love. It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t seen it the way he interacts with the crowd, but it’s amazing to watch. There’s something distant about the way people relate to most of the rest of the band, but not with Toshiya. It’s hard to say if it’s just his natural personality or if it was a deliberate choice about how to handle live performances, but on stage Toshiya is the one who connects most with the crowd on a warm, human level. It’s not a distant admiration the way it is with Kaoru or a dark kind of empathy the way it is with Kyo. Toshiya’s relationship with the crowd is a love-in. The way that he points at his heart, then at the audience, the intense stare he gives people – it’s not an intimidating, challenging stare-down like Kyo’s, it’s warm and alive and somehow very intimate. There’s always been something oddly loveable about Toshiya, which is hard to explain – normally people that physically beautiful can be rather intimidating, but somehow he never has been. As easy as I normally find it to put things into words I’m struggling with this, because it’s not an intellectual thing, it’s physical somehow – Toshiya on stage looks like he wants to reach out to the entire crowd and give them all a hug, and I think that on some level everyone loves him for it. Of all of them he and Kyo are the ones who’ve been most able to bridge the language barrier, so that the fact that they can’t really talk to the crowd here doesn’t matter. The feelings they’re trying to express are perfectly clear, and everyone in the audience who’s paying attention can feel it. It’s amazing that after all these years they still have the desire to reach out and connect with the crowd, to communicate something on a direct and personal level, and in the end, isn’t that what we all love them for?

We had a couple of interesting little close encounters yesterday. Walking right past Kaoru as we were going to the car to dump bags and jackets and he was getting out of the bus (and yes, we were nice, civilized fans and didn’t bother him), my strange little eye-lock with Kyo, Toshiya coming down into the gap between the stage and the barrier and throwing himself into the crowd’s arms – I felt kind of bad (not bad enough to stop, though) that I ended up basically groping his chest, because I was trying to grab his hand but so was everyone else, so eventually I just gave up. I loved that all three guitar and bass boys changed sides at the end, so that everyone in the crowd got to see the whole band even if only for a little while. I really loved the fact that at the end nobody seemed to want to leave – even Kyo left and then came back rather than scuttling away as soon as he got the chance like he usually does, Kaoru made multiple circuits around the front of the stage, and Toshiya seemed like someone was going to have to drag him off he was out there for so long. Even after the lights went on you could still see them all if you were close enough, huddled on the side of the stage watching us, smiling.
It’s a funny thing, really – people who don’t know much about Dir en grey tend to assume that the concerts must be a dark, disturbing experience, and at moments they are, but there’s something else there, and that something else is what gets people hooked, keeps them coming back, makes them willing the sit in line for hours in the pouring rain just to get closer, and it’s not a dark thing at all, it’s beautiful. If I had to try to explain I think it would say that it’s the sheer joy of knowing that there are other people like yourself in the world, that you’re not alone. That’s what keeps us all coming back, in my opinion, and after all these years I’m incredibly happy that I finally got the chance to see and feel it up close. It was more than worth everything it took to get there.

A few small side notes – I ended up in the middle of a bunch of Korean and Japanese kids who all seemed to know each other – sorry if I squished any of you guys or trod on your toes! I was actually kind of worried about the cute little girl in the striped sweater – she was looking a bit overwhelmed during Fair To Midland, and I was trying to keep an eye on her but I lost track of her once the crowd started surging. Does anyone know if she made it OK? I was the woman in her thirties with the curly hair and the black CBGBs hoodie who kept putting my water bottle on her forehead to try to cool her down a bit.
I was also concerned about the girl with the strappy tank top at the front who had to be pulled out. It took longer than it should have to get security to help her since there was no-one on our side at that point and she really wasn’t looking so good, so I hope she’s OK. The guy in the white shirt was looking a bit out of it towards the end, too.
Most beautiful non-band-related moment of the night – when the girl who came over from Japan to see the band, who was right in front of me by the end, and who was screaming for Toshiya the whole show, actually got to touch him…at the end she just burst into tears, and some people seemed to think she was hurt, but it was obvious that wasn’t it. She was happy. And when white shirt guy, who I don’t think she even knew before that day, gave her a hug and she was just breaking down because she got exactly what she wanted from the show…truly beautiful.


Zan said...

Gods, now I'm jealous. That sounds amazing. And groping? Oooooooh. You lucky girl.

Cassandra Says said...

Yep. For a skinny guy that man has some seriously impressive muscle tone. What was even funnier was that A. I was actually trying to grab his shoulder (more polite) but he's too damn tall, and B. when I gave up and just groped the chest he kind of leaned into my hand.
I should probably feel guilty about the groping, but this is me after all.

Zan said...

Oh no. Don't feel guilty about the groping. I mean, it was his chest, not his package :) That would be out of line. (And you would so have to share serious details. Ahem.)

And tall is good. Yes.

Cassandra Says said...

There was actually a girl who did grope him in a more, ahem, personal area when he was crouching on one of the amps. It was funny - she was all "I can't believe I groped a member of DEG".
Tall is good, but I'm teeny, hence not being able to reach the shoulder.

Cassandra Says said...

The entire show was awesome, BTW. I feel kind of shallow for focusing on the groping part.