It was 6:00 p.m. on a Thursday night. The first half of the work week had passed and the Thursday work day had finished. During the day the men and women of the Tokyo City area had packed themselves into overstuffed trains as they headed off to work, likely donned in full business attire, even as the sun got hotter and the days more and more humid. In the day the people of Tokyo go about their roles in life: worker, student, homemaker, and a variety of other job or work related titles. It is really only at night when you see the people of Tokyo shed those work roles and just be themselves. There is no place where this is more obvious than at a live for a visual kei band, especially if that live happens to be during a weekday.
Thursday night there was a two-man show for the bands Kra and Ensoku and the atmosphere started off very relaxing and intimate. Shinjuku LOFT was a small, up close and personal venue, and the women who slowly came down the steps and into the small area were a kind and close bunch. Many of the women blew away the stress of the day with every inhale and exhale of their cigarettes or pushed away the day’s worries with every hug, smile, or laugh that they gave their friend as soft, café-esque music played in the background. The crowd that gathered were all women, mostly in their 20s and 30s. Most had changed from school or work attire to more head-banging friendly wardrobes, but there were one or two women who seemed to embody the new Sanrio character, Aggretsuko, and came rushing into the venue still wearing their workday attire of a black blazer, white work shirt, and black pencil skirt.
There was no rush among the women for the bands to start, no clapping or chanting for the bands to take to the stage. But when the lights went off and an accordion started, the fans excitedly clapped along as the curtain rose and an orange light lit up the stage. There on the stage stood all five members of Ensoku and all four members of Kra. Ensoku’s more extreme visual kei style of brightly colored hair, face makeup, and elaborate clothes was balanced out nicely by Kra’s tamer style and neutral, beige color scheme.
Together on the stage, both with microphones in hand, Buu, the lead singer of Ensoku, and Keiyuu, the lead singer of Kra, welcomed the fans to the live and had fun chatting a bit with each other and the crowd. This MC moment then swiftly turned into the first song of the live, which was an Ensoku song entitled This is a pen. The members of Ensoku and Kra both took part in playing this track. The vocalists’ voices complimented each other, as they both sang out, “This is a pen!” and their band members with smiles and a sociable atmosphere whipped the crowd up into a head-banging frenzy with their instruments. When the song came to an end, Kra left the stage and Ensoku performed ten of their songs.
After Ensoku finished their encore performance and the stage faded to black, there was a break before Kra’s half of the live began. During that break many of the fans hurried over to the right side of the venue, where there was a small booth selling band merchandise. The line grew quite long at one point, but the fans knew what they wanted and it dissipated just as quickly. The sound of a piano was all that was needed to signal to the fans that the break was over and that Kra’s part of the live was about to begin.
As with the accordion music before, the fans clapped along to the piano as the curtain was raised and white lights lit up the stage. First to the stage was the drummer, Yasuno, who was energetic and grinning. Then it was the guitarist, Taizo, who was stoic and cool. Next up was the bassist, Yura, who went for a cute and quirky image. And finally was the vocalist, Keiyuu, who threw kisses to the crowd.
They then launched into their first song, Kuchu Buranko (Trapeze), with a fast pace piano sound and fans running to and fro shouting “Whoo!” The song starts off very bubbly and danceable and then slows down a bit, at which point Keiyuu sang one part of the song’s lyrics and then held out the mic to the fans for them to sing out the rest. When they did so, he showed his appreciation by putting his hand over his heart.
Throughout the live Keiyuu used his hands and facial features to really capture the emotional levity of the songs he sang, while the band members poured their emotion into the instruments that they played. The closeness of the stage made it easy for the band to express their love and appreciation to the crowd. It also allowed for a very easy-going atmosphere in general.
After the third song there was an MC moment in which Kra shared their thoughts on Ensoku’s performance. At one point during Ensoku’s half of the live, Buu had thrown a yellow glow stick to one of the women in the crowd. He stated that, at his call, the woman would hold up the glow stick and all of the others would run around her counter clockwise. Keiyuu mentioned in this MC talk about how, at first, he had thought that the girl was holding a banana. It got a good laugh out of the crowd. From there all the members of Kra stated how impressed they were with Ensoku and their ability to do such fun and complex fan interactions during a live. In particular, Keiyuu enjoyed the parts of the Ensoku live where Buu would shout “STOP!” and the fans would come to an instant and complete stop. Another fan interaction that Kra, as a whole, enjoyed watching was the “power up” moment during another of Ensoku’s songs. When they “power upped” the fans would have their arms crossed over the chest and then slowly lift up one of their arms, as if to represent a power gauge filling up. Keiyuu stated that “It was amazing!” and he also voiced his wish to try out some similar hand movements and fan interactions.
Immediately after voicing this wish, the band played a quick and easy beat for Keiyuu to practice it out. He started shouting “HELLO!” and “STOP!” and got the fans to shout along with him. Afterwards, Yasuno asked how everyone was doing, which was met with a cheering response, and the band members talked about some recent events, such as an interview.
After that there are a few moments in-between songs when the band would talk with the fans or get them riled up, but after this, the band mostly focused on the music. All of Kra’s songs had a slightly different sound and beat to them, some were heavy metal based and others were more electronic, pop, jazz, or even funk based. Every song brought about a different vibe to it, however, each song also provided ample time for the band members to show off their skills on the instruments. They also always provided moments for Keiyuu to really show off his amazing vocal range. Keiyuu was able to switch between deep, monster-like roars and light, almost fragile, alto vocals smoothly. There would also be the occasional inclusion of a face talking rap-like section in some of the songs to spice things up a bit.
Most of the fan interaction was kept to a well-versed and timely executed hand movements known as furitsuke, or furi for short, and fans waving around their towels. One exception to that was when Keiyuu shouted out “SHARK ATTACK!” during the ninth song and the fans replied “JAWS!” in kind. It lasted for quite a while and the fans and band enjoyed the exchange. Overall, however, the elaborate fan interactions were mostly left up to Ensoku, while Kra’s songs provided more opportunities for head-banging. During those head-banging moments you could see and feel the cathartic release of the everyday work and school related stress the fans had been holding in. The combination of Ensoku’s visual performance and Kra’s music focused one left for a very balanced live.
For the encore both bands were present on the stage. They all ran out, jumping and skipping, onto the stage. First, they talked for a bit, mentioning how the pen in This is a pen, is a magic pen, not a ballpoint one, of course. Then they began to play. Just like with This is a pen, both bands complimented each other well, with Buu’s deep vocals mixing nicely with Keiyuu’s harsh monstrous or light and fragile ones. The atmosphere on the stage was friendly, welcoming, and excited. The other band members ran around the stage, stood side-to-side or back-to-back as they played their instruments, and simply helped stir up the crowd.
Meanwhile, Keiyuu and Buu got the fans running to and fro and also had the fans shouting “Hello!” and “Stop!” respectively. When Buu would shout “Stop!” the fans would also physically come to a halt. Towards the very end, Keiyuu had fun with the fans and had them shouting “Hello!” in a variety of vocal tones, from extremely high to extremely low pitched.
When the singing finally came to an end, both bands thanked their audience and left the stage to a combination of fans clapping and cheering and Coldplay’s Viva la Vida sending them off. Kra’s drummer, Yasuno, kissed his drumstick and launched it into the crowd as the stage went dark.
With the show officially over the women headed for the door and up the stairs. After having a few hours to run, laugh, shout, and head-bang away the worries of the day, they were ready to return to the hum-drum of everyday work life before the weekend would set in.
1. 空中ブランコ (Kuchu Bunrako)
2. カルマ (Karma)
3. 彷徨えど夜 (Samayoedo Yoru)
4. Schwarz wald (Black Forest)
5. メイデイ (May Day)
6. Clown’s Crown
7. LOAD MY HEART
9. あーテンションプリーズ (Ahhtension Please)
10. エキストラキングダム (Extra Kingdom)