July 12, 2016
The suspension of disbelief is common when one watches films. To let your imagination run wild while suppressing the logical aspect of your mind that says what you are watching is an impossibility such as when E.T. flies in the sky with Elliott on his bike, this would be a prime example of the suspension of disbelief.
Why do I bring this concept up in a concert review? When it comes to Japan's biggest musical export in years, Babymetal, some concert goers need to get into that headspace where you are just there for the spectacle of it all, to let loose and just enjoy the experience.
Babymetal have divided the metal community since their inception. Why you may ask? A J-pop trio of teenage girls that are an offshoot from their first group (Sakura Gakuin), backed by a four piece live metal band (Kami Band). Singing in their native Japanese, dancing through tight choreography as headbanging music bleeds from the speakers, they are a dichotomy of musical genres.
Metalheads are a fickle bunch. Always have been. They are also one of the most dedicated fanbases in all of music. I went to my first show in 1979 (KISS). My second show was in 1982 (AC/DC). My third show was also in 1982 (Scorpions with special guests Iron Maiden). I've lost count of how many shows I've been to since. Metal back then was about going against the grain, against the mainstream culture, and forging your own path.
Pop music was considered the complete antithesis of heavy metal. Manufactured, at times lip-synched, with no "real" talent to speak of, many a metalhead loathed the acts they saw on MTV back in the day or heard on their local radio station.
Babymetal have taken aspects of well-known metal bands for inspiration. X Japan, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, Behemoth, and Darkthrone just to name a few.
So, the thought of putting these two adversarial genres together would be pure blasphemy, not to mention the addition of teenage girls in cute outfits you might see at Sakura Con, this concept would surely enrage the diehard metal fan.
The show on Tuesday brought out such a wide diverse crowd that one would have to be completely ignorant to not acknowledge that this concert was beyond a mere gig at the Showox SoDo. It was an international event!
If you're purely a metal fan, you're probably one of the skeptics. A small part of me understands the naysayers when it comes to Babymetal. I love metal but I like many other genres of music, too. I went through a long K Pop period (not to be confused with J Pop) as well. I saw X Japan in 2010 here in Seattle. At the end of the day, what I like is no better nor worse than what you like, musically. Music is a personal journey. What resonates with you is all that matters if you ask me.
If you're an anime and manga fan, you were probably interested as soon as you first heard of Babymetal in 2010. While I'm not a huge fan of either, I am familiar with some of the more mainstream aspects of both. Also, being Japanese American, I do share some common knowledge of my ancestor’s beliefs and culture.
And if you have a fascination with Japanese culture, then you sponge up anything new that comes from the land of the rising sun.
The majority of the fans waiting outside of the Showbox SoDo were hardcore fans. There were some fence sitters and still others that were tagging along with their friends or significant others that brought them to the show, but overall it might as well of been a Babymetal convention waiting in downtown Seattle.
Being a long time metal and overall music fan, I was coming into the show a fan of the band. I am certainly not on the level of the diehard fans that traveled from cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Portland, and Tokyo to follow the band down this last string of west coast dates. You know the ones - they speak (some) Japanese, they have their membership to "The One" fan club, they know every detail and fact about Sumetal, Yuimetal, and Moametal that it'll make your head spin. The fan that dresses up as a member of the Kami Band or the fan that has to pick from their collection of tour shirts to display the right shirt for the evening so all the other diehard fans notice. These fans were in Seattle in mass quantities! And I'll tell you - I loved it!
There's nothing like going to a sold out concert where the communal aspect is evident, where the entire crowd is just counting down the minutes before their favorite band takes the stage. Where you talk to the fan next to you only to realize they drove 5 hours to get to the show while the fan next to them just flew into Sea-Tac (Seattle Tacoma) airport last night to be at the show to the VIP folks that paid the extra money to get a laminate, an exclusive merchandise item, and early access to the merch table and floor access nearest the stage.
The energy in the air as I made my way through the sodo (south of downtown Seattle for you non-local readers) area of Seattle on Tuesday afternoon was undeniable. I found parking on the street (free parking!) and made my way to the Showbox SoDo.
Since I was on the guest list for this show, I knew the drill to get my ticket. I have to get it from the box office once will call opens. Since the doors weren't until 8pm, I had a feeling I would be waiting until 8pm to get my ticket.
Having arrived around 5:30pm, I managed to find a venue worker who told me exactly what I thought - I would have to get my ticket at will call and meanwhile I would have to wait in the general admission line.
The line at this time for the show was split two ways. There was a VIP line that was split into two directions facing each other to the main doors of the club in the middle. Behind the south end of one of those VIP lines is where the general admission line started. For the general admission line, I was around the 30th person in line I'm guessing. Not too bad. Eventually the line snaked down 1st Avenue and around the block and down Holgate.
The VIP line had flags lined up on the railings with some of these fans having been there since the night before (!) I was told. There are photos on social media depicting the fans that were there first, then the fans that came later on Tuesday morning, and then the general admission line that grew and grew.
Two and a half hours to wait until the doors open then one hour until show time. The weather was cool, even by Seattle standards for mid-July, but that made it perfect for waiting outside.
Around two hours later, a venue worker moved all the first general admission line folks behind the VIP line on the north end of the club, divided only to keep space open to the main doors of the club. There was confusion as to whether we were going into the lounge entrance (21+) or going in after the VIP's went in first. Eventually we found out we were going into the lounge entrance. They escorted those under 21 to suitable places in line in the other general admission line further down 1st Avenue. This all seemed fine as I've gone through the lounge entrance before. However, about 8 people in front of me they closed the lounge doors completely. Questions and panic started to set in with our line as people, some of whom traveled from Japan, didn't understand what was going on. Heck neither did I!
Before anything escalated, a strategy by venue staff was announced. We would be going in right after the VIP lines and then the second general admission line would go in after us. A completely fair solution! I have to hand it to the Showbox SoDo staff - during all this confusion, they were polite as they got many demanding questions, confused questions, and many upset glares if people were going to lose their spots in line. They handed out 21+ wristbands as soon as you arrived to speed up the process as well. Kudos folks!
A little after 8pm, the doors opened, the VIPs went in first, I got my guest list ticket from will call (thank the Fox God it was there - thanks Aaron!!!), and in I went. The VIP's were lined up at the merch tables while I made a line straight for the stage. I was one person away from the barricade on the right hand side (Moametal's side). Cool I thought to myself - now I just have to wait an hour until the event begins!
I briefly saw that there were three t-shirts, a hoodie, a hat, a wristband, and I believe vinyl of "Metal Resistance" available at the merch table. I would take my chances and see what was still left after the show.
As 9pm approached, the club was packed but apparently there was still a line outside. I had friends that were stuck in that line and they were wondering if the band had started yet since they were still outside. They hadn't. I'm guessing this may be why the band started late - to let the fans outside get into the club.
Where I was waiting people were looking at their phones. 9:15pm came and went. 9:30pm came and went. Then the lights went out and the roar from the crowd set the tone perfectly.
The "Episode IV" narrative was blasted over the PA as the crowd pushed forward to get as close to the stage as possible. The Kami Band came out first, gesturing to the crowd, before taking their places on the back part of the stage.
Launching into the opening strains of, "BABYMETAL DEATH", Sumetal, Yuimetal, and Moametal came out from the left side of the stage to take their places during the opening track. As they went into their trademarked choreography, the enthusiastic crowd mirrored their hand and vocal gestures which are customary at every Babymetal show.
The pit started up behind me, in varying degrees during the course of the show, shoving some people into my back. Crowd surfing was allowed so the venue staff was busy all night long helping people over the barricade. They also handed out cold water bottles to fans in the front - a nice touch Showbox Sodo. It was appreciated!
Being one person away from the stage, it was just amazing watching the girls sing and dance during the first few tunes. Speaking of which, instead of putting it at the end of the set, the second song of the night was, "Gimme Chocolate!!" - arguably the most known song of the band - by the casual fan, that is. The signature choreography from the video was replicated with such precision on stage, along with that heavy ass guitar riff; the crowd was just eating it up!
The set contained a mix of songs from their debut album, "Babymetal" and the second album, "Metal Resistance". "Awadama Fever" and "Catch Me If You Can" were next with the Kami Band playing intros/solos before the tune. Let me tell you - any metal fan would of enjoyed the Kami Band. Some of Japan's top metal musicians, the band was tight, heavy, and enjoyable as heck to watch and listen to. Guitarists Mikio and Takyoshi were shredding with the best of them. Drummer Hideki pummeled the drums with plenty of double bass. Six string bassist BOH sported the letters USA on the back of his corpse painted style head by the way.
"Amore" and "Sis. Anger" came next from the new album. Sumetal sounded strong throughout the night. Yes, she was singing. Yuimetal and Moametal were also singing or "screaming" as they're credited. As a whole there was a backing track at times (for keyboards, growl vocals, background harmonies, and other effects) but this is commonplace these days. Either the soundman at the board triggers the backing sounds or the drummer does from a laptop or something similar. The fact that they were singing alone sets the girls apart from the usual guide vocal pop artists.
I'd also add in that with all the singing and dancing, especially in those outfits, under hot lights, the girls were visibly sweaty during their performance. They rocked out, in their own way, just like you'd see at any metal gig.
"Meta Taro", "Megitsune", and "KARATE" were given the live treatment next. "KARATE" being the first official video from the new album, the tune sounded great live! Again, the choreography from the music video was displayed on stage. You know what I'd love to see? I'd love to see Babymetal fans doing parts of the choreography en masse at the shows from the videos. Imagine an entire floor leaning back from the opening parts of "Gimme Chocolate!!" or the air fists from the beginning of "KARATE" - food for thought folks. I know my uncoordinated self couldn't do a whole song worth of choreography but parts I could - well, maybe. But I digress.
The main set ended with the one two punch of "Road of Resistance" and "THE ONE (English Version)". The girls exited the stage along with the Kami Band. After much cheering and chanting, the Kami Band returned.
Launching into "Ijime, Dame, Zettai", the heavy tune rocked the Showbox SoDo as the encore for the night with Babymetal giving it everything they had. After their customary "See You!" from the stage, Sumetal, Yuimetal, and Moametal left the stage with the Kami Band shortly thereafter.
The lights came up and many a fan in the front just stood there, exhausted in the best possible way from the show, letting it all sink in. I was sweaty just like everyone else at the show. My clothes sticking to me in all the wrong places, par for the course for a great show!
As a magazine reporter, I could of arrived later in the evening, stood in the back or way off to the side of the venue, but that's no way to take in this kind of show. You need to be IN it if you know what I mean. Granted I'm a fan as well but I'm an old fan with a questionable back. My days of being in the pit or squished up in the front at these shows on a regular basis is becoming a thing of the past for sure. But for certain shows, again, I feel I need to be in amongst the fans, experiencing what they're experiencing in the front as a collective force of energy.
All in all we got twelve songs in Seattle, WA. Everyone always wants more songs but I don't think anyone left the venue disappointed. The hardcore fans were happy. The fence sitters were no longer on the fence - convinced that they belong as a part of THE ONE as The Fox God dictates the force that is Babymetal throughout the universe!
This show was one for the books, folks. The band only has a few US shows left before they play some spectacular gigs in Japan to close Episode IV. What Episode V has in store, only the Fox God knows. But here's hoping the Fox God brings Babymetal back to the US, and more importantly, back to Seattle, WA!
Mark D. Sugiyama
All Photo Usage Courtesy Of and Approved by: Babymetal, Amuse Inc, and Justin Borucki
*I've been speculating where would Babymetal play should they return to Seattle? They need a venue that has a general admission floor which eliminates venues like The Moore (which is the most logical next step up). I suppose The Paramount would be the next stop as they can make the floor general admission. More than twice the capacity of the Showbox SoDo, this would be an interesting venue choice. I'll see them anywhere they play. Here's hoping they come back, period.
*I said more than once but kudos to the Showbox SoDo staff. I'm sure they get criticized all the time but in my opinion they were on point Tuesday night.
*The merchandise was standard concert prices which was nice to see. They could of charged double and the rabid fans would of paid it. $30 US for a t-shirt. $50 for the hoodie. I did manage to get a shirt after the show so the limit of 2 per design seems to be helping spread the merchandise around.
*Social media follows this band around like nothing I've ever seen. It was like a freaking journal of posts before, during, and after the show from all over the world.
*Thank you to Aaron for getting me on the guest list. The man put up with my incessant messages about this show since February. Again, thank you Aaron!
*Thank you to all the fans I met at the show from around the country and world. Such a nice, informed group of people. With all that's been going on in the world, it was so nice to see how a large group of diverse strangers could come together for a common purpose - to enjoy Babymetal!