X Japan Comes Full Circle

The biography of speed metal band X Japan could easily be a full-length movie script, with pages being added or revised on a regular basis.

That script even has what appeared to be a happy ending – more than 30 million records sold and18 sold-out shows at the 55,000-capacity Tokyo Dome in the band’s career – but plot twists abound.

The band, originally called “X,” was formed around 1982 by childhood friends Yoshiki as drummer and pianist and Toshi as lead singer. Lead guitarist Hide, rhythm guitarist Pata and bassist Taiji rounded out the original lineup that took Japan by storm with its pre-anime “Visual Kei” look and intense performances.

Fast-forward to 1997 and the band’s split when Toshi decided to leave. Yoshiki and Toshi were no longer on speaking terms and less than six months later, Hide reportedly committed suicide. Any chance that X Japan could still reunite and take its act to other countries seemingly perished, too.

But a new script is being written with X Japan’s first-ever U.S. tour, now with Sugizo on lead guitar and violin and Heath on bass, and its debut at Chicago’s Lollapalooza Aug. 8.

That was the first test for Japan’s most successful rock act, that had been apart for about 10 years before reuniting in 2007.

Performing for an audience whose attention was split between multiple top-name acts including Soundgarden brought the band back to square one.

“That event gave us more confidence because we didn’t know how it was going to turn out. But a lot of people supported us,” Yoshiki told Pollstar. “It was our first appearance in the U.S. – so I have to be honest – we were very nervous. [But] the moment we started performing, we were very comfortable doing it.”

William Morris Endeavor’s Marc Geiger knew of X Japan for more than a decade before he met and got to know Yoshiki. The multi-talented performer, also a classically trained pianist and successful solo artist, moved to Los Angeles following the band’s breakup and started his own label, Extasy Records.

“We had several meetings and I thought he was a fascinating guy. I just did my due diligence,” Geiger told Pollstar. “I got to know [Yoshiki] and studied what the band was.

“Last year Eric Greenspan, the band’s attorney … called me up and said, ‘Yoshiki is thinking about putting X Japan back together. Are you interested?’ I said, ‘Hell, yes!’

“[X Japan] is unlike anything else going and certainly a million miles away from any Lolla artist because it’s so over the top. It’s goth, metal, classical, it’s all of that. These guys are obviously pros and Yoshiki is hyper-talented.”

X Japan’s huge theatrical production, including pyrotechnics, lights, lasers, catwalks and Yoshiki’s flying drum kit, has been stripped down for the U.S. tour to fit theatres averaging 2,600 capacity. But that’s not a problem.

“We are not playing to 50,000 people but we are using the same energy and everything. We started that way a long time ago,” Yoshiki explained. “But at the same time, performing outside of Japan is a big challenge for us. We are feeling the pressure.”

X Japan’s current tour, kicking off Sept. 25, includes stops in California, Washington, Illinois, New York and Canada through Oct. 10 but Geiger said plans for the future are already in motion. The band is also recording a new album in English to drop sometime next year.

And for Yoshiki, the timing couldn’t be better.

“Coming to the U.S. [and] going outside Japan was our dream but we couldn’t do it [in the past]. It’s like a family reunited,” he said. “Also, I’ve also been living in Los Angeles for more than 10 years … but I’ve never performed or toured. It’s kind of like my hometown so I can finally perform where I live.”