Let me tell you about the time I felt the worst in regards to music writing. I’m a junior in college and working for campus website. I run a music blog that I’m determined to update once a day. Sometime in late winter, it’s announced that Counting Crows will headline the annual Spring concert. Full of indie-rage and in need of content, I spend the better part of the next week writing all sorts of negative posts about the band responsible for “Accidentally In Love.” Most of the subsequent comments on these stories were of the “you are an idiot/you suck” variety, something I was used to by this point as I was an insufferable college student desperate to feel superior to…anyone I guess.
What made me feel terrible came a few weeks after the fact. A friend…my best friend for that matter…subtly scolded me for all those indie-centric ravings. He didn’t write it directly into the Gmail chat box, but he conveyed the message that I’d probably be a lot better music writer if I wasn’t a huge asshole all the time. I felt incredibly horrible…and STILL feel guilty about it…mostly because he couldn’t have been more right. Nowadays, I’m much more hesitant to write anything dripping with the same levels of disgust I showed Counting Crows, though I still sometimes do. No one’s perfect. I think it’s vital for arts criticism to exist…especially that of the assholish variety…but I still can’t shake the fact that regardless of how much I loathe a particular band, a large group of people love them and get real, fulfilling enjoyment out of them. Why throw rocks at something making so many happy?
I share all this personal gloop because all those old issues came right back out after I attended Japanese hair metal band King Show’s, er, show Sunday at Big Cat in Osaka. King Show (Kinnuiku Shojo Tai in Japanese pronunciation) were one of the more popular rock bands in Japan around the earlier 1990s, combining the worlds of American hair metal with the burgeoning Visual Kei scene. They broke up near the end of the decade, but reformed in 2006 and have been touring around Japan ever since. A friend convinced me to go, but as I stood in line for the doors to open Saturday night I started worrying I might hate this…the critic-baiting genre of “hair metal” coupled with the fact the Big Cat venue was located in a shopping mall and the inside looked exactly like the lobby of a Cinemark movie theater.
Oh, but before I could become too cynical, I started focusing on the fans. Spanning all ages between 18 and 50, I haven’t met a more enthusiastic crowd. I don’t know whether it’s a Japanese thing or just me being tainted by going to indie-centric shows most of my life…a little of both, I’m guessing…but these folks were exceedingly nice. One group…of professional wrestlers, confirming the stereotype shown in The Wrestler…talked to us and even gave my friend an armband as a gift. They radiated excitement all the way up to the moment the lights dimmed and King Show took the stage.
The band returned the hype in kind. Despite all of the build-up above, King Show are miles better than dreck like Counting Crows (whoops I did it again). Calling them “hair metal” seems a little unfair, because they rarely bit from the Ratt song catalogue. Despite cramming as many guitar solos into each song as possible and featuring a guitarist who looked like C.C. Deville in a dress (the Visual Kei one), King Show mostly just try to imitate Guns ‘N’ Roses circa Appetite For Destruction and, at their best Sunday night, did an above average imitation, all maniac drumming and hooky choruses. The group’s biggest strength, though, showed between songs. They were easily the most charismatic Japanese band I’ve seen thus far, spending upwards of twenty minutes just bantering. Lead singer Kenji Ōtsuki in particular seemed skilled behind the mic between songs, even more energetic than on the band’s proper songs. They drew lots of laughs and made it seem like they didn’t reunite to pay the bills but because they genuinely enjoyed performing.
Now, for the part of the review where I focus on the bad stuff that could have turned this into my college writing. All the extended stage talk proved to be vital to the overall show, because King Show’s chit-chat served as a necessary buffer between songs. Because when they played a lot of music in a row, things quickly went south. The group’s music follows the same fist-pumping blueprint from song to song, which is fine following ten minutes of gags but an absolute chore when similar song follows similar song. The few times King Show tried something different…an acoustic number or an attempt to make their own “Jump”…resulted in the show’s definitive lowlights. Most annoyingly, the band didn’t pace themselves well at all – they’d hit a huge song perfect for closing out the show, but then keep on going and going. It’s a testament to King Show’s skill they hit this point several times, but made like Brian Fuentes and never closed it out. When they finally did end, it felt anti-climatic.
Oh, but I come back again to the fans who acted like they downed three Red Bulls before the show started. They ate up every minute of King Show, cheering and doing choreographed dances (a very J-Pop thing to do) all night. I originally envisioned this review to be a glimpse into hair metal fandom in Japan until I actually went to the show and realized King Show fans are ordinary people who probably don’t refresh Pitchfork late in the Japanese afternoon to see new updates. Heck, I couldn’t even turn this into a Klosterman-esque essay on hair metal, because King Show barely constituted what I always imagined “hair metal” was despite a part of the show where the guitarist twirled his blonde locks around like helicopter blades.
At the end of the show, my friend asked me what I thought. I could have lied and made it seem like one of the best shows I’ve seen all year, or I could have been a dick and focus exclusively on the negatives (“why was the one dude in a dress?”). I instead went with the kinda boring truth of “it was pretty good, maybe a little too long though” and left it at that. As much as I wanted to turn King Show into something more, it wasn’t, and I think that’s a perfectly OK thing.