The Biggest Act (and the Biggest Hair) You’ve Never Heard Of

If Lollapalooza manages to outlive its ongoing antitrust investigation, this summer’s lineup portends some epic summer concert action via Gaga, Phoenix, The Strokes, Arcade Fire, X Japan. Wait, X who? Leave it to Perry Farrell to recruit Japan’s equivalent of Metallica (well, Metallica distilled with Journey and some gothy glam rock stylings known as visual kei, which they pioneered in Japan) to unleash something truly different on the throngs at Grant Park. Just before Wolfmother and Soundgarden take to the mainstage on August 8, Tokyo’s resident heavy metal gods will treat them to their inimitable brew of bombast, big hair, ballads, and headbanging. And this is no small feat for the Lolla boys, as X Japan (formerly known as X, until they learned of the eponymous punk band) have only played twice outside of Japan (and never in the West). Why?

“I don’t know,” drummer Yoshiki Hayashi told me on a recent call from his studio in L.A., where Metallica, incidentally, recorded The Black Album.  “Almost 15 years ago we signed to Atlantic but we never released the album here.” After disbanding in 1997, and losing their guitarist, Hide, the band reformed two years ago and brought back a hologram version of Hide during three sold-out shows at the  55,000 seat tokyo Dome.

“Early last year we performed in Hong Kong for the first time and did two nights at this 10,000 person venue, then three months later we went to Taipei and performed in front of 20,000 people,” says Hayashi, who founded the band in 1982 with kindergarten friend and vocalist Toshi Deyama. “I was like, ‘Whoa!’ Then this January we did a video shoot on the roof of the Kodak Theatre and several thousand people showed up. It’s not super crazy, but we have some fan base here.”

If that’s true they may have some new interest in their forthcoming album, which is being recorded now at Extasy, Yoshiki’s studio, and is “heavier than before, but not as fast as before,” he says. “It’s hard to explain our music, it’s not going to be that different than what we were doing. We do have some songs with choirs, I’m hiring some strings people as well. It’s a little more experimental.” 

They plan on following the studio experimentation with a US tour this fall—mainly 2,000-to-8,000-person venues like L.A.’s Club Nokia, where tonight, Yoshiki is launching his Yoshiki Foundation for orphaned, disadvantaged, and ill children, whom he started helping after the 1995 Kobe earthquake. “I’ve been supporting kids with unfortunate situations because I lost my father when he committed suicide when I was 10.” While the loss chastened him, that same year he got his first taste of his rock god future. “I was maybe one of three people who went to see Kiss with my mother at Budokan. She owned a kimono shop. It was pretty shocking.”

With any luck he’ll shock fans just as much with the full-length, 29-minute version of X Japan’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida-esque epic “Art of Life,” which actually caused Yoshiki to collapse halfway through one of the Tokyo Dome performances. He just laughed, “That may be too much.”