Marquee Theater wasn't at its most packed on Friday, November 28. Lines to the entrance were relatively short despite the routine bag checks. Inside, a crowd of fans clad in Dir en Grey shirts hung close to the barrier between them and the stage despite plenty of room for spreading out. That made it all the easier to pick out the one native Japanese member of the audience standing to the side near the bar.
In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that I happen to speak Japanese, which made it relatively easy despite being out of practice to ask if she was here with the band. She looked at me funny and explained that no, she came from Japan to see them play.
As the lights dimmed, I wondered what Dir en Grey possessed that would drive a Japanese woman to travel 6000 miles across the globe to see them play at the Marquee. Still more impressive was the audience they managed to gather; screaming their name, wearing their T-shirts and completely unconcerned that the band they were about to see sings primarily in a language they don't understand.
See more shots in our Dir en Grey slide show.
First I would have to sit through a performance by The Human Abstract who hit the stage with a flurry of high-string eighth note runs and a few guttural growls and seemed less than concerned about changing it up for the next hour.
One note into their set and it was obvious that Dir en Grey is well more thought out. They were playing essentially the same music, but something made it stick in a way that The Human Abstract was incapable of.
Dir en Grey never broke the incantation of their performance to remind the audience that their latest album is for sale in the lobby. In fact, they rarely spoke between songs except at the end of the encore when lead singer Kyo uttered the word "last" in a heavy Japanese accent to let us know this was it.
They kept their faces hidden behind shadows and overcame the language barrier by letting their music speak for them. Every thudding bass note, every hit from the drum set which seemed more than any pair of arms should be able to handle, added to a singular escapism that lingered ever after the final notes faded.
It was what the crowd wanted and you could tell by the way they remained fixated on the performance and Kyo as he doubled over mere inches from the ground and screamed lyrics into his mic or danced with almost unnatural movement between songs.
Considering how many Japanese bands have aspired to make it big in America and failed there seem to be a lot actually making it to this side of the Pacific these days. In March we had Maximum The Hormone touring with Dropkick Murphys. Just a month or two ago we had Polysics laying down their zany antics at Clubhouse. Seeing a visual kei band like Dir en Grey at The Marquee seems now more than ever to hint that fans are seeking tunes not just outside of the top 40 but outside of their own countries.
Are we seeing the beginning of a Japanese Invasion? Stay tuned and maybe we'll find out. For now, let me only add that after the encore, a line of fans waiting to get copies of Dir en Grey's Uroboros signed stretched from the left-hand side of the stage, around the wall and out the hall entrance. I chatted up a few of the kids in line to see what other Japanese bands they're into. X-Japan, Malice Mizer, The Gazette; they knew them all despite the fact that none of these bands have received radio play in this country.
Better Than: Ayumi Hamasaki
Random Detail: It seems a lot of Dir en Grey fans at the concert were too young to go without a parental guardian. Kudos to the parents that listened to their kids and took them out to experience something new and different.
Personal Bias: Dir en Grey owes a lot to X-Japan co-founders Yoshiki and Hide. If you liked Dir en Grey, you'd do well to give X-Japan a listen.