Japanese Metal Masters Dir En Grey Heat Up HOB
December 15th, 2019
Every so often, something so unexpected falls into your concert-going lap that it becomes impossible to ignore. I've seen some interesting bands over the years; there have been a handful of curiosities that have left me breathless on occasion, awestruck once or twice, and, like last Wednesday night, smiling at the insanity that took up the House of Blues' main stage for too short a time.
Osaka, Japan's Dir En Grey has been around since the mid 1990s. Starting as a "Visual Kei" band, one that favors highly-stylized makeup and largely over-the-top costumes, the outfit is primarily a metal band, however accentuated by kabuki-style theatrics and long pauses between songs. If Bowie had been born in Japan, he may have been a Visual Kei artist himself. Think '70s Glam Rock and you have a fairly accurate representation of what this ensemble is all about.
Led by frontman Kyo, the quintet blasted through a short, seventy-five minute set Wednesday night. Their first North American tour in almost fifteen years, the band only has a handful of tour dates in the United States and Mexico. Cleveland was the fourth stop on this tour, which will wrap up in Mexico City on the 19th of December. Sadly, the House of Blues was half empty. The fans in attendance, as rabid and diverse a crowd that I've ever seen haunting the main floor of that venue, made up for the sparse attendance. The crowd, ranging from post-millennials in chartreuse tutus, to older African Americans head banging to the dissonant rhythms, truly reached across the spectrum of music fans. It truly was an eclectic mishmash of youngsters, millennials and, in some cases, their dads who dragged their children to the show.
Glenn, a UPS driver from Bowie, Maryland made the seven-hour sojourn to catch the show. His college-aged daughter Sam, a student in Philadelphia, joined him. They sung the praises of the band and said that although Cleveland was a lot further drive for them, the price for the NYC gig was six times as expensive, making the Cleveland stop a downright bargain.
Taking to the stage at 8:15, frontman Kyo was painted in Kabuki-style fright makeup; looking a little bit like a mashup of Heath Ledger's Joker and a character from Ringu, the singer came out to a pitch black stage. His bandmates joined him and the lights slowly ramped up into delicate hues of blue and red. Their thirteen-song set was punctuated by a three song encore. Between each tune, the stage went to an empty darkness again for about sixty seconds, while the band members stood almost perfectly still, as if to reset for the next song.
Almost all of the songs, thirteen to be precise, came from their newest album, The Insulated World, which dropped in September of 2018.
I honestly didn't know that Japan had such an interesting genre-mashing metal scene. To see...no...to experience a band like Dir En Grey was something to behold. Their onstage antics, crazy-ass lighting and Kyo's fright makeup were pretty damn cool. I don't think I've had this much fun at a show in quite awhile.
Hopefully they'll return to the States again sometime soon. Please take the time to check them out, I think you'll be surprised at what an entertaining band they are.
Note: The size of the gallery has been dictated by an ever-more dire policy of bands and their management requiring pre-approval of any images being displayed on websites and in print publications. Therefore, the twelve images that I submitted to the band's Japanese management were screened and only three of them were considered "appropriate" by them. Apologies for the small assortment of images, but this practice of censoring photographers' work is becoming a truly burdensome, and everyday part, of the industry.
Photos and Review by Brian M. Lumley