The Japan Society invited me to L’Arc~en~Ciel concert at the Madison Square Garden last night, so there I went.

L’Arc~en~Ciel is a Japanese rock band formed in 1991 in Osaka. The group has sold over 13 million albums, and 16 million singles. Currently on a world tour (obviously last night in NY), their upcoming London and Jakarta concerts are already sold out, and their NY concert was bigger than expected.

Given their JPop-rock sound, no wonder the Madison Square Garden was almost fully packed with Japanese, although there were more than teenagers, like the “respectable moms” in their 50s, 3 rows ahead of me, who could not stop swinging and laughing and singing, or the guy next to me, there with his wife, who waited patiently for the concert to start while reading manga in his iPad.

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The concert was technically impeccable (with fireworks, huge screens, fancy video, all sorts of lights, etc). The music was… how could I describe it? From a Western point of view, the mix of rhythms (techno, latin, metal, rock, pop…) was almost unsustainable, the lyrics (not that I understood Japanese, but the English version of a couple of songs) were dismal in their apparent hollowness (sure “ready, set, go! never lock [sic] back” has more mening in Japanese, but…), and the voice of Hyde (who impressively screamed his way through 3 songs non stop before breathing) went from Abba-like high pitch falsettos to dark grunge-metal growls. Yet, somehow, it all held together surprisingly well.

But beyond the almost puerile (or perhaps not, given the audience) attempts at shocking by Testsu(ya) the bass player with the bananas and lollipops, or the almost candid anecdotal letter read by Ken the (gifted) guitar player about the Monopoly gift, the American Museum of Natural History and A night in the museum movie, the true shock of the concert was Hyde (Hide) himself.

Besides his physical appearance (sporting an impossible braided blonde hair and blue eyes with eye liner, and the most manga-like face I have ever seen) and his clothes (the almost typical mix of long coats, sleeves, vests, big hat, necklaces and other ornaments so associated with romantic-dark popular Japanese characters), his sinuous Bon-Jovi-like moves and “dance” had a very feminine touch to it, while not portraying him as neither feminine nor even androgynous at all.

All in all, a very enjoyable culture-shock evening.