The Yoshiki Classical World Tour concert at the San Francisco Symphony brought one of Japan’s premier musicians, Yoshiki Hayashi, to the Bay Area. With SFS and guest support, he brought the Davies Symphony Hall to life with classical adaptations of X-Japan hits and original compositions.
The music tied together with a reserved lighting setup and a video backdrop created an intimate and emotionally moving evening for everyone in attendance.
Before Yoshiki came on stage, there was a video introduction to the concert that included an interview and clips from many of his past performances. For those unfamiliar with his history and past releases, it gave a small taste of the breadth of his musical work. As the video came to a close, Yoshiki entered the stage, and with only a few waves and a small bow, made his way to the piano and began to play Forever Love.
Forever Love felt like a great selection for the first piece of the show. The song is a well-known X-Japan hit for which Yoshiki is already known for playing the piano, and the arrangement was such that it was immediately recognizable to the fans in the audience. The violins did a wonderful job filling in for the missing vocals of Toshi and complementing the piano, but it felt as though there was a voice missing that would have likely been filled by a woodwind if there had been a full orchestral accompaniment. The piece was very well played, and, at its conclusion, Yoshiki came to the microphone.
Yoshiki addressed the audience several times in English between songs with a demeanor and tone that seemed to hint at nervousness. It was very interesting to see a man who has toured the world and performed for millions forget what he was going to say, but it made him feel human and very charming, which suited the intimate feel of the show incredibly well.
The second song, which he introduced while on the mic, was the Golden Globe Theme. By its nature the Golden Globe Theme had a fuller sound than the softer Forever Love, and as such seemed to be a great transition to the songs that followed. Even without a full orchestra behind it, the song felt complete and was a very enjoyable listen.
Guests joined Yoshiki on stage for the next three songs: Rosa, I.V., and Tears. Vocalists Katie Fitzgerald of Violet UK sang for Rosa, and Toshi of X-Japan provided his voice for I.V. and Tears. The two singers clearly needed no introduction to the audience and were greeted with loud cheers and applause. Both vocalists performed well and didn’t seem to miss a beat.
Out of the three songs, I.V. was the most interesting. The original is one of X-Japan’s heavier rock tunes, so hearing a classical adaptation of it was quite jarring at first and almost unrecognizable until several bars had passed. It particularly stuck out in contrast to Forever Love, which was more or less the same as the original X-Japan recording with the guitar parts substituted out for violin.
The final piece before intermission was Anniversary to which Yoshiki gave a somewhat longer and more emotional introduction than the previous songs. He spoke of how the death of his former bandmate, hide (Hideto Matsumoto), had caused him to withdraw from music for a period of time due to depression. He credited the request and subsequent composition of Anniversary for the Emperor of Japan as helping him to work through the loss. He dedicated the song to hide before returning to his piano and performing the piece. Perhaps it was the framing Yoshiki gave to the song or just the performance itself, but by the time the lights came up for intermission, many in the audience were drying their eyes or trying to hide the fact that they had shed a few tears.
After intermission, the strings began the second half of the show with Amethyst, continuing with the sorrowful tone the show left off with before the break. When Yoshiki returned to the stage, however, some of that mood was lifted with an improvisational adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The way Yoshiki moved along the piano was very exciting to watch and was somewhat reminiscent of his energetic drum solos with X-Japan. There had been a little bit of that almost rock-like abandon in his playing with some portions of Anniversary as well, but it was more pronounced with the improvisation.
When he finally came back to the mic, Yoshiki’s demeanor was markedly brighter, and he seemed a lot more relaxed with almost no sign of the nervousness that had been present in the earlier interludes. He recalled that, when his agent had originally proposed that he do the classical music tour, he had said, “**** no, I’m a drummer!”, but had warmed up to the idea and was happy that he had agreed to it in the end. He even poked a bit of fun at his string section support, pointing out the fact there were six of them and stating, “Yeah, I needed a sextet”.
After his bit of banter, Yoshiki introduced the mother of a friend of his and played Happy Birthday for her. He gave the woman a bouquet and hugged a few members of the family before returning once more to the mic and reintroducing Katie Fitzgerald. The two of them performed Hero, which is to be the theme song for the yet unreleased animated film Saint Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary. Katie again sang wonderfully, and when the song finished she left the stage with much applause.
The mood swung back toward the somberness that had marked the end of the first half of the show when Yoshiki once more introduced his former bandmate, hide, while listing off the next three songs he would perform: Without You, Kurenai, and Art of Life. Before returning to his piano, he reminded the audience to show their love to the people they care about before its too late.
Without You was played to a video of many old X-Japan concerts where Yoshiki and hide had performed together. The emotion on Yoshiki’s face as he played the piece was very clear to see, and the piece itself combined with the video once again brought many in the audience to tears, which continued through the next two songs, Kurenai and Art of Life.
Art of Life stuck out not only because it rounded off the three songs, but also because it began with Yoshiki recording a loop with a DJ controller he had on stage. Up until that point, the equipment and the connected keyboard had been unused, and this was somewhat unexpected given the classical nature of the show. It felt almost as if it were a hint at things to come as his website also currently has a DJ section that is blank.
With one last return to the mic, Yoshiki introduced all the members of the strings supporting the performance and called Katie and Toshi back on stage to accept applause. After the audience calmed back down, he introduced the last song of the evening: Endless Rain. As the song began, the room filled with light as the mirror ball above the audience reflected the white light turned upon it. The reflected lights that spun around the room added a nice ambiance that complimented the song very well.
After Endless Rain Yoshiki made one last bow and left the stage. As the lights came up, a video played to the tune of Say Anything. Very few in the audience were quick to exit, and many settled just outside the doors to listen to final song play. There wasn’t much question as to if the audience had enjoyed the performance. It seemed as almost everyone had wished it had lasted longer.