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BABYMETAL
2016

On 5th April 2016, I saw a
clip of Stephen Colbert introducing a band called BABYMETAL. The band reared back and kicked into a song that seemed like a mixture of Japanese idol pop music and punk metal. I stared at the screen, not being able to put together what I was hearing and seeing.

The music seemed raw and tight, and the band members were dressed as ghouls. The three girls in the front were doing their stylised choreographed moves which were more suited for Japanese pop music, but strangely matched the intensity of the music.

I replayed the video immediately, and then searched for the rest of their music online. I found videos of their
live shows in Japan, and realised they fill stadiums with their shows. It made sense, as what I saw in the first video seemed like the band and what it did was too big for a small stage. I watched their live stadium shows, and was hooked. I think the last time I was so interested in metal was in my teens with The Melvins, when grunge hit its peak.

After that began my exploration into alternative, jazz, and afrobeat, but I never had any current band in mind to go see live. I had seen large stadium shows like Michael Jackson, Metallica, and U2, but for the most part it was in some college hall with Fugazi, the Rollins Band, Babes in Toyland, The Mark of Cain, or other obscure indie bands.

The fascination I had with watching BABYMETAL live videos grew as I saw the intensity of their fans. It seemed like for the shows in Japan, their fans displayed a certain level of being present with the band, to be in that moment with the music. There was a thought that crept up after a while: I wanted to go see BABYMETAL live in their native country, to experience their music and their Japanese fans.

This all seemed so far away in both distance and possibility. Where would I get the time to do this, and even if I did, it's fairly difficult to get hold of a ticket to their shows as they sell out fast, and let's just say the Japanese ticketing system is bewildering and favours native Japanese residents and speakers. All of it seemed like a faraway concept.

2017
It was a year later of thinking this was a pipe dream, when there was an announcement for the upcoming BABYMETAL Big Fox Festival shows in Japan. I had seen the videos of the shows in the previous years, and knew of the awesomeness of the band and size of its fans during these events.

The most interesting part of the announcement was that there would be two ticket lotteries held prior to the general sales. The first ticket lottery would be for people who had Japanese residency, and the second would be open. I looked for options to get into both lotteries.

I didn't get the first lottery result, and I was disappointed though not surprised.

What was a surprise was the second lottery:
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I was psyched. A half hour later, I had my flights booked. The plan was to fly into Osaka in the morning, and go to the gig at night, and fly back out the next morning. In between, I would wander the streets of Osaka. This was obviously my ignoring the fact that the last metal gig I went to was seventeen years ago when I had the body of a twenty-three year old.

Life would remind me of this. As the date grew closer, I still had the idea that going to see BABYMETAL live was a faraway concept. The months became weeks, and six days before the concert, I fell ill.

This was not the usual bout of influenza. It was the kind that hits me every few years, where it takes weeks and multiple courses of antibiotics to claw my way out. By the time it was forty-eight hours before my flight, I was on a second course of antibiotics, and I knew this trip would hurt. I booked a hotel room so I could rest after the concert, and before my flight home.

I took the overnight flight into Osaka, and was greeted by a Japanese friend I had met through work. I had scored a second ticket from a third-party reseller, and it seemed legit, so I had asked her if she was interested to use this ticket. She was, and drove a few hours from where she stayed to pick me up at the airport, just to hang out with me throughout the day, and then go to the concert in the evening.

It made all the difference for me, as I know cities, places, and events are really all about the people you meet in the end. I did not manage to sleep in the flight, and coupled with my state of health, the day was made easier chatting with a friend.

Anyway, I had to pick up the lottery ticket at the Osaka-Jo Hall venue, and so we drove to the business park next to it, and went. From the bridge, I was a little dismayed with what I saw was a long line of people. It was only noon.
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As we got closer though, we saw it was the line to the merchandise. The combination of the committed fans, mixed in with ticket holders looking to resell these Japan-only merchandise, led to an insanely long line that did not abate in the evening right before the gig.

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The ticket collection office had nobody in line. I just had to present my passport and the printed email, and she gave me the ticket within a few seconds. In the photo below, it's to the left of that red square poster.
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I finally had the ticket in hand. Things seemed like they were really happening. I was still in disbelief.

Anyway, we left to get lunch and to catch up further. For me, I always seek conversation; it gives a chance to switch the mind from what can be a continuous series of "going-somewhere-to-get-something-done" to being fully in the moment. Lunch was a good time to be that.

Evening arrived, and we headed out. Saw a fan in official BABYMETAL regalia walking out, and I tried to strike up a conversation with him. His name was Dai, and seemed like a good-natured fan of the band who has the reputation of having the nicest fanbase.

The three of us walked to the venue together. Dai was part of the official fan club, which meant that he got to be in the Mosh'sh pit part of the stadium. It was his fifth concert. I had certainly met a true Japanese BABYMETAL fan.

The crowd gathering had grown. It was bizarre to me to see how many people were decked out in BABYMETAL t-shirts; perhaps band t-shirts were never my thing, but this seemed like it was a uniform.
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What seemed like initial chaos gave way to a fairly structured way of getting into the stadium: one entrance for the Mosh'sh pit ticket holders and another for the Mosh'sh seat ticket holders. We got into unofficial lines and made our way up the steps towards the door security with the metal scanners.
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I was finally here watching a Japanese metal band in a Japanese venue that catered to primarily its Japanese fans.

As I stepped into the stadium, the scene seemed surreal. There was a layer of smoke hovering near the ceiling, people everywhere, and a red lighting system. I was back in the metal concert scene. What was thankfully missing from my past experiences was that curious smell made up of the stench of people smoking weed, combined with stale beer and piss.
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What was unfortunately present though, was the awful pre-concert metal music: grinding dour screaming that seemed so archaic with no lightness or levity. I was here to see BABYMETAL, not listen to Slipknot or Metallica. At some point, Iron Maiden was played, and I thought I had time warped back into the eighties, as the whole stadium had that vibe to it.

I plugged my ears and endured it, while watching the stadium fill up. This was what it looked like twenty minutes before the band was to hit the stage:
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And then they
did.

I was surprised at how loud the whole thing was. I was also reminded how raw they sounded live, which is why I was drawn to that clip I saw in the first place. It was a strange mixture of having it in my face but feeling surreal at the same time.

I did see in the row below me, a man and his four-year old daughter. She was dressed as the singers, and when the first song hit, she immediately placed her palms covering her ears. I didn't blame her; I had chosen to wear my earplugs. My age combined with my ill state made that the obvious option. I was also thinking that if I were to bring my young son or daughter to this, I would make sure they had earplugs too. Tinnitus is not fun.

I reached into my pocket and grabbed the spare pair of earplugs I had forgotten to hand to my friend, and I tapped on the man's shoulder and showed him the earplugs. He immediately nodded and placed them in his daughter's ears. She seemed fine after that. In the midst of this loud and disorientating event, I found a moment for connection.

The rest of the concert was a good one. I focused on parts that I can only observe from a live perspective, like how the other band members were playing when one of them had a solo; the dance choreography and each of the three positions of the singers; and when the mosh pit people went into their circle running.

The setlist was:

  1. BABYMETAL DEATH
  2. Gimme Chocolate!!
  3. Megitsune
  4. YAVA! (with Kami solo)
  5. Amore
  6. 4 no Uta
  7. Syncopation
  8. Meta Taro
  9. Ijime, Dame, Zettai
  10. Karate
  11. Head Bangya!!
  12. Road of Resistance
  13. The One
At the end of it, I felt a combination of being bewildered and drained. It was the feeling of having all this momentum with suddenly nowhere to go, combined with the growing fatigue I had from the flight, lack of sleep, and illness. My mind was racing, but outside the loud music had stopped. I did not know what to make of what I had just witnessed.

I made my way out of the stadium and walked back to the meeting point my friend and I had agreed on earlier. My mind still had these fleeting images and sounds running through it.
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Friend was driving home that night, and so we went to the convenience store and sat outside at the tables to chat more. Dai, the fan, walks by. I am happy. When we said goodbye before getting into the respective lines for the concert earlier, I had thought about asking to take a photo with him. I hesitated, and then decided against it, as I wanted to respect his privacy, and felt that it would have been a bit of an ask from someone who I had just met.

However, I would ask him this time. He agreed, and after that he stayed to chat about his experience. I also asked him about certain things I noticed, as this was my first live experience with the band.

For me, I enjoyed the concert. I love the music, and I like the way the band approaches it, which is loud and brash. However, in the midst of all of that, the small quiet connections I had with catching up with my friend, meeting Dai, as well as handing earplugs to that father and the little girl, were the moments I really enjoyed.

I had seen the band live, met a few of their Japanese fans, and got to hang out with a friend. All this doesn't seem so far away.
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4th September 2018
Barely a year had passed, and things looked a little different:

Mikio Fujioka, guitarist, had died following a cliff mishap.

Yui Mizuno (Yuimetal) had resigned from the band.

That
Osaka show I went to ended up being the penultimate show where both these band members were performing.

I was fortunate to witness that line-up that was, frankly, lightning in a bottle.

I had been watching the Five Fox Festivals 2017 performances with glee, seeing the energy and quality of the performances of a band that seemed like it was in a groove.

In contrast, I did not connect with any of the new songs that were released in 2018.

They seemed tedious (IN THE NAME OF), or polished and generic (
Distortion, Starlight, Elevator Girl, & Tattoo).

Then came the announcement:

BABYMETAL was going to be performing in a Judas Priest gig in Singapore this December as a 'special guest.'

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I was hesitant to go.

The Osaka show had everything I wanted and had hoped for; it was a great first experience after a long build-up.

With the changes to the line-up, they added something about the band moving to some dark lore.

The lore behind BABYMETAL was always my least favourite part, and it was a discombobulated mess.

I usually ignore all of it, but this meant more back-up dancers were brought in because Yuimetal was not around.

The make-up and clothes were changed to where the band members looked like morose wizards on stage.

The band had become a strange version of itself.
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The positive part for all of this was logistics: it was a lot easier to get to this venue this time round, and there were no flights or accommodation to arrange.

There was also no lottery I needed to participate in, or a secondary marketplace, to purchase my ticket.

So on a whim, I bought a ticket online directly.
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Part of me wondered about the impact of a non-headlining, non-Japan show with a different line-up and new songs I didn't immediately care for. I was certainly not there to see Judas Priest.

As the date approached, I also found out guitarist, Takayoshi Ohmura, was not going to be available for this show.

4th December 2018
It was in the late afternoon that I made my way to the venue, not really knowing what to expect.
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Perhaps it was the adrenaline, but I had higher hopes for a good show than I had the previous few weeks.

I wanted to experience that loud brash sound again.

BABYMETAL was to start their set at 8:00pm; Judas Priest would be on stage at 9:25pm. I wondered how long the BABYMETAL setlist was.

As I was walking towards the venue entrance, I could see other fans of either band already milling around the merchandise booth and bar.
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I wondered if anyone else was just there for the opener.

The venue had the lines set up: priority, standard, pen B, and VIP/hospitality.

I went to the priority lane, which was the longest line.
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The fanbase of both bands were easy to tell between each group with the t-shirts they wore.

Sometime past 6:30pm the doors opened and the lines started to move to get through ticket and security checks.
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Stepping into the hall was surprising. I had expected the venue to be larger. I also didn’t expect to be so close to the stage.
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I chose a spot near the front and right of the stage and waited.
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The punters were slowly streaming in, and I stayed put where I was, which was about the fourth person back from the barricade.
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In the meantime, the pre-show music was playing. More screaming from the likes of High On Fire, Ghost, Tribulation, Mastadon, Gojira and Judas Priest themselves.

I don’t really understand this, but looking around I think I was in the minority who did not appreciate the music. It did help kill some time to use Shazam to find out about the music.

At 8:00pm sharp the lights turned red and the band stepped on the stage.
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I recognised BOH the bassist and Hideki the drummer. I didn’t recognise both guitarists.

The three front women appeared with their masks for the opening of
Megitsune.
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When they dropped the masks, I could barely recognise Su and Moa with their hair pulled back. I spent the rest of the set wondering if it really was them.
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The setlist was:
  1. Megitsune
  2. Gimme Chocolate!!
  3. Elevator Girl
  4. Meta Taro
  5. Distortion
  6. Karate
  7. Road of Resistance
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I took a few shots and just enjoyed the show. There was more crowd participation with the early material. People seemed to recognise
Distortion as well. My favourite was Meta Taro.

The crowd seemed tepid. Perhaps it was the size, but I had expected people to lose their minds like it’s the only thing they know how to do. I saw that in Osaka.
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It was a good performance: The band was tight; Suzuka's voice was strong; and Moa brought it with the energy and her trademark smile.

The highlight for me was when Moa looked straight at me at one point.
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I'm glad I went. I had to see for myself where this band is at, and where they are going.
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However, I felt there was something amiss.

Last year I remember the conversation outside a Family Mart with a fan after that Osaka-Jo Hall show.

He showed up to many BABYMETAL shows, even bringing his family to Osaka so he could attend.

He made a comment that there is a time limit for this band as three members would grow out of this particular magical configuration.

That line-up of the three girls at the front was so perfect, that losing one of them threw everything askew.

The Kami band had a great rhythm section, but their two most charismatic guitar players were missing.

Generic tunes, some weird lore and costume changes that shroud instead of enhancing individuals cannot replace members who are distinct personalities. I missed the presence of Yui, Mikio, and Ohmura in that gig.

In my heart of hearts, when I wish I went for that second night at Osaka-Jo Hall instead of this one in Singapore, I know it's time for me to bid farewell and move on.

I'm grateful to them for reigniting my interest in seeing a band live.

I will always think that BABYMETAL was at its peak for four years.

At least I got to see them twice.
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