Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Live Review: Miyavi as Japan's Rock 'n' Roll Ambassador

By Kirsty Evans
Wed, Jun 16, 2010 at 4:29 PM

Why is this guy not a superstar yet?

Fans in the front row confessed that they’d been waiting outside since 10 p.m. the night before, and they weren’t even the first people to get in line. The wait wasn’t too bad though, apparently — Miyavi brought them tea.

It’s that kind of mutual affection between performer and fans that makes Miyavi shows such a special experience. From the moment he hit the stage with a brand new single “Survive,” Miyavi had the crowd jumping around so hard that the Fillmore’s wooden floor was shaking.

A natural performer, the Japanese rock/pop/whatever-the-hell-he’s-up-to-at-the-moment star ran through a series of tracks that covered pretty much all of his solo albums, and the crowd was singing along with every one (with much encouragement from the man himself). This is a rather different version of Miyavi to the one audiences saw when he hit Slim’s for back-to-back shows in 2008 — heavier on the guitar, lighter on the theatrics. Not only were the beat boxer and the DJ gone, this time there wasn’t even a bass player — just drums, keyboards, and Miyavi. Familiar songs had been rearranged, too, teasing out the blues influences and occasional hints of hip-hop, but with the emphasis clearly on rock. It was a stripped-down, rawer, sexier, more grown-up Miyavi (appropriate since he kept telling the audience about his new role as a father).

  • Kirsty Evans
  • Miyavi

  • Kirsty Evans
  • Miyavi

His audience seems to be growing up with him. It was a noticeably older crowd than the last time he played in San Francisco, even though a lot of the same faces showed up. The vibe was the same though — Miyavi’s audience really, really loves him, and he seems to love them right back (he certainly wasn’t shy about telling them so). It would be easy to dismiss that adoration as a result of his status as eye candy (one fan’s cry of “You’re so sexy!” prompted him to pull up his shirt to show off his abs and pose, and then deadpan, “Yeah, I already know that” right back). But it’s more than that — the man is truly, scarily talented. The new, more stripped-down format gave him plenty of room to show off his guitar skills, and damn were they impressive.

The crowd got a sneak preview of a few songs that will be on the new album (due in October, he says), most of them heavy on the rock and light on the pop, but always with Miyavi’s trademark bluesy, funky style. Fans also got his constant banter and familiar exhortations to stay positive and remember that the world is becoming a smaller place all the time.

Judging by last night’s performance, Miyavi seems to be aiming to step up to the plate as sort of rock ’n’ roll cultural ambassador for Japan. It’s about time someone did — although the Jrock scene in America has been growing every year for a while now, so far there really hasn’t been anyone willing or able to take on that role. Smart, talented, funny, comfortable in his own skin, not afraid to speak his mind, and well on his way to being fully bilingual, Miyavi may yet prove to be the Wayne Gretsky of JRock. But sexier, and with lots of tattoos.

Funniest moment of the whole evening? When, noticing that the people at the front were getting smashed up against the barrier, Miyavi stopped and asked the crowd to please move back a little. Because “you’re crushing people’s boobs.” How many rock stars could get away with saying that and come across as sweet and concerned rather than sleazy?

Oh Miyavi, never change.

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