oh, andi !

〔 one girl, one road to self-discovery + reinvention 〕

the live chronicles: girls and boys, be ambitious — 18 January 2017

the live chronicles: girls and boys, be ambitious

When Taking Off dropped, I was less than thrilled. It sounded over-processed and too much like Fueled by Ramen had rubbed off on a band that I loved. I wasn’t too excited for Ambitions to drop and, to be honest, Taking Off was the only song that I had listened to. I didn’t bother with the other singles, couldn’t have cared less about the star-studded guest list of all of their friends making an appearance on tracks. I thought I knew what was coming because I had been here before: Signing to a new label had broken something that I loved. But that didn’t stop me from packing in to a car with my bestfriend, the iTunes digital copy of Ambitions loaded on to my phone, and all of my usual pre-concert anxiety on the day that it dropped. I didn’t listen to it. We drove the 370mi/596km up the east coast to our weekend, couch crashing destination in Manhattan. And we spent the next 24hrs hanging out, eating food, playing some video games, catching up. The cats weren’t very interested in us, but I really wanted to be their friend.

I pretended that all of my nerves were because of my excitement at seeing my favorite band, but there was this feeling building in me — I still hadn’t listened to Ambitions and I was afraid that their setlist was going to be very dominantly from this album. What was saving me was that I know ONE OK ROCK better than I know most things, and I know their live presence. I knew that when they played Taking Off or whatever else, that all of the effects and processing and things that I didn’t like about the album were going to go away. I knew it was just gonna be the boys and their voices, their instruments. I kept telling myself to give the album a shot, but I was so underwhelmed that I waited until about the last possible moment to get it in. For the rough hour and a half before doors, I listened to the album. Not in its entirety, but I picked out the songs I knew they were going to play, to familiarise myself with, at the very least, the choruses. So I would have a bit of a feeling for it, so I wouldn’t be so left out of the loop.

The line was long and the air was cold and I wasn’t sure if I was more surprised by how many people kept showing up or by the sheer number of Japanese fans that came out. We packed in to the line down the block, huddled together in a mass that the venue staff tried to control but gave up on, settling for the sort of organised chaos that they had created in trying to keep us from single-file. Two of the staff made their way through the mass of people checking IDs and marking hands, issuing wristbands. The sun had gone down almost completely by the time the doors were open, and immediately I could hear the authoritative “Stop pushing” coming down the line. Bag checks. Ticket scans. I always have this moment of wonder as I look at the venue staff at these kinds of events, because they always look a little bit shocked — as if they expected some sort of paltry turn out and have their worlds turned on their heads. I did discuss this briefly with some of the Madison Square Garden staff when I saw X JAPAN, and the consensus is always simple: They’re from Japan, we expect a couple people, but mostly well-mannered Asian kids.

Now we’re standing in a slightly more compact huddle. On the second floor, as it fills out, to the left are people sitting at tables and to the right are these girls sitting, legs hanging over the edge from underneath the wire cable partition. One of them falls asleep and has her head in her friends’ lap, which causes several moments of flashlight-shining and backup-radioing from the security guard down on my floor. I don’t get too much of a view of what’s going on on the third floor, but I imagine it’s more of the same thing. The cold has followed us inside and it wafts in to the spaces between us, the excited chattering of the people around me doing very little to make it any warmer. I keep my hat and my hoodie on, for now.

Behind the second floor partition, which starts right about where the rails are on the first floor, we can see lights and feet moving. And then the curtain pulls back and we see hands and a face and the crowd screams. A few minutes go by, and it happens again. This continues, and it just makes the excitement and the nerves that much more palpable. There’s a sort of frenzy brewing, and the air is electric, and we know we still have a good hour and a half or so until we even get what we came here for. Our appetites are curbed by the appearance of the opening band. Now we have something else to focus on.

Their name is CRUISR and they are from Philadelphia, and their frontman says “We’re the only thing between you and ONE OK ROCK” and the crowd screams and we laugh and he does too because it’s the sort of brutally honest that you can only laugh at. Some of the people in the audience are here for CRUISR, and they lead us on in claps and cheers and the camaraderie that always comes at a venue. Music, the great unifier. They’re fun. Upbeat and energetic and the kind of earnest that makes it easy to entertain a love affair with them. They have the softest T-shirts in the world, and they have the sort of charisma that shines. I wish I’d bought an album off them, but the internet will sell it to me just the same.

But CRUISR ends their set, and we remember the nervous energy. It sparks in the room, dangerous and enticing and you can feel it building as the equipment techs, stage hands, roadies, get everything in to place. They unveil the backdrops and this maze of lights that hang and spin and come in several different shapes and sizes.

The excitement mounts. The tension you can cut with a knife, but everyone is talking to fill the void. Some guys behind me are making jokes, talking about the Cowboys/Packers game. People around me are talking about last time they saw ONE OK ROCK, one of them reminiscing about their opening set for 5 Seconds of Summer at Madison Square Garden. Bring Me to Life by Evanescence comes on at some point, and the crowd is singing and laughing and shouting the lyrics, in this weird sort of acceptance that this is what we have resigned ourselves to. A mediocre song from our collective childhood while our palms are sweaty and our hearts are racing.

Finally the music cuts off, the lights change. We can once again see the very clearly lit drum kit. Scream. Tomo walks out. Scream more. Ryota, Toru, Taka walk out. Scream louder, longer, harder, give it everything you’ve got. The tension is still mounting, even as they launch in to Taking Off — what a perfect opener. Textbook. Then Take Me to the Top starts and the mounting electricity is set free and the whole crowd shifts violent, compacting itself, stumbling and hot and panic and the calls of the opening verse. Somehow, myself and the people around me manage to get back to upright, but we’re barely afforded breathing room. Taka is looking out at the crowd,he isn’t singing the words. “Are you guys all right?” And the audience responds with a very loud “no” and he stops the guys from playing. My eyes follow his, and whatever poor girls are stuck under the bodies of their friends finally pop up from the floor. A girl appears out of nowhere next to me trying to squeeze out. She looks a bit panicked and she’s saying “I have to get out I can’t do this it’s too claustrophobic” and my heart goes out to her and I start shoving at the guys to my left, trying to make them make room for her to get through and out.

Nothing hits you quite like being suddenly incapable of breath and movement and the overwhelming heat of being crushed between strangers.

But we make it through. Taka asks the audience to give the go-ahead, whenever we’re ready. We get a little room, we give each other a little space. I come out of my hoodie and hat and we yell. We’re ready.

Take Me to the Top
Cry Out
Deeper Deeper

Few things in life are quite as exciting as knowing your (second) favorite song by your favorite band is about to be played. The lights are blue and Taka stands out front, holding one finger in the air above his head. I’ve seen the DVDs, I know the song, I know what that one finger means. I scream. Sorry again to the girl in front of me — she sort of plugged her ears a few times, but I know this was the worst of it. So the audience follows Taka’s lead. We all raise one arm, hold up one finger. The ticking starts, his hand descends slowly with each audible second. More screaming. I love this song. It is important to me in and for ways I cannot express, and I know it’s a bit basic because Clock Strikes has been a fan favorite since it was released, but it went off without a hitch and was perfect, including the sing along chants.

Decision is one of those songs that I am always underwhelmed by, both on the album and whenever they play it live, but it’s always a good time and, in this instance, was the perfect way in to Hard to Love. Which is a really sweet song, and I have a lot of feelings about Ryota playing his bowed bass. The audience lit up their phone flashlights and in the dark we all swayed back and forth, singing the song that Taka never fails to tell us he wrote for his father. It’s kind of personal, in an exposed and genuine sort of way, and though we all knew all of the words he didn’t stop singing for a single note, and he looked out over the audience like he was thinking about something else for a moment, and then he disappeared from the stage.

The instrumental break came. It’s familiar from the Mighty Long Fall at Yokohama Arena DVD, and it’s a really fun experience overall. But the crowd gets a little antsy listening to the instrumental, though there is no shortage of shouts and cheers in all the right places.

Bedroom Warfare. I don’t like this song. I feel like Taka found something in Zayn’s Pillowtalk the resonated deeply within him and had to express his own bits of those feelings. But it’s much better live, in my opinion, than on the album. And the crowd loved it, it was very obviously a fan favorite. And I can see why, of course, it’s just not my thing.

Back to Jinsei× Boku = which is, in my opinion, the sort of quintessential album. I loved all of the albums before this one, and I adore 35xxxv, but there’s just something special about Jinsei× Boku = that will never get old for me. The Beginning is another one of those fan favorite songs that everyone loves and you can’t help but react to. A real crowd pleaser.

I was King is another song that is so, so much better live than on the album. When the processing goes away and it’s just four guys and some lights, it’s really good. Now one of my favorites from AmbitionsTake What You Want is not a song I was familiar with before the show, because I didn’t really listen to the whole album and I didn’t think they’d play a song that featured someone else. But they did and I was so, so pleasantly surprised. The first part was done acoustic, with Taka sort of ambling around the stage and baring the rawness of the lyrics to the audience who joined in with the instruments. It was really, really cool in affect and made me love this song, too. Even if I still can’t name a 5 Seconds of Summer song.

We Are. The emotionally charged call-to-arms for all the kids to just remember that they aren’t alone and can make it through. This song was a bit of a big reminder of the way that ONE OK ROCK always manages to get the audience involved. From Ambitions, it’s really the one that the mastering works best on.

Might Long Fall. What’s a ONE OK ROCK show without it? A cornerstone of their shows since its release. No complaints here. Every time they play it is as perfect as the last time that they played it. I imagine we’ll be hearing this song at all of their shows for the next five years, and it’s gonna be great.

At this point, the band leaves the stage, but we all know that there’s more to be had. I was, however; surprised that it was  actually one more song. As they launch in to American Girls there is this moment of, “of course they’d play this as their encore” and I have to laugh. From an artistic standpoint, the song is pretty good. To me, it’s a little cheesy and it comes off a bit pandering — but that’s just the sort of thing that I am willing to forgive because, like I always say, no one has more fun than ONE OK ROCK at a ONE OK ROCK show.

the live chronicles: are you here alone ? — 11 April 2016

the live chronicles: are you here alone ?

Wednesday mornings at a child-focused mall kiosk ( during a school year, no less ) are, for lack of a better word, boring. As I sat idly wasting time doing a whole lotta nothing on my phone, I made my routine check of the area: What’s the line like at Starbucks? Who’s sitting on the bench? Coming down off the escalator and in to the directory, over to the diamond peddlers, back to my phone. As my eyes passed the freshly-dusted plastic Easter Lilies between bench and escalator, they struggled to find the directory because someone familiar was passing between the two. What came next was a feeling that many greats before me have tried to describe. Like catching vertigo and panic all at once: My vision tunneled, the Earth tilted on its axis, my heart raced its way in to my throat. Holy shit.

My heart, and the fan forever carved in to my soul, recognized the person walking toward my kiosk long before my mind could catch up, long before I figured out how to overcome the physical response I had no control over. He walked by my kiosk. I told myself that it wasn’t him. At this point I register that he isn’t alone, there is someone walking next to him, and as their backs are finally to me I see the letters on the back of the taller figure’s hoodie spelling out ONE OK ROCK and confirming everything that I already knew. Holy shit.

They turn and come back, realizing like many a mall patron before them that there is nothing but an exit the way that they’re heading. What I think about what happened and what actually happened are most likely two different things. I don’t think I was staring, because I was telling myself not to, but in all actuality I probably stared at them for the whole ten foot length of the walk back up to where I was standing. When I finally spoke, it was with all of the grace of a proverbial twelve year old, star-struck girl. “Uhm, are you Ryota from ONE OK ROCK?” Smooth, I know. Ryota pulled his flu-mask down and smiled, nodding, and he probably said ‘yes’ or gave some other verbal response but I did not hear it, still trying to process this moment. He held out his hand, standing now in front of me and reaching over the counter, and I again displayed my brilliance by staring at it for a moment before realizing that, you know, I am supposed to shake it. My immediate thought then is something like ‘wow, his hands are soft’ because, again, twelve year old fangirl.

In a perfect world I would have been able to articulate myself. In a perfect world I would have told him that he is one of my favorite people on the planet, or at the very least that he is my favorite member of the band. I could have told him I think that he’s an incredible bass player and one of the most kind-hearted and really just precious people I have ever witnessed. That I think he looks really cute with his dog on Instagram. What I said instead was some jumbled line of my stumbling over my words, “I love your band, ONE OK ROCK is … really great.” Of course he thanks me and smiles again. “Are you coming to the show tonight?” Oh, yeah, Christian is standing there, so there’s an audience for my awkward social performance. I don’t look at him, but I do say ‘yes’ and nod-shake my head, something undoubtedly embarrassing. Ryota reached his fist over my counter. Again, I stare, thinking about his knuckle tattoos before I realize it’s fist-bump time. And that, more than anything, speaks to my fangirl heart. I don’t know if I waved or said ‘goodbye’ or ‘good luck’ or anything of that sort. But I do know I turned around, looked at my hand, and started crying.

When I told Christian that I was coming to the show, it was really a lie. I had no idea they were even in town – they hadn’t ever been anywhere close, and I couldn’t imagine any band that they would be on tour with hitting up any of the local venues. They generally head north to Richmond or D.C., Baltimore. I told everyone I know, in excited variations of all caps and key-smashes, I just met Ryota from ONE OK ROCK. And then I look up the show, and I realize it is literally across the street from where I’m standing. I check ticket prices, and they’re within what I have left until Friday, and I decide that I am actually going. I can’t not go. I hit up the work group chat on Facebook to tell my coworkers about my Ryota run-in, and they accept my ramble with grace and loving teases. They’re good people. Around thirty minutes before it’s time for me to leave I look up again, with my coworker standing next to me, and see Toru at the directory. “There’s another one.” I have no idea why I phrased it like that, and my coworker laughs at me for it. I watch Toru make some girl’s day – she stops him and asks him to pose for a picture, and there’s some talk between them as it happens, and once he walks away I watch her stare at her phone and jump once in happiness. That girl and I are kindred spirits for one brief moment and she has no idea.

I have enough time to take the bus home to get leggings and a jacket, because I can already tell it’s going to be a cold night, and to pick up the last $20 I have to my name. On the hour ride back to the mall I listen to XXXV, knowing that the odds are that the songs they play will be 100% from that album. I feel more nervous about this show, at a venue I know and love and have cut my teeth at, than I felt about traveling solo to NYC to see XJapan. This is The NorVa. It’s where I saw my first show ( AFI, I was 14 ), it’s where I saw Frank Turner, it’s where some kids from my highschool put together NorVaCon, a one-time anime convention that played the Cowboy Bebop movie in the background the whole time. I’ve seen friend’s bands play to maybe three-hundred people there, and I’ve seen sold-out shows. But none of it stacks up to this, and maybe that’s why I was so nervous that I seemed to blank on the layout for a moment.

I regained my composure, found the tour shirts on the wall for my band at the back merch box, and walked up to buy a shirt. The guy who asked me what I wanted and took my money was rude and unfriendly, and sort of had this attitude about the fact that of the $20 I gave him, one was in quarters. So, I rolled my eyes and took my shirt and have composed a mental rant at him about how none of the blood and sweat he has put in to ONE OK ROCK will ever measure up to the time and passion and tears I have poured in to this band, but in the end it doesn’t matter and he didn’t ruin my time.

I picked my spot to stand in, sort of to the left of center, about five or six rows of people back. We wait together, me and this room full of strangers, and I assess the people there to try and figure out what kind of show it is that I have signed up for and whether or not there are to be other ONE OK ROCKers there. To my right I immediately spot a mixed-race group of about five speaking a mix of Japanese and English. Off to my left is three girls. There’s also a girl in a XXXV tour shirt, and at least five people mixed in to the crowd wearing the OOR shirts they bought tonight. So there’s a handful of us, probably more, and it feels good.

The first band, Night Verses, was good. I don’t remember much about their set other than that their vocalist will forever be Hardcore Billy Corgan to me, and he was really grateful to the audience for being checked-in for their set. A group of kids sitting right-rail got really in to one song and it amped the crowd up some, and it was a good time. But I cannot remember much about it, and if anyone ever reads this, I’m sorry. You were good, I was just somewhere else in my head, and in my heart. Their set ended, I learned that Crown the Empire was not the name of the tour as I had thought at the merch booth, and the crew came up to tear down the first layer of instruments and began setting up for what was the band of the night, at least to me.

The lights came up. People began talking. I looked around. More people had filtered in behind me.

“Are you here alone?”
“Hm? Oh, Yeah.”
“What band are you here for?”
“ONE OK ROCK, the next band.”

This girl, I learned, was seventeen and here with her cousin so that she didn’t have to come alone. She asked me if I knew ONE OK ROCK personally, if they were local or something – I told her they were from Japan and that I didn’t know them, but that I had met their bassist while I was at work at the mall earlier that day. We became what I like to call Show Friends. The sort of kinship that begins and ends in a sea of bodies around you. She introduced me to her cousin when he came back with his drink, and we chatted. Tomo came out. I screamed. The crowd followed. Show Friend commented that he was hot, and I laughed and agreed, which Cousin thought was pretty hilarious. People around me started getting excited when Tomo’s drumkit lit up, he ran through to make sure everything was good, and departed.

The nerves came back. The lights dimmed. Tomo came out. Scream. Ryota came out. Scream louder. They fist-bumped, I got butterflies and instinctively squeezed my own hand shut. They started playing. Toru squeezed his way out from the other side of the stage between stacks of gear and looked pleased about making it, and we all screamed for him. I saw Taka, over Ryota’s shoulder, surveying the audience or watching his boys or psyching himself up, maybe deciding how he was going to play this one, I don’t know. But when I looked back he was gone, and then he was appearing from Toru’s side of the stage, and we all screamed.

Take me to the Top started then and I screamed first, sang second. Though I didn’t really sing so much as I screamed the words back to them like I was alone, in a car maybe driving down the highway in the middle of the night. No one around me mattered, really. And from that moment on, I don’t know the order of the set. I just know the songs that they sang. So don’t quote me on the order, even though I have tried to recreate it. Show Friend and Cousin came to the consensus that ONE OK ROCK was good and told me, and I beamed with pride. They played Cry Out and I am pretty sure that Taka translated the Japanese parts and was singing them in English – but I am not positive. The feeling was weird, like I was singing the wrong words, but I know this band and I know the lyrics and it didn’t stop me from screaming them as loud as I could, hands in the air, clapping when I knew the beat for it was coming.

They played Decision and, as is usually the case, the intro comes on and I have flashbacks to Mighty Long Fall at Yokohama Stadium. I screamed louder, I love this song, my voice started cracking. The people around me looked back at me, smiling and a bit confused. For the second round of chorus there was a guest on stage. I immediately recognized him as Taka’s Best Friend Tyler Cater from Instagram. The audience recognized him too and they went absolutely batshit. After the song Show Friend informed me that he was the singer of Issues, and Cousin told me that him coming out to sing with them definitely meant that ONE OK ROCK was a good band. It won over the audience, Tyler looked happy about it ( and had playfully tapped on Tomo’s cymbals on his way out ) and Taka was definitely happy with it.

Suddenly happened. Taka commanded this crowd. The energy that the band gave, the way that they played, the stage presence. They weren’t phoning this one in because it was a relatively small venue somewhere they’d never been before. They were giving it their all, and the audience repaid them for it with their attention and participation. There was Stuck in the Middle, the whole audience clapped along. Any of the ‘do-do-dodo’s that were missing, I filled in. And I am sure that the other ONE OK ROCKers there filled in, too, but I couldn’t hear them.

The final song of the night was Mighty Long Fall, and I wanted to cry. My voice was already hoarse, my ears were ringing, but none of that mattered. The crowd was right there with me, hands in the air to an unfamiliar song, but those of us who knew the words sang them back. We were there, together, for that band and those six songs. The breakdown was nothing as orchestrated as a Japanese crowd, but it was there and it was real and those people cared. When the last notes faded in to nothing the lights came up, Tomo and Ryota and Toru waved and left the stage. Taka stayed, thanking everyone, and he bowed at least twice to the audience, and I had one of those feelings, standing there in the crowd, that only a fan of a band can understand – that feeling of being acknowledged, understood, and appreciated. Maybe somewhere in all of the yelling they’d heard us, felt our enthusiasm. As Taka left the stage, the audience started chanting one more song and I looked out over them, the sea of people who had supported my band, and I knew that I had to stay for the rest of the show.

There are always those people who come to shows late, the assholes who don’t give the opening acts the time of day because they’re above it, or they don’t care, because they think being unaffected and fashionably late is cool. And it isn’t. I have never been one of those people, but I have also never been to a show just for an opening act. A guy who was standing in front of me to the right turned around and said, “Why do I get the feeling that that was the best band of the night?” Obviously a dad, but I smiled as big as I could and said something about how amazing they are, and he responded with, “Well, I came here not knowing who they are and now I’m a fan.” Several other people chimed in with how blown away they were by the performance and I don’t know if they were being nice or if it had something to do with Tyler Carter singing Decision or if it was just the pure talent of ONE OK ROCK. Probably a lot of all of the above, but it made me happy.

Show Friend asked if I was staying, and I told her that I was. I watched many of the ONE OK ROCKers file out, and found that just about as disrespectful as the people who skip opening acts. These people, this crowd – they had supported my band, so I was going to support theirs. It was the right thing to do.

Crown the Empire came out, and they had two vocalists. We were, at this point, moved over to the right side of the stage, centered on one of the two vocalists. He was wearing a black shirt with giant daisies on it, and a lot of his movements and expressions ( and his shortness and haircut ) reminded me a lot of Taka, and it charmed me. The whole band did. They were fun and good-natured and their hearts were definitely in what it was that they were doing. At the beginning of their set we had gotten separated from Cousin, as the mosh pit had started just behind us and Cousin was keeping us safe, but in the beginning some guy and flown full-force in to him and, inevitably, spilled Cousin’s drink all over him. I thought the guy was going to fight him, you could tell he was there and he was majorly aggressive and was ready to fight. He didn’t. But he did end up to our right, and I only noticed because, during a song whose name now escapes me, the one vocalist had the show stopped and the lights came on and he pointed the guy out to security and had him escorted out. “Hitting girls isn’t as cool as you think it is bro, I promise.” The audience cheered. The lights went off, he asked for permission to restart the song, and they did.

There was a nosebleed, a brief intermission for a shot which was either followed or preceded by an audience sing-along to the opening verse of a Journey song about midnight trains going anywhere, and I just fell in love. I really appreciated all that Crown the Empire did, their set, the music, all of it, and am now a fan for life.

The last band, headliner and Tyler Carter fronted group, was Issues. They were good. Their stage was elaborate and their drummer performed on an elevated platform that he climbed up to on what looked like a ladder made from welded pipes, which connected to this structure that he and one other member sat on while the others participated in a slow, melodic song that I never would have expected but appreciated and found myself drawn to. Something about, “I’m so mad at myself for giving in to what I want, never again”. The audience singing that was haunting in a way that I can’t quite put in to words, but it was magic.

After their encore the lights came on. My ears felt stopped-up and were ringing. Show Friend and Cousin and Their Show Friend with the Weed Vape disappeared in to the night, to buy merch and make the drive home and yell about how great the show was. I watched people file out, and I eventually joined them in the cold night air, though I wasn’t headed to a parking garage and so, after only a minute, was left one my own and to the deafening silence of post-show ears. I walked passed ONE OK ROCK’s tour bus, which was parked half a block up from the venue next to the mall and I had seen Toru sneaking in to before the show when I was arriving, and looked confusedly to the running-but-empty car parked haphazardly behind the attached trailer that pulled their gear. I kept walking back to the bus station, pausing to pull my tshirt from my pocket and put it on because I was cold, and watched the car from behind the bus drive by.

As I waited for the bus to take me home I put my headphones in, pressed play on Memories, and thought back on the night. I had gone to the show by myself but, as is always the case when there is music, I was definitely not alone.