B'z Live Gym -Into Free- Live Report

B’z is one hell of a big deal. They’re the best-selling artists in Japan, and in the top 100 best-selling artists in the world. They were the first band from Asia to have their handprints and signatures added to the RockWalk in Hollywood. They’ve held 9 of the top 10 Oricon spots in a single week, and have the most #1’s of any band.


B’z is one hell of a big deal.


When I arrived at Showbox SoDo, this was all that I could keep in my head. Their legendary status, the hugeness of these rock heros that would come on stage in just a few hours. The crowd hummed and vibrated, whispering and laughing nervously like teenagers prepping for a first date.


The excitement was intense, but perhaps misplaced my expectations. Although the show was good - one of the best I’ve been to - it would have been better if it hadn’t taken so long to get it’s steam up.


The show started out with “Love Bomb,” a strong choice to build the momentum for a live, but I was disappointed to see that only Koshi Inaba was energetic right out the gate. Tak Matsumoto has always seemed like the more reserved of the two, but even the band members were reticent, everyone holding their positions and focusing hard on their individual parts. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, jumping and screaming and dancing from the moment the first band member came on stage. But then, to my surprise and annoyance, a very noticeable break between the first and second songs destroyed what bit of magic the music had begun to weave.


Unfortunately, this proved to be the sequence for about half the concert: good song but low energy, break, good song but low energy, break...


As I watched, I found myself admiring Inaba, who jumped around the stage, belted out his part, engaged the audience, and all but carried the visual aspect of the show on his own. I also found myself disappointed by Tak. “This is the legend?” I thought. “This is the Grammy-winning artist? Really?” He seemed cool and indifferent, as though he had better things to do than perform for his fans.


Despite the dispassion on stage, the audience refused to be let down. They had come to have a great time, and that’s what they were going to do, dammit. Their fire carried the concert forward, forcing it higher and faster.


It took some time, but exposed to the fans’ exuberance, the band - and even Tak - eventually began to thaw. By the fourth song, “Splash,” everyone seemed to be getting into their groove, loosening up and enjoying themselves. (Inaba, meanwhile, just kept going strong.) During the next song, “Brighter Day,” the band members hazarded glances up at the fans and even smiled at us; Tak, still cool, focused on seducing the sound out of his guitar. Then another protracted, well-lit break for instrument swaps and we headed into song number six, “Easy Come, Easy Go!”


By this time the band seemed to have hit their stride, engaging the audience, soaking in life and giving life back. Breaks were eliminated or minimized. Tak seemed to finally enjoy himself, and I began to wonder if his coolness earlier was indifference or sprezzatura. The bevy of fan-favorites seemed to help: “Motel,” “Mou Ichido Kiss Shitakatta,” and “Zero” all worked to whip the band to a froth, culminating in the movement of band members across the stage!


This is where the concert seemed to begin in earnest, every band member pouring themselves into the performance, catching up to the energy level that Inaba had from the beginning. Tak began to move back and forth across the stage, engaging in some fan-servicey moves with Inaba, and even jumping! Then, during an MC after “Zero,” Tak addressed the audience.


“Are you guys having fun?”


Screams, jumping, hollering, waving.


Tak giggled - giggled! - like a boy getting a standing ovation at the school talent show. “I’m having fun too.”


My annoyance melted. Tak Matsumoto - the legend, the Grammy-winning artist - was shy, and humbled by his popularity.


The band launched into the next set of music, and finally I felt like the concert had reached it’s full potential.


It’s too bad that it took the band until song ten to reach their peak, but once it hit its climax the concert was frenetic, fantastic, and fun. The audience and the band achieved a level of symbiosis I’ve rarely seen, feeding from one another to increase each other’s strength. We blew through the final five songs in a mad rush, every note eliciting a dizzying high of emotion. The audience was tireless in their call for an encore after the final song, and though clearly tired, the band seemed to be drifting a runner’s high as they performed it.


The only encore was the English version of “Home,” a significantly slower song than any other on the setlist. It was beautifully performed, but the band was wiped out and didn’t give us another encore. The lights came up and we all wandered out to the streets of Seattle.


My immediate reactions after the show were to be impressed, but disappointed. Impressed by Inaba’s energy and dedication, impressed by Tak’s guitar skills, impressed by the adoration of the fans, but disappointed that it took so long for it all to come together into the heady brew of rock I was looking for. But with the benefit of time, I’ve begun to think that maybe I came at it from the wrong direction. In Japanese culture, nothing is worth doing if not done slowly and properly, and perhaps that’s what B’z gave me: slow, measured, perfectly-calculated steps, every one painstaking, every one fussy, and every one necessary. Despite the slow start and a few lighting missteps, we truly had the perfect show for a few precious songs, and a chance to connect with and reach an understanding about our performers. Although the show as a whole was less than ideal, I’d be happy to have it again for those precious moments of rock nirvana.