Written by Erin Grace
Acid Black Cherry is the brainchild and solo project of yasu, vocalist from Janne de Arc. Although yasu has recruited several different j-rock artists for A.B.C. albums and singles, playing with him for the “Q.E.D.” tour are Akihide from BREAKERZ (guitar), Yuki from DUSTAR-3 (guitar), Shuse from La’cryma Christi (bass), and Junji from Siam Shade (drums). The DVD features the final live of the tour, at the Nihon Budoukan.
Disc 1 of the DVD contains the live itself, with bonus features on disc 2. The first disc opens with antiqued still-shots set to strings, scenes and Engrish related to the album concept, “The Case of the Black Maria.” The DVD menu comes up, strings still playing, offering you all the songs from the tour, as well as the option for 2.0 or 5.1 sound – an option I feel should be offered on all DVDs sold anywhere, ever. I tried out both (2.0 with headphones, 5.1 with a sound system) and found that the sound performance was consistent across both tracks.
The concert opens with the quietly energetic strings from “Mother” and a shot of the stage covered by a huge curtain shaped like what appears to be the Virgin Mary. Although watching the Q.E.D. concept video on disc 2 makes it obvious that the curtain-statue is actually the Black Maria, watching it ascend at the beginning of the concert to reveal the band is so full of Japa-cheezy religious non-significance that I can hardly stomach it.
This is the only part of the concert, however, that is difficult to stomach. As the band is revealed, the music for “Mother” bursts fully to life, blue lighting coming around the band members, the underside of the Black Maria stage curtain revealing swooping black curtains that give a very slight, very elegant goth feel, much better suited to a rock concert than a 3-story Virgin Mary look-alike. “Mother” is mid-tempo and one of the slower of the songs in the concert, but it carries a lot of energy, a great song to gear up the crowd for the live. After “Mother” closes, A.B.C. pulls out the big guns and begins to rock for real with “code name [JUSTICE].”
Having never listened to Acid Black Cherry before this DVD, I was impressed with the both the style and quality of the music. I hadn’t realized initially that the vocalist also sings for Janne de Arc, but it’s easy to recognize the similarity in musical style: Acid Black Cherry essentially plays basic rock, but with a slightly more synthed-up sound like Lucifer or Janne de Arc. It’s not quite enough to classify as electro-rock, but the synth is definitely a noticeable musical element. However, throughout the concert the band proves that they have more than just rock chops: although I’m definitely a j-rocker, “Black Cherry” is one of my favorite songs from the whole concert, opening with a loungy, not-quite-bossa-nova feel at the beginning, complete with a jazzy beat and brushed cymbals. Although about a minute into the song it takes on a heavier rock element, it never loses the jazzy soul that makes it a fun and unique song.
The musicianship itself is also high quality, with solid work from each band member. Although this should come with the territory for established musicians like those playing this tour, I still feel it’s worth mentioning. Not a note was out of place, but the band members never appeared either bored or show-offish; they played their music with skill and passion, and because of this each one of them was fun to watch and listen to. I usually have a favorite performer in concerts, but I can’t honestly choose favorites in this one. There were several impressive guitar solos – the solo from “I’m not a ghost” in particular reminded me of something by Yngwie Malmsteen – the bass line was rock solid and perfectly balanced between subtlety and strength; and the drums also were passionate and steady. Each instrument is just as good to listen to alone as it is with the band; a very impressive feat for a band without years of history together. Yasu also did a great job: voice strong and all notes perfectly on-key despite the very painful vocal cord cysts he’d been singing against for a month by the time of the DVD recording. The entire band were great entertainers as well, and didn’t shy from crowd pleasing by getting up in each others’ business in awesome, coyly erotic ways.
More than all that, however, the DVD recording itself was good. It captures the concert well, and although it’s hard for a DVD to make you feel like you’re actually at the concert, this one presented it so well and made it look so fun that I wished I had been. The shots flowed smoothly between one another, faster or slower depending on the song, keeping up visual interest solidly throughout. There wasn’t too much focus on any one band member and there were a minimum of annoying transitions – only “I’m not a ghost” failed here, with odd slow fades between shots during the song’s bridge. There were also several interesting shots like close-ups of the guitarists’ hands and several of the drummer to break up any remaining monotony. The inclusion of fan favorites "Black Cherry" and "Cherry Cherry" midway through the concert - and the corresponding shots of fans enjoying the music - are also a special treat: the live is already easy to enjoy, but even more so when we can see how much the fans at the live are enjoying themselves as well. Their enthusiasm for the show added to my own. My only beef with the actual DVD production was with sound balancing, which occasionally failed and caused the music to sound slightly muted. Although the occurrences were not long or overly noticeable, they were far from rare, popping up at least once in most songs, distracting me from the concert as a whole and detracting from the overall experience.
On disc 2 we’re presented with a selection of concert off-shots and the Q.E.D. concept video, “Q.E.D. Story -The Movie-.” The off-shots were interesting, and it’s specifically from them that we learn about the cysts on yasu’s vocal chords that had been troubling him since just before the tour began. (We also learn that he decided to perform through the pain they caused, so that the tour wouldn’t been cancelled or postponed.) Although the off-shots also look at the other members performing in the tour, as well as some general information about the individual concerts they played while on the tour – just like any other video of off-shots – we also get to spend a certain amount of time with yasu, braving his way through the pain to make sure the tour goes off without a hitch. There’s one very sweet and sad clip of yasu sitting on the floor crying, presumably from pain, and I thought it was an interesting bit to include – for my part, it made me appreciate his enthusiasm and the quality of his voice that much more.
Overall, however, I’m not sure what the off-shots add for a non-Japanese speaking audience. On the one hand, having been a rabid j-rock fan since well before I could read and understand Japanese, I know firsthand how wonderful it is to see these little “up close and personal” shots of the band, even when everything is totally unintelligible. On the other hand, without understanding any Japanese, there’s a lot of information and commentary that fans are missing – such as the information about yasu’s condition – that fans want to have, and which they’re paying for, but which they do not get. I understand that these DVDs aren’t marketed to non-Japanese speakers because the low demand makes production cost prohibitive, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing that subtitles were available in at least one Western language to make translation for Westerners just a little easier. (Seriously, Babblefishing French comes up with more intelligible results than Japanese.) In the end, each person needs to make their own decision about whether the off-shots help make the DVD a good value for them.
The concept video, however, avoids the language problem for the most part: the video is dubbed in English and has Japanese subtitles. Although the person narrating clearly isn’t a native English speaker, the English is grammatically correct, intelligible, pronounced clearly, and has none of the problems you might expect from an English dub made in Japan. The video is interesting as well, following a fictional murder case called “The Case of the Black Maria” – the inspiration for the stage set as well as several song titles. It’s fun to watch the video and hear the song titles pop up: “I’m not a ghost” and “1954 LOVE/HATE” make two of the more obvious appearances. Although neither A.B.C. band members nor their songs are featured, the video is entertaining and a little creepy – an interesting and unique addition to the DVD.
I loved the DVD – both the concert and the features. Although the sound issues with the concert were frustrating, they’re so minor that I’m the only person I know who caught them on a first listen, and my philosophical issues with the off-shots really won’t matter if you’re fond of off-shots in general. If you’re a fan of Acid Black Cherry, I definitely recommend it – it’s fun to watch, the music is performed beautifully, and it’s just a great concert and DVD. Even if A.B.C. isn’t your favorite, it’s a good DVD to watch if you want a performance that’s just as great to watch as it is to listen to. I’d even recommend the DVD to those who are just fans of one of the band members or the bands they come from – the Janne de Arc and BREAKERZ and DUSTAR-3 and La’cryma Christi and Siam Shade fans: although yasu is supposedly the “focus” here, the other members get enough attention that you’ll probably find watching it worth your time.