I have only ever been terrified at concerts less than a handful of times in my life. The first was in 2006 when I saw DragonForce on their first North American tour with All That Remains and HORSE the Band. I had just turned 20 and had only been to smaller shows at significantly smaller venues prior. When Inhuman Rampage came out, DragonForce were beyond a force of nature, their onstage antics drivings crowds into a frenzy, launching spirits like Herman and Sam launched themselves from personally-sized trampolines. Even in a large venue like Tempe’s Marquee Theater, the sold out show still managed to rattle bodies.
The second time was when Between the Buried and Me was touring with The Devin Townsend Project and Cynic in 2010. Devin Townsend’s crowd managed to bring out the movers and shakers with his high-energy riffing and inherently funny personality, while Cynic’s set after seemed to soothe the audience with more technical and progressive know-how. When Between the Buried and Me took the stage, all hell broke loose from the wall-to-wall in the now-defunct Tempe venue The Clubhouse. From the first moments of “Obfuscation” to the final notes of “White Walls,” the entire venue was a nonstop ride—bodies being mashed together, voices screaming in unison as the North Carolina progressive outfit brought proverbial destruction to The Clubhouse’s tiny stage.
Finally, and most recently, terror came in the form of three young girls from Japan. BABYMETAL had come to the House of Blues in Chicago.
You might be wondering, how on Earth might BABYMETAL be anywhere close to the power metal shenanigans of the UK’s most monumental act deemed to have, at one point, had the potential to be “bigger than Star Wars” or the rabidly ravenous fanbase of North Carolina’s #1 progressive export? The common theme here, if you’ve been paying attention, is the crowd. Ah, yes, the numerous people in attendance that filled every nook and cranny for Chicago’s House of Blues on that Thursday evening. Some would consider it insane that a band led by three young ladies manages to sell out a 1000 person-capacity venue in a matter of hours. Those individuals would be correct. For a devious project crafted from the mind of a Japanese producer, BABYMETAL has reached a status of a “cultural force,” even within their home country. The interesting fusion of a young idol group and a power/death metal backing band is something to make most people turn their noses at.
But here we are, attending literally sold out shows taking place across the world.
BABYMETAL are a spectacle to behold. Sumetal (Suzuka Nakamoto), Yuimetal (Yui Mizuno), and Moametal (Moa Kikuchi), in all their adorableness, command the stage with their petite presences, inciting crowds into uproarious yells and shrill screams, taming even largest the of bros into singalongs with their adorable visages, likely despite the language barrier.
Doors at 6:30pm usually mean a show anywhere from 7 to 7:30, but BABYMETAL are not one to abide by any typical rules. No, oh no. The hour-and-a-half wait until the beginning of the performance at 8pm was something only bands larger than life could ever pull off. The likes of Metallica or Iron Maiden are those legendary names that could possibly make such a wait “okay.” Then again, this is BABYMETAL we’re talking about and just over a year since their first album was released, they have figuratively become that—larger than life.
A blank screen covers the stage. A minute after the 8pm mark, the venue darkens and a projector lights up the blank canvas. Words scroll upwards, aping the phenomenal Star Wars intro sequences, telling a tale of a band from the future that united metalheads under a singular umbrella, inspired by popular acts throughout the years as their names appears on-screen. The aforementioned Metallica and Iron Maiden got nods, as well as Pantera and various others. It’s no lie that BABYMETAL can say they rank among the greats now, drawing crowds as big (if not larger) than many of them.
The words faded from the white sheet as the Kami Band (comprised of Takayoshi Ohmura, Mikio Fujioka, BOH, and Aoyama Hideki) erupted into “Babymetal Death” blared from the house’s speakers in full fury. A light projecting onto the sheet from the rear showed Sumetal’s silhouette. The sheet lifted and the light show began with the continuance of “Babymetal Death,” as the group and crowd raged through the spelling of “BABYMETAL,” arms in full effect like an extended performance of The Village People’s “YMCA.” Only with more death metal-like riffing.
The insanity didn’t stop, as BABYMETAL moved right into “Iine!” to show off their nearly flawless choreography that kept up throughout the entire show. It’s hard to believe that three young ladies, the oldest being 17, are so firmly capable of working through over an hour’s worth of material without more than a simple, unnoticeable misstep. Seamlessly, the group moved right into “Uki Uki ★ Midnight” with more of the standout performance we were already being offered.
It was after “Uki Uki ★ Midnight” that the true backbone of BABYMETAL, the Kami Band, went front and center for an instrumental performance. The combined force of Takayoshi Ohmura and Mikio Fujioka on guitars is something of a revelation, as their prowess in Japan, and perhaps across the world, is not to be questioned. BOH is a mighty bassist as well, delivering insane riffing on a six-stringed bass. And throughout the entire concert, drummer Aoyama Hideki was absolutely flawless in delivery, intonation, and energy. The Kami Band is truly a sight to behold. While Sumetal, Yuimetal, and Moametal are the stars of any live BABYMETAL performance, the members of the Kami Band are the reason they can do what they do.
The girls returned for the stacatto riff stylings of “Akumu no Rondo,” but Sumetal departed from the stage afterwards and left Yuimetal and Moametal for a performance of “Onedari Daisakusen.” While the younger girls had impeccable choreographed dance moves, complete with adorable skeleton-themed sweaters and scarves, it was very obvious they were lip syncing. Imaginably, it’s difficult to move so much and not run out of breath, especially at such a young age, but it really takes away from the belief that what you’re getting a true performance that you paid money for. Speaking of money, however, partway through the performance of “Onedari Daisakusen,” the crowd went nuts and started throwing dollar bills everywhere. It was hard to tell from my vantage point if these were real dollars (as I would assume) or fake pieces of currency, but the crowd was spot-on when the catchy, rap-like bits came around.
The group followed with “Catch Me If You Can” only to flow into another wonderful Kami Band performance. The concert progressed through pretty much the entire self-titled album with “Akatsuki,” “4 no Uta,” ultra catchy “Doki Doki☆Morning,” the omnipresent lead single “Megitsune,” “Give Me Choco!!,” and finally “Ijime, Dame, Zettai.” BABYMETAL also had two encore performances in “Headbanger!!” and new song “Road to Resistance.” The final song’s official recording features DragonForce’s Herman Li and Sam Totman, but the Kami Band were more than capable of playing the UK speedsters’ riffs live.
While BABYMETAL as a unit are more than capable of delivering an excellent performance, it wasn’t until the Kami Band were front and center that the dissonance in performances became utterly clear. Here we have four grown adults (three if you do not include drummer Aoyama Hideki, as he is incapable of moving from his position) knowledgeable in working a crowd, whereas the three young girls are simply there to showcase their talents in choreography and be something akin to poseable dolls, to be molded and set in a specific way for the entertainment of others. The girls have no agency and it became clear when the first words any of them spoke to the crowd was when Sumetal declared her love for the city of Chicago near the end of the concert.
It was an eye-opening moment to realize that this entire performance was just that—a performance. BABYMETAL aren’t necessarily a band so much as they are a gimmick. A clever one at that. The idol group-slash-metal band recalled to my mind when I saw Metallica in 2009 for their World Magnetic Tour. The aging rockers took the stage, had their performance, and promptly left. Perhaps it is a matter of size. BABYMETAL could be considered a phenomenon among the likes of Metallica. Perhaps it may be because of the division in culture, as the Japanese are more reserved than many touring North American or European bands. Perhaps it has something to do with age, as the girls aren’t yet old enough to truly understand how to work a crowd, as displayed by the playful interactions by the members of the Kami Band.
Whatever the case may be, it seems of little consequence as the people of Chicago ate it up. Every moment during the hour-and-thirty performance, there was a nonstop energy in the main pit area. BABYMETAL fans are simultaneously exemplary and insufferable. They are exactly the kinds of people you want as consumers—the type to lap up anything given to them in the span of a heartbeat, no matter how good or disgusting the product might be. One might use the word “drone” as a description. I can’t help but feel mortified by my fellow listeners, appreciating this far beyond the obvious gimmick, their tongues lolling out of their mouths, ready to lap up whatever slop is prepared for them, no matter how crudely. The mostly adult male crowd in the main pit area, by my guess, between the ages of 22 to 45, were cheering and cheering beyond what anyone could imagine. These are the same kinds of individuals that attempted to appropriate things such as My Little Pony from the intended young girl demographic or those who wear the title of “otaku” as a badge of honor instead of understanding the origins of the word and realizing that it is meant to shame individuals instead of simply describing a set of interests.
The thoughts send a sharp chill up my spine, thankful that I am mostly able to disassociate myself from this insatiable clientele. I won’t deny enjoying BABYMETAL for the gimmick that it is, even singing along in whatever broken Japanese I have after my three-and-a-half years of study in college. Hell, I use it to torture my friends when we go for a drive. I think it’s fun and catchy, and I have a strong appreciation for the musicianship involved, as well as the incredible production. But it never extends beyond the gimmick it was intended for me.
The others that have fallen too deep, however… The only word that can properly be used to describe their situation is “horrifying.”
BABYMETAL @ House of Blues Chicago, 5/14/15
All words and photos by Kyle Gaddo.Correction: The second guitarist position was misattributed to LEDA, but was actually Mikio Fujioka.