There are few cities in the world where you can have a crowd of people in a bar celebrating a football final win one day, and then another large, diverse group of people head-banging to a Japanese rock-act the next. At the well-known Corner Hotel in Richmond on Sunday night, that was very much the case.
Admittedly, I am a total novice when it comes to Japanese music in general. Occasionally I will come across something stellar from the elecro-pop girls of Perfume, and of course I could not possibly ignore the institution that has become Arashi (I shamelessly adore the socks off those boys).
Then there is ONE OK ROCK; their particular brand of high-octane alternative rock is so good that it rivals some of the best. After a good year of co-presenting the Hello Asia Radio show, I quickly became to know the distinct sounds of the band all thanks to the illustrious Erin (see her review of their Brisbane show here). I was a fan immediately, and it’s of little wonder why. ONE OK ROCK has earned themselves a truly robust worldwide cult following; legions of fans and a tour of sold out gigs make the four-member male Japanese alternative outfit one of the world’s most well-loved rock groups. Touring across Asia, the United Kingdom, Europe, and America, the widely acclaimed quartet finally arrived back in Australia last week to thousands of hard-core devotees.
After performing in Brisbane and Sydney, the boys finally made their way to Melbourne, storming the stage in a flurry of hypnotic guitar riffs and pulsating drum rhythms. The Melbourne show marked the last performance for ONE OK ROCK on the Australian leg of their Ambitions tour, and the boys did not disappoint. ONE OK ROCK is solid; after almost 13 years, the group shows no signs of slowing down. Their dynamic performance was hypnotically electric, their incredible energy astonishingly contagious – which is saying a-helluva-a-lot for a show that started late on a balmy Sunday evening.
By the time the group were due to begin the venue which was so full that people were almost spilling out into the adjoining bar; fans were sandwiched so closely together that the stamping of feet and synchronous head bobbing seemed to come from one great, albeit diverse, body. To speak of the diversity within that one room, five minutes before the show was to begin, Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ played over the large speakers; in a moment that was rather wonderful and quite a bit funny, a small group of people started belting the tune out and before too long, nearly everyone was singing and dancing along to the pop-hit.
Yet, waiting for them to appear on stage was still a long impatient wait. As such, the quartet stormed on-stage to a rapturous reaction from the audience, mobile phones extended toward the small stage as Taka, Tomoya, Ryota, and Toru belted out their hit song ‘Bombs Away’.
While the group may be more accustomed to arena shows, the smaller venue in Melbourne suited them, becoming the perfect backdrop for their grungy sound. Their music is an unusual combination; rare, dark, and hard-hitting yet simultaneously sweet, which seems to be paradoxical when it comes to alternative punk-rock. For ONE OK ROCK, it worked so well. The strong employment of repetition and dynamics throughout was emphasised by a heavy reliance on pulsating cadences and killer rock guitar riffs, creating something altogether energetic and extremely powerful.
The first half of the show flew by, the band going through a long list of fast-paced tunes like ‘Taking Off’, ‘Bon Voyage’, and ‘Bedroom Warfare’. Taka’s voice was robust, a true show highlight being the long run of notes that he took in their performance of ‘Clock Strikes’; the frontman had the expectant audience hanging onto every note, culminating in a euphoric applause that could have only rivalled the rocking drum beat.
‘I Was King’ heralded a change in pace, the moderate tempo of the song driven by the staccato beat of the drum that was heavily punctuated by accented bass slaps. ‘Wherever You Are’ was smooth and sexy, an acoustic break that was full of emotion. Taka stopped sining half-way through, leaving most of the heavy lifting to the audience who unabashedly sang the rest of the song in English and Japanese. ‘Take What You Want’ was a vocal masterpiece, with drums and a mellow bass line only kicking in mid-way.
Fans were in awe, regulars were amazed, and I was left incomprehensibly speechless. Standing in the middle of a large crowd of their fans, it was impossible not to notice the great big smiles on the faces of the audience as everyone sang, heads banging, in chorus to English and Japanese lyrics that touched on basic human emotions like love and heartbreak. Together, in that room, there was a real sense of connection; strangers were laughing and singing together, jumping up-and-down together.
After an instrumental intermission, the group kicked it up another notch, culminating the show in another run of head-bangers. Quite amazingly, the quartet successfully combined these peculiarly divergent sounds, creating eccentric yet memorable tunes that emphasised their strong musicality. They were loud, but not obnoxiously so; their hard-hitting yet soulful lyrics matched with a distinct yet somewhat distorted alternative hard-rock sound made it abundantly clear as to why they were so undeniably loved. At the same time, the group continues to explore new ground; their short set-list favoured more recent tracks, which still had the crowd in rapturous adoration.
Before the end of the show, Taka assured his fans that they would return to Australia with a new album in tow. Let us all just hope that it is not too long before another trip Down Under!