They’re just four boys from Tokyo who love to play rock, but ONE OK ROCK have done what many would deem impossible – successfully entered the western alternative rock market. They’ve played on Warped tours, Knotfest and our very own Soundwave, supported Hoobastank, Yellowcard, All Time Low and 5 Seconds of Summer, and now they’ve finally brought their Ambitions tour to our shores for their very first Aussie headline shows.
If they were testing the waters with these three smallish shows in smallish venues, they can consider the waters very warm. All three shows sold out within hours. By the time doors opened at 8pm, the line outside converted WW2 hangar The Triffid in Brisbane stretched down Stratton Street, around the corner and past the BP service station – a motley mix of rock fans who may have stumbled across One OK Rock at their Soundwave appearance in 2015, anime fans who probably first heard them featured on the Rurouni Kenshin live action films soundtrack, and Brisbane’s Japanese community, some of whom may have been following the band since their 2007 debut.
With One OK Rock scheduled to hit the stage at 10:15 and no word from promoters on what would happen in the meantime, fans entered the venue to find a DJ spinning noughties rock tunes – Blink182, Newfound Glory, Jimmy Eat World and more. While it was nice singing along with the soundtrack to my teenage years while the room filled up, the atmosphere was one of polite disregard. In what’s called a “one man” show in Japan, One OK Rock were the only group billed for the night, but I felt that a support act, even a small-time local band, would have set the tone nicely – especially considering so much of One OK Rock’s international popularity is due to them touring alongside big names.
There was an arsenal of equipment on the stage – six guitars, five basses, a plethora of drums, a huge One OK Rock banner and an inflatable boxing kangaroo nestled into a corner of the drum riser. Right on schedule, at 10:15 the lights went down and crowd picked up, and One OK Rock hit the stage with their first song – “Bombs Away” indeed.
The next hour and a half was a high energy experience. One OK Rock perform with a casual ease that belies their technical skill, looking more than comfortable on the stage – which is no surprise from a group that has been playing together for over a decade. In their homeland they sell out arenas, but even on our much smaller stage their performance was tight, precise and impassioned, and the sound was expertly mixed so that each instrument was clear and discernible. Their setlist skewed more toward their recent tracks, with the odd mid-career throwback for the diehard fans. There were plenty of hits they couldn’t fit into such a short set, and after selling out their shows so quickly fans are already excited at the prospect of more shows in the future.
Movement is a huge part of One OK Rock’s live show – frontman Taka repeatedly leapt from his riser, drummer Tomoya shook his head constantly, bass player Ryota kicked and bounced and guitarist Toru threw his hair like a model on the catwalk – so when they pulled things back halfway through their set and things became still, the audience took notice.
Well, some of them did. A few others were very committed to the Aussie art of heckling – one gentleman hilariously disturbed the tension in a poignant moment by calling out “you bloody legend!” and made frontman Taka crack a smile. “We were almost there!” he called back. Later, the whole band became perfectly still and let silence build through the beginning of their song “Take What You Want” (the album version of which features Aussie band 5 Seconds of Summer) – a pause of over a minute. Most of the room was right there with them – silent, reverent – but it was too raw for some. The OOR boys never broke character, even over cries of “Taka have my babies!” and a very cute male voice calling “love you!”
The house sang along with every word of a very stripped-back version of 2010 love ballad “Wherever You Are” – even the Japanese verses. I can only imagine how it must feel to travel to a foreign country, sell out three shows and then have a crowd of mostly foreigners sing your lyrics back to you – in your native language. It must have made an impression – Taka continued to offer his mic up toward the audience, encouraging us all to sing with him.
In true Japanese style, One OK Rock are masters of their instruments. Early in their set they added a solo to their 2016 track “Bedroom Warfare” first trading 8s between Ryota’s fast-paced slap bass and Toru’s searing guitar, then moving to drums to let Tomoya’s rhythms shine. Despite having just arrived in Australia after what must have been a gruelling journey from Chile two days prior, Taka’s voice didn’t suffer at all – it was clear and controlled, his high range strong and steady, his technique amongst the best in the alternative rock scene. The coloured lights of the Triffid synchronised with the music – accentuating hits and changing on the beat, or melting between colours in sparse moments.
Taka, the most proficient English speaker, took care of all verbal communication on behalf of the band – he thanked us multiple times for being there, ordered us to jump when a drop was approaching in a song, and complimented us on being so “fucking great!” He told us about their plans for the future – after returning to Japan, touring Asia, and recording another album “…we’re definitely coming back to here again.” We certainly hope so!
The end of the set was geared to hype up the crowd – from “The Beginning” onward, everyone was jumping, yelling and dancing. When the last notes of “We Are” rang out and One OK Rock left the stage, the audience was having none of it – immediately chanting “One more song! One more song!” relentlessly until the band returned to the stage.
In the most endearing encore ever, the boys returned with their pop-punk ear worm “American Girls” – and by changing the lyric to “come on, break my heart you Australian girls”, actually had the opposite effect and won many hearts from the crowd instead.
If only more Friday nights in Brisbane could bring together so many music fans from different cultures and amazing foreign artists from far-reaching places. It might be a while before we see them again, but Australia’s One OK Rock fans can be confident we’ll see this band again in the future.