When I initially became interested in music, I really treasured it for the high that I got from it. Listening to some of my favourite Mandarin artists such as Gary Chaw made me feel as if I was soaring above the clouds, with not a care in the world. But as I became more and more involved in writing and promoting the music I fell in love with, life took to the fast-track and nowadays, that feeling of weightless freedom is one that I rarely feel. However, attending J-Rock band ONE OK ROCK’s “35XXXV” concert at Fort Canning Park in Singapore last Saturday brought back that feeling once again in all its full-blown heart-thumping, adrenaline-pumping glory.
Entering and leaving with few airs, there were no gimmicks involved in ONE OK ROCK’s Singapore concert. Heck, even the media (i.e. myself) were made to line up with the rest of the audience, before being swiftly swept through to the all-standing moshpit where we unceremoniously squished ourselves next to a couple of guys who turned out to be the biggest group of ONE OK ROCK fan boys I had ever seen (But that’s another story). No dance routines, no fancy equipment or outfits, honestly there wasn’t even that much talking involved- tonight, it was just about the music. Even at the end of the concert, rather than silently slipping off stage, the dowm-to-earth band lingered a little longer to take group pictures with fans and cracked a few jokes (Taka jokingly held a g-string against himself and did a sexy dance), before taking a long bow to the sounds of deafening applause from their audience.
Upon taking to the stage, the boys launched straight into an electrifying rendition of their new song “Take Me To The Top” that had the 5000-strong audience singing along at the top of their lungs. Ending in the song in an eardum-crippling scream was frontman Taka who exhibited perfect and unwavering showmanship throughout each and every song. Slight in figure but with a wildly infectious demeanour, his versatile and explosive voice were evenly matched against the equally loud personalities of the other members. Drummer Tomoya’s complex and ever-changing drum patterns kept the audiences on their toes, while guitarist and bass guitarists Toru and Ryota showed what it meant to be true guitar heroes, weaving in slick, almost choreographed guitar battles, synchronised headbanging and electrifying jumps into their caffeinated 16-song set.
As frontman and vocalist, Taka deserves a special mention for his electrifying stage personality which was like none I had ever experienced before. Completely locked into the flow of the performance, each word he used to rally the fans on and each step and movement he took was effortlessly spontaneous, yet perfectly and passionately executed. If you look closely, every step he takes is in rhythm with the music, calculated just exactly so he can make that mile-high jump, or be headbanging with Toru and Ryota, or up on Tomoya’s pedestal to make that ending leap to top off the song. And doing all this on top of delivering his vocals rough and rich with emotion? Certainly not a feat to be looked down upon. Because of ONE OK ROCK, that night I learned that music, when represented to the best of the artist’s ability in visual form could make such a tangible difference to the performance atmosphere. This is something I believe that many other Asian artists could learn from, as nowadays there seems to sometimes be a difference between being a ‘singer’ and a ‘performer’. ONE OK ROCK are amongst the select few I’ve experienced who have mastered the art of both.
The four-piece band blasted out other hits such as “Memories”, “Last Dance”, and “Mighty Long Fall” in the same fashion, showing no sign of slowing down to the pleasure of their crowd of adoring fans. Although the boys have been known to stick resolutely to their genre of choice (Alternative rock), which steered the majority of the concert’s direction, this is not to say that their songs sound the same at all. Rather, ONE OK ROCK has set themselves apart from other Asian singers by proving that staying true to themselves much more important than catering to the wants of their audience. Being one of the most successful Asian exports into the US market, the boys have a passion for American-style Rock music a la Good Charlotte and Simple Plan, but yet their music is far from mere imitation. Straying from the simple tempos of US punk rock, their drumbeats are complex and dynamic, constantly stimulating and feeding off the crowd’s energy. However, much like US’s Rock music, they value quality over quantity, playing for only one hour and fourty-five minutes, but having songs which all have catchy, easily-memorised melodies which were enough to win over any listener, new or old.
There were many moments during the concert that were effortlessly moving. One of such came along when the band performed their hit “Clock Strikes”, where the audience sang along wholeheartedly to the uplifting song. Encouraged by Taka to sing along, “believe that time is always forever” was repeated over and over, in a positive mantra that was made even stronger by the suspense that rose and released due to the band’s spectacular arrangement. This was one of the times that it felt like the entire audience was singing along, and was just more proof of the band’s success in capturing the hearts of a niche audience that appreciated their music for what it was.
Personally, I was a big fan of their stripped-down performances which provided a much needed break from their usual high-energy headbanging tracks. Taka proved that he could be a heartthrob as much as he could be a hardcore rocker as he crooned along to nothing more than an acoustic guitar in “Heartache”, throwing out choice phrases like ‘I miss you’ in his sincere and heartfelt voice that made female fans swoon (myself included). The song in itself was a simple but effective fusion of Japanese-style pop and American rock ballad, which was performed both in English and Japanese. The catchiness of the melody even had me singing along, someone who didn’t even know the song ten minutes ago!
But the song that truly caught my heart and had me weak at the knees was ONE OK ROCK’s encore performance of their song “Wherever You Are”. After an hour into the show, the band said their abrupt goodbyes and left their audiences in an uncomfortable, kind of stinky limbo for about 5-10 minutes, hesitantly dipping in and out of calls for an encore. Finally, upon appearing back on stage, Taka and Toru began by performing an acoustic version of “Wherever You Are”, before transitioning slowly into a rock-arrangement when joined by the other two members of the band halfway through the song. Controlling the thousands-strong audience with nothing more than the strong, unwavering and piercing sound of Taka’s voice, it was a sentimental couple of minutes that has now etched a permanent place in my memory. Of the band’s capacity to move audiences, and as a reminder of their presence as living proof that music in itself is a universal language.
Always getting bogged down in the words, the lyrics, and who wrote this or that, experiencing ONE OK ROCK live took me back to the concept of listening to music that I had started out with at the very beginning. Being able to involve myself wholeheartedly in the music, and in the moment during a live performance is something that I haven’t been able to bring myself to do in a while, and I am truly grateful to this talented band for reminding me of the true euphoria music can bring when you listen both with your head and your heart. So whether you listen to English music, Chinese music, Japanese music, Korean music, whatever it is…this is one band that has effectively crossed the international boundaries that many have failed trying to overcome, and have done so by doing nothing more than staying true to their music. Although only a performance than lasted shy of 2 hours, not a single fan left Fort Canning Park unsatisfied, proving that quality is ALWAYS more important than quantity (as my editor likes to tell me). I would certainly go back to see them again, again and again…this C-Pop guru a fan of J-Rock? Now anything is possible…
2. Take Me To The Top
4. Deeper Deeper
5. Stuck in the middle
6. Clock Strikes
7. Last Dance
9. Cry out
10. Heartache (Acoustic)
13. The Beginning
14. Mighty Long Fall
1. Wherever You Are (Acoustic)
2. The Way Back
3. NO SCARED
4. 完全感覚 Dreamer
Photos by Aloysius Lim & Alvin Ho of Amuse Entertainment/LAMC Productions