You might not know who B’z are, but you should. With a phenomenal 46 number one singles in Japan’s charts, they can be considered Japan’s “gross national product” as far as rock ‘n roll is concerned. B’z are the best selling rock band in the nations history selling over 80 million CDs, from 18 albums over the span of their career. Guitarist Takahiro “Tak” Matsumoto is only the fifth guitarist in the world to have his own Gibson signature Les Paul Guitar. The band embarked on an intense North American tour in early September. On Sunday, October 7th B’z played the final show of their fourth US tour.
I arrived in Universal City with plenty of time (or so I thought.) Getting to the venue turned out to be a real pain in the butt. Gibson Amphitheater is housed on the property of Universal Studios Hollywood. During the month of October, Universal Studios is hosting Halloween Horror Nights. This ordeal started when I entered Universal City and paid for my parking. I was charged $15 to park in regular parking, which is usually the price for VIP parking on a normal day. For the next 25 minutes I was routed all around the property by various parking attendants with flashlights. None of them knew where people were supposed to park. After being told by several different parking attendants that I was on the wrong side of the of the property, I ended up back at the beginning again, only to be told that there was a mistake and that they had messed up on the parking. Turns out I was in the correct place the first time around.
I finally parked with 15 minutes to spare. I’d get to the doors on time. No such luck, I still had hoops to jump through. Because of the Halloween Horror Nights, the front entrance of the venue was blocked by barricades, switchbacks and metal detectors. Not only did I have to push my way through thousands of people attending the “Haunt,” I had to make my way through the very busy shopping area known as “City Walk” to get to the temporary entrance. I was told the band would go on promptly at 7:30 PM and that there was no opening act. I needed to be at a certain door by 7:15 PM, no later, in order to photograph the band. I arrived at the destination at 7:20 PM. I was in luck as the photographers weren’t in the pit yet. We were led down to the photo pit by a representative of Gibson Amphitheater. Once we were in position in the photo pit, I looked out into the crowd and saw the usual eager faces of the fans awaiting their favorite band to hit the stage.
Packed against the barricade were fans lucky enough to get the best spots in the house, many of which were young girls. But this crowd was a little different from what I’m used to seeing at Gibson Amphitheater. The 6,000 seat capacity theater was sold out this night with an almost entirely Japanese American crowd. I’m guessing this is because most of their music is in Japanese.The vibe in the room was the same as it would be at any other venue for any other concert. There was a high level of excitement in the air. The crowd erupted into screams when the band finally started to file onto the stage. The stage was free of useless sets and other usual distractions. Other than the needed equipment and two huge walls of Marshall Amps, there was a large logo in back of them with the words “Into Free”.
As promised, the band came on promptly at 7:30 PM. There was only one quick announcement over the loudspeakers stating that no photography was allowed in the venue at any time, and that using a camera or cell phone would be cause for removal from the venue. The band members came out one by one; drummer Shane Gaalaas, bassist Barry Sparks, keyboardist Takanobu Masuda and guitarist Yoshinobu Ooga. The duo of Takahiro “Tak” Matsumoto and Koshi Inaba coming on stage after the rest of the band. Again, the crowd burst out in excitement, arms waving, fists pumping, and metal horns held high. Tak started off the first song, guitar on fire, showing off his critically acclaimed skills and setting the tone for the night. Tak poised himself at the edge of the stage, greeting the fans as his nimble fingers worked frantically on the guitar strings. Tak blasted out power chords almost daring the other musicians to keep pace. As the rest of the band joined in, he stepped further back on the stage just before singer Koshi started to sing. Since photography was banned throughout the room, the audience had no choice but to enjoy the music. Watching the loyal B’z fans, this didn’t seem to be a problem.
Stylistically, B’z perform rock reminiscent of other 80’s groups like Def Leppard, and Dokken, with a touch of pop thrown in the smooth out the edges. There are also some delicious undertones of Clapton and Van Halen in their sound that I longed to hear more of. Koshi’s athletic performance style has him all over the stage, never missing a note, while Tak, in his dark sunglasses is all rockstar. As you watch them perform for the crowd, you can tell they’re grateful for every single fan and they have chemistry with their audience.
B’z played a nice long set, I think about and hour and a half by the time they walked off stage. The music ranged from their straight-ahead rock ‘n roll to somewhat poppy tunes. Their songs also vacillated back and forth between Japanese and English. Since I don’t speak Japanese, I’m unsure of most of the tunes in the setlist, but they did perform all of the songs from the new English language album (self-titled B’z.) They started off with Love Bomb and played their current single Into Free -Dangan- towards the end of their set. They even did a cover of Dazed and Confused by Led Zeppelin at the end of the night just before the encore. You didn’t need to hear them do this cover to know this band could hold their own in the rock pantheon. Their energy on stage is electric, and their level of musicianship is beyond reproach. I know I wasn’t the only one forced to traverse the obstacle course known at Universal City, but I’m certain the crowd left knowing it was worth it. At the end of this night, the packed amphitheater had six thousand B’z fans exit with one hell of a memorable show.