Top charting Japanese band SEKAI NO OWARI began their first US tour in Los Angeles at the Roxy Theater, a humble venue off the Sunset Strip. After only announcing their US tour less than two months before its launch, attendance was expectedly filled but not to capacity. This concert was only one of two in the US, possibly sharing some time with music video shoots in preparation for their English language album in 2017. Luckily, the band had a week between each stop with their Los Angeles show on Wednesday, August 17th and their New York stop on Tuesday, August 23rd.
Fans lined up for hours on the Sunset Strip to stand in the very front of the “pit,” which would be a short distance from the stage front. From young children donning yukatas to middle aged fans, SEKAI NO OWARI’s appeals to a broad spectrum. Although they did not bring their elaborate sets, giant screens, or even a grand piano like they do in their concerts in Japan, the Roxy Theater provided a humble space for an intimate concert – a rarity for a band of their caliber and a treat for all those attending. As one of Japan’s premier acts, they brought an A+ performance accompanied by an energetic atmosphere.
Fred Bronson, a writer for Billboard, introduced the band with an anecdote of his discovery of the popular band during his trip to Japan. He spoke of and saw SEKAI NO OWARI on MTV, which gave the concert a more enriching, personal touch. With no opener, two musicians wearing anteater rubber masks provided a surprising sight as a warm-up.
Slowly, the band silently emerged onto the stage and with a serious demeanor, began their performance. Unlike their usual colorful outfits, their black suits presented a muted look contrasting with their neon backdrop. DJ Love, Nakajin and Fukase wore tuxedos, while pianist Saori wore a half sleeved black trailing dress: all formal, classy looks befitting the intimacy of the Roxy Theater.
During their first song “ANTI-HERO,” all eyes were on Saori as she fluttered and flicked her fingers up and down the keyboard. Floating on the wall, a neon sign with the cursive words, “End of the World” added to the atmosphere of a classy private party with close friends and family rather than their commercial sold out outdoor venues in Japan. Continuing their mellow streak of songs after their introductory greetings, they transitioned to “Monsoon Night.” To liven the mood, they shifted gears into “Dragon Night” and “Starlight Parade,” sending fans to form a familiar jumping mosh pit.
With minimal breaks in between songs as well as the reuse of similar pastel lighting, “Roller Skates,” “Death Disco,” “Holiday,” and “SOS” seemed to blend together. Typically the band is known for its elaborate sets and costumes accompanied by simple movements, but due to the constraints of the small stage, they were confined to the area around their instruments – limiting their actions to winks and rotating stares.
Performing at such a personal venue made it hard to imagine them performing sold out shows at Japan’s largest venue, similar to imagining Coldplay showing up at a live house even though they’re usually playing at the Rose Bowl. As their first tour in the West, the band took a more conservative route and did not sing any songs in Japanese. Their nine song set list was entirely in English and even their brief conversations in-between songs were also in English, possibly to build brand recognition in the United States with an English speaking persona rather than a Japanese one.
Less than an hour after the show had begun, the crowd was forced to say hello to “Mr. Heartache” sooner than they thought. Surprisingly, the band did not have an encore and after five minutes, the house lights had come on but the crowd was still cheering “Encore” and “RPG.” Their persistence was rewarded from an encore appearance from the band, who sheepishly came back on the stage to tell the crowd that they “only had nine songs in English” and they “sung them all.” Disappointed but satisfied, diehard fans reached toward the stage once more to shake the band member’s hands.
Artists in the past have been hesitant with how they promote themselves abroad, but SEKAI NO OWARI fans, or “sekaowa,” know their Japanese songs and have them memorized. Limiting performances to focus only on English songs and speaking only in English alienates long time followers and teasing the crowd with a small sample of their capabilities. Japanese bands such as ONE OK ROCK have been well received overseas, despite some new fans not understanding all their songs.
Despite the quick concert, their execution was flawless exhibiting their experience as performers in a new unknown territory. Given their two stop US tour at small venues, the band made a short but impactful first impression, something only the End of the World can bring.