Gig review: Marty Friedman back on stage in Tokyo

Marty Friedman and Naoki Morioka on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A triumphant return to the Tokyo stage for guitar maestro Marty Friedman.

Marty Friedman at Cotton Club, Marunouchi, Tokyo on 9th April 2021

Marty Friedman on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Oh, how we have missed our gigs! Marty Friedman’s Tokyo performance on Friday night was my first proper rock gig in about 14 months. 14 very long months. How great it felt to once again be in a music venue and be entertained. All the better that it was Marty Friedman that did the performing. He is an innovative and genre-bending musical genius that has never disappointed me with any of his live performances, no matter what he plays. It is always a joy to watch him perform. While his latest album, “Tokyo Jukebox 3”, is an album dominated by interpretations of J-pop songs, Marty has not forgotten his metal roots. He has most recently contributed a terrific guitar solo to the Black Sabbath tribute project Sabbatonero and he’s also done a solo on the debut single by the Singapore-based extreme metal band Adarrak. On Friday evening at Cotton Club in Tokyo, Marty rocked out with a terrific combination of many different genres, including metal and J-pop. It was Marty being Marty. He won’t restrict himself musically. With the global pandemic that has stopped most shows in the last year still going on, this gig was done in a Covid-compliant way. The audience was seated with adequate spacing between tables. All the staff and audience members had their temperatures checked as they arrived at the venue and masks were mandatory. The audience was asked to not shout between songs, only clap. This being Japan, everyone complied and it turned into a terrific evening. Music fans are craving for live music. This kind of compromise is a great way to actually be able to do gigs until the pandemic gets under control. The artists, venues, support staff and the fans need live gigs in these challenging times.

Marty Friedman on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Marty Friedman is usually backed by a world-class band and this evening was no different in that respect. But, unlike many of Marty’s Japanese shows in recent years where he’s had bigger bands including keyboards and sometimes cello and violin, this was a scaled down band consisting of Toshiki Oomomo on bass, Naoki Morioka on guitar and the one and only Chargeeeeee on drums. It worked well where the focus was squarely on Marty’s guitar without other things getting in the way. It felt raw and gave the music an excellent less polished nerve. It’s a relatively short show of about 70 minutes (this was the second of two shows on the same night with slightly different setlists) and it was entirely instrumental. Style-wise it was all over the place. We got it all. And it was bloody good. Marty was visibly very happy to be able to perform in front of a supportive hometown audience once again. I recognised many faces in the audience. These were mainly super fans who are frequent attendees at Marty’s Japanese shows. With “Tokyo Jukebox 3” about to get its international release, Marty kicked off the show with three songs from it: “Kaze Ga Fuiteru” (an Ikimonogakari cover), “Makenaide” (a Zard cover) and “Gurenge” (a LiSA hit song that was the theme song for the anime series “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba”). Then he moved on to revisit two of the best songs from his 2017 “Wall of Sound” album, “Whiteworm” and “Self Pollution”. Later in the set we also got to hear the splendid song “For a Friend” from the same album. This evening we, of course, got the terrific “Dragon Mistress” from his first solo album “Dragon’s Kiss” from 1988 and the wonderful “Undertow” from the “Inferno” album. There was a trio of songs from the first “Tokyo Jukebox” album”: “Yuki No Hana” (a Mika Nakashima cover), “Amagigoe” (a Sayuri Ishikawa cover) and “Kaeritaku Natta Yo” (another Ikimonogakari cover) to finish the set. Before that we got treated to a “Thunder March/Morioka Ocha/Barbie” medley.

After the show, Marty greeted fans and took pictures with them, although it was all done in a Covid-compliant way with face masks, no handshakes, pre-signed autographs and a transparent plastic sheet between Marty and the fans when taking pictures. A bit awkward but a great way for Marty to be able to interact with his fans. Better this than nothing for his loyal fans.

Marty not only gave us a smashing Friday evening. He also showed us that, with a few compromises, rock gigs can be done and you can interact with the fans. There is hope.

Marty Friedman on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Gig review: Bullet and The Babes turn it up loud in Tokyo

Bullet on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish metal lords Bullet finally made it to Japan and on to a Tokyo stage. With Aussie rockers The Babes as special guests we get a fine and sweaty evening in the name of heavy metal and hard rock.

Dag Hell Hofer of Bullet on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Bullet and The Babes at Cyclone, Shibuya, Tokyo on 20th February 2020

The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Australian rockers The Babes started making some real Japanese fans when they last year toured Japan for the first time, including opening for Venom Inc and Girlschool in Tokyo. Since then, they have released a fab full-length studio album and done more touring. This evening in Shibuya, we get to hear a 40-minute set of the best of what the band has to offer, including some of my favourite tracks such as “Doghouse”, “Dive Bars & Muscle Cars”, “It Ain’t Easy” and “Got No Soul”. Siblings Moni Lashes on drums, Donna D on guitar and Corey Stone on bass are fronted by Joey Ryan who is really growing into a terrific frontman. This time, many people in the audience already know the songs and thus, it feels like much more than a “mere” opening act. The Babes is building a loyal and growing following of Japanese fans and it is starting to pay off. Adelaide’s finest will no doubt be back in Japan soon again.

Donna D of The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Heavy metal is alive which the evening’s headline act is living proof of. Sweden’s Bullet plays a fantastic kind of straightforward heavy metal. It combines the best of British metal – like Judas Priest, Raven and Saxon – and crossbreeds that with Accept-style German metal and some AC/DC vibes to arrive at the exquisite Bullet sound. It oozes 1980s heavy metal but somehow it doesn’t really feel retro. It feels like here and now. It is quite possibly timeless heavy metal built on love for proper heavy metal. The band members so clearly love heavy metal. They enjoy what they do and they are very classy entertainers.

Bullet on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The band is tight and they know all the classical heavy metal stage moves. But this is not an image kind of band. This is a bunch of fine heavy metal journeymen with a van full of great songs and the musical skills to play the songs as well. Lead vocalist Dag Hell Hofer is someone who stands out. Dressed in a plain black t-shirt and with studded wristbands on both arms, this man is the real deal. He has a very fitting metal voice which partly reminds me of legendary Accept and UDO singer Udo Dirkschneider. Guitarists Hampus Klang and Alexander Lyrbo duel perfectly throughout the show and they are backed up by a solid rhythm section consisting of drummer Gustav Hjortsjö and Gustav Hector on bass.

Gustav Hector and Dag Hell Hofer of Bullet on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They kick off the show with “Speed and Attack”. The party has started and it never stops. It’s a non-stop heavy metal show and it is ridiculously good. The show includes terrific songs such as “Turn It Up Loud”, “Stay Wild”, “Riding High”, “Rolling Home” (perhaps the evening’s absolute highlight), “Storm of Blades”, “Dusk Til Dawn”, “Heading for the Top”, “Dust to Gold”, “Fuel the Fire”, “Highway Love” and more. The setlist leaves nothing to desire. It is flawless. They even manage to squeeze in a cover, the instrumental song “Dr. Phibes” by Angel Witch, and make it sound as if it were their own song. A very suitable choice as former Angel Witch drummer Hermien Jeriandu’Fort, who co-wrote the song, is in the audience this evening.

Hampus Klang of Bullet on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This is metal done how metal should be done. This is what proper heavy metal is all about. You take the foundation of what is great about the genre and you add some of your own touches to it. You deliver it with a helluva show that demonstrates that you and the audience love the same thing. The Bullet boys close a fabulous evening with “Bite the Bullet”, their very own heavy metal anthem. What a night! What an incredible band! Bullet reminds me of why I am a metalhead. Thank you.

Hampus Klang and Alexander Lyrbo of Bullet on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Photo report: Dir En Grey European tour final in Paris

Dir En Grey on stage in Paris. Photo: Valentina Giacomini, Roppongi Rocks

When Japanese rockers Dir En Grey played the final show of their “This Way to Self-Destruction” European tour at Elysée Montmartre in Paris, France on 8th February, photographer Valentina Giacomini was there to document the show for Roppongi Rocks. Please click on the thumbnail images in the gallery below to view the photos.

Gig review: Nervosa kills the silence in Roppongi

Fernanda Lira of Nervosa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

A fantastic Roppongi evening in the name of thrash metal with high-energy Brazilian trio Nervosa.

Nervosa and Valkyrie at Club Edge, Roppongi, Tokyo on 8th February 2020

Fernanda Lira of Nervosa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

One of the more exciting bands in thrash metal in recent years has been the Brazilian trio Nervosa. They’ve been around for a decade, but it is more recently that they have started to become better known internationally. In 2019 they played at the legendary Rock in Rio festival and that created a lot of well-deserved attention for the band. This is the band’s first-ever Japan tour and during their visit, they are playing three separate shows in Tokyo, including this final sold-out night at Club Edge in Roppongi.

Nervosa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The evening’s opening act is Osaka thrashers Valkyrie. They give us raw, straightforward old-school underground thrash metal. They do a good job of getting the thrash-loving crowd warmed up ahead of Nervosa’s much-anticipated show. Fronted by the fierce bassist/vocalist Fernanda Lira on bass and vocals, Nervosa also includes the band’s founder Prika Amaral on guitar and drummer Luana Dametto. This is one powerful metal trio. They are so full of energy and talent that they seem to bounce onto the stage as they kick off the first song. The band’s music is excellently aggressive in sharp contrast to how nice and humble the band’s members are. This is fierce thrash metal with attitude. They are fab musicians with a bag full of great songs and they know how to properly entertain their audience.

Fernanda Lira of Nervosa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They open with “Horrordome” and follow it with “Justice Be Done” and “Intolerance Means War”. What a start! The club is boiling and we get circle pits, stage diving and crowd surfing going from the start. The show continues with “Bleeding”, “Arrogance”, “Hostages”, “Enslave” and “Time of Death”. The setlist is flawless. We get a splendid version of “Guerra Santa”, a song performed in Portuguese which is an anti-religion song about bad deeds being carried out in the name of God. Then we get a couple of the show’s absolute highlights with the phenomenal songs “Kill the Silence” and “Raise Your Fist”. The high-energy, sweaty show continues with relentless energy through the songs “Vultures”, “Masked Betrayer”, “Fear, Violence and Massacre”, “Death!” and “Never Forget, Never Repeat”. They finish a terrific show with their very own thrash metal anthem “Into Moshpit”. The circle pits, stage diving and crowd surfing that have been ongoing during the whole show reach a peak. What a show! What a band! What an audience! This is how I like my Saturday nights in Roppongi! A big thank you to the promoter Metal Justice Tokyo who keeps bringing quality thrash metal acts to Japan. 

Prika Amaral of Nervosa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

I am convinced that Nervosa will continue to climb higher and win ever more fans as they continue to tour and release new music. They are already planning for their next Japan tour as they had such a warm welcome on this first visit.

Fernanda Lira of Nervosa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Gig review: Philip Anselmo revisits his Pantera past during Japan tour

Phil Anselmo on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Commander Phil Anselmo lays waste to Tokyo with a fierce revisit of his Pantera back catalogue and the best of his work with The Illegals.

Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

Extreme the Dojo with Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, King Parrot and Palm at Liquidroom, Ebisu, Tokyo on 28th January 2020

Phil Anselmo’s return to Japan is eagerly anticipated by his Japanese fans, not least because the Japan tour is billed as Anselmo “plays Pantera songs”. Fabulous local hardcore quartet Palm has seemingly relentless energy during their opening set. The band does a terrific job of warming up the audience with its uncompromising and hard-hitting music. They get circle pits going in the audience and it’s a splendid way to kick off this evening. They’re followed by Aussies King Parrot from Melbourne. They have a somewhat slow start but once they warm up, their self-deprecating humour and their peculiar brand of grinding thrash metal get the audience on their side.

Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

Legend Phil Anselmo walks onto the stage like the commander he is. He is here to command his loyal Japanese metalheads. He and The Illegals kick off the show with the terrific song “Little Fucking Heroes”. They follow it with more songs from The Illegals, “Choosing Mental Illness”, “Bedridden”, “Photographic Taunts” and “Mixed Lunatic Results”. This initial part of the show is rounded off with “The Better” which Anselmo dedicates to former Corrosion of Conformity drummer Reed Mullin who unexpectedly passed away the day before.

Then it is time for Pantera overload. For me, it is a welcome reminder of the time when I saw Pantera, together with Annihilator, open for Judas Priest, 29 years earlier, in Stockholm, Sweden on 2nd February 1991 (although “Domination” is the only song played at the 1991 show which is also performed this evening in Tokyo). They start the Pantera section of the show with “Mouth for War” and follow that with “Becoming”, “Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit”, “Strength Beyond Strength”, “Goddamn Electric”, “Walk”, “Domination” and “Hollow”. Anselmo finishes a fab evening with “A New Level” from Pantera’s 1992 “Vulgar Display of Power” album. What a great evening celebrating both Anselmo’s Pantera past and his present with The Illegals. Nostalgia is best done when it is combined with the present. Phil Anselmo is still alive, very much relevant and capable of creating fab new music. According to fan reports, the subsequent Anselmo shows in Nagoya and Osaka were even better than the terrific Tokyo show.

Phil Anselmo on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

Gig review: Symphonic Metallization – Majestica vs. Ayasa

Majestica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Combining Swedish symphonic power metal band Majestica with Japan’s crossover violinist Ayasa results in a great evening of modern melodic metal in Tokyo.

Symphonic Metallization – Majestica vs. Ayasa at Shibuya Stream Hall, Tokyo on 12th January 2020

Ayasa and Nozomu Wakai on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

The first of two nights in Shibuya for Symphonic Metallization – Majestica vs. Ayasa is a great, fun and good-natured evening of melodic symphonic metal. This Sunday evening, the Swedish symphonic power metal band Majestica, previously known as ReinXeed, performs its first-ever gig under its new name. Majestica’s main man is vocalist and guitarist Tommy Johansson whose day job is as guitarist in Sabaton. The Sabaton connection no doubt sells a few more tickets to Majestica’s gigs. Personally, I am no fan of Sabaton’s music, but Majestica is very different and much more appealing to me. In Sabaton, Johansson is a guitarist doing his job. In Majestica, he is the main man – he’s the lead singer, the lead guitarist and the main songwriter. Here he gets to shine and be himself.

A sub-genre called symphonic power metal is perhaps not for everyone. It’s melodic, riff-happy, full of energy, fast and soaked in keyboards. Majestica is very good at it. One surprise this evening is that they are performing as a four-piece with no keyboard player on stage. In addition to Johansson, Majestica consists of Chris David on bass and Alex Oriz on guitar. For these Japan gigs, they have recruited drummer Joel Kollberg from Veonity to back them up. Majestica released its terrific studio album “Above the Sky” last year and this evening in Tokyo we get to hear six tracks from the album. They open the show with the title track and also perform “Rising Tide”, “The Way to Redemption”, “The Rat Pack”, “Night Call Girl” and “Alliance Forever”. Additionally, we get to hear the best bits of ReinXeed’s past with songs such as “Welcome to the Theater”, “No Fate”, “Temple of the Crystal Skulls”, “Magic Still Remains” and “We Must Go Faster” as well as a great version of “She’s Gone”, a Steelheart cover.

Ayasa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

The evening’s second act is crossover violin player Ayasa backed up by a metal band. They perform a terrific instrumental set which is a big step up from when I last saw Ayasa when she opened for Epica two years ago. Her music is dramatic, at times even bombastic, yet also often dreamy. Japanese guitarist Nozomu Wakai (Destinia, Paul Shortino Band) joins Ayasa and her band on a few songs (including a great version of Destinia’s “Metal Souls”) and shows us why he is a man with a reputation. But Ayasa is the one who shines the brightest. She’s a star in the making and has a chance of taking her music beyond just her domestic Japanese fans. For the encore, Majestica’s Tommy Johansson joins Ayasa and her band to perform the Gary Moore classic “Over the Hills and Far Away”. It’s a fun singalong ending to a great evening.

Majestica and Ayasa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

Gig review: Opeth | Two hours of prog-rock perfection in Tokyo

Opeth on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish progressive hard-rock band Opeth always do things on its own terms. In Tokyo, Opeth gives us an evening of prog rock, metal and a few songs in Swedish. It’s quirky and beyond great. Sheer brilliance!

Opeth at Zepp Tokyo, Odaiba, Tokyo on 6th December 2019

Musically, Opeth moves in a fabulous world that combines prog rock with hard rock and more. For those not used to this kind of musical melting pot, it might at times sound a bit quirky and unconventional. Perhaps so, but it is also terrific music performed by an exquisite rock band.

The last time Opeth played Japan, they played a shortened set at a festival. This evening at Zepp Tokyo, they play a headline gig with no opening act. The focus is fully on Opeth and nothing else. We get two hours of rock perfection. Since their last Japan visit, they have released a spectacular new album, “In Cauda Venenum”. That album was released in two versions, one in English and one in Swedish. This evening, to my (Swedish) delight, the band plays a few of the songs in their Swedish versions, including the magnificent songs “Hjärtat vet vad handen gör” and “Allting tar slut”. It takes guts, skills and attitude to perform rock in Swedish to a foreign audience. Opeth, obviously, pulls it off in style.

The band walks on stage to a backing tape of “Livets trädgård” before they kick off the gig with an exquisite version of “Svekets prins” from the latest album. The band is technically impeccable and this evening they are in a good mood. That, combined with a treasure trove of fantastic songs, make this a very good evening. They also have a world-class light show that makes this a total experience. Opeth’s lead vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt is sort of the Bob Dylan of Swedish rock. He plays music on his own terms. Trends and expectations don’t come into it. His unwillingness to compromise is one of the reasons why this band is so outstanding and why they never disappoint. The rhythm section is rock steady and consists of bassist Martin Méndez and drummer Martin Axenrot (Bloodbath, Witchery, Nifelheim). Keyboardist Joakim Svalberg played with Yngwie Malmsteen before he joined Opeth in 2011 and he is a great fit with his key wizardry. Led guitarist Fredrik Åkesson (Talisman, Arch Enemy, Southpaw, Krux, Tiamat, John Norum) always manages to exceed my high expectations. He knows how to add a heavy metal guitar solo to a prog-rock song, but he is equally good at playing the slower and more emotional parts of Opeth’s music.

At the Tokyo show, we get to hear older favourites “The Leper Affinity” and “Hope Leaves” as well as more recent songs “Lotus Eater”, “Nepenthe” and “Reverie/Harlequin Forest”. The highlight of the evening for me is the terrific “Moon Above, Sun Below” from the 2014 album “Pale Communion”. The encore is absolute world-class with modern classic “Sorceress” and the unbeatable “Deliverance”. Simply sheer brilliance. Rock perfection!

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

Gig review: KISS brings a farewell extravaganza to Tokyo Dome

KISS on stage at Tokyo Dome. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

American rockers KISS say farewell with a spectacular final Tokyo show as part of their End of the Road World Tour. Great music combined with a terrific show.

KISS at Tokyo Dome on 11th December 2019

The KISS members are in fine form. Having been forced to cancel the Australian tour due to frontman Paul Stanley being sick, backstage before the Tokyo show, Stanley and fellow band members Gene Simmons (bass and vocals), Eric Singer (drums and vocals) and Tommy Thayer (lead guitar) seem very eager to get back on stage to prove that they still got it. And, yes, they most definitely do. What a show!

Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson with KISS backstage at Tokyo Dome before the show.

KISS opens the show with three classic songs from the 1970s: “Detroit Rock City”, “Shout It Out Loud” and “Deuce”. The huge audience at Tokyo Dome loves every bit of it. The show is over-the-top with lights, pyro, smoke, confetti, oversized balloons, fire breathing, blood spitting and band members ziplining over the audience and being lifted up and down, in and out, throughout the show.

The setlist is somewhat predictable but outstanding. We get a few songs from the 80s – “I Love It Loud” and “War Machine”, from the rather heavy 1982 studio album “Creatures of the Night”, as well as “Lick It Up”, “Heaven’s On Fire” and “Crazy Crazy Nights” from the band’s no make-up period. There’s also a sample of later material in the form of “Say Yeah” and “Psycho Circus”. But the majority of the evening is unsurprisingly dedicated to the band’s heyday of the 1970s and classic songs such as “Cold Gin”, “God of Thunder”, “100,000 Years”, “Let Me Go, Rock’n’Roll”, “Calling Dr Love”, “Love Gun” and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”. KISS is a machine. This is a massive production which has been planned carefully. But there’s still room for playfulness, such as the guitar jamming during “Lick It Up” and Eric Singer’s comical but excellent drum solo. Paul Stanley, as he’s done on some previous Japan gigs over the years, gives us a little solo performance of Kyu Sakamoto’s 1960s hit “Ue o Muite Aruko”.

Tommy Thayer on stage with KISS at Tokyo Dome. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Band leaders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have been leading KISS from the front since 1973 and they still have the energy, talent and drive to deliver a world-class show. Their current bandmates Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer both add greatly to the band’s vocal abilities, more so than any previous line-up of the band. Singer sings lead on two songs, “Black Diamond” (one of the evening’s highlights) and “Beth”, and both Singer and Thayer are contributing background vocals throughout the show.

Paul Stanley, Yoshiki and Tommy Thayer on stage during the encore. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

KISS first played in Tokyo in 1977 and have played quite a few shows in Japan since then. For this last-ever show in Tokyo, the band obviously has a surprise ready for the Japanese fans. For the encore, Japanese artist Yoshiki of X Japan fame is brought on to the delight of the fans. First, he plays the piano when Eric Singer sings “Beth” and then he takes over Singer’s drum kit for “Rock and Roll All Nite”. The show is more than two hours long and it is a great way for the band to say farewell to its Tokyo fans. Yes, KISS is a circus, an over-the-top extravaganza. But they also have great songs and performance skills to back that up. The complete package is outstanding. 46 years into the band’s career, KISS is still going strong, very strong. The world tour will continue until July 2021 when the final show will take place in New York City. Catch the tour if you can. It’s a rock show you don’t want to miss before the band retires.

Gig review: Marty Friedman in Yokohama

Marty Friedman on stage in Yokohama. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Marty Friedman, quite possibly the best guitarist in the world, always has a few tricks up his sleeve when he’s performing. He always delivers and he always pushes the limit. What a guy! What an artist!

Marty Friedman at Motion Blue in Yokohama on 26th November 2019

I shouldn’t be surprised anymore. But I still am. Surprised and in awe of a master artist. There is nothing that Marty Friedman can’t do with his guitar. Every time I see him perform he comes up with something new. This evening in Yokohama, in a beautiful venue inside the Red Brick Warehouse down by the water, Marty Friedman manages to give us plenty of emotional ballads but he also gives us some full-on metal and, most surprisingly, Argentine tango. And he pulls it off like the world-class guitarist and artist that he is. Having made his name as a heavy metal guitarist with Cacophony and Megadeth, since relocating to Japan, Marty has been active in a wide variety of musical styles, both as a solo artist and as part of various projects. In recent years, Marty has put on some very special intimate gigs for Japanese fans with setlists that vary quite a lot from what he plays when he’s on tour in other parts of the world. The entire show is instrumental (it’s billed as an orchestral concert) with Marty and his guitars at the centre of it all. He plays both electric and acoustic guitars and manages to give us a great and very varied show. The audience largely consists of diehard Marty fans who know every song and every note.

Marty Friedman on stage in Yokohama. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

He opens the evening with the beautiful song “Lovesorrow”, from his 2003 album “Music for Speeding”, followed by his splendid cover of Yutaka Ozaki’s “I Love You”. One of most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard, the song “Night” from Marty’s 1992 solo album “Scenes”, gets an outing here and it is one of the highlights of the evening for me. Another one is when Marty treats us to some Argentine tango with the song “Adios Nonino”. Different, but very good. Marty isn’t afraid of taking his skills and his guitars into for him new territories. He also gets closer to his metal roots with some serious heaviness on the exquisite “Whiteworm” from his 2017 solo album “Wall of Sound”, before he ends the evening with “Dragon Mistress” and, of course, “Thunder March”.

Marty Friedman on stage in Yokohama. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Throughout the show Marty is using hilarious self-deprecating comments between the songs – all of it delivered in Japanese. He also picks out an audience member who gets to come up on stage and play a song with Marty and his terrific band. While Marty frequently rotates members of his backing band, he is always backed up by world-class musicians. This evening in Yokohama, he has a backing band consisting of drums, rhythm guitar, keyboards, cello and violin, all of them played by ridiculously good musicians. For me, bassist Toshiki Oomomo is the standout performer and a rock-solid bassist. He’s a very different bassist from Kiyoshi (Marty’s regular bassist), but he’s equally good. In addition to occasionally playing with Marty’s solo band, he has played with Marty in the fab metal band Metal Clone X and he also played on several tracks on Marty’s “Inferno” album.

What a night! What a band! What a collection of songs! Ladies and gentlemen – Marty Friedman! What a privilege it is to experience him in concert up close and personal.

Marty Friedman will tour Australia in December with shows in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra. Get your tickets here:

Marty Friedman on stage in Yokohama. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Gig review: Candlemass opens the door to doom in Tokyo

Drummer Jan Lindh and bassist Leif Edling of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Candlemass opens the door to doom for the Japanese fans with a flawless heavy metal show in Tokyo.

Candlemass at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo on 13th November 2019

Johan Längqvist and Lars Johansson of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It’s 29 years since I saw Swedish doom metal masters Candlemass live for the first time when they were playing at a metal festival in an ice hockey arena in Sweden. I already liked their early albums but seeing them up on stage took the love for this band to another level. Having then, many years later, witnessed their first-ever Japan gig in 2016, my expectations on the band’s second Japan visit are sky high and they don’t disappoint. The setlist this evening in Tokyo is flawless. It’s sheer doom awesomeness from start to finish. The first half of the set consists of songs from the albums “Nightfall”, “Tales of Creation”, “Ancient Dreams” and the latest album “The Door to Doom”. The second half is all dedicated to Candlemass’ 1986 debut album “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus”. In the “Epicus” section, we get to hear “A Sorcerer’s Pledge”, “Demon’s Gate”, “Crystal Ball”, “Under the Oak” and “Solitude”. Magnificent!

Leif Edling of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The current line-up of the band combines its most classic line-up from the late-80s/early 90s – Leif Edling on bass, Mats “Mappe” Björkman on rhythm guitar, Lars Johansson on lead guitar and Jan Lindh on drums – with the return of original vocalist Johan Längqvist. Längqvist departed the band following the release of the debut album and stayed away from the limelight until his return to the band last year. His voice is splendid and live in concert he commands the doom troops from centre stage. The only question on my mind is: what has he been doing for the 32 years he was away from the band? Whatever he’s been up to, his voice is in terrific shape.

Mats “Mappe” Björkman of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It is difficult to pick out highlights in such a terrific show, but let’s try: The opening with “The Well of Souls” from “Nightfall” is world-class. The live version of “Astorolus – The Great Octopus” from “The Door to Doom” is magnificent, not least because of Lars Johansson’s exquisite guitar playing. The heaviness of “Bewitched” shakes the whole venue and, of course, ending the show with “Solitude” is how it should be done.

Epicus Doomicus Fantasticus!

Johan Längqvist of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks