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L’Arc~en~Ciel @ Madison Square Garden (March 25, 2012)
Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 11:30pm in Live Reports

L'Arc~en~Ciel @ Madison Square Garden (March 25, 2012)


*This may seem late in coming, but while the information is no longer pertinent to the L’Arc~En~Ciel performance, it may help assuage fears or uncertainties in future situations, so I do implore everybody to read on!

As clandestine recordings of the Sunday night performance have flooded YouTube and reviews have been featured in major publications like the Village Voice and the New York Times, as well as Japanese pop culture-specific blogs like AnimeDiet, it is easy to forget that L’Arc~en~Ciel‘s only North American appearance during their entire 20th L’Anniversary World Tour, at the legendary Madison Square Garden, was rocked by a small scandal of sorts: a controversy surrounding seat-filling.

Casting notice for a "major Japanese band" performing at Madison Square Garden, Sunday, March 25.

The week leading up to the performance, as the date neared March 25th, a deliberately vague listing was posted by the casting agency Gotham Casting and uncovered by L’Arc~en~Ciel fans. The ad invited people, presumably the models and actors who would be familiar with such casting procedures, to submit their information to the agency in hopes of not only free entry into a concert by an unidentified “major Japanese band” at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, March 25th but also receiving compensation of $50 for their time and appearance in the audience. The ad made no claim as to who was performing, let alone who was responsible for the casting.

Once fans caught wind, many were understandably upset. Fans at the LiveJournal community, larcenciel, spoke of starting a Twitter campaign to voice their disapproval directly to the executives presumed to be responsible. Due to the promise of seats “in the front rows” from the advert, some worried that their own front-row tickets were in jeopardy, while others were convinced it was a scam. International fans did not understand the need for such measures when, for example, the Paris performance was both simulcast and recorded for DVD, and yet there were visible empty seats there.

  

Response on L'Arc~en~Ciel's Official Facebook page to alleviate fear and confusion regarding the casting.

Soon after, L’Arc~en~Ciel’s management responded to fan concerns and announced that they were not responsible for the casting and that fans needn’t worry about losing their front row seats to those hired to fill in seats. But questions remained: if neither L’Arc~en~Ciel nor their management, who was responsible? Why were they claiming they had front-row tickets to give away? Were seats blocked off specifically for this purpose?

My own tickets to L'Arc~en~Ciel, with the one I'd purchased in the back and the one received from the casting in the front. Note the "FC 0.00" on the ticket in front.

The short of it is as follows. The dominant rumor is that Madison Square Garden, themselves, footed the bill to fill the gaps at the concert. The tickets were not all front row tickets, nor were any of them specifically reserved for the purpose of filling with attractive faces, as some had speculated. But, indeed, there were many seats in the floor sections. This is because much if not all of Section B, at least, had been reserved for fan club members, but not all of these FC-designated seats had been sold.

  

For reasons as yet unclear, these tickets either had not been released for regular sale, or had not been released in a timely manner and thus remained unsold, and because they were in an obvious section – front and center – higher-ups reportedly unrelated to L’Arc~en~Ciel or their management wanted these seats filled for filming purposes. Bear in mind, there were also many seats in the first tiers, especially around the sections flanking the stage, that simply were never sold, perhaps due to Ticketmaster’s sorting algorithm, the clustering of fans into groups, or poor visibility in certain sections that lowered their desirability.

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The long of it, including my own personal experience, a brief review, the set list, and a handful of pictures, is behind the cut! I encourage you all to share your own feelings and experiences – whether about the scandal or the show itself – in the comments!

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Now, I, like probably most L’Arc~en~Ciel fans in the tri-state area, and even some faraway fans, had my trigger – or rather, clicker – finger in firing position as soon as tickets went on sale. A couple of friends and I were determined to get the best tickets we could without depending on resellers or getting ripped off by scalpers, so we made our first attempt through Madison Square Garden’s own presale and again as the clock struck 10:00am on the day of regular sale. In the end, we managed to fortuitously score some excellent seats that we were more than satisfied with having.

Then we learned of this casting, enticing us with a promise of front-row seats. And we started to think, “Well, we’ve got it good. But we could have it better.”

While I felt the same confusion as most fans, combined with some manner of cognitive dissonance emerging from the internal conflict between a selfish desire for a great view and the guilt brought on by the flawed assumption that this was deliberate and orchestrated by L’Arc~en~Ciel’s own management, my greed overpowered me and I entered for my and my friends’ collective sake. We all crossed our fingers that we’d get it and, above all else, hoped that it was a legitimate offer. In the end, we lucked out and were confirmed for the casting, but, ever suspicious, we held on to our original tickets, expecting to find out this offer was not all we imagined it to be.

The next day, as the controversy began to bubble and many frustrated fans expressed concerns and doubts, I called Gotham Casting directly to inquire about whether they knew where the seats would be. I was informed that even Gotham Casting would not know until Sunday, which suggested to me that this was not, in fact, planned, but rather would depend on whatever seats were left empty by Sunday. My friends and I still decided to go forward with the casting, if only to see what exactly it would be, but we retained our original tickets as an insurance policy.

On Sunday, at the designated meet-up time and place, the line was already wrapping around the block. One reassuring thing was that many of the people in line did appear to be L’Arc~en~Ciel fans who, like myself and my friends, had capitalized on an opportunity to snag free tickets. Others, of course, seemed to be there for the promise of a free concert and $50, but nonetheless the number of L’Arc fans was immediately visible.

Once we confirmed our identities, we were shuffled into an empty auditorium (incidentally, the Theater at Madison Square Garden, where the performance was initially meant to be held) and made to sign waivers (to consent to being filmed). At the next table, we were handed our tickets. The person distributing tickets had only a small stack that seemed to be in completely random order; while three of my friends and I had managed to luck out once more and snag B section tickets that were marked with “FC 0.00,” two other friends who were directly behind us in line were given tickets from Section 117 – which, coincidentally, were remarkably close to the tickets they already had, which they had received from Japan Society (another hint that the seat-filling was a result of overabundance of empty seats rather than anything nefarious or suspicious). There were perhaps a couple hundred people in the auditorium when they told us we could go to our seats. (We ended up passing off our original tickets to those two latter section-117-banished friends; the unfortunate thing was that, as we were rushed into the venue as soon as we got our wristbands, we had no method nor opportunity to give unneeded tickets away to any person who was not already inside.)

Partial crowd view around 8:12, still filling in.

Surveying the stadium, around 8:00 when the show had been scheduled to start, many seats remained unoccupied, including seats in the very row where we sat, but by 8:30, as the house lights dimmed and the stage lights began to sparkle, a quick look around revealed that the house was indeed packed, though probably not fully sold-out as the New York Times had claimed.

It was remarkably difficult to distinguish the people who came through the casting from the people who came explicitly to see L’Arc~en~Ciel. Since the casting wristbands not a reliable tell, I tried to look for people who were not visibly enjoying themselves, but every person looked as pumped as the next to be there. Who knows? Maybe the casting meant that L’Arc~en~Ciel walked away from this with a few dozen more fans who never would’ve given them a chance otherwise!

As for the show, for a late-in-coming fan like myself, who had not even heard of L’Arc~en~Ciel when they had first performed in Baltimore, MD in 2004, I never thought I’d have a chance to see them perform live. Individual side projects and prolonged hiatuses only furthered my doubt. I’d had a chance to see hyde perform in the context of VAMPS in 2010, but, frankly, I hadn’t been a real fan of VAMPS and the performance itself left me somewhat unimpressed. When the world tour concert was announced, I felt a mix of emotions running the gamut from excitement to apathy, but in the end, I felt I’d always regret if I didn’t get to see L’Arc~en~Ciel perform, and I reminded myself VAMPS is not L’Arc~en~Ciel, nor is hyde L’Arc~en~Ciel, nor are creature creature, SONS OF ALL PUSSYS, acid android, or any of the members’ respective solo acts. As time passed, I found myself swinging and sticking to the “excited” side of the emotional spectrum, and when details of the concert and ticket sales were released, I began feeling those long-forgotten eager nerves in my gut, hoping against hope I’d be able to get tickets.

Unfortunately, following the aforementioned ticket trouble, I felt that eagerness wane as it was replaced by dull anxiety and confusion.

That feeling dominated my state of mind until the point where I met with my friends and we filed into the auditorium. One thing to note – while Madison Square Garden is positively gargantuan, it looked much smaller until it really filled in. I suppose 20,000 empty seats didn’t register in my mind as 20,000 people until I saw those people there. When the concert opened to a full (or nearly full) house, the magnitude of this performance was suddenly more obvious.

A wider view of the crowd - substantially more full-looking, all the way to the rear tiers.

As the band emerged on stage and their respective visages flashed intermittently between their own names and brilliant colors, patterns, and moving images on the enormous screens surrounding the stage, I couldn’t help but let out a “wow.”

L'Arc~en~Ciel performs the heavy, guitar-driven CHASE.

(I must make a brief digression to credit the sound crew with how crisp and clean everything sounded, and how well it blended together. All too often, I go to a concert where the vocals are drowned out by the guitars, or, conversely, the vocals are all I hear and the bassist may as well take a nap for how subtle those rhythms are. Feedback or technical problems can pierce harshly through the atmosphere, and depending on how frequently such technical slip-ups come up, it can be an awful distraction. And believe me – the size of the venue is no guarantee of quality of sound. That the sound techs got it so, so right had a profound impact on the enjoyability of the performance. The clarity of sound helped me truly appreciate the power of hyde‘s voice and the technical skills and flavor guitarist ken, bassist tetsuya, and drummer yukihiro each brought to the mix.)

HONEY.

ken beams as he delivers his "Night at the Museum" MC.

A high point of the concert was certainly when a jovial ken put his efforts into reading his recollection of his trip to the American Museum of Natural History and learning that it is, in fact, the museum from the (first) Night at the Museum movie. He then proceeded to give yukihiro a The Nightmare Before Christmas-themed Monopoly set, on stage, as a souvenir of the trip. ken, of all the members, seemed to enjoy himself the most on stage throughout the night, smiling vibrantly as he shredded like no other, but his joy and quirky personality really shone through during his MC.

Another personal highlight was when, almost immediately after I’d remarked to my friend that I’d love if they played “Driver’s High,” “STAY AWAY,” and “READY STEADY GO,” the band proceeded to play them all… In order. Of course, it should come as no surprise that the band would play some of their best known songs, but the serendipitous juxtaposition of my own remark with the ensuing performance made me wonder if I perhaps had some telepathic control over the show. (Kidding!)

Dancing figures support the band as they perform STAY AWAY.

And in a quirky “blink and you’ll miss it” moment, during READY STEADY GO, some of the lyrics flashed in synchronization with the song on the towering screens behind the band. And while for the most part there were no egregious errors, the intro and bridge’s READY STEADY GO was inexplicably but consistently spelled as READTY STEDTY GO, which made the immense weight of this choreographed and well-rehearsed performance suddenly seem a bit lighter.

Screen images during READY STEADY GO! Somewhere, a concert staff member is probably shrugging, "meh."

tetsuya performs during winter fall.

Maybe the most perplexing act of the night was when, to make sure we all maintained our genki~ through the night, tetsuya’s MC consisted of his emerging on stage with a basket full of lollipops and bananas, which he proceeded to toss into the crowd while spraying fans with no less than a rhinestone-encrusted, banana-shaped water gun. Never have I wished to have a telephoto lens so badly as when tetsuya, with his quasi-mohawk and the Japanesque robe with which he had replaced a distressed, plaid blazer emblazoned with a (cheeky?) 有名 on the right panel, wielded that golden banana. (Sadly, I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the moment!)

The effects themselves cannot go without mention, either. Between the pure light-and-color and video visualizations, carefully timed and matched to the music; the pyrotechnics during REDEMPTION, the heat of which could positively be felt; the cannon blasts of commemorative streamers and the ethereal, gentle snow of feathers, both of which fans kept as mementos; and even some completely unexpected (and pungent) fireworks, the band spared no expense to put on a once-in-a-lifetime show for many fans. From the futuristic dancing skeletons that reminded us that, yes, there is choreography to STAY AWAY, to the lyrics to あなた inviting the fans to join in singing the chorus, to the fast-motion race to the horizon that made us feel like we really were in the midst of a Driver’s High, the care paid to the programming pulled many of us into the rainbow-tinted realm of L’Arc~en~Ciel’s design.

ken performs a (very blue) solo during winter fall.

hyde stands center stage, partially concealing yukihiro, during winter fall.

The band performs winter fall bathed in a mellow indigo.

A bit difficult to see, but unfortunately the clearest picture I managed to get of hyde's fashion-forward floppy hat. (click to enlarge)

Finally and to close, hyde’s floppy, Jennifer-Lopez-reminiscent hat definitely deserves a special mention. I hope it’s not presumptuous to say that most of us VK-fans are well accustomed to androgynous looks, and the outfits that make the masses gawp make us ask, “where can I get that?” But the hat was certainly a fashion direction I had not expected hyde to make. Nevertheless, what works, works, and if it gets people talking about you the next day, that’s definitely a sign it works. Couple his fashion choices with his silver-grey contacts, his cascading crown of braids, his fluid, serpentine motions that could very well have been channeling Axl Rose (or maybe even Ashlee Simpson), hyde was nothing less than charismatic and eye-catching, the impression left by the passion in his voice matched only by that of his phenomenal range.

Here’s hoping hyde, ken, tetsuya, and yukihiro do return on another World Tour – and hoping it’s before the 40th L’Anniversary.

Setlist

1. いばらの涙
2. CHASE [English ver.] 3. GOOD LUCK MY WAY
4. HONEY
5. DRINK IT DOWN
6. REVELATION
7. 叙情詩
8. X X X [English ver.] 9. fate
10. forbidden lover
11. MY HEART DRAWS A DREAM
12. Caress of Venus
13. Driver’s High
14. STAY AWAY
15. READY STEADY GO

(encore)
en1. あなた
en2. winter fall
en3. Blurry Eyes
en4. 虹

Source: Me and my camera! (Special thanks to J., M., E. for accompanying me, and A. and D. for meeting us there. You all made the night even more memorable than I could have imagined!)

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L’Arc~en~Ciel @ Madison Square Garden (March 25, 2012) Reviewed by on . *This may seem late in coming, but while the information is no longer pertinent to the L'Arc~En~Ciel performance, it may help assuage fears or uncertainties in *This may seem late in coming, but while the information is no longer pertinent to the L'Arc~En~Ciel performance, it may help assuage fears or uncertainties in Rating:
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