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Live Review: Making sense of Babymetal and a Japanese metal spectacle at the House of Blues

 

Editor’s Note: We were told there was no photography permitted at last night’s Babymetal gig at the House of Blues. So we asked reviewer Barry Thompson to just draw what he witnessed. His art is up top, and his written review is below.

Back in 2014, countless browsers of internet curiosities stumbled upon the clip for Babymetal’s debut single, “Gimme Chocolate” — now approaching 50 million views — and thought to themselves, “What the fuck is this?”

 

Similar phenomena took place last month, when Babymetal made their American television debut on The Late Show. Though he couldn’t say so out loud, host Stephen Colbert may well have been thinking, just like the rest of us, “What the fuck is this?”

So what the fuck is Babymetal, anyway? Welp, Babymetal is a Japanese idol band. There’s a huge subculture surrounding idol bands that isn’t really comparable to anything in America, but to explain it in terms we yanks can easily comprehend, y’know how we’ve had prefabricated pop acts like Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, and Destiny’s Child? Idol bands are sort of like that, except usually way younger.

One might assume idol bands dwell more-or-less exclusively in the sunny environs of bubblegum pop. But the term “idol band” applies more to a group’s creation and presentation than genre. Babymetal are not the first, and probably not even the best, idol band to chirp and flail along to the harsh grandiosity and macabre imagery of heavy metal.

 
 

So if Babymetal isn’t putting out anything unique — at least, not by Japan’s standards — how did they become the world’s biggest fake metal band since Dethklok? Unless their translator gobbled up a handful of quaaludes before this interview with Billboard, Babymetal themselves find their circumstances just as baffling as anyone.

But the at-capacity gathering at the House of Blues on Thursday did not appear confused about their own Babymetal-related enthusiasm, as much as an unexpected 45-minute wait outside in the rain. A roadie informed me a “technical issue” kept the doors closed well after the scheduled 7 p.m. opening. As a result, the swarm of Japanophiles, parents psyched to finally bring their kids to a family-friendly metal show, and a smattering of unaccompanied middle-aged men (the less we speculate about their reasons for Babymetal fandom, the better) temporarily and inadvertently conquered Lansdowne Street. T’was a sight to behold, and many did. The social awkwardness was palpable.

With no opening act, Babymetal took the stage at about 9 p.m. following little rancour from the audience, despite the holdup. Babymetal fans are a patient lot, as luck would have it, and capable of generating more excitement than I hitherto thought possible at the sight of synchronized choreography. The Babymetal girls — specifically 16-year-olds Yuimetal and Moametal — appear more apt at muscle memorization than any conventional definition of “dancing.” But I glean the easily replicable aspect of their frolicking is very much by design. “My uncoordinated little sister and her also uncoordinated friends used to organize more impressive lip sync routines around their Jem & The Holograms cassingles,” I thought to myself. Then I thought, “Right. Babymetal do really simple dance moves so little kids can emulate them easily. That’s the whole idea. Right?”

Also, I’m pretty sure Yuimetal and Moametal sang about as little as they could get away with, if they sang at all, opting instead to let their backing track say what they were probably too winded to enunciate themselves. Vocal-wise, 18-year-old Su-Metal does the heavy lifting, and if Babymetal’s powers that be plan, as is evidently customary with idol bands, to swap her out for a new model anytime soon, they should cancel those plans. Let the cash cow indefinitely chew its most talented cud. That’s what I say.

 
 

And don’t fire the Kami Band, either. Babymetal’s live instrumental accompaniment — arguably a main course disguised as a side dish — deployed technical wizardry rivaling that of any active quartet who cavorts about in hospital gowns and skull facepaint.

The culturally-insulated idiot in me who thinks Asia is one big country wants to compare Babymetal’s meteoric rise to to Korean pop sensation Psy’s breakout “Gangnam Style” in 2012 — which sorta, kinda fits. Both garnered global attention via viral YouTube videos. Both floated or are floating on sheer novelty value in the states, and will likely remain a big deal in their home country long after time-traveling cyborgs — at the behest of future President/Cyborg Queen Ivanka Trump Jr. — burn our troubled republic to ashes. But Babymetal’s closest antecedent is actually based in London, England. Herman Li and Sam Totman both play on the title track of Babymetal’s second record, Metal Resistance, and of course they do, because it sounds like a Dragonforce song, and every Dragonforce song sounds like every other Dragonforce song.

However, bravado and stage-fan swept locks aside, ZP Theart never quite convinced anyone he believed in whatever bullshit about rescuing mermaids from vampire orks or whathaveyou that he happened to be belting out at any given moment, and I don’t think his audiences ever took it to heart either. Meanwhile, a bit before the double encore last night, as Babymetal busted out “Gimme Chocolate,” and the crowd chanted back the chorus, I found myself surrounded by joyfully earnest, un-ironic appreciation for a song about candy.

It was weird. But the good kind of weird!

 

 

Follow Barry Thompson on Twitter @barelytomson. Here’s a peek inside the House of Blues last night, courtesy of some rule-breakers:

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