Ask the average Joe walking down the street what he knows about music from Asia and he’s likely to come up with one of two things: manicured and manufactured K-pop or the annoyingly stereotypical–and also kind of racist–Oriental riff. It’s a shame considering the largest continent of the world has produced some truly incredible rock musicians who can more than pull their weight against their more widely recognized American/British counterparts.
One of Asia’s better known, non-pop exports is Miyavi, the self-dubbed “samurai guitarist.” If you’ve seen the way his fingers fly on the fret of his guitar or heard his unique guitar slapping technique, you’d know it’s a monicker he’s more than earned. After making a name for himself as a member of visual kei rock band Dué le Quartz, he’s embarked on a solo career that has taken him all around the world, including an appearance at SXSW and LA’s very own Belasco Theater.
Kicking off the evening was Seoul-based Kiha & The Faces, who in their own marketing swag describe themselves as “witty like Talking Heads, psychedelic like The Doors, and catchy like The Beatles.” The influence of all three is noticeable in the quirky melodies and lyrics that frontman Kiha Chang writes. There are few who could craft a compelling song describing various smells, but you can count Chang among them.
Although they played primarily from their own catalog, they paid an homage to Talking Heads with a slick cover of “Once in a Lifetime” which the crowd enjoyed almost as much as they enjoyed singing “내 사람!” (“my person” in Korean) when the band played “Mine.” Any band who can get an audience to sing foreign phrases wins in my book.
Next up was Thai band Slot Machine, whose catalog I’ll admit to knowing nothing about going in, but who I was pleasantly surprised by. I’ve since learned that they are a huge phenomenon in Thailand with their sights set on breaking into the Western market. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if they proved to be successful. With an arena-caliber sound, Slot Machine was a charismatic force on stage.
While casting the role Mutsuhiro Watanabe for her film Unbroken, Angelina Jolie said, “I had this thought of someone who would have real presence…I thought a rock star.” The moment Miyavi stepped on the stage at The Belasco I could immediately see why she went with him.
Very few artists I’ve seen command the stage the way he does. His rapid yet somehow elegant movements coupled with the sheer skill he possesses on the guitar make it impossible to look away. Even while shredding the riff of “Afraid to Be Cool” like his life depends on it, he takes the time to give the crowd a hair flip and a sly smile.
An unexpected (but surprisingly good) cover of P.O.D.’s “Youth of the Nation” preceded a stylish romp through material from his newer releases (“Firebird” in particular with its anthemic-quality sounded particularly incredible live). Not one for predictability, Miyavi can switch gears into electric renditions of the Mission Impossible opening theme at the drop of a hat. He is a consummate rock star.
In the era of whitewashing controversies and harmful stereotyping of Asians, I can’t tell you how much it means to me on a personal level to have witnessed people who look like me defying those stereotypes on stage. These aren’t just bands who are “pretty good…for Asians.” They are great. Full stop. Props to Live Nation for putting this together and here’s hoping they continue to put on events like this.