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Sixx: A.M., Vamps and Apocalyptica @ The Electric Factory.

May 4, 2015

6D (130)Text and images by Lee Miller.

Vamps came through Philadelphia last week, opening at the Electric Factory for Sixx:A.M., which takes its name from Nikki Sixx, the band’s bassist and co-founder of Mötley Crüe.

In Japan, Vamps is a best selling super group of successful music veterans, fronted by Hyde and K.A.Z. Each of their four albums has charted in the top five on the Oricon album sales chart.

Outside of Vamps, lead vocalist Hyde has fronted L’arc~en~Ciel since 1991. That band is currently on a streak with more than 35 consecutive singles charting in the top 10. In 2012, they became the first Japanese artists to headline Madison Square Garden.

Guitarist K.A.Z. was a member of Hideto Matsumoto’s backing band, Spread Beaver, at the time of Matsumoto’s untimely death, cementing K.A.Z. into the fabric of Japanese rock history. The one album he contributed to sold more than a million copies in Japan alone.

Even though he’s considered a support member (Hyde and K.A.Z. are the only official members), bassist Ju-Ken has recorded on multiple platinum selling albums and toured with multiple Japanese industry stars.

Earlier this year, Vamps held their own festival in Japan and they hosted Sixx:A.M. and Nothing More.

Vamps have toured America on their own before but, by their own admission, they generally only reach the established Japanese rock market that exists State-side.

Through this 12 date tour with with Sixx:A.M. (plus several festival dates and and one solo show at NYC’s Best Buy Theater), they are hoping to kickstart a serious run at the American market. Vamps has been releasing most of their music on iTunes internationally since 2008. They didn’t make an official overseas release debut until 2013’s Sex Blood Rock n’ Roll.

While they are currently promoting their second official international album release, Bloodsuckers, the duo’s first song of the night, “World’s End,” was the only track off the new album that they would play at the Electric Factory. They also went for brownie points from Nikki Sixx’s fans by covering Mötley Crüe’s “Live Wire.” But it was as much of an homage as an appeal to the crowd, as Hyde has cited Mötley Crüe as one of his major influences.

Considering that Vamps was a later addition to the tour (they weren’t named in the initial tour announcement) and that they are now competing for Google search results with British teen band The Vamps, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to think that most of the audience had no idea what to expect.

With decades of experience under their belts, Vamps knows how to work a crowd. No one was stationary on stage, not even the keyboard player. Ju-Ken and K.A.Z. ran back and forth to stage right and left making sure that the hardcore contingent in the front row got ample time with each of them.

And it was was a hardcore contingent – a couple dozen people decked out on Vamps gear and Japanese punk fashion who had been waiting in front of the Electric Factory for hours to make sure they got the front row.

Ju-Ken, Hyde and K.A.Z. each had a black wood box painted with the band emblem in front of their mic stands and they stood on them during points of songs so they could be seen more prominently.

Glam rock never really died in Japan. It evolved. Grunge never really took hold there. Vamps definitely reflects that and, considering this, they really couldn’t have picked much better of a contemporary western band to tour with than Sixx:A.M.

Following Vamps, Finland’s Apocalyptica continued the international evening. Apocalyptica is no stranger to touring with Japanese acts – they’ve co-headlined on tour with experimental metal unit Dir En Grey.

Last year, the band added American Franky Perez to their group. The vocalist and multi-instrumentalist had a lengthy body of work before joining Apocalyptica, including Scars on Broadway, singing for Slash, working with Dave Kushner, doing a show as vocalist for The Doors, several solo releases and more.

Apocalyptica started as a Metallica cover band and versions of existing songs featured heavily into this set. At Electric Factory, they covered “Inquisition Symphony” by Sepultura, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, and a version of the classic Norwegian orchestral piece “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” written by Edvard Grieg.

Simply walking onto a stage in a standard concert setting with three cellos has plenty of built-in flair and drama obviously, but these guys are strong metal showmen on their own. They weren’t stationary as one might assume a cello player would be. They moved about, interacting with other. Headbanging and windmills were part of the equation as well.

Mikko Siren was a madman on drums, stealing the show when the spot lights were directed at him. He thrashed around with exaggerated and showy movements, including at some points playing the drums while standing up.

Sixx:A.M entered the stage to the spoken word version of “X-Mas In Hell,” the heroin and suicide laced into to the entire project. It was an impressive stage set, complete with risers for two female backup singers and huge batteries of lights to the right and left of the drum set.

The band started by creating a soundtrack to Nikki Sixx’s autobiographical “The Heroin Diaries,” which details a very difficult period in the rocker’s life from 1986 to 1987 .

The first album the band released in 2007, The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack, consisted of 13 songs that represented each of the 13 months in the book. Their second album, This Is Gonna Hurt, was also based on a book of the same name.

With their new album, Modern Vintage, they have, at least for now, left behind the book/album format, leaving them to create independent content.

Visually, the show at the Electric Factory was clearly in the vein of a glam rock show. Lyrically, however, most of their songs had a show-tune quality. Some might call the lyrics heavy-handed but since the entire project started as a musical presentation of a story, this context makes sense.

Sixx isn’t just trying to artistically describe the feelings of something. He’s telling a specific story. Maybe that’s a little odd because he’s not the vocalist but it works well enough and has been fairly well received.

On stage the band members worked well together. They had platforms on stage to stand on for the benefit of those that weren’t lucky enough to be up front. They also had small platforms set up in the security pit below stage-level that they hopped down on for the benefit of people up front.

When they jumped down into the pit, the crowd ate it up. People whipped out their smartphones to record.

Despite the heavy subject matter, the guys were playful on stage and gave an air that they were really enjoying themselves, roughhousing and pushing each other around playfully at times mid-song.

“Its no secret that we’re a fucked up bunch up here,” singer James Michael said between songs. “But I’m guessing you’re all a little fucked up too.”

The crowd roared in response.

They played 17 songs through the evening, including a cover of The Cars’ “Drive.”

Philly was the second to last night of the tour. One day after the last show, Nikki Sixx revealed they have already been working on a follow-up album and a 2016 world tour. So this project has really moved on from just being accompaniment to his books and into a full fledged band. Now that Mötley Crüe has closed the book on their career (or so they say), this project will have his full attention.

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