WagakkiBand – from left, bassist Asa, shakuhachi player Daisuke Kaminaga, vocalist Yuko Suzuhana, guitarist Machiya and Beni Ninagawa on shamisen – perform Tuesday night at Club Bahia near Dodger Stadium. (Photo by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)
By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS Rafu Arts & Entertainment
Before even taking the stage, Japan’s eight-piece WagakkiBand had already achieved a fairly impressive feat on Tuesday night. In this age of struggling to attract sizeable audiences to pop venues, the group nearly filled the Club Bahia on Sunset – on a weeknight, no less.
Wagakki refers the family of classic Japanese musical instruments – koto, shakuhachi, shamisen, taiko, etc. By combining these sounds with hard-driving electric guitars and drums, this band has created a seamless synthesis of traditional Japanese sounds with thoroughly modern Western rock.
WagakkiBand are on a brief West Coast tour that took them to the House of Blues in San Diego last night, next a Saturday appearance at the historic Fillmore in San Francisco.
In Japan, the group has also effectively combined the old and new in terms of their marketing approach, using social media and YouTube to establish a presence, then backing it up with old-fashioned, wheels-on-the-road touring.
The video for their song “Tengaku” was viewed nearly a quarter of a million times in only four days after its release, and “Senbonzakura” has had more than 44 million views. The band made quite a splash at this year’s South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.
WagakkiBand played to a loyal fanbase at last year’s Anime Expo in Los Angeles, but the group has managed to attract a largely non-Japanese audience, certainly making them the salivating envy of countless pop acts in their homeland. The crowd at Club Bahia appeared to be mostly local, not ex-pats seeking comfort in the sounds of home.
“Because of YouTube and social media, we connect with just about anyone, all over the world,” lead singer Yuko Suzuhana told The Rafu. “However, I think we can’t feel the genuine reaction of the audiences, to know their hearts, unless we come in person and play right in front of them.”
The band’s website, wagakkiband.jp is available in English as well as Japanese and French.