Versailles: Holy Grail Tour

Live From, London, Islington Academy, 2/10/11

Versailles - 3/5

I should really start out by pointing that I really do love this band. I know they aren't anything special from a technical aspect, but something about the combination of the outfits for their persona's, the concept that they've created – even if I can't understand the details – and the combination of using choral and orchestral passages intertwined with the standard power metal fare is something I love when Adagio did it with “Underworld” and I still love it here. So you'd probably expect my inner fanboy to start ranting and raving about how undeniably awesome they are, how you're a fool for not wanting to see them, and how the entrance price was worth it just to see a pretty little hair on Hizaki's pretty little head. But to be honest, it feels a little... commercial

It starts out with an announcement that security will take your phone if its seen out – a little bit harsh – but really what they're trying to let you know (and I was “let know” three times before we got to the performance) is that there is absolutely no photography. I didn't even see a professional allowed to take a few snaps, and my immediate reaction was “A band of blokes dressing in drag is afraid an amateur photographer will make them look bad!” It can't be the new outfits, they've had a photoshoot; they didn't sneak in any new material, it's purely to preserve their image. It just seems unnecessary and a bit silly. There's also a problem with the marketing of it all; whilst on one hand when you see the likes of the choreographed twirls and synchronised guitar movements; the colour changing roses being waved – sold at the merch stand for an extortionate £15 a pop (a poster would set you back £10, a CD: £30 {bumped during the show from £20} and a zippo lighter £60!) – it's visually impressive but again feels like a way of marketing it, not dissimilar to the way your average pop band is paraded around for its fans. It somehow feels just a touch sterile, and it wouldn't be until the very end when Hizaki, the guitarist, got a little too excited and decided he wanted to try and crowd surf after the encore that I finally saw something that felt like it wasn't merely staged.

But despite this, I don't blame the band in the slightest. Being signed to Warner Music Japan – a large music company even over there – there is always the classic tale of a big label having their thumb in every pie, and here it just feels like they're doing what they can with a bad hand. The classical music that precedes the performance can't have been a popular choice, though certainly is a fitting one conducive to the atmosphere, and despite selling the roses they never once ask you to raise them, even if there are obvious points, so there's no pressure or guilt if you don't fork out for the gimmick. And since the choreography doesn't cost anything it's hard to really fault them too much on that, even if it removes much of the spontaneity of the performance which for me separates the musicians from the performers, but they still retained an excellent stage presence. The four all moved around the stage, danced, interacted with the crowd – not just leaving it to the vocalist either – and had no problem whatsoever in getting an exuberant and perhaps a little too easily excited audience moving en masse.

The new bassist is – dare I say it – possibly better than our dearly departed Jasmine You, and whilst there were some sound issues (slight feedback and the whole performance could have done with having the volume taken down, just a notch, to correct this issue, and actually would have made their performance all the clearer to hear), they were minor enough and easily corrected for the prepared with ear plugs. The question I think I always ask myself at the end of a show is “would I go again?” And yes, I probably would, but then I'm a bit of a sucker for Hizaki. Really this is a show that only die-hard fans will truly get the most out of.