Tonight saw the Japanese rock/classical juggernaut Yoshiki roll into town, playing a huge show at London's Royal Festival Hall. There were screaming fans, tears and Tchaikovsky - and a brief encounter backstage...
Yoshiki is, first and foremost, a rock star
We know this, because he kicks off his classical show with a video montage of himself smashing various drumkits to pieces, round-housing gongs and playing drum solos on suspended platforms above arenas with his rock band, X Japan. The man is a God in Japan.
Yoshiki's voiceover accompaniment to the video says that "rock 'n' roll has always been by my side, but classical music is in my bones." Clearly, he is serious about this.
Yoshiki has plenty of merch
The merch desk was beset by queuing hordes well before the show even started. When was the last time you copped some swag at a Kings Singers concert? Picked up any good limited edition LSO tour posters recently?
Finally, 15 minutes late, Yoshiki arrives on stage
He is quiet, quite tense and, at one point, tells a clicking photographer that he "should shut up more" while he's playing. He plays a selection of his compositions with the help of seven string players, whom he deliberately refers to as a 'sextet', because "it sounds so much cooler than a septet."
And he plays a little bit of Tchaikovsky
Which sounds like this:
Then, Yoshiki gets emotional
Towards the end of the show, at the end of a lengthy monologue about how he formed X Japan and how they conquered Japan and became a monster success story in the heavy metal world (imagine something between Kiss and Guns n' Roses in their pomp, but with even bigger hair), Yoshiki actually breaks down in tears.
He then performs a final song, a classical arrangement of X Japan's 'Endless Rain', which makes a large portion of the audience cry too. At the end of the song, the stage is mobbed - fans rush forward to give Yoshiki gifts, flags and flowers. It's pandemonium:
Excitingly, we are invited backstage to possibly meet Yoshiki himself
Squeal! We're ushered into a room not dissimilar to a cruise ship cabin, and told to wait. The room has the atmosphere of an ambassadorial reception (in fact, local ambassadors from the Japanese Embassy are in attendance tonight - he is a big deal after all).
About 15 minutes later, we are invited into Yoshiki's dressing room. A small stereo is playing the Yoshiki Classical album in the background, and Yoshiki is drinking champagne and generally being delightful. He even poses for a photo (note the huge pile of gifts in the background and the brace on his wrist).
The room is abuzz because Yoshiki has confirmed that he has written a song for Hello Kitty back in Japan, and that his band X Japan are getting back together for a world tour starting in New York in October and possibly coming to the UK before the end of the year.
We were warned that he might not shake hands with us due to his arthritis (he regularly has injections of cortisone directly into his hands on show days), but he did in the end. He was far more relaxed backstage and seemed happy to have a glass of "very good" champagne in his hand as he made small talk and posed for other photos.
The fans are still lining the streets outside
When we finally leave the labyrinthine underbelly of Festival Hall via the stage door, a hardy gaggle of Yoshiki fans are waiting, pens poised for autographs.
Basically, Yoshiki came and took over London
His unique, hysterical following is something new for the classical world. With music that sounds like a cross between his fellow countryman Nobuo Uematsu and Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnell, his die-hard fans are unlikely to be deserting him as he embarks on his new direction. Whether the core classical community are ready for it, however, remains to be seen. His world tour has a second leg kicking off in Japan later in the week, but it won't be long before he's back in London and, no doubt, bringing hysteria with him.