A KNOT OF NOT A LOT OF DIR EN GREY
Of the dozen or so Japan-based acts that have attempted to crack the English-speaking market, Dir En Grey is fortunate to have an edge in their singularity; no band sounds like them in America or elsewhere. Sure, we can trace the roots of their spare, low-register guitar parts to Korn; the rabid, multi-voiced, and diminutive singer to Cradle of Filth; the addictive melodies to uh Duran Duran; and the caustic imagery to Marilyn Manson and Japanese visual hyper-rock. But like a Hayao Miyazaki or Pretz, Dir En Grey is exotic but not exclusionary, foreign but not impenetrable. Different but the same. And awesome!
Despite diluting none of their Japaneseness, the band has started to reap the real rewards of its bold foray into the unwelcoming North American and European markets. To show for their gamble, Dir En Grey boasts Billboard chart slots, headline tours, and the grudging respect of loud music media – all of which imply a grassroots following comprised of more than just anime jockeys and J-fetishists. Dir En Grey is a rare legitimate force worldwide, and for that, they should be toasting champagne and taking victory laps.
Unfortunately, the celebration dominates their landmark first-ever North American DVD release, A Knot Of. Like every step of DEG’s conquest, it’s a bold maneuver: instead of attempting to replicate the DEG fan experience, A Knot Of gives us a distant view from the stage. The trouble is that looking at crowds of cheering/staring people is boring, and the band itself is barely supporting cast in its own narrative; the viewer is meant to experience the rigors of touring abroad and its incumbent cultural demands, yet no member of the band can be heard speaking or undertaking anything besides being the indirect subject of adulation.
Indeed, A Knot Of is riddled with countless fawning shots of fans lined up outside of venues, incongruous concert footage, patience-testing pans of venue marquees bearing the band’s name, and gratuitous back-/sidestage shots of tourmates like the, um, robust Chino Moreno (Deftones), superdouche Corey Taylor (Stone Sour), and a Grateful Dead shirt-clad Jonathan Davis (Korn). It’s a postcard home, a fuck-you to the wanky J-Idols who failed before them, an innocently but exhaustingly prideful record of their legion of fans and famous friends. In other words, something for the grandkids, not for paying customers.
It’s frustrating, because at 90 minutes, A Knot Of would comfortably accommodate a full live set (say, their freakishly intense 2007 headline set at Chicago’s House of Blues). Instead, we hop through time and geography, snatching portions of songs performed to groggy, sun-blinded festival crowds alternating with high-quality, ravenously energetic performances filmed in Japan. While the latter gives a primer to the Japan concert experience (synchronized fist-pumping, huge stage budgets), the former (mostly Family Values/Taste of Chaos footage) features ho-hum playing dimmed by hideous, fan-shot sound quality.
Visually, A Knot Of centers on singer Kyo, who, when not writhing around shirtless and with shiny abs, is scratching his chest or the inside of his cheek to start a flow of blood, usually at the expense of a missed verse (or two) and to the consternation of the venue’s insurance carriers. (As Fat Mike would say, that’s how you get hepatitis!) And while we get a chronicle of the band’s final days of eye make-up with frilly shirts (before their conversion to T-shirts and jeans), Kyo’s wardrobe gaffes are consistent throughout; most of the time, you’re silently hoping he puts on a goddamn shirt; but when he sports a sparkly shirt/silk pants ensemble, you get nostalgic for semi-nudity. Worse, in that burgundy velvet suit, Kyo seems poised to attend a Twin Peaks fan-con. It’s distracting and most shots are what my old boss called roadie-cam: mostly crowd then singer – and never the whole band at once. Maybe it’s my bias, but aren’t the guitar players of equal interest? Especially Die, DEG’s guitarist at stage left, who – I’m bound to disclose – is hotter than most chicks I know. Ahem.
Understandably, it’s on their home turf where DEG thrives, partially because a full tour of Japan consists of around 15 dates, so resources need not be rationed as strictly as on a two-year trek across the Americas. And though the DVD’s scrapbook format undercuts their brilliance in the live setting, highlights include a mind-blowing performance of “Dead Tree,” which graces A Knot Of’s final third. But by that point, the song has appeared in part or whole no fewer than five times so you’re sick to death of it. And while it’s awesome to see Kyo so convincingly correct that hideous muffed note on the album version of “Ryoujoku no Ame” from 2007’s The Marrow Of A Bone, more often than not, the DVD kills any momentum by settling for song fragments in its rush from stage to stage.
All told, A Knot Of only includes a total of, like, nine songs (no tracklisting boooo) and none from 2008’s triumphant Uroboros. As a fan’s-eye concert film, it is sorely lacking continuity and quality; as a document of three years at home and abroad with Dir En Grey, it’s an abject failure which more closely approximates the roadie’s life on the road by neglecting to go behind the stage curtain or onto the tour bus. Watching this DVD, one is with the band, but not among them. Now I know how Bob Dylan’s band feels.
2 out of 5 horns
Anso DF is a former music journalist who is bound by professional responsibility to cease antagonizing KISS in the daily metal column Hipsters Out Of Metal!