Taro Hakase at Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Japanese violinist and composer Taro Hakase has travelled to these shores before, but last night’s performance at Shepherd’s Bush Empire was a little different from his previous concerts. This is the UK leg of his Japonism tour, a string of dates that have seen Hakase take a break from his classical repertoire to focus instead on wholly original compositions.
In a night laced with theatricality, Hakase and his band (on tour with him for the first time) took to the stage under the cover of darkness. An amber glow then illuminated the unmistakable, mop-haired Hakase who advanced to the front of the stage, violin held rigidly at his side as if ready for battle. Lifting it slowly to his shoulder as a volley of drumming sounded from behind him, the lights lifted and Hakase commenced on Prologue for Japonism – a stunningly evocative piece, written with the image of a lone samurai atop a windswept hill in mind. The band now on full show, it was clear what Hakase meant when he termed this tour “plugged in”. Eight other musicians filled the stage; electric guitars, synths and cellos at their disposal. Any lingering hopes for a quick burst of Brahms were thoroughly dismissed.
Hakase led his players through a programme of some dozen pieces, pausing every now and then to read some short snippets about the selections. To western ears (the vast majority of the audience were in fact Japanese) perhaps the most recognisable moments came with To Love You More, originally performed as a duet with Celine Dion, and Hope which featured in the game Final Fantasy XII.
However, the best was saved until last with a final thirty minutes that grew increasingly surreal. First came a Marty McFly aping solo from guitarist Yoshito Tanaka, then rang out a syncopated dance beat. Everyone on stage produced a coloured feathered fan and made their way through a choreographed dance routine, before parting ranks for a tracksuit clad breakdancer, who proceeded to spin, flare and worm his way across the stage.
Expectations thoroughly subverted, Hakase and his band departed, leaving behind them a crowd still half in disbelief at what they’d just witnessed. It was a joyous celebration of music of all kinds, and no doubt when Hakase returns to playing Mozart’s violin concertos, it will all seem very tame in comparison.
For further information and future events visit Taro Hakase’s website here.
Watch the video for Prologue for Japonism here: