Ravenous patrons encircled The August Hall, the crisp San Francisco air filling their lungs as they counted down the hours to Friday night’s “Okyu-ji” table service. For the metal mistresses of BAND-MAID, live performances symbolize a transformation into an haute and sumptuous waitstaff, hosting a reception made equal parts of Victorian dresses and rip-roaring rock. One fan, in line since dawn for his 19th attendance and with tickets for next year’s Tokyo Garden Theater gig secured, resoundingly endorses that no act can melt faces like these beloved Japanese maidens.
Inside the sold-out venue, he leans one elbow over the front railing and professes to the first-timers around him that they’re about to find out why.
As the clock strikes 20:30, an enchanting electro-pop cues the maids, each prancing onto the stage. Guitarist-vocalist (and self-proclaimed pigeon) MIKU “cluppo” Kobato beams an ear-to-ear smile, panning her iPhone across the fever pitch, while lead singer SAIKI locks into position beside her and completes the twin-vocals lineup. Once the ambient prelude fades to an orchestral overture, BAND-MAID, flanked by white columns of floodlight, blasts off into its latest single Sense.
The opening section continues with the flesh-tearing chugs in After Life and Play. Drummer AKANE’s improv gatlings during the extended breakdown in FREEDOM knock serious wind out of the audience. Without pause, the spotlight next turns to guitarist KANAMI, her crimson axe held high and fingers dancing across the fretboard in Blooming, which the setlist rotated in just for the evening.
MIKU, the ever-spunky entertainer, welcomes concertgoers with an emphatic “cluppo!” cluck, and the menu resumes course with the frenzied Different and the escapist soliloquy alone. Tongue-in-cheek influencer and the instrumental epic from now on—both additions to this tour from the new EP Unleash—showcase the barefoot bassist MISA’s effortless and downright bewildering switch-ups between slap rhythms and carrying the melody. Then, SAIKI steps aside for Sayonakidori (“Nightingale”), as MIKU briefly recasts her avian alias and takes point in belting out the high notes.
Despite the dainty semblance and mannerisms, BAND-MAID’s showmanship leaves no uncertainty on the table about its virtuosic prowess.
Yet, the Okyu-ji never feels forced or manufactured. The quintet transcends language barriers with unscripted banter during the many breaks, including SAIKI-sensei’s free Japanese lesson (“‘Yokikana’ means ‘maybe… good?’”), KANAMI’s declaration of love for San Francisco (and also for SAIKI), AKANE’s chest beating and devouring an entire banana in the spirit of her “Gorilla” moniker, and MIKU’s trademark “Omajinai” Magic Spell Time that bedazzles the crowd with a chant promising musical world domination.
October 14 also marks a momentous milestone for MISA, who celebrates the day before her birthday with a special “Opening (of her beer can) Ceremony” pre-game. “Arigato-s-s-san,” she joshes with three cheers and a bow.
The second act kicks off with classics Choose me, endless Story, Daydreaming, and the SAIKI-penned Corallium, in which she endearingly pleads with everyone to vote for the top pick off Unleash. The last spurt ignites a no-holds-barred fireworks finale of DICE, Unleash!!!!!, a jam session into NO GOD, and the climactic anthem DOMINATION.
Through genuine love for one another, the craft, and the fanbase across the globe, BAND-MAID delivers an Okyu-ji that through and through feels authentic. From the opening number to the final pick thrown, the maidens remain true to themselves by creating the warmest, most inviting two-hour program for both greenhorns and regulars to their hard rocking service. The sentiment clearly radiates to the mesmerized clientele, who exchange fist bumps and high-fives in an inclusive union that transcends age, gender, and ethnicity.
“Our hearts are always together because we have BAND-MAID music!” MIKU avows to San Francisco, long enraptured by her spell.
BAND-MAID at The August Hall, San Francisco, Friday, October 14, 2022
- After Life
- from now on
- Choose Me
- endless Story
- NO GOD