Hanabie. – September 24, 2023 – Gramercy Theater, New York, NYSaturday, 7th October 2023
For Japanese metal fans in the New York area, September has been an impressive month! PassCode started things off early with a rare performance, Babymetal returned to the area in both Connecticut and Manhattan, and now wrapping the month up was the arrival of Harajuku-core act Hanabie. Rapidly gaining traction in the US (and world) due to their stylish videos, impressive levels of genre-blending, and recent energetic live performance hype, it’s probably no surprise that the band’s first visit to NYC ended up in a sold out show. Arriving early for an interview, taking a stroll to see the number of fans lined-up nearly two hours early in a nasty bout of rain clearly demonstrated the passion the crowd would later present as it wrapped around and down a full-block. As a point of comparison, I entered a line for Beast in Black a week prior just as gates opened at the same very point. Clearly, there was a hunger for the band that not even the weather would subdue.
With only one opening band, people filled up the Gramercy early. Before first act Fox Lake took the stage, things were already looking tight on the floor. Starting just after 7pm, the band took the stage for a short, 30 minute set. With seven songs mostly split between their latest release, Fear & Loathing, and their full-length effort, Silence & Violence, the band’s breakdown-friendly approach to hardcore (with a sprinkling of rap influence) slowly started to break the audience out of their chill, rain-soaked state. Plenty of heavy grooves for listeners to sink their teeth into, plus the aforementioned breakdowns led the crowd to eventually start in with the evenings circle pits. To be honest, I was surprised at how they were able to turn the crowd so far into their favor over the set – it wasn’t a Hanabie level reaction like we would see later, but in many cases an opening band in this case can get shrugged off, and it’s to the band’s credit that their energetic sound hooked ears in the crowd. Vocalist Nathan Johnson’s persistent pushing the crowd to wave hands, bang heads, and move around elicited participation as the band stomped to the rest of their set.
After a gentle announcement to essentially ‘have fun moshing and crowdsurfing but be safe,’ Hanabie hit the stage. The crowd was instantly in the palm of their hands as their sophomore effort, Raise Wa Ijin! [Reborn Superstar]‘s lead off,”Choujigen Galaxy” kicked things off. The floor was moving, hands were waving, and vocalist Yukina was literally bouncing around the stage. From standing atop her gear box and screaming only to leap off, to zipping left or right to interact with her bandmates and/or the crowd, she was everywhere without taking a moment to breathe. To their credit, bassist Hettsu, guitarist/clean vocalist Matsuri, and drummer Chika came out in a passionate fury as well, but not with the freedom of movement that Yukina’s lack of instrument provided her. An energetic vocalist can raise the energy of the room because of this, and Yukina’s frenetic movement, whilst screaming and singing, made her a joy to watch. Next up in the setlist was “NEET GAME,” and with it came an increased demand for arm waving and crowd participation – to which the audience happily gave into. After shifting to their first album with “Genkai Numa Life,” with some hip-hop feelings merged with their metalcore grooves, it was “Be the Gal” that seemed to set the audience off on a crazed trajectory that only seemed to increase with each track. This was when the crowdsurfing really kicked into gear as the danceable grooves caused everyone else to move and bounce accordingly. The very audible “what the fuck” later in the track all but roared from the audience, as the entire band seemed to smile in response.
Much like with the recent PassCode show, one of the most impressive facets of the band in general was that there were very few breaks. Hettsu and Matsuri grooving and thrashing away as they played (not to mention the smiles and crowd interactions, especially from Hettsu), with Matsuri’s only respite seemed to come when her vocal lines came into play, but then giving her double duty on guitar and vocals. Yukina never seemed to break from her perpetual movement, either energetically singing and encouraging crowd interaction or the aforementioned bouncing around the stage, and Chika notably bashing the drumkit with fervor. Their energy was infectious, and definitely demanding of them physically. They made the most of their limited breaks though, with Hettsu raising a beer to the audience in the first break, and then an amusing bit of banter between the group as they attempted to make heart shapes with their arms over their head and Matsuri accusing Hettsu of making a monkey instead, to which she fired back that it was ‘love.’ Those sort of playful interactions only added to the entertainment of the evening, giving the crowd yet another reason to smile in addition to thrashing like mad.
One could go through the entire concert, but a few moments that really stood out were as follows. Yukina called for a ‘wall of death’ before the start to “Tousou” began, and the audience opened up quite a nice one almost instantly. Probably one of the larger ones I’ve encountered outside of the early Lamb of God days when they would do the same. Later in the track, Yukina herself hopped into the crowd for a few moments of surfing herself, with the crowd doing all they could to keep her afloat. Hearing last year’s single, “Love Ranbu,”with it’s more traditional Japanese sounding influence weaved in made for a nice, heavy treat. The band’s last song before the encore, “Today’s Good Day & So Epic,” is just such a fun, perfectly-suited track to that position. Matsuri’s clean vocal section just hits in such a way that you have to smile, while the frantic thrashing of punk-ish riffs and drumwork makes for a great dichotomy. When it came for the encore chant, it has to be one of the loudest I’ve heard out of literally hundreds of concerts. Considering the capacity of Gramercy, it was quite impressive to hear the almost overwhelming shouts of “one more song” coming from the venue. Then of course, the rapid return of the band to finish with “Sunrise Miso-Soup” amid an almost incessant stream of crowdsurfers while the rest of the audience energetically matched the band’s frantic energy and movements made for a shining finale.
Considering the rate at which Hanabie is generating hype for themselves lately, shows like this make an easy justification for it. All four members of the band brought their energy at 110% for the entirety of their hour-long set. inciting the audience to feverish levels of energy themselves. Their unique sound makes them palatable to a crowd both metallic and outside the genre – mostly because it’s such a fun dynamic, which was intensified in the live setting by a significant amount. It’s not hard to imagine the band skyrocketing in popularity as they continue to hit the stage on a more worldwide level like they have been doing. For the more casual fan (and as actually overheard by some people after the show by myself), Hanabie’s live performance can take a fan that likes what they do, and turn them into a passionate die-hard. To put it in quotes from a fan overheard nearby, “I liked them before this show, but now I really love them!” Many bands can start build that sort of hype, but fail to deliver the goods in the live setting. Not Hanabie, who will no doubt grab some extra buzz by people who left this show (and others) dazzled, yet confidence is high that they will find a way to impress fans when the opportunity strikes. Don’t miss your next chance to see them.