Live at Nippon Budokan

This baby is hot. An Ace Frehley “Budokan” Les Paul Custom. A limited number of these beauties hit the market last month. No, I don’t have one.

Gibson’s website has a little blurb on this thing.

When KISS hit the stage at Nippon Budokan in Japan in 1977 with guitarist Ace Frehley behind a Cherry Sunburst, three-pickup Les Paul Custom, the entire package—band, guitarist, guitar—embodied the height of glam-rock excess and success for the ’70s. This was the ultimate marriage of pop and heavy rock, driven to meteoric heights by the record industry marketing machine, and ultimately attaining that otherworldly presence that great stadium rock should achieve: unbridled fantasy and party-hard reality rolled into one glorious explosion.

This got me thinking of all the different Budokan concerts I’ve seen over the years (sadly never live, only recorded).

Historically, many bands have viewed Japanese audiences as more appreciative than their American counterparts. Actually it was CLAPTON IS GOD who first described it in 1980. Whatever the reason, most bands find themselves playing, recording, and even taping entire shows whenever they tour Japan. More often than not, Budokan is at the center of it all. Something about the venue makes it particularly attractive. I don’t know what it is, I’ve never been there. But what I do know is some of music’s greatest performances period have taken place at Nippon Budokan.

Here are several legendary (and some not-so-legendary) performances

Best Budokan Performances

Cheap Trick at Budokan ’78

The sound is raw. They play their asses off. Zander rocks a Telecaster, wears all white, and still has long hair. The sound of girls screaming at the top of their lungs is deafening at times. The set included “Surrender,” their newest single and soon-to-be greatest hit. Perhaps one of the first bands to start the “we’re big in Japan” cliché famously parodied in Spinal Tap.

Queen: Live in Budokan ’79

Freddie Mercury did his little AYE YO thing and the Japanese loved it so much they created their own Queen cover band. Queen had previously toured Japan in ’75. The difference now being all the records between Night of the Opera and Jazz. Also, Deacon cut his hair.

Ozzy at Budokan ’02

I watched Youtube videos of this, and basically what I saw was middle-aged Japanese men gazing in silence and awe as Zakk Wylde shred them to pieces. Way to play the United States national anthem to a bunch of Japanese. Though the set contained Ozzy material primarily, they did end the show with Paranoid, a nod to the good old Sabbath days. Now imagine if only Randy Rhoads had been alive for this.

Lostman go to Budokan ’09

Man you know I have to include The Pillows somewhere in here. A Japanese alternative rock band, started in the late 80s, influenced by the punk ethos, never really made it big despite having a number of early hits. Finally made it to Budokan after almost 20 years. They played the classics from Lostman to the new hits. And of course, they always end with Little Busters, one of the best closers out there.

Judas Priest: Rising in the East ’05

Rob Halford STILL getting it done. The definitive Priest lineup played to a sold out crowd at Budokan to promote their newest album Angel of Retribution. They started playing “Breaking the Law” and them crowd began headbanging like no tomorrow. There are definitely some serious metalheads in Japan.

KISS: Live at Budokan ’77

Finally, the best Budokan performance in history as alluded to at the beginning of this post: KISS BABY. 1977, original line-up, make-up on, just like the legendary Alive! album two years prior except this time including Destroyer and Love Gun. Two recordings from their Japanese tour eventually made it onto Alive! II, granted one of them was a Peter Criss ballad. Without the live albums, there would be no KISS as we know it, simple as that.

Worst Budokan Performances

The Beatles at Budokan ’66

Before I get mach punched in the face, let me say that as influential and important as this was, it still was pretty bad. It was less of a concert and more of a glorified set. The sound production wasn’t great either, at least on all the recordings I managed to dig up. Also, the people in charge only provided them with two mic stands. This would have been perfectly fine except one of the mics decided to troll George and Paul all night long.

Pearl Jam at Budokan ’03

I’ve only ever heard bootleg recordings of this. Never been a Pearl Jam fan, even though I respect the movement they encapsulated for what it is. Still, I have a hard time believing the Japanese would go crazy over a grunge band. They’d go crazy over Steven Tyler or David Lee Roth. But Vedder? Whatever. I just don’t like Pearl Jam.

Guns N’ Roses at Budokan ’07

When Use Your Illusion era Guns N’ Roses toured Japan, they played three sold out shows at the Tokyo Dome, but never at Budokan. To be honest, I’m really quite torn on this one. Judging by what I’ve heard, Axl’s voice is pretty decent. But 07 was such a weird time for Rose and Co. Chinese Democracy hadn’t come out yet and they avoided touring the U.S. like the plague. No one knew what the hell was going on. Why is Guns N’ Roses an 8 piece?

Lucky Star: Live in Budokan 


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