Embarking on their most ambitious tour to date, global phenomenon Babymetal head to Wembley Arena for their biggest ever UK show, promising all the spectacle and talent associated with their already world-famous Japanese arena and stadium shows. After hearing the new record, I took it on myself to attend this sure-to-be historic evening, and see for sure just what everybody is talking about. Judging by the lines winding around the venue, I wasn’t alone. Fans dressed head to toe in the band’s merchandise, cosplaying as the band themselves and standing in position for nearly 24 hours in order to get a decent place. Countries flags littered throughout the crowd, signs held outside the venue, I knew the second I stepped foot on the arena grounds I was in for something special.
Opting for a DJ Set rather than an ‘official’ support, Radio 1 Rock Show DJ Dan P Carter does his best to entertain the already bustling crowd with mixed results. Whilst the song selection might have been strong, the performance is marred by a mix of sudden stops between tracks and a serious lack of any form of audience participation (but I’ll get to that later…). Providing little more than complacent background music, the biggest question is here is just why the band’s management chose to forgo a support band, giving a slot to a group that could have benefited hugely from the exposure. Instead, we were given a hastily thrown together set of songs with the odd ‘WEEEEEEMBLEY’ sound byte thrown in, failing to garner any hype or excitement from the remarkably sedate crowd.
After some waiting (and a little more waiting), the lights were finally dimmed and the (supposedly) sold out crowd at Wembley Arena were treated to the first of a series of short vignettes shown on either side of the stage, each symbolising a different ‘act’ of the show so to speak. Emerging from a single platform midway through the crowd, the girls dived into an unfortunately muddy sounding Babymetal Death. To get it out of the way early, it’s from these two opening developments that we find the two more problematic elements of the night’s show, sound and layout.
To speak of the smaller issue first, the band’s layout of platform and main stage might look impressive, but for those on the floor it proved problematic for any form of movement. Do you have to have pits for a gig to be enjoyed? Of course not, but I can speak from experience when I say that the room being split down the middle proved to be incredibly awkward, having to constantly find new vantage points from which I could comfortably see the band. I totally understand this is just an occupational hazard for large shows with big production, but the size of the room taken up by the platform was impractical, leading to low levels of crowd participation in the standing area.
However, whilst the room’s layout was a smaller issue that I could look past, the sound was not. While it could be argued songs from the first record fared better, tracks from the group’s most recent release, Metal Resistance sounded muddy and songs often fell flat on their faces. Songs with massive impact, such as lead single Karate, simply sounded empty, proving to be incredibly disappointing as someone who has, admittedly, fallen in love with the band over the record. Guitars were quiet, vocals fluctuated and songs became unintelligible at times, becoming an incredibly frustrating experience. This is an issue that, in most cases, is sorted by the time a main band takes the stage after a support band, something that wasn’t possible here. It is also possible that sound was lowered due to the group broadcasting the performance to Japan, which whilst providing one of the most enjoyable moments of the night, seems a little counterintuitive to ruin the experience for those that paid to attend.
Now the issues are out of the way, the show was certainly not without its positives. In fact, sound aside the show was absolutely superb. The girls’ backing band put on a stunning performance, pulling off both old and new material without a hitch, looking to be having just as much fun (if not more) than the girls at the forefront. Vocals from the three were as close to perfection as the band could come close to, with some seriously impressive range and some seriously impressive dance routines.
The utilisation of the act-separating videos added a wonderful sense of fun to proceedings, regardless of their sentiment sometimes becoming a little lost in translation. By far the most attractive element of Babymetal, the band never fails to spread a cheesy grin across the face of even the biggest cynic. With a stage show featuring pyro, fireworks and more lights than you can imagine, you certainly got your money’s worth at Wembley. With a smattering of material from both records, the band filled their two hour set with countless hits, material like the internet sensation Gimme Chocolate and the unique line!, the songs fit alongside surprise of the night Meta Toro. Performing in their own act (referred to as ‘Black Babymetal’), YuiMetal and MoaMetal get their turn in the spotlight singing the wonderful GJ!, as well as Su-Metal having her own moment with Amore.
Overall, the show itself was an absolute triumph. A collection of catchy, intense J-Pop laden heavy metal songs with incredible stage production and an endless supply of pure happiness, flawless instrumentals, enthusiasm and excitement. However, the venue issues presented unfortunately marred most of the show for me and others, leaving a sour taste in my mouth post-gig. Leaving Wembley with mixed feelings, I can’t help but feel a lingering sense of disappointment following my first Babymetal headline show since their emergence at Sonisphere back in 2014. Perhaps next time, we’ll be able to get this right.
Metal Resistance is out now via EarMusic Records