“What’s my name?” was the cheeky, playful, and perfect question to welcome Miyavi to New York City on August 19th, 2019.
As he stepped onto the stage in a crisp white suit and guitar in hand, we readied ourselves for the wild ride about to unfold. The show, we learned, actually wasn’t supposed to stop in New York, as Miyavi and his team wanted to dedicate No Sleep Till Tokyo to tackling new areas and audiences and he’s visited NYC on his last two tours. But if our enthusiasm was any indication, we were all glad he graced us that Monday night.
Despite sharing the same name as his latest album, the No Sleep Till Tokyo tour’s setlist was a mashup of old and new Miyavi that kept the Sony Hall audience on our toes. New tracks like “Samurai 45,” “Tears on Fire,” “No Sleep Till Tokyo,” and “Other Side” spiked the venue’s energy, sustained with older, guitar-centric performances of “Flash Back,” “In Crowd,” “Strong,” and “Rain Dance” from his Samurai Sessions series. Crowd favorites from past vocal albums like “Day 1” and “Guard You” (Miyavi, 2013); “The Others” (The Others, 2015); and ”Raise Me Up” and “Long Nights” (Fire Bird, 2016) also blessed our ears.
“It’s hard to describe Miyavi’s music,” the man himself stated to a very captivated crowd. But describing his personal mission? That was no problem. Miyavi shared between songs and talk segments that “hope,” “future,” and “change” were three of the most prominent themes of the night’s event. These themes are the same words we can apply to Miyavi’s diverse discography.
Throughout his long career we have seen Miyavi’s music, performance, and personal style go through a variety of changes. He’s never wanted to be stuck in a box as a musician, and especially as a Japanese artist, he wanted to find a distinct style and personal meaning for himself as a performer and as a guitar player. This left us, his fans, soaking up his releases with extra curiosity, wondering, “what will come next?” Many of us find our roots with him as a Japanese rock–and specifically visual kei–artist, which is why when he mentioned this part of his past halfway through the show the response was as excited as it was expected. The moment was only enhanced further by the shared cry of joy when “What a Wonderful World,” Miyavi’s tenth single released in his peak visual kei year of 2007, followed right after.
To me, this is what makes No Sleep Till Tokyo a highly anticipated release and an amazing piece to view live. I know that I have been missing Miyavi’s vocals. I feel confident that sentiment was shared throughout the crowd, despite the possibility of a language barrier between his us and the album’s Japanese lyrics. Plus, while it has only been three years since his last vocal album, No Sleep Till Tokyo feels like a career’s worth of development from when I first became his fan during the release of his 2006 album MYV Pops. The themes and lyrics of these songs resonate with the ones I remember from over a decade ago- “Dear My Friend,” released in 2006, and “Under The Same Sky,” off his latest album, come to mind as specific examples here–but the execution was on a whole new level of “wow!” that only Miyavi can deliver. I have missed opportunities to see his previous vocal albums performed live back in my high school days, so it was truly incredible to see this side of him now.
There were points through the show where I felt some apprehension between performer and audience over how a predominantly Japanese language album would be received. “Would it be okay?” and “Did we enjoy it?” were a few of the questions I felt I was asked during the night. My response was “Of course!” This is the Miyavi I had first fallen in love with and was happy to see come around again. And between the response to “What a Wonderful World” and the history I believe many of us share with Miyavi, I think there is no need to worry. Despite the differences in where and how many of us have engaged with him over the years, Miyavi’s music and actions have always carried a very specific message that helps lessen this potential fear: “We are all different, but we can be one.”
This sentiment, shared through his anthem-esque track “The Others” and the dream-like, unifying “Under the Same Sky,” is how I feel we should all walk away from Miyavi’s show. We can learn about, learn from, support, and empathize regardless of background or language. That night, this played out not only through his music, but also through a particularly delicious analogy Miyavi shared about California rolls not being Japanese but teaching the United States about Japanese culture. That was a start to something that brought the U.S. and Japan together, and in some ways could be attributed to all of us filing into Sony Hall to see Miyavi, wouldn’t you think?
In the final minutes of the night, as Miyavi stepped out onto the barricade and welcomed the rush of fans towards him, my ears flooded with the strong beats of “No Sleep Till Tokyo” pounding from the speakers. With all of us hopping on the balls of our feet, and the man of the night grooving above us as he reached out for high fives, I couldn’t help but think: “This is it.” Regardless of origin or ethnicity or language barriers, whether you’re like me who has been chasing happiness through impromptu trips to Japan, someone saving up to go, a fan who is just happy to experience their favorite Japanese artists come stateside, or Miyavi who has been redefining his perspective and rediscovering Tokyo, all of us there at Sony Hall that night won’t rest until we reach our own vision and version of Tokyo.