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Babymetal live at the Danforth
Music Hall in Toronto, 5/12/15

Babymetal, the bizarre viral phenomenon from Japan featuring a trio of costumed teenage females singing cutesy pop over raging guitars and blast beats, is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition.

There’s much to question about the popularity of a blatantly-manufactured act squeaking childish lyrics in helium voices over glossy riffs, especially for those who’ve taken on defending the sanctity of the metal genre against ironic hipster interlopers as their sacred mission in life. Still, it’s tough to completely disdain the exuberant energy of the Babymetal girls, the catchy hooks at the forefront of each song, or the kitchen-sink attitude to experimentation found throughout the Babymetal album—an immaculately-produced disc which mixes in spates of hip-hop, reggae, jungle, and traditional Japanese melodies alongside all the chugging. More confusing has been the marketing of the band as a live attraction outside of Japan (where Babymetal boasts a slavish fanbase and regularly sell out the nation’s biggest stadia), with gigs booked at both massive metal festivals and also as openers for a Lady Gaga tour. Tuesday the twelfth saw a rare standalone date in Toronto, the perfect chance to judge Babymetal as a viable live outfit.

The Danforth Music Hall, a renovated movie theatre, is very close to sold out, but the audience is in for a wait—there is no support act tonight, and the stage sits hidden behind a white screen. The crowd enthusiasm remains admirably undampened, as folks enjoying their beverages yowl along loudly to a vamp of Metallica and Pantera tunes. Worries of a more pop-oriented turnout are unfounded: The crowd is very much the same sweaty longhairs that populate any typical metal show. After an interminable wait, the lights drop and an intro video cues up on the screen. The clip is done along the lines of the STAR WARS title crawl, with some laughable nonsense about how the “metal masters” handed down metal power (while sketches of Ozzy, James Hetfield, Kerry King, and others scroll past) to the Babymetal girls, so that they could cross political and language barriers with their message of rock. Thankfully, the clip is brief; the screen drops, and the band emerges.

Live, Babymetal’s vocals are mainly handled by Su-metal, the eldest of the trio and the one who sings in a normal voice. Her two sidekicks, Yui-metal and Moa-metal, deliver backing vocals in a high-pitch chipmunk chirp. It becomes quickly apparent that Yui and Moa are lip-syncing their vocals and are more concerned with executing their non-stop dance routines around Su. Su does less dancing but does actually sing live, to her credit. The lip-syncing will no doubt offend musical purists, but some redemption can be had in enjoying the tight backing band that Babymetal have assembled for the tour. The band features a dual guitar attack led by Takayoshi Omura, who formerly played with Megadeth’s Marty Friedman on his solo project. Dressed in gowns and white face paint (and lanky black hair dangling in their faces making them look disquietingly similar to demon-child Samara of the RING movies), the backing band gets two instrumental spots while the girls disappear off-stage in between songs for a spell to presumably hydrate and carb up for more dancing, thus allowing time for Omura and company to come forward and rip through some deft soloing. The band smile and encourage the raucous audience throughout the show; some welcome spontaneity in what is otherwise a tightly choreographed performance.

"There’s much to question about the popularity of a blatantly-manufactured act squeaking childish lyrics in helium voices over glossy riffs."

As one might expect from an act with one lone album and a stand-alone single (written by the noodlers nonpareil in Dragonforce) to their name, the setlist bore no surprises. The crowd kept up, but only really let lose towards the end of the set, when ‘Megitsune’ and silly anthem ‘Gimme chocolate’ set a pit spinning in front of the stage. For their many detractors, Babymetal in a live setting won’t win them over, other than maybe generating an appreciation for their talented backing band. For those metalheads with a secret affection for pop music, or are open-minded and simply hoping for something fresh and unusual in the world of heavy music, Babymetal live will certainly scratch an itch.

Trevor Parker, HMS

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