Frankly, the SOPHIA concert might have been the best thing at AX. I know Yoko Kanno showed up, I know the venue worked much better this year, but the SOPHIA concert was one of the best I've ever seen, and probably the best, outright, that I've seen at an anime convention.
I recognize the bar is not high there, but it's still something to be proud of. Their live act is really pitch-perfect. Some bands can't pull off their sound live. This is not a problem for SOPHIA. Their performance is. . . slick. It sounds like faint praise, and maybe it is, but it's also a sign of professionalism.
SOPHIA isn't really an anime-oriented act. They've been filling Japanese arenas for years, but they never really got much traction in the Anglosphere. They sound a lot like BUMP OF CHICKEN, if that helps. (If it doesn't, I advise you to go and check out their latest album, "Cosmonaut." Or any of the others.)
Musically, they're pure rock, in the Japanese tradition. Not visual kei, not eurobeat-inspired -- plain, straightforward rock that traces its lineage back to groups like The Blue Hearts. It was refreshing, the sort of concert where you stand up and jump around because you're carried away by the sheer exuberance of the music.
They talked a lot -- they're actually kind of legendary for it -- and we hung on their every word. We clapped when they asked us to, cheered for their missing sick member, fell silent on command. It was a good show, an immersive, well-paced, well-constructed show. And, by the standards of real musical acts at anime conventions, it was pretty well-attended. (Not that that's saying much. Damned kids.)
The only issue, as I heard it, was that they were promised a full house, and AX didn't deliver. I don't know if that's true or not -- but if it's true, it's totally inexcusable. Congoers just don't go to musical acts in sufficient numbers. They never have -- I don't think I've seen a single concert, X Japan included, where the venue was more than half-full. Last year's debacles with Morning Musume and Mana should have settled the issue decisively. AX's guest relations need to avoid promising the impossible and focus on the advantages of an AX performance -- a new, receptive audience, in a top-class venue. Anything else just angers the guests and makes AX look bad.