Esprit D’Air offers raw emotion at York show

Esprit D’Air has already written an interesting story for themselves. They’re a Japanese metal and visual kei act based in the UK with a French name that achieved decent success over a decade ago before breaking up and being reformed around singer and guitarist Kai.

Since reforming in 2016, they’ve become one of the most fiercely independent acts on the UK music scene. After speaking to Kai and seeing them live for the first time since 2016, I was impressed at how much Esprit D’Air had grown, but also how passionate they were to still be writing their story.

Esprit D’Air mixes playfulness with raw emotion

Esprit D'Air Kai singing

There was a sense of intimacy in the air when Esprit D’Air played in York on Sunday, February 19, 2023. Not just because of the size of the venue at The Fulford Arms, but because of the close connection that the band’s lead singer, guitarist, and leader Kai shares with their fans. With a line-up that is constantly shifting around him, Kai is the one constant in the band. Because he handles the bookings and social media for the group, he has gotten to know many of their fans over the years.

“A lot of fans get surprised when I recognise them, either from previous tours years ago or from social media,” he told me. “They get shocked and ask me, ‘How did you know?’ but hey, I am just a person too and I appreciate my supporters.”

The connection was on full display at The Fulford Arms. Supported by Diamond Black, who were worth the cost of admission by themselves, Esprit D’Air easily packed the venue on this second show of their UK tour to support their most recent album, Oceans. Work on this album started back in 2018 and was disrupted by a stolen laptop, a global pandemic, and Kai’s mother’s cancer diagnosis.

“I was very distraught, depressed, and almost wanted to give up,” he explained when I asked about the long gap between albums. “I decided to take a year break from music and restart again during the pandemic in 2020. Health and wellbeing always come first, so I do not regret taking a year out to recover and to re-energise for the next album.”

The new album, Oceans, has already entered the UK Official Rock and Metal Charts six times and likely will again after the boost from the current tour, a fantastic achievement for a completely independent act. Much of that comes down to Kai’s incredible stage presence. Dressed in a long, flowing robe and with make-up painted for the back row, he skipped, jumped – though not too high or he’d hit his head on the low ceiling of the venue – and danced his way across the stage.

The dramatic sound of Esprit D’Air lends itself to such theatrics, with the juxtaposition of Kai’s deep death growl as he gracefully fans himself with a hand fan he borrowed from a supporter in the front row being the perfect summary of the group’s metal and visual kei influences. It isn’t a surprise that they closed the show with covers of X Japan’s Kurenai and The Trooper by Iron Maiden, considering those groups clearly had a deep influence on the band.

Kai’s playful performance included posing for photos mid-song and dashing off the stage suddenly to allow drummer Vincent to deliver a glorious drum solo. He was in great form when he was joined by Diamond Black’s frontman Ben Christo for two songs, showing immense joy at the mere act of being on stage.

Only once did his mood dip slightly. After giving a stirring performance of the deeply emotional Guiding Light, a song first released for 2017’s Constellations but reimagined for Oceans, Kai seemed to be lost in emotion and need a moment. The song, it turns out, is dedicated to his mother, who passed away in 2020. It provided a moment of raw, unfiltered emotion that few bands can manage, and highlighted the connection that live music can build between people.

As Esprit D’Air crisscrosses the country for their current tour, I hope you will go see them. Many shows are selling out quickly, something that, again, is exceptional for a band with no label support behind them and who do all their own bookings. Not just because their music is excellent or because their presence could fill stadiums, but because they aren’t afraid to let their emotions pour out while performing. Whether you’re a new fan or have followed them for years now, Esprit D’Air is one of the most authentic faces in UK metal.

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