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Six-String Samurai

It’s been a couple of years since American audiences have had the chance to see Miyavi live. The Tokyo-based rocker started out as a gender-ambiguous goth teenager in Visual Kei band Dué le quartz, and evolved into a solo artist who touched on a variety of musical genres including pop, rock, hip hop and blues under the umbrella of the PSC label.

Having left PCS after 10 years because “sooner or later you have to stand on your own two feet, and since we had just celebrated our 10th anniversary that was the best time for both of us”, Miyavi is now signed to EMI and all set to return to the United States. He returns to San Francisco on his Miyavi: Neo Tokyo Samurai Black World Tour for a show at the Fillmore on June 15th with a new look and a musical style that seems like a return to his roots.

Only a couple of tracks from the upcoming album have been released, so far. With the funky, loud, rock-influenced “Survive” as the first video, and “Where Are You” showing off Miyavi’s more troubadour-ish side, both songs are heavy on the guitar and more raw-sounding than anything on 2008’s This Iz The Japanese Kabuki Rock.

Fans will have to wait until the fall to hear the rest of the album, but the tracks that have been released so far are promising, with the emphasis squarely back on Miyavi’s guitar playing and his ability to write lyrics that make a personal connection with his audience.

It’s a stripped-down sound with a lot less layering in the production and a fewer distractions So far the look that goes along with it seems to be the same — the riot of wild colors has been replaced with a more rock and roll, less androgynous look.

It’s the same Miyavi that fans have always loved, but streamlined. “I just simplified myself to focus on my core,” he says.

It’s not surprising that the Miyavi we’re seeing now is a little different from the one fans got to see last time he was in America. In the last couple of years he’s gotten married and become a father, a situation that initially caused some consternation on the part of his fans.

“It's inevitable when you try to be honest and open with people,” Miyavi says about the initial responses from some fans. “In terms of my relationship with the fans, I just want to have a straight one. They’re really supportive and loving toward my music, so I wasn't so worried.”

Although he describes having a daughter as “an addiction”, he says it hasn’t slowed him down. “It turns out to be an advantage as it’s a good source of motivation for everything in life,” he says.

The tour that’s about to begin will be an important one for Miyavi; with performances at much bigger venues. He’ll also be hitting countries that he missed last time, such as Canada.

He says that he still doesn’t know where he’s going to be five or ten years from now, but the optimism that’s always been one of his distinguishing traits as an artist remains.

“I know what direction I'm heading in, but I can’t see beyond that because it’s too far and too bright,” he says. “I’m just struggling to be something special, and want to keep on smiling even after 20 or 30 years.”

Miyavi performs at the Fillmore on June 15th. Tickets are $35 and the show starts at 9pm.