Here’s to you, Fuji fans, and all you did

Fuji Rock crowd
Mark Thompson photos

A full weekend of shows spread across multiple stages: Sounds fun (and it is) but it’s no walk in the park. There was the extreme weather to contend with. Blustering typhoon winds and rain, creating pools of slippery mud, one day, then blistering sun and dust clouds the next.

And because there are so many of you, invariably you had to line up for food, a beer, the toilet, the next stage. You had to jockey and jostle to get a seat or a spot in the front of your favorite band.

But you persevered and got what you came for, be it the stellar performances of guest musicians or just a chance to fly your freak flag for a weekend.

You sang, you danced, you moshed, you jumped, you cheered, and you invariably got told what a wonderful audience you were.

See you again next year?

Next best thing …

So you couldn’t make the trip to Naeba to experience Fuji Rock in person? You’re in luck. For the first time, YouTube is streaming select shows all weekend! Up today are two performances we’re gunning for: Let’s Eat Grandma at the Red Marquee and Parquet Courts at the White Stage … which is going to require a sprint to catch both. Wish us luck.

FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL YouTube OLEDICKFOGGY 全世界生配信決定! 現地苗場の模様を全世界に向けて YouTube ライブ配信が決定、配信アーティストが発表されました!! 全ての配信はフジロックのYouTube 公式チャンネルにて公開されます。 FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL'18 YouTubeライブ配信 日程  2018年7月27日(金)28日(土)29日(日) フジロック公式チャンネル www.youtube.com/fujirockfestival ライブ配信協賛 ソフトバンク株式会社 また、Google アシスタントでも、このライブ配信をお楽しみいただける機能を提供しています。スマートフォンの Googleアシスタントや Google Homeに「OK Google、フジロックと話したい」と話しかけてフジロックのActions on Googleを呼び出して下さい。配信アーティストのタイムテーブルを教えてくれたり、見たいアーティストのライブを見逃さないよう、リマインダーを設定することができます #oledickfoggy #fujirock

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You’re beautiful, Fuji

MARK THOMPSON PHOTOS

If you were at the festival, you probably heard it a dozen times from the stage. But we’ll say it again: You’re a beautiful audience and we love you. The dancers, the singers, the shouters, the moshers, the ravers, the groovers. You’re the greatest.

De De Mouse

We listened to De De Mouse’s noontime set at the Red Marquee from the newly installed boardwalk across the way leading out from the old international food court, so we could enjoy Daisuke Endo’s perky EDM just fine but weren’t able to see his typical gyrations and extreme gestures behind the console, which is just as well. They’re sort of distracting and beside the point. But here are some pix anyway.

Yogee New Waves / Group Tamashii: Dirty minds under cloudy skies

Forecasts to the contrary, the opening day of Fuji Rock 17 was hot and overcast. There was a sprinkling of rain around 11 a.m., but then the sun came out, sending everyone prematurely to the tents for beer and water and sports drinks. Some things never change.

But one subtle change that was noted several weeks ago by Patrick St. Michel in the Japan Times was notable: the preponderance of Japanese acts at this year’s festival (and, for that matter, at Fuji’s rival, Summer Sonic, as well). There are a number of good reasons why there should be a preponderance of Japanese acts at Fuji, the most prominent being that we are in Japan, goddammit, and there are a lot of great bands here. Except for the Spanish hybrid rock outfit, Doctor Prats, who wowed ‘em at the Red Marquee last night and launched the White Stage this morning, the opening acts on all the stages were locals.

Yogee New Waves

Yogee New Waves | MARK THOMPSON PHOTO

We caught some of Yogee New Waves’ disco surf pop at the Field of Heaven before bolting for the Green Stage to see Group Tamashii, a band whose presence as the main opening act sums up this presumed turn to domestic product rather starkly. Fuji Rock is a huge draw for foreigners, and not just those who live in Japan. Last night we met several groups of Asians who had flown in to spend the whole weekend, many with their families in tow. Though Group Tamashii is a rocking good show, they’re also Japanese to the extreme. Actually, they’re a comedy group, and you know what they say about how humor translates…

Group Tamashii

Group Tamashii

Dressed ostentatiously in leather, the group has pretty much one theme: Sex, and not sex as an enjoyable pastime or a seminal aspect of living, but as a joke. Moreover, a dirty joke. Lead singer Hakai, who occasionally bombarded the audience with cheap plastic slippers he flung like frisbees, kept up a steady stream of blue language — he didn’t even bother with double entendres — that left the Japanese chuckling and the rest of us scratching our heads.

Group Tamashii

Group Tamashii | MARK THOMPSON

It’s not that we don’t understand sex jokes when we hear them—at one point, the portly backup singer Baito-kun came out dressed as a school girl and Hakai said, “Your clitoris is showing”—but these gags were soaked in Japanese pop culture, referencing names and situations that only Japanese people would be familiar with. (There was a five-minute routine about Kabuki guild names that had the Japanese in stitches) Given that Fuji prides itself on being a family-friendly event, one had to wonder what some of the Japanese parents thought.

Group Tamashii

Group Tamashii | MARK THOMPSON

Prurience aside, Group Tamashii is a nifty, tight little outfit, slaloming smoothly from thrash metal to punk to a disco song about sushi and a pretty faithful Michael Jackson parody. Actually, the foreigners who don’t know any Japanese and anything about Japanese pop culture probably got the better deal: It was a nice way to rock in the weekend.

Prefest is best

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We pulled into Naeba through the tunnel expecting rain, since that’s what was forecast. Instead, we were met with overcast skies studded with patches of blue. A pleasant surprise, for sure, though, given the serendipity of nature, I wouldn’t want to venture on how long that will last.

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As usual, the prefestival party, open to all for free, was packed. The Bon Odori event in the middle of the Oasis rocked the crowd, who didn’t seem that interested in the lottery (ticket stub numbers) that was conceived to make people interested. People were already interested. Fuji Rock is interesting by definition.

It’s mostly a matter of anticipation. Three days of nonstop partying and excellent music ahead of them, the crowd that shows up for the prefestival party wants to get ahead of everybody else. They probably expect too much. They probably laugh too much. They definitely drink too much. When the fireworks marking the official start of the festival take off at 8 pm, they go batshit (which isn’t surprising–the Japanese do fireworks better than anyone), thus making the spectacle that much more spectacular.

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And, of course, they anticipate that prefest act that will transport them, which is natural to expect. Tonight there were various Japanese acts, all excellent and appreciated, but the main event was Doctor Prats, a Basque dance rock ensemble that fit the bill to a T.

Loyal Fujirock lieutenant Koichi Hanafusa came out before the band took the Red Marquee stage and gave a rather long-winded introduction, saying how the prefest party had become such a tradition that it had been memorialized in a book, no less, and then, of course, he had a photographer take a picture of the crowd, which was enormous and chomping at the bit. He introduced the band as being in the tradition of “revolutionary” Basque groups like Furgin Mugurizuka and Manu Chao, and in that regard Doctor Prats did not disappoint. For the next 30 minutes the crowd jumped and pumped to the organic breakbeats and clever stage choreography. They did exactly as they were supposed to do. They were the perfect audience, because they wanted to be. Undoubtedly, it was the best show Doctor Prats had ever done in their career so far. The prefest party guaranteed nothing less. 

(Text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

This weather

This is the 18th Fuji Rock we’ve attended, and we would have to admit the weather was never this good. Of course, there’s still one more day to go, and mountain weather is infamous for changing on a dime, but based on the quality of the clouds in the sky right now, it doesn’t seem likely. Even in the past when the weather was generally good, it usually rained at least once. So far, nothing.

The problem with that is the dust. Usually, the organizers are careful to spread water on the paths and in front of the stages to keep the dust down, but we haven’t seen anything like that yet. Then there’s also the danger of dehydration, and there are lots of announcements to drink enough liquids, which, of course, you have to pay for. We’ve already seen a few people being carried to the first aid stations.

Don’t get us wrong, we’re not complaining, but sometimes a little squall is just the thing to break the heat. Besides, we want to try out our new rain coats.

Smart Soul Connection

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Never heard of Smart Soul Connection? Think Peter Sellers meets the blues in a Showa Era lounge. Lyrics often amounted to just one word – SPYS! – shouted at the appropriate intervals.

For the finale, the singer jumped into the crowd and spread the gospel of the blues harp. We say Amen to that.

Disclosure

We were a little late to the Disclosure show at the White Stage and by the time we arrived the party was going full blast, the area one would normally call the mosh pit a churning mass of humanity. 

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It was just the Lawrence brothers on stage, sans high-profile vocalists, who were represented by recordings, so most of the action was in the audience. Disclosure’s frantic, bass-heavy, poppy dubstep almost never lets up, but the crowd didn’t seem to require a break, at least not while we were watching. When they launched into “Carnival,” you could finally understand the title. It was a song made for this kind of huge, unhinged crowd.

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In the end, vocalists would just have been an unnecessary distraction. It was certainly the biggest dance party we’d seen at the White Stage in a long time. We’re tired just thinking about it. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

Sigur Ros

Obviously, no one came to headliner Sigur Ros’s show on Friday night to dance. Still, there was quite a bit of spectacle. It took the Icelandic group’s large crew more than an hour to set up their stage set. It was as they were building a house. When the band took the stage they were only half visible, because the front of the structure had a kind of louvered surface with tons of LEDs. It was as if you were watching them play behind a sparkling venetian blind. 

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Over the course of their show this structure gradually fell away, though we couldn’t tell you how, but eventually they were exposed for all to see, sawing away at their instruments and keening in that uniquely wild fashion. The visuals didn’t stop with the set, though. 

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The giant monitors on the sides of the stage showed images of the band that had been radically processed–something they looked like skeletons, other times like ghosts, which simply added to the group’s somewhat self-conscious anonymity. Only the music had character, and whether you like that kind of ethereal psychedelia, it was a real show. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

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James Blake

Sometimes circumstances conspire to create the perfect show. Though we’ve always been less than enthusiastic about the art of James Blake, the British singer who configures conventional R&B tropes into electronica expressions, we admire him for his earnestness and his ability to convey that earnestness into heartfelt emotion.

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Circumstances did conspire on Friday night. The weather was partly overcast, but the setting sun made itself known. Moreover, Blake made it clear that regardless of the specific situations of which he sang, he was talking about things everyone could relate to. He thanked the audience in Japanese for showing up and said what an honor it was to play in Japan, as if he’s been asked to perform by the Emperor. But he was sincere, and that sincerity came through in interesting ways. On record you tend to notice the electronic processing, but live everything felt immediate and unfiltered. The lighting was clear and unfussy, and the sentiments were just as comprehensible. We stood on the top of the hill to the left of the stage, listening to those pure feelings for more than an hour and didn’t really want to leave. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

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Courtney Barnett/The Internet

One thing we noticed about this year’s schedule is that more time seems to have been set aside between acts. We’re not sure as to the reason, since there’s very rarely a problem with someone going on late due to lengthy equipment changes. But one issue that has arisen is that instead of staggering acts on competing stages, often the acts will overlap. That’s only a problem when there are two acts you really want to see playing at the same time. Theoretically, the fans of Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett are probably not the exact same ones for the L.A. neo-soul Odd Future outfit The Internet, but we happen to love both, so there was a quandary.

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Courtney played first at the Red Marquee at 3:50. Dressed all in black, with a T-shirt inscribed with the words “BAD SEED” on it, she was even looser and more confident than when we saw her last October at a club in Tokyo. The shed was totally packed, despite the fine weather outside, and the response was warm and enthusiastic. Unfortunately, Courtney’s presentation, which is sort of sloppy and earnest, sounded like crap in the Red Marquee, which is not kind to loud, sloppy rock due to the acoustics. Since we know most of the songs, we could enjoy it, but you could tell some in the audience who weren’t familiar with her music couldn’t quite get a purchase on the melodies and the guitar work. We left during “Depreston,” one of her mellower tracks, and it actually sounded perfect for that reason.

We booked over to the White Stage to catch the Internet, which took a little longer owing to the crowd that was leaving the Field of Heaven, so we missed the first song. Syd the Kid, resplendent in a dark grey hoodie, was relaxed and affable, joking with the audience and marvelling at how many people had actually shown up to see them. “This is a big-assed crowd,” keyboardist Matt Martians said, and got everybody to scream at the top of their lungs just because he wanted to see what a big-assed audience sounded like. We suppose that means The Internet doesn’t normally play to big-assed audiences.

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Syd, for her part, got the crowd to deliver the chorus — “you fucked up” — to the song “Just Say,” and we acquitted ourselves admirably, but the whole set was even looser than Courtney’s and sounded ten times better. Despite the big-assed audience, the group played as if they were in someone’s living room, and Syd’s cool, sexy voice delivered her stories of heartbreak and jealousy with all the anger and passion of Nina Simone. It was a great show by a singer and a band who know how to please because they are obviously difficult to please themselves. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

Suchmos

Continuing with the “urban” theme that would prevail at the White Stage during the afternoon, Kanagawa Prefecture’s Suchmos played a well-received set of quiet storm, funky pop, and jazzy R&B. Lead singer Yonce strutted like Teddy, and though his relatively thin voice didn’t convey the kind of sex-you-up vibe his body was trying to sell, the band was up to the challenge and a fairly good crowd accumulated as the set progressed. (text: Philip Brasor; photo: Mark Thompson)

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Little Creatures

Takuji Aoyagi is a misleadingly simple guitarist. He purposely writes melodies with lots of repetitive noes and phrases, and while he sings in a pleasant tenor and knows how to rock out and even get funky, his trio, Little Creatures, do very little of what you would call sololing, though, in principle, they’re an instrumental band. Deceptively skilled musicians, they build on these repetitive patterns to create moods that they then manipulate at will.

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Under an occasionally blazing sun, they cut a striking figure on the Field of Heaven stage, and while no one really danced, the solid rhythms of bassist Masato Suzuki and drummer Tsutomu Kurihara worked their magic on Aoyagi’s patterns. Sometimes, when they hit a climax the crowd would gasp. Not exactly jamming, Little Creatures nevertheless kept us guessing, and always seemed to have the right answer in the end. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

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Kohh

Japanese rap can be political, it can be personal and honest, and it can even be funny. What it often isn’t is caustic. The young rapper named Kohh, who seems to pattern his stylings after dark American acts like the Onyx, pretty much shot his wad as soon as he took the White Stage shortly after lunch. 

Sporting a ragged shriek-sing that would not have been out of place in a Norwegian death metal band, he writhed, skipped, and threw himself around the stage while his DJ cranked out industrial strength noise. The audience, much of which seemed to know his material, found the rhythm way before we did and dipped and waved accordingly.

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Though the air of menace was mostly an act, it was an act that couldn’t quite survive Kohh’s between song patter, during which he chatted amiably with the audience and commented about the weather, which was cool, breezy, cloudy, and very dry. 

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Proving that he understands what constitutes hip-hop in the post-millennium, he used some Auto-Tune, brought out a two-man crew to chant the phrase, “dirt boys,” and spell him for a bit with different types of flow, and did a song about drugs, which, in Japan, is bolder than doing a song that includes copious references to “bitches.” The guy has a future, even if he doesn’t have any more real estate available for tattoos. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

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Boredoms

The 20th Fuji Rock Festival started the same way the last 19 did, with announcements from NGOs about recycling and donating to disaster relief funds. etc. The two grizzled emcees joked a little less this year, but managed to mention the fact that Pokemon Go finally launched in Japan this morning.

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Given Boredoms’ sense of mischief you might have expected them to somehow incorporate Pikachu into their act. For sure, they seemed an odd choice to kick off the festival on the Green Stage. Boredoms’ monumental drum circle thing seems better suited for the night, and while the air was cool, the sun was intense. In such a bucolic setting chanting and howling had an even more shamanistic cast to it, and what was so interesting about the visual aspect was the mundane nature of the instruments, many of which were just metal hardware. You could do this at home, but don’t. The neighbors will be pissed.

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Maybe Eye Yamataka is making his bid to be the successor to the late Kiyoshiro Imawano, the mayor of Fuji Rock. Of course, Boredoms’ style has nothing to do with Kiyoshiro’s rock’n soul hybrid, but if you wanted a clean break to welcome in the next 20 years, you couldn’t ask for anything starker. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

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How it all starts

How it all starts #fujirock #fujirockfestival #fuji2016 #music

Prefest is best

For once, the rain in Tokyo didn’t intrude on Naeba. When we left the capital in the early afternoon it was pouring and rained most of the way up to Niigata Prefecture. As we climbed the winding roads up to the festival grounds, the rain became more intense, but as soon as we surmounted the hump it was dry–overcast, but dry.

The pre-festival party is free to everyone. It’s sort of a thank you gift to the locals, but a long time ago it just became an integral part of the festival. For some reason they cut the bon odori dance this year, opting instead for a raffle (tickets were given out at the entrance to anyone who passed through). It was sort of cheesy. It was also packed, as if the party had already started and everyone who was going to be here was already here.

MARK THOMPSON PHOTO

The fireworks didn’t have to compete with the rain or mist this year. Though it was overcast, the hanabi came through clear, even if the emcees on the stage at the center of the Oasis seemed hard put to get the crowd excited. After all this time you could call them jaded. They were already settled into their festival faces, happy, slightly drunk, itching to be impressed.

MARK THOMPSON PHOTO

Con Brio, the San Francisco soul-funk outfit was maybe the best Prefest opener I’ve seen here since Danko Jones more than 10 years ago, and for the same reason. The audience didn’t know them and that itch to be impressed was thoroughly scratched. Lead singer Ziek McCarter shimmied and slid across the stage as the six-piece backup churned a greasy soul stew that ust became more intense during the half hour they commanded the stage. Festival regular Koichi Hanafusa introduced them by trying to find out how many in the packed Red Marquee had been there for the first Fuji Rock 20 years ago. Not many, you can imagine, and hardly anyone cared. The great thing about Con Brio was that they made you appreciate the moment all the more. Screw those memories. Live for today and raise your hand.

FKA Twigs: Performance art

Given how short a time she’s been in the public consciousness, FKA Twigs headlining appearance at the White Stage Sunday night was quite a phenomenon. And judging from the thin turnout, obviously the decision to headline her was premature.

It’s understandable. Despite her cutting-edge reputation among critics, Twigs has yet to appeal to a wider fan base.

FKA Twigs

FKA Twigs | Mark Thompson photo

Even in concert, it’s difficult to gauge the sort of emotional impact she’s supposed to make. Much of her act is dancing, in a fluid, abstract sort of way. Her singing is uniformly falsetto, copying an R&B model that’s mainly male. Still, the vibe is overtly sexual, but the live act was predicated on art performance.

FKA Twigs

FKA Twigs | Mark Thompson photo

There was almost no interaction with the band. It was just Twigs and the audience, who were polite but reserved. At the end of the set, she made a point of thanking the crowd for “supporting” her, though we’re not sure what that means. Is she actually making money in Japan? That would be quite surprising.

Shoka Okuba Blues Project: Tough stuff

We were sitting near the Gypsy Avalon stage early in the evening when we heard a curious sound coming from the stage itself. It was the sound check for the next band, which we weren’t familiar with. But the sound was so intriguing we felt obligated to check it out.

It was a band called the Shoka Okuba Blues Project, a Japanese power trio headed by the titular guitar player, a woman who dressed like a typical Japanese ojosan (proper young lady) in high heels and short skirts, However, she plays a mean blues guitar and can sing with equal proficiency.

Intrigued, we returned to the stage at the time the band were scheduled to appear and were subsequently blown away. It’s not just that Okubo smashes the stereotype of the wilting Japanese woman. In a sense she upholds it; it’s just that she also subverts it with her version of the polite young woman with a real life. It wan’t just blues. It was classic rock and a little reggae and some metal. Okubo slashed and strummed to beat the band, and the audience, perhaps perplexes by this cognitive dissonance, didn’t know what to make of it. We did, however, and grooved accordingly.

This next song is called Girl On Girl. Don’t try to Google it.

Jenny Lewis

Ryan Adams: Redemption

We didn’t see the last time Ryan Adams played Fuji, but we heard he was slightly pissed. Not sure why, but in any case his situation wasn’t helped by the fact that press photographers were limited in what they could shoot and there was an announcement before the set at the Red Marquee saying that flash photos from the audience would be a serious problem.

None of these rock star prerogatives made much of an impact on the show. Adams, who is prolific and somewhat contrarian, delivered a classic rock concert, one where guitar histrionics and heartfelt conviction went hand in hand. At first he seems strangely oblivious to the circumstances, wearing a leather jacket in a tent that was smoldering due to the sun. No one held it against him, and his blend of alt-country and classic rock eventually sucked in people who might not have know who he was in the first place but nevertheless knew what they liked.

So even the slower, more sentimental songs made an impact, thanks to Adams’ realization that he was making a difference, at least for the moment. Every subsequent song drew a more emotional response, and by the time he ended on a purely rock number, the audience was in his hands. He didn’t even seem to fathom it. He stood on a monitor and did the rock star thing in a darkened shed. What could be more cliche? But the audience wouldn’t leave. They wanted more as the crew came out to remove the equipment. They were still clapping when I walked away. 

Jenny Lewis: You can call me Lewis



During her late afternoon show at the Red Marquee, Jenny Lewis, late of power pop behemoth Rilo Kiley, related about her first trip to Fuji some years ago, a show we saw and loved, though it was a strange one. Lewis, a solid rock act, played as the first act of one of the late night shows, which is usually reserved for techno/dance artists or out-of-there indie acts. What happened is that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was supposed to play but cancelled and Lewis was hire to fill in. As we remember only a handful of people showed up, but she delivered fully. 

There was a much larger crowd for this, her first legitimate Fuji show, thought it wasn’t what you would call a sellout. She related the earlier story, misremembering the band’s name as Clap Your Hands Say Hi, but the crowd hardly cared. 

Jenny Lewis
Jenny Lewis | Mark Thompson photo

Jenny (“you can call me Lewis”) plays an earthy form of Americana that connects directly on an emotional level, and the audience succumbed to her obvious charms. Whether she was playing country or soul or pure power pop–she did a killer version of Rilo KIley’s “Bad News” — she made good on her reputation as a soulful singer and a forceful personality.
Her band was aces, especially in the vocal department. 

She finished the show not with a bang but with a whimper and received the kind of ovation usually reserved for guitar freakouts. Playing “Acid Tongue” on acoustic guitar with all her bandmates only adding choir like choral backup, she floored the audience. It take a big person to pull off a ballad as a finale.