MONGOL800: 20 going on 800

Mongol 800|mark thompson photo

For some odd reason there were no introductory remarks made by the usual pair of comedians to kick of the festivities at the Green Stage. After the obligatory recording of Kiyoshiro’s “Inaka e Iko,” the opening band, Mongol800 came out on stage and just started playing.

Just as the punk band Hawaiian6 is not from Hawaii, there are no Mongolians in Mongol800 (at least, as far as we know). The power trio is from Okinawa and may be the biggest selling act from the archipelago since Namie Amuro or Exile, despite the fact that they didn’t receive major label help until after they sold almost 3 million copies of their 2001 indie album, Message. Nominally a punk band, Monpachi, as fans like to call them, play pretty much every style of pop and rock but it’s all purposed as arena anthems built for sturdy singalongs, so they were the perfect band to open the festival, even if, as bassist Kiyosaku Unzu noted, it was hotter at Naeba than it is in Okinawa right now.

Mongol 800 |mark thompson photo

Another reason the band was fit opener material is that, like Fuji Rock at Naeba, Mongol800 is celebrating its 20th anniversary as a band this year, so there was plenty to fete. The good thing about having such a popular act open is that everyone seems to know the words, and as the mosh pit swelled, even when they played a waltz-time ballad, the spirits rose above the heat. Those who had instinctively sought shade before the set gradually stepped out into the sun. And while Mongol800’s particular brand of rock can get kind of melodically repetitious, they play each song as if it’s their last, so when they finished up with a peppy bit of champloose reggae, you sort of wished they would stick around a little longer.