Con Brio / The Heavy

Continuing with the funk/R&B theme over at the east end of the festival, Con Brio tried to top their extraordinary performance at the prefest party on Thursday night, and came pretty damn close. The crowd at the Field of Heaven wasn’t quite as stoked as the crowd at the Red Marquee, but it’s difficult to compare. The prefest party is all about anticipation. During the festival itself you have to prove yourself, and they did.

Lead singer Ziek McCarter was in his best Michael Jackson mood, spinning and sashaying and bumping and grinding and whooping to beat the band, which is difficult to do in this case since the band is so intensely funky. Thanks to a particularly loud and energetic sound check, a lot of people sauntering by from the Orange Cafe and Cafe de Paris decided to stick around, and they were quite satisfied. From the very first notes, the crowd was pumping and dancing.

Con Brio

Con Brio | Mark Thompson photo

There was also a lot more jamming than there was at the Red Marquee, which is appropriate for the Field of Heaven, which was baptized by Phish in 1999. During “When the Sun Goes Down,” not only did McCarter get the crowd clapping louder than anytime I’ve heard in recent years, but every member took an extended solo. (Personally, we could have done with the synth solo) The atmosphere became so intense, security started asking people sitting down to get up and remove their chairs. There were thinking about the people who wanted to squeeze in and boogie, but, by rights, those people should not have been sitting down during such a show in the first place.

“This is the most beautiful place we’ve ever played,” McCarter said at one point, echoing more than one act we’ve seen during this festival alone. Their enthusiasm matched the hyperbole.

Since they’re from San Francisco, Con Brio’s version of JB’s “It’s a Man’s World” was reconfigured as “It’s a Woman’s World,” a slight blasphemy that we let slide. No such transgression was evident from The Heavy, the estimable hard R&B band from England, who was making their second appearance at Fuji Rock, and leader Kelvin Swaby made it a point to say that every chance he got.

The Heavy

The Heavy | Mark Thompson photo

After the requisite, “this is the greatest fucking festival in the world,” Swaby repeatedly propped for the band’s new album, asking the crowd, somewhat ingenuously if they wanted to hear songs from it, as if they had a choice. In any case, they complied, even when Swaby kept instructing them how to singalong or react to certain lyrics in songs.

“When I say ‘cut it,’ go crazy,” he commanded, and people went crazy in their own fashion during the funk workout. During a Springsteeny R&B number, the crowd was asked to repeat certain lines, which they did. Gotta love the Japanese fan.

The Heavy

The Heavy | Mark Thompson photo

For what it’s worth, the show picked up a sizable crowd as the set progressed and the sun started setting in the west. It was a beautiful scene and the music eventually justified all the fussiness. Funk is like that.

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.


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.


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.