The Fukuoka-based indie guitar band Mo’some Tonebender closed the prefest concert at the Red Marquee in squalling style. As the name implies, they’re into every possible thing a guitar can do but aren’t particularly obsessed with chops, and the crowd was totally cool with that, or, at least, with the punishingly loud riff riot they produced on stage.
Visually, the band was pretty interesting. Bassist Yasunori Takei wore a huge pair of angel’s wings and a neon signboard on his head, never missing a beat despite the added baggage. Drummer Isamu Fujita displayed the kind of open-mouthed freneticism one usually associates with guitarists (for the record, he plays guitar, too) but managed to channel it into pounding rhythms that never quit, even between songs.
It was an efficient, satisfying half hour of noise and mayhem and left the assembled partiers stoked for the weekend.
It’s been perfect weather so far. Cool and clear, with a full moon marking Fuji Rock’s 20th year at Naeba. We walked the half mile to the entrance and the place was already hopping for the prefest party, which is open to everyone for free. We must have missed the bon odori dance, but the raffle was happening (some kid from Canada won a towel and some cash and the MCs were making fun of his lack of Japanese, but in a good natured way). The fireworks went off as scheduled at 8 p.m., and for once you could chart their definitions in the sky; no obscuring mist or clouds.
Koichi Hanafusa, one of the major domos of the festival, made his usual opening remarks at the Red Marquee, noting the 20th anniversary and making a special note of the international flavor of the festival, greeting the assembled crowd in about ten different languages. Of course, that’s part of Fuji’s appeal, which may be increasingly rara, even in Japan, where diversity isn’t quite as celebrated as it might be, though, compared to the U.S. at the moment, it’s doing better than could be expected. In any case, Fuji’s ecumenical spirit is celebrated most fervently at the prefest blowout, where groups who deign to play for free get to strut their stuff in front of the most receptive crowd of the weekend–the prefest punters, who get in for free, but are already itching for great music. The adrenalin is already present.
Interactivo, the band that opened the festival, is from Cuba, which is as ecumenical as they come. They started with a funky fusion instrumental and quickly devolved into salsa sensationalism. The crowd loved every minute and danced their best latin moves. It was over in a quick 25 minutes, and we drifted out into the food court, enchanted by the moon and the easy, friendly vibe. It should be a great weekend, rain or not.
Not sure how mountains effect the movement of typhoons, so the storm that was threatening Honshu on Thursday didn’t concern me as far as how it would affect Fuji Rock 15. Driving up to Naeba, the clouds were dramatic but withholding. It wasn’t until we emerged from that last tunnel and entered Yuzawa town, where the festival is held, that we encountered rain. It was a very familiar feeling.
The pre-fest party was in full swing when we arrived, and packed with celebrants. The light drizzle didn’t dampen the spirits of the bon odori revelers, and the fireworks exhibition that officially opens the proceedings could be seen clearly by all, though the humidity seemed to thicken the consistency of the accompanying smoke. On occasion the rain would intensify to a shower, and since the Red Marquee was the only shelter available within the limited space open for the party it was more crowded than it would have been normally–but “normal” is a pretty relative term for Fuji and weather. In any case, in dealing with food issues and meeting up with friends we hadn’t seen for a while, we missed the Districts, one of the groups who deigned to play the pre-fest party (for free, rumor has it), but we did catch the tail end of the second act, a lively blend of female idol-inspired kayokyoku and Moulin Rouge called Charanporantan, whose etymology I will have to study. The lead singer wielded a wine bottle throughout the set in solidarity with the party hearty crowd. The all-girl group’s theatrical flair extended beyond their sartorial extravagance. They were cute by design, as if to point up through contrast how musically fluid they could be. The lead singer, dressed like some Lewis Carroll character, had her stage patter down, saucy and yielding in turn.
The Circus of Horrors was mainly a taste of the vaudeville act that would be playing continually at the Palace of Wonder throughout the weekend, a sideshow presentation set to heavy metal. The whitefaced ringmaster in top hat did karaoke to headbanging back tracks while various unusual persons demonstrated their imperviousness to pain or some peculiar athletic skill, which wasn’t really so peculiar–juggling, moving multiple hula hoops, that sort of thing. The main theme seemed to be an old-fashioned disregard for political correctness: the barely clothed women strutted their stuff, there was a “simpleton” and a dwarf. Anything goes, I suppose.
The closer was the Chilean duo Perrosky, yet another, blues-based drums and guitar outfit and just what the doctor ordered for this party: loud, tough, a little sloppy, and totally heartfelt, delivering on the promise that the festival so desperately makes: you will be rocked, typhoons and drizzle be damned. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)