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.
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…
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.
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.
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.