Old and new mingle sweetly at Summer Sonic

by Patrick ST. Michel

Special To The Japan Times

After Queen finished “Another One Bites The Dust” — 10 minutes before 8 p.m. on the Sunday of this year’s Summer Sonic in Chiba — hundreds of fans darted for the exits of QVC Marine Field Stadium. Security guards and staff with megaphones tried to direct them as some dashed to the left for Kraftwerk, and others hustled right for the Pixies.

It felt like the kind of stealth concert planning that might have happened in 1987 instead of 2014, as the biggest crowds at the 15th edition of the music festival flocked to the older acts. The two-day event, held simultaneously in Chiba (Tokyo) and Osaka, placed an emphasis on long-running and reunited groups this year.

No act better summed up what Summer Sonic 2014 aimed for than Queen + Adam Lambert — a veteran act with a new twist. Forty-four years since forming, only two original members (Brian May and Roger Taylor) chug along under the Queen name. Nobody in the stadium seemed concerned about that, though, they danced and sang along to classics like “Under Pressure” and “Radio Gaga.” Lambert, best known as runner-up from the 2009 edition of “American Idol,” was no Freddie Mercury, but impressed nonetheless. “What do you think of the new man?” guitarist May asked, to loud cheers.

The bulk of throwback acts happened at the Marine Stage. Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters took to the stage Saturday, and Bon Jovi lead guitarist Richie Sambora came out Sunday. More laid-back was long-running J-pop outfit Dreams Come True, who delivered an easy-breezy set Sunday afternoon, backed by dancers and horns.

The stadium acts weren’t the only ones to serve up nostalgia and familiar iconography, many others inside the hangar-like Makuhari Messe did as well. German electronic-music pioneers Kraftwerk played twice to excited crowds — once at Friday night’s SonicMania and again Sunday at Makuhari Messe’s large Mountain Stage. It was a 3-D experience, so punters were given special glasses to watch with (though actually finding a pair was difficult).

No indoors act drew as much attention as the group Tokio, the two-decades-and-counting rock act managed by Johnny’s & Associates. The quintet’s noon show at the Rainbow Stage on Saturday gave Summer Sonic its only Twitter-trending moment of the weekend — the crowd sprawled well out of the building, with many fans Tweeting about having to wait in line just to catch a glimpse of the members.

Save for an early Sunday set from New York’s Azealia Banks (a pounding, albeit sparsely attended, affair), hip-hop at this year’s festival was pushed almost exclusively to the Beach Stage. Los Angeles outfit The Pharcyde faced a tough challenge when the clouds opened up during its set, but the muddied beach didn’t stop the crowd from hopping along to tracks such as “Drop,” or De La Soul’s set later on.

On Sunday, the Beach Stage shifted toward heavier rock sounds, highlighted by Japanese units The Bonez and Fact.

The most enthusiastically embraced artist at Summer Sonic, though, was one who is just beginning to evoke pangs of nostalgia for today’s young adults. Canadian pop singer Avril Lavigne drew huge crowds for her Sunday set at the Marine Stage — way larger than were at Saturday’s headlining gig from Arctic Monkeys — and the masses loved her. She opened with the track “Hello Kitty,” which stirred controversy in the West earlier this year due to accusations of appropriating Japanese culture. Adding taiko drums, Lavigne’s argument that the song was aimed at Japanese audiences made more sense given how many of the fans embraced it. She sometimes came off as overcompensating — after saying “I love Japan” multiple times, she probably didn’t need to show off a jacket boasting the same sentence — but the camera’s ability to find at least one sobbing fan per song seemed to validate the show of sentiment.

Some younger acts did well, primarily the Japanese ones. Sekai no Owari and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu shined on Sunday, the latter’s peppy set drawing so many fans that access to the Sonic Stage was limited. Despite coming off a bit aloof at first, American singer Sky Ferreira ended up delivering one of the weekend’s best-sounding sets.

The biggest spectacle of the weekend, though, belonged to the trio who earned that crown at Summer Sonic 2013. Babymetal, the idol act with a metal edge, kicked off a hard-rock run at the Mountain Stage that culminated with shows by Megadeth and Avenged Sevenfold. Babymetal played up the theatrics with funny videos (one took cues from Star Wars) and dramatic performances that had the audience — one of the largest of the weekend — crowd surfing and hurling water bottles into the air.

The old and new often felt at odds with one another during Summer Sonic. One of the weekend’s best sets, though, proved they could meet halfway. Chisato Moritaka — a J-pop singer who was popular in the late 1980s and early ’90s— teamed up with 23-year-old producer tofubeats at the Rainbow Stage on Sunday. The pair, dressed in Star Trek-inspired costumes, played some of Moritaka’s most famous songs such as “Benkyo no Uta” and “The Stress,” but gave them a modern makeover that included hyperactive beats and skittering vocal backups, all culminating in the acid-house-frayed track “Don’t Stop The Music.” It was nostalgic but not a museum piece, and a great idea for Summer Sonic organizers to remember for next year.

  • ka

    Freddie Mercury died at age 45, fully deserved the stature he enjoyed all over the world, you know.. it is very hard for me to evaluate Queen without him. so..

  • Anna Z

    I love Queen + Adam Lambert !!! It’s nice to see Brian and Roger looking so happy and energized :) It makes me happy thinking about how they get to keep Queen’s music alive in new fresh ways, change things up a bit and have fun, with Adam Lambert’s brilliant operatic vocals skills and electric stage presence, this tour is EPIC!!!

  • queenrosered

    I cannot stress how sick and tired I am of every clueless hack who feels the need to state the obvious..”he’s no Freddie Mercury BUT…” You know what? Freddie was no ADAM LAMBERT either! Adam has totally rejuvenated the ORIGINAL founding members of Queen and the show is the best I’ve seen in my 5 decades of concert going. Period!

    • Del_G

      I cannot stress how sick and tired I am of every hot-tempered commenter who doesn’t read properly. He DID say “but impressed nonetheless” … which is a good thing, right? Maybe Adam had an off night and wasn’t “perfect”? If you were at the show, just tell us how good YOU thought it was and drop the outrage. ;)

  • lovetheusa1776

    Why are comments awaiting moderation? Nothing out-of-line was posted.

  • jbrisby

    Well good for Avril. Her last album deserved a lot more attention than it got.

  • Del_G

    Sky Ferreira was great. Her voice was shaky on the first song (“24 Hours”), but by “I Blame Myself” she really found her groove. I’d really like to see her at a smaller venue now.