It was clear on the second day of Summer Sonic that this year’s event belonged to the evening’s headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers. A casual stroll around Chiba’s Makuhari Messe complex revealed a noticeable uptick from the day before in the number of shirtless dudes sporting tribal-band tattoos.
Despite featuring artists from various genres and countries, the Chiba leg of this year’s festival appeared dominated by fans of the Los Angeles group. Many attendees who were wearing band shirts donned Chili Peppers ones. The festival — along with the Osaka leg occurring simultaneously — sold out their 60,000 tickets for each day. Yet, save for huge turnouts for Japanese acts and a few other established artists, most of the punters at the festival said they were just waiting for the headliners.
The Chili Peppers’ headlining set at QVC Marine Field (the Marine Stage) on Sunday night was so packed that fans were forced to stand in the aisles when all the seats were taken. The crowd erupted in applause when the quartet appeared and launched into their 2006 single “By the Way,” and from there the audience went wild for everything — from big hits “Under the Bridge” and “Dani California” to obscure cuts such as “I Like Dirt.”
The Chili Peppers also performed material from their forthcoming album, “I’m With You,” including the current single “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” which were all showered with love. They sounded the same as they always have — funk meets rock meets lead singer Anthony Kiedis’ incomprehensible lyrics — but with almost 30 years’ worth of songs to draw from and a rabid fan base, the band delivered an energetic set that clearly showed why they deserved the headlining slot.
Less worthy of that title were Saturday headliners The Strokes. The New York band’s hourlong show sounded fine, and included all the hits that kickstarted the garage-rock revival of the early 2000s, with the enthusiastic crowd singing along to ones such as “Last Night” and “Room On Fire.” But The Strokes didn’t have the air of a stadium band — whereas the crowd flipped out any time Chili Peppers bassist Flea so much as hopped, The Strokes lacked the presence to elevate their set from “good” to “memorable.” They found themselves in a strange place, being too big to play anywhere else at the festival but not quite ready for a stadium.
More memorable were highest-billed Japanese band X Japan, playing before the Chili Peppers on Sunday night. Drawing a crowd almost as big as the headliners, the theatrical group put on a show that was goofy, garish and woefully outdated musically — but which worked perfectly at a place as unsuited for live music as a ballpark. Less a concert and more like a cut scene from video game “Final Fantasy” with lasers and guitar solos, X Japan had a majority of the venue jumping into the air with their arms crossed forming the titular letter “X.”
By contrast, the Beady Eye set on Saturday at Marine Stadium was a tad boring. The band, featuring every member of Britpop heavyweights Oasis sans Noel Gallagher, drew a nice-size crowd but their music felt like reheated Oasis B-sides. Even the diehards up front, after getting giddy over an initial flurry of singles, stopped moving as much as the set dragged on.
Inside the room-temperature Makuhari Messe complex, English group Friendly Fires put on one of the weekend’s best shows Sunday afternoon. They attracted a big crowd at the spacious Mountain Stage, possibly because their dance-centric rock (complete with a small horn section) attracted the legions of Chili Peppers fans milling about looking to dance. Lead singer Ed MacFarlane gyrated around like a drunken teenager during recent single “Live These Days Tonight” and older cut “Skeleton Boy,” going into the crowd at one point to cut loose with fans.
Recently reunited British group Suede similarly made the audience part of its set, resulting in another weekend highlight. Lead singer Brett Anderson had the crowd at the Sonic Stage singing “We’re traaaaaaaaaaash, me and you” with him during “Trash,” and when he briefly stopped singing “The Wild Ones” you could literally hear girls sighing. Toronto hard rockers Death From Above 1979, also coming off an extended hiatus, had one of the festival’s other memorable performances. Playing in front of a drawing of a grave with their name on it, the duo blasted through their abrasive catalog with a few Tokyo tweaks: “Black History Month” became “Japanese History Month,” while inefficient birth-control anthem “Pull Out” became a rallying cry for their Japanese fans to procreate.
“Japanese people are great, we love them,” vocalist/drummer Sebastian Grainger said. “We need more of them, so we’d like to say to you: ‘Don’t Pull Out!’ “
The Sonic Stage also hosted some younger acts playing Summer Sonic for the first time. Charming California indie-rockers The Morning Benders won the crowd early thanks to vocalist Chris Chu’s Japanese skills, before locking that affection down with a breezy noon set. Atlanta’s Deerhunter impressed by tripping out, highlighted by a senses-melting 10-minute version of “Nothing Ever Happened.” On Saturday night, attendees who were looking for more music (or just afraid of the soul-crushing lineups to catch the last train back home) could attend Midnight Sonic, an all-nighter featuring dance music on one side and moody British indie on the other. The arty These New Puritans and 1980s-evoking The Horrors highlighted the latter.
Summer Sonic also transformed the Island Stage into a showcase devoted to bands from around Asia. Many of the acts playing at this tucked-away location faced small crowds, but Chinese groups such as the dreamy Perdel, dance-leaning Queen Sea Big Shark and the Joy Division-meets-B-52’s stylings of Rebuilding The Rights Of Statues still acted like the room was full. Less cool under pressure were Taiwan’s Go Chic — despite drawing one of the bigger crowds at the Island Stage (around 200 people), lead singer Ariel Zheng seemed hung up on the fact not enough people were dancing.
“You guys sitting in the back … f-ck you!” she blurted, before later condescendingly asking if the crowd at least knew how to raise their hands.
Speaking of antagonistic acts, Los Angeles rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA) landed at Summer Sonic thanks to hype generated by their self-released music and riotous live show, as well as infamy courtesy of a healthy dose of lyrical homophobia and misogyny. Their noontime Sonic Stage set started strong, the various members of the group running through their own numbers, peaking with mastermind Tyler, the Creator’s brooding “Yonkers.” After that things went south. OFWGKTA attempted to crack jokes, but the mostly Japanese crowd didn’t understand them (or even knew who the group were). This, coupled with muddled sound, caused OFWGKTA to slowly get bored and phone in the last few songs. Group member Left Brain mooned the crowd and sang an older OFWGKTA song before tossing the microphone into the air and splitting with his bandmates. Some of OFWGKTA’s appeal lies in such insolence, but their set ultimately left many disappointed.
In comparison, Japanese party-rap crew Rip Slyme provided good-time rhymes that had the crowded Mountain Stage going wild. Wu-Tang Clan they aren’t, spitting mostly goofy verses and shilling for Jack Daniels (opener “Beat Goes On” came saddled with a backing video that was just a commercial for the new Jack Highball in a can). Yet these guys gave the people what they wanted — summery fun that was perfect for the afternoon. After the aural slap in the face that was OFWGKTA, Rip Slyme’s good vibes were refreshing.
Japanese groups tended to do well inside Makuhari Messe. One OK Rock, despite combining the worst of modern rock with the whiniest of emo, prompted people to dash to their set at the Rainbow Stage on Sunday. Indie-poppers andymori similarly attracted a decent midday audience Saturday.
The champion of the indoor performers, though, ended up being techno-pop trio Perfume. Their show at the Mountain Stage ended up being so packed that security had to stop letting people into the hall. The show itself matched the fever pitch around it, despite the fact that afterward some people said Perfume looked to have been lip-synching. They sold the songs perfectly, executing their dances and getting the crowd completely into it. This one shone because of the atmosphere, the packed room going bonkers for each song. The set leaned toward recent material, but ended with the one-two punch of “Chocolate Disco” and “Polyrhythm.” Perfume’s set exemplified why people put up with long train rides and ridiculous kebab prices to go to festivals — whether they were a superfan or one of the punk rockers in the back dancing ironically, the music brought everyone together.
The Chiba festival ended with an appearance by South Korean pop group Girls’ Generation. The 30-minute set at Summer Sonic felt more like an infomercial, and the crowd responded with a resounding “whatever.” Talk all day centered on how full the Mountain Stage would be for them, but ample space remained. Save for some folks really into the tunes up front, the people who showed up didn’t sing along and didn’t move — voyeurs content with a cursory gawk. In fact, people hardly even smiled, and many streamed out after performances of “Mr. Taxi” and “Run Devil Run.” Still, Girls’ Generation scored one small victory — during set-closer “The Great Escape,” the music track cut out, and for a few seconds all we heard were the group members’ voices — they were actually singing!
It was a strange ending to Summer Sonic, as most of the people watching Girls’ Generation had just come from the Red Hot Chili Peppers set and only stopped by to get a quick look at the K-pop that has dominated media attention. Rather quickly, though, the dudes got their shirts back on and headed home.
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