Words & Images by: Theresa Meehan
Summer Sonic :: 08.09.08 & 08.10.08 :: Makuhari Messe Event Hall & Chiba Marine Stadium :: Tokyo & Osaka, Japan
Summer Sonic is Japan's ultra-convenient annual rock festival. Organized by Creative Man Productions, the event is a two-day party hosted simultaneously between Tokyo and Osaka fusing some of the world's best indie and major rock artists alongside their Japanese counterparts.
|Summer Sonic 2008 :: Japan|
(c) SUMMER SONIC 08 All Rights Reserved
Successful rock festivals are often only as good as the venues they occupy, and given the lack of space even in the greater Tokyo region, the massive Makuhari Messe, hosting three stages, and Marine Stadium, with smaller stages scattered throughout, are superb! These two major arenas are a fair distance apart, but as long as you've donned some comfortable shoes, one can easily maneuver between them with relative ease. Some may have complained about getting around but the fact is Summer Sonic, in accommodating some 200,000 punters, presents a very strong lineup and fully caters to everything including numerous food and retail areas, side shows staging comedic and musical acts and a private beach, all offering chill-out spaces in between shows. There's even a separate stage out near the camping area next to the Silent Disco. For around $150 per day your costs are immediately met by the main acts showcased at the end of each evening.
Against a pitch black stage speckled with blood red and electric blue luminous robotic eyes gazing at the crowd, day one culminated with The Prodigy energizing Marine Stadium in their usual crazed punk-style performance as a half moon rose over Tokyo. Dressed in manic outfits - Flint in a red and white striped jacket that read "My Dogs Will Kill You" and Maxim in black and white with stark white makeup - the duo thumped and bumped across the stage, occasionally stopping to stare down the crowd with their wild eyes wide open. Their set included the explosive hits "Breathe" and "Voodoo People" with Flint staging a mock bashing of the guitarist, who abruptly fell to the floor while still playing, naturally! Complete anarchy followed as an extended remixed version of hit "Firestarter" played while the boys caused havoc around the stadium and brought the gig to a close as the evening's fireworks display exploded high above.
|The Prodigy :: (c) SUMMER SONIC 08 All Rights Reserved|
Earlier in the day the Dance Stage started with Japanese female trio Perfume, who enveloped the crowd with their heavy thumping beats and mannequin-like dance gestures coupled with intermittent questions and jokes in Japanese. Their performance of the hit "Chocolate" definitely pleased the crowd.
Halfway through her performance security had to close entry to the Dance Stage arena where Yelle played to a capacity crowd. A large group stood just outside the entrance trying to catch a glimpse of the French mistress of flowing, bass heavy electronica. She performed in neon leggings and a blue sequined blouse, and her accompanying live percussion setup sent everyone into a temporary state of madness. It was difficult to pull myself away from Yelle's show, especially given the highly charged atmosphere she had created. Since seeing Yelle perform live and despite my eyes still adjusting from the onslaught of fluorescent colors, I'm definitely a fan!
|Ryan Tedder - OneRepublic|
(c) SUMMER SONIC 08 All Rights Reserved
As the first few notes of "Apologize" played, the mostly female audience was already swaying in unison, mouthing the lyrics being passionately delivered by pianist-frontman Ryan Tedder. Despite some criticism of Tedder's supposedly bland voice, there's no question that the guy can belt it out and hold his own, although his attempted cover of Rihanna's "Umbrella" proved slightly too much. The band played solidly throughout the set, but there were times when Tedder was drowned out by the additional surges of sound. Although OneRepublic wowed the crowd with "Stop and Stare" and "Someone to Save You," hearing Tedder sing "Come Home" (his ode to a friend at war) live definitely made my hurried dash across the motorway separating the two main arenas worthwhile.
Old Man River
Old Man River and his band have risen out of the Sydney music scene and over at the Beach Stage they performed songs off the new album, Good Morning, including "Summer," "Time" and "Better Place." Fusing the sitar with up-beat drums and infectious guitars, they created a colorful, warm mood as the ocean breeze encircled the stage, sending positive vibes out into the swaying assembly.
We Smoke Fags
Their first time in Japan, the punk/indie North Londoners provided visual thrills, such as crazed samurai slicing at warp speed, to accompany the heavy slashing of their guitars. If you were looking for something a little distorted and somewhat louder than the other Dance Stage acts, if that's even possible, then WSF were perfect! Initially I didn't think much of the trio, who are said to be inspired by David Bowie and Iggy Pop, but decided to wait it out. Maybe it was the collective assault on my eyes and ears but I eventually got into "I Love You," "My Disco Is On the Floor" and "Television." However, it was "Fashion" which sent the fans, and their limbs, flailing in all directions. The band seemed to be sweating quite a bit; they'd put on a great show and the Japanese fans loved it!
|Paolo Nutini :: (c) SUMMER SONIC 08 All Rights Reserved|
Back out on the beach the charismatic Paolo Nutini, known for his unique voice and insightful lyrics, did his darnedest not to let the crutches he was on keep him from showing the crowd a good time. Nutini did an amazing vocal performance of the poignant "These Streets," which, to me, is already a classic since it reminds the listener of where they are and where they're heading. With the help of his band, who backed him phenomenally, bodies were bopping all around to songs like the catchy "New Shoes," the harmonica-infused "Funky Cigarette," a bluesy "Mellow Down Easy" and his new tune "Sleepwalking." Nutini was sporadically up hopping along with the crowd during the hour-long set, and even on crutches he definitely knows how to entertain.
As a headliner, The Verve, including frontman Richard Ashcroft, Simon Jones (bass), Nick McCabe (guitar) and Peter Salisbury (drums), gave us the show of Summer Sonic Day One. Ashcroft emerged, cocky and rather well dressed, to the sounds of "This Is Music." The band's intoxicating hour-long gig included "Sonnet," "Space and Time," "Sit and Wonder" (a new song, with a heavy drum intro and melodic electric guitar reminiscent of U2) and "The Rolling People" which truly captivated the audience. The funked-up sounds of "Life's An Ocean," from the Northern Soul album, gave punters a chance to groove it out a little. I was thankful to hear my all time favorite Verve song, "The Drugs Don't Work," start only to be abruptly halted at the second verse. We had no idea why but Ashcroft mouthed something like "Fuck that tune. I'm never playing that song again!" and then, after some thought, stepped back to the mic with, "Do you want one more go?" Of course, the crowd obliged with raucous applause.
|Richard Ashcroft - The Verve |
(c) SUMMER SONIC 08 All Rights Reserved
They played "Lucky Man" before Ashcroft said that he wasn't sure if the next song made it over to Japan but it was big in Iceland. Then, violins, which could only mean "Bitter Sweet Symphony!" It sent the entire stadium into raptures, whereupon Ashcroft donned his leather jacket and introduced the final song, "Love Is Noise," which, with a constant, heavy dance drum beat, sounded a bit different, lacking any substantial guitar involvement but supplemented by Ashcroft's floating voice. All in all, for a band that has recently regrouped after some years, it was a truly brilliant performance.
Continue reading for Sunday coverage...