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Friday, Aug. 3, 2007

Fuji Rock 07: We came, we saw, we survived

From rioting with Iggy to bopping with The Chemical Brothers, JT writers mixed it up among the thousands at Naeba to bring you the highs — and lows — of Fuji Rock '07

Fun in the sun

Rain! Rain! Rain! Mud! Mud! Mud! NO!!! Not this year. The sustained watery descent from the heavens that often afflicts Fuji Rock didn't happen. So instead of fans slogging knee-deep in the brown, FRF '07 saw sunburned, half-naked boys and girls (around 37,000 people per day over three days) with smiles on their faces, some of them even swimming in Naeba Ski Resort's mountain streams. Friday and Saturday were scorchers, and by the time Sunday's brief rainstorm hit, nobody cared. The great weather and mix of party-centric bands made this one of the most fun Fuji Rocks to date. (Simon Bartz)

Three headliners, only one winner

There's something undeniably thrilling in the fusion of the cold outdoors at night, warm sake, tens of thousands of happy people and a big, loud spectacle that brings out the best in an act such as Sunday-night headliners The Chemical Brothers. And in contrast to The Cure's solid but sullen Friday-night slot and the Beastie Boys' Saturday-night insistence on playing the dull instrumentals that make up their new album, the Chems' Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons cranked out 90 minutes of block-rockin' beats from throughout their nearly two-decade-long career.

News photo
Headliners on the Green Stage: (from top) Iggy Pop; The Cure; The Beastie Boys; The Chemical Brothers MASANORI NARUSE (Iggy, Beasties), YASUYUKI KASAGI (Cure, Chemicals) PHOTOS
[Click for a slideshow of more photos from Fuji Rock '07]

To their credit, older songs such as "Hey Boy Hey Girl" sounded fresh even next to newer material such as "Do It Again," and while not all of the boys' output over the years has truly inspired, they played a glorious selection of genuine smash hits. All the while, the video screens flanking the stage projected flashy, freaky imagery (especially the scary clown insisting "Get Yourself High" and the multiplying cockroaches) to make watching two British potato faces twiddling knobs on a stage a bit more eye-catching.

Not that anyone was really looking. The entire field at the Green Stage erupted into feverish dancing that whisked even your hardy reporter to the center of the crowd and the very brink of ecstasy — and probably had the staff at Niigata Prefecture's nuclear power plant nervously checking their earthquake monitors. (Daniel Robson)

Stoogy Rock

Punk-rock icon Iggy Pop belted out classics with his re-formed Stooges such as "No Fun" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (twice) on the Green Stage late Saturday, generating an atmosphere of pure bedlam in the moshpit. Then he repeatedly requested the crowd of tens of thousands to "come on up!" and that's when one of the most historic moments in FRF history, even if it had been anticipated, occurred: the Iggy riot.

As an intrepid reporter, I rushed to the front to check on the action. I leaped over two barriers and was in the lane between an insane moshpit and the stage that Iggy was now sharing with about 200 dancing fans. The security were under immense pressure as an endless stream of kids jumped at them in a bid to touch their idol. Even Iggy had a problem getting back on the stage. When the security started to push the kids out with force, some of the fans squared up for fights. Thirty-year-old designer Mikiko got closer to Mr. Pop than most: "I was in the middle of the stage. I touched Iggy on the shoulder. There was so much sweat, it was like standing under a shower." (S.B.)

Punk progenitor (no, not that one)

Iggy Pop, who turned 60 in April, was the most anticipated act at FRF '07. At four years Iggy's junior, Jonathan Richman had enough steam to play three sets on three stages. Both men are cited as punk progenitors, but their careers couldn't have diverged more. Iggy still works the self-destructive rocker thing, while former Modern Lover Richman renounced electricity in the mid-'70s, opting for what sounded like children's music.

Richman's show at the Field of Heaven was steeped in nostalgia — for his native New England, for public plazas, for a certain European model of sophistication (songs sung in flawless French and Italian). But it was also there in his irrepressible style, the one performance-related constant of his career. In the middle of a verse, he'd drop his acoustic guitar and execute some curious dance moves or shake his jingle bells (literally). Richman has always been nostalgic, but it was startling to hear him play three songs — "Old World," "Girlfriend" and "Pablo Picasso" — from that formative phase he once so vehemently rejected. The audience didn't care. Richman's past isn't important. They love him for what he is right now, and they heartily requested an encore.

They got two. (Philip Brasor)

Let's dance!

Michael Jackson must have shared a bed with a gorilla at Neverland, because on the main Green Stage on Saturday afternoon, we witnessed their offspring on stage. !!!'s chest-thumping disco-punk attack kick-started the dancing mania that dominated this year's fest with three percussionists, two vocalists and numerous other musicians who looked like they were having a party on stage. And that was exactly what was required to whip a massive, eager-for-fun field into a frenzy. "Let's see Iggy beat that," !!!'s singer Nic Offer said backstage. Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra and Happy Mondays kept the feet tapping, as did the bellydancers at the Ganban Square.

But the best dancing was to be had in the small Crystal Palace Tent in the Palace of Wonder area, which featured cabaret, peep shows and the like — and where you didn't need to fork out ¥40,000 for a three-day ticket to get in. DJ Lincoln's deep funk, King Nabe's Jamaican ska set and DJ Daisuke Kuroda's northern-soul stompers meant that I spent more time at the Crystal Palace than anywhere else. (Simon Bartz)

Weekend eclectic

Compared to previous years at FRF, the lineup featured lots of ska, but no Jamaican reggae. The Beastie Boys and A-Trak were the only overseas hip-hop artists and they're white. Some Japanese artists covered R&B and soul, and there was young white soul singer Joss Stone, but the only black American singer was James Brown-alumnus Marva Whitney. Africa was represented only by The Peace in Love Percussions, and outside of Japan, there were no rock bands from Asia.

So is FRF becoming less diverse? Hardly. There seemed to be more jazz than usual, as well as American country acts; fewer jam bands, more pop-punk and emo; two well-regarded foreign indie bands with female Japanese lead singers; two different artists who call themselves Space Cowboy; and two performances by movie stars (Juliette Lewis and Vincent Gallo). There was something for everybody — as long as everybody had an open mind. (Philip Brasor)

A country holler

Yeeehaw! Stumbling across a right-proper Texan country trio in the middle of a dusty field in Naeba was one of those unexpected festival delights. Elana James and Hot Club of Cowtown do things the old-fashioned way: percussive double- bass, spirited duels between fiddle and wafer-thin electric guitar, seductive vocal harmonies and a whole lotta hollerin'. Their two sets offered tales of redemption, revenge and revelry, lassoing the crowd with wry lyrics and authentic homespun tuneage that recalled a bygone age where debauchery hid behind a veneer of innocence and no problem was left unsolved by a bottle of bourbon. (Daniel Robson)

What election?

Fuji is modeled after Glastonbury Festival, but there's one facet of that English bacchanal that's absent at Naeba: politics. It's resolutely apolitical.

The only indication at FRF '07 that there was an election going on was a masked fellow wandering in front of the Green Stage on Friday. He carried aloft a full-page newspaper advertisement for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, but held it upside-down, which could have been taken as a negative endorsement. Or maybe it was a positive endorsement and he just didn't realize he was holding it upside-down. Since everyone ignored him, it didn't matter either way. (Philip Brasor)



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