A LOOK BACK AT FUJI ROCK ’05
Walking through the woods, we wondered where the plank board path would take us next. We had lost our maps and probably wouldn’t have wanted to consult them anyway, yet contemplated this fork in the road. This was the first day of Fuji Rock 2005, and we were wandering wherever our eardrums led us.
Fuji Rock is the big daddy of Japanese music festivals. It’s a three-day cornucopia of organized chaos; you are up against the elements and seven stages packed with more music than most folks have the opportunity to hear in a lifetime.
We went left, drawn to a droning sci-fi guitar riff emanating through the trees. It was Day One, and we were feeling adventurous. Coming out of the woods, we stumbled upon the Field of Heaven stage. With a Woodstock commune feel to it, the stage features jam bands and roots rockers.
Performing was Japanese pysch-techno collective ROVO, a dreamy bouillabaisse of electronica and space-rock melodies. The audience grooved out like stoned marionettes, swaying and swinging as patchouli permeated the air.
Exiting Field of Heaven, we witnessed a young Japanese kid who had taken off his clothes, climbed a tree and made enthusiastic, if not fully comprehensible sounds, as his friends tried to coax him down. We had little time to consider this poor kid. The Pogues were about to kick off, and we were a good walk away.
Stumbling through the forest, we hit the White Stage just as they started. Reunited with Shane McGowan, the Pogues tore up it up; barrel housing through a set that almost made us wish we were Irish.
Entering our hotel the following Saturday at 7 a.m., we ran into Shane as he was leaving. He was completely smashed, nursing a drink with white bulbous matter hanging from his nose. We had to shake the man’s hand.
“Hey Shane, thanks for playing ‘Body of an American’ last night.”
“We didn’t play that ******* song! **** America! I hope George Bush dies a slow ******* painful death!”
It was a magic moment.
Saturday turned out to be equally magical. The highlights were Asian Dub Foundation inflaming the crowd into a mini-riot and Dinosaur Jr. transporting us back to a time when Doc Martins on girls were sexy.
Making our way back, we took a short respite, planting ourselves down on the cool night ground. In the middle of the forest we watched a cavalcade of characters mosey past the moon. Punks, hippies, yuppies, English teachers and Japanese students strolled together in ambiguous unison.
Fatigued and famished, we stopped for some vittles. The food court was a veritable United Nations of nourishment. We wolfed down some Thai food from a Nigerian dude with one eye and nine teeth. After fueling up we headed straight for the Red Marquee.
The Marquee is the place to be after-hours. From midnight on, it’s where the ravers dance ’til dawn. Boston hip-hop crew Crown City Rockers mixed rhymes with live instruments and had the whole crowd bouncing. DJs Madlib and Kentaro continued the chaos, spinning until the sun began to rise.
Realizing we had lost our hotel key, we luckily met a friendly Japanese hippie couple who let us sleep in their tent. They smelled like tuna fish and snored like dueling chainsaws, but they were nice and we appreciated their hospitality.
By Sunday, we were too fatigued to stray far from the main stage. We sat and watched what’s left of The Beach Boys. They sang hymns to the sun in a land that hadn’t seen much of any since we arrived.
While New Order and Primal Scream were closing the festival, we decided to take one last walk through the woods.
We strolled through the forest, climbed the hills and savored the last of the evaporating ambiance of Fuji Rock 2005.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
SOME ACTS TO LOOK FOR at FRF ‘06
Fuji Rock 2006 will be full of big-name artists. Sonic Youth, Franz Ferdinand and The Hives are all on the bill but, as usual, there is a bevy of lesser-known acts to stimulate your olfactory senses.
Benevento/Russo Duo is a drum-and-organ twosome who will either have you tapping your feet or staring out into space. Their live shows are particularly invigorating, and they’ve gained fans both in the jazz world and on the jam-band festival circuit.
Japanese prog-punk group Natsumen rock off into the stratosphere like a heavy Pink Floyd. Their sci-fi vibe will be perfect listening for a bleary-eyed night under the summer stars.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is a Brooklyn-based band that gets funky but never forces it. They sound like a less-educated Talking Heads.
Keyboardist Terry Adams of NRBQ fame will front his own quartet. Along with blues guitarist Steve Ferguson, they should bring some serious swamp boogie to the show.
Shang Shang Typhoon is an eclectic Japanese foursome combining assorted disparate sounds into one collective soup. Their hodge-podge of jazz, pop and traditional Okinawan motifs is especially intoxicating live and not to be missed.
The Refugee All Stars of Sierra Leone are a six-piece African collective now based in The Republic of Guinea. Fleeing their homeland during the decade long Sierra Leone civil war, they sing uplifting songs of freedom with minimal accompaniment. There are always a few surprises, so the rest you’ll have to go see for yourself. —F.G.