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The 14 Best for the Summer Fests

10 years of Japanese Rock Festivals Following in the First Act Footsteps of the Red Hot Chili Peppers

So I’m at a bar and run into this old man with a glass in one hand and a story in the other about how, “Japan’s first rock fest was the Folk Jamboree in Nakatsugawa…and I was there, man!”

Sure, that’s a story worth its weight in patchouli, and I understand how everyone wants to brag about the festivals they attended but, let’s face it, that was “folk,” and “rock” played a bit part.

I guess I’m the same way, though, when it comes to talking about “the first Fuji Rock Festival in the storm.” Now that was the real start of Japan’s rock fests.

The terrible weather that year has become the stuff of legends, with folks showing up in skimpy clothes only to be beaten into submission by the wind and cold. Ten years have passed, and I still remember it as if it was yesterday. The second day ended up getting cancelled, but the big act on the first day was the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Sadly, I never got to see them on stage. The friend I was with ended up getting delirious from the cold, and we had to cut out early.

However, let it be known I’ve had the opportunity to meet the Chilis multiple times. The first was at Narita Airport two days prior to their performance at that first Fuji Rock. A friend and I ended up flying from L.A. on the same plane, and the only folks who were stopped at Customs ended up being them and this guy with whom I was traveling. Everyone’s bags were turned inside-out and checked; the whole process delaying our entry into Japan an hour.

Perhaps the Customs agents thought the band was trying to bring drugs into the country and, frankly, the guy I was with was not the most trustworthy looking. Perhaps it was due to the thorough check they all had gone through, but the Chili Peppers and my friend ended up having a chat which led to all of us taking a picture together. After all that, I really wanted to see their performance that night in the storm.

In the years since I’ve met them for interviews several times and, upon asking them about that first Fuji Rock, it’s apparent it was an experience they hold dearly. The rain was so bad they were worried about being electrocuted. (It reminds me of how The Grateful Dead say they were literally shocked when they played their electric guitars at Woodstock).
However, that being the first real rock fest to hit Japan, the Chilis felt honored to headline and remained determined to hit the stage no matter what the weather.

This year brings the 10th installment of Fuji Rock and, with the increase in festivals every year, there seems to be a battle to sign bands, particularly between Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic. However, in an interview with Hidaka, the head of Smash and Fuji Rock’s main organizer, he did try to make the point that he “doesn’t pay exorbitant fees to artists just to bring them over.”

I don’t know all the “ins and outs” surrounding the scramble for artists but, in looking at this year’s lineup, it appears Fuji Rock is leading the pack to bring back the Chili Peppers.

Listen before leaving then head there after hearing.

At Fuji Rock Festival 2006
Roger Joseph Manning Jr.
Solid State Warrior (Pony Canyon)

And the winner in the festival fracas is…Fuji Rock! An easy win brought about just by signing the headman from the early ’90s pop band Jellyfish. Although the band released only two albums together, this legendary group’s “Best of” comes as a two-disc box set. After the break-up Manning Jr. released several albums under a different name, but this year’s release in his own name is an amazing rebirth of the Jellyfish sound and brings back memories of when the band covered “S.O.S.” by Pink Lady during their Japan tour. I’m looking forward to more of those antics as well as some of their old stuff being played at this year’s Fuji Rock.

At Fuji Rock Festival 2006
Red Hot Chili Peppers

The 10th anniversary of Fuji Rock could be commemorated by none other than the first to man the main stage. While Fuji Rock has been busy growing over the years, the Chili Peppers have managed to remain at the top of their game, and this powerful funk-rock album released in May is their ninth effort and their first two-disc set. After listening to the intensity packed into these tracks, you will know Fuji Rock is an event not to be missed.

At Fuji Rock Festival 2006
Kula Shaker
K (Sony)

Indian-style rock was the hook for this debut album that took the UK rock scene by storm and, although great things were expected from them, they soon broke up. Their return to the scene means you get a chance to hear their hit “Hey Dude” live.

At Fuji Rock Festival 2006
Trashcan Sinatras
Cake (London)

Strangely not known as hit-makers in their UK homeland, their sweet-yet-sad acoustic rock sound has found a home in the hearts of many Japanese fans with the first album being a must for those seeking to remember their more youthful days.

At Fuji Rock Festival 2006
KT Tunstall
Eye to the Telescope (Toshiba EMI)

This much-talked-about singer/songwriter makes her way to Fuji Rock after gaining street cred with the single “Suddenly I See.” A live performance worth checking out.

At Fuji Rock Festival 2006
Sonic Youth
Daydream Nation (Universal)

It was at a Fuji Rock several years ago when I was aroused from my exhaustion by the intro to “Teenage Riot.” Both the songs and the band are off the charts.

At Fuji Rock Festival 2006
Franz Ferdinand
You Could Have It So Much Better (Sony)

It’s the movers and shakers of the recent rock world such as this who need to be seen at a rock festival. These pushers of ’80s flavor have certainly not disappointed with their sophomore effort, making it worth the purchase if you haven’t already.

At Summer Sonic 2006
Youth (Sony)

Imagine the combination of reggae and Judaism, and you’ve got the ingredients of Matisyahu’s debut album. Aside from the uniqueness of his story, the musical quality brings about a feel-good sound and is spot-on for a summer festival scene such as Summer Sonic.

At Summer Sonic 2006
It’s Never Been Like That (Toshiba EMI)

Hailing from France, this guitar-laced pop band brings the listener to new heights with intricately spliced tracks and a rough sounding production. Alongside their fellow countrymen, Daft Punk, they are putting France’s music scene back in the spotlight.

At Summer Sonic 2006
Two Gallants
What the Toll Tells (Sideout Records)

This newly formed guitar-and-drum duo centers its sound around country, folk and the blues, and their gritty American sound will be a refreshing addition to the Japan festival scene. Finding new bands such as this is one of the best things about festivals.

At Udo Music Festival 2006
Audio Slave
Out of Exile (Universal)

This festival has been known for bringing in the big guns such as Santana and Kiss, but Audio Slave promises to draw the young folks out in droves. The band’s Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden roots are sure to keep things rocking, but the album itself has a bit of a pop feel to it.

At Rising Sun Rock Festival 2006 in EZO
Kiyoshiro Imawano (忌野清志郎)
Magic~Kiyoshiro The Best (Toshiba EMI)

Any discussion of Japanese rock has to include Kiyoshiro Imawano, and since his career spans generations, who knows what you’ll hear on stage. Personally, I’m looking forward to “Private” off his Greatest Hits album.

At Rock in Japan Festival 2006
The Sambo Masters (サンボマスター)
Sambo Masters Ha Kimi-ni Katarikakeru (サンボマスターは君に語りかける)(Sony)

There were mixed reviews about the Sambo Masters third album, but the live show is sure to feature the most popular tunes from their first and second efforts. Their live performance is an experience not to be missed.

At Rock in Japan Festival 2006
Rising Sun Rock Festival 2006 in EZO
Summer Sonic 2006
Quruli (くるり)
Sayonara Stranger (さよならストレンジャー)(Victor)

Who knows how many festivals Quruli will appear at this year? Bottom line is, if you give them one listen, you’re sure to enjoy any music festival, and their major debut album never gets old.

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