Photo by Natsumi Arakawa
Confrontational artist embraces a band
No set at Fuji Rock 2016 made me more nervous than Oomori Seiko’s mid-afternoon performance at the Red Marquee. Two years earlier, her bracing and unpredictable show at the Gypsy Avalon ended up my highlight of the entire festival. That acoustic-centric hour found the singer/songwriter moving from a whisper to a shout, screaming at punters simply passing by to get to the White Stage and sometimes venturing into the crowd. It was everything a festival performance shouldn’t be — a rejection of pleasing the audience in favor of the artist completely taking over — and it was maybe the most captivating thing I’ve ever seen at Fuji Rock.
But she couldn’t do that again…both because the Red Marquee lacks the intimacy that made her 2014 set so hypnotic, and because well she already planted that flag in Naeba. Thankfully though, she brought a new one to Fuji Rock…quite literally, at the start, as she walked out carrying a massive white flag. Clutching in, she initially sang by herself, no backing music whatsoever, her voice breaking at numerous times. So far, so Seiko. Then she put the flag down…and the band she brought out started playing, adding a new energy to her Fuji Rock show. Worries, gone.
Songs that appeared in a stripped down version last time she played this festival were beefed up, turned into high-energy numbers guided by electric guitar and strong back beats. Yet the passion Seiko brought to these songs in 2014 still came through, albeit in a way where the loud-soft dynamic was swapped out in favor of pure shout-a-long delirium. She often stood on a raised part near the center of the stage, pointing at the crowd and getting them to sing along, the same charisma that makes her acoustic solo shows so arresting rejiggered into something that made her an incredible lead in a band. That energy carried over to songs from this year’s Tokyo Black Hole, especially early number “Magic Mirror,” which found her dashing all over the stage and eventually shouting at the audience.
Seiko remained every bit as confrontational as before — I shared a clip on Twitter, leading to one person to declare “that’s terrible” — but had moved it from her solo act (which had felt wonderfully out of place at a big festival) to a band setting (which felt wonderfully appropriate, while still being in tune with everything Seiko is about). Beyond just being a strong, manic show…probably should give more shine to the keyboard player, jumping on his instrument multiple times…it also highlighted that Seiko isn’t a static act, but rather one who can adjust without losing her character. Here’s hoping to see what she can do on an even bigger stage, if she wants.