Bringing the performance right to the people
What makes a memorable festival performance? In the moment, it seems easy enough — hearing all the big hits, an artist bringing lots of energy, a great crowd losing it to every number. Yet on the Monday after this year’s Fuji Rock, I talked with a friend about previous sets from recent years at Naeba, and was surprised by how many big-time acts that at the time seemed to blow me away have become hazy memories. In the long run, a great show is one that lingers around in your mind years later. I can recall all of these with ease — Oomori Seiko, group_inou, Skrillex.
I think Wednesday Campanella’s performance on the Red Marquee will be one of those for me in the years to come. In the moment, it was as left-field as a performance at Fuji Rock 2017, featuring power crystals and giant tents going over the crowd among other flourishes. The main stage was rejected in favor of a sort of portable zone. Elements went awry. Yet it was unexpected, captivating and ambitious, even in its mishaps. In the moment, it could be confusing, but it’s the unorthodox shows that last the longest in my mind at least, the ones rejecting the standard festival template in favor of something different.
Wednesday Campanella is technically a genre-blurring trio based in Tokyo, though the only member taking the stage is lead vocalist / human wind-up-top KOM_I, who sings and raps over music that runs from techno to Jersey Club. The Sunday night set was clearly designed as a way to highlight KOM_I’s status as a pop-act bonafide worthy of marquee treatment. Her hair dyed blonde, she struck up dramatic poses and danced around the stage at a frantic pace. It felt like a campaign behind her burgeoning stardom, even before she literally plucked a small child out of the crowd to sing them a song. The movements didn’t always connect — she’s still learning the small details of making these motions look natural rather than planned out — but her stage presence was inescapable, all eyes and phones on her.
She also underlined a trend at this year’s Fuji Rock, one where an artist’s visual side was just as vital as their sound. This has always been the case really, but far more pronounced in Naeba this year, where all three headliners relied on elaborate visuals. KOM_I similarly knew that giving the crown an Instagram-able moment was important, and Wednesday Campanella’s set emphasized the eyes over the ears at times. The group makes incredible music — I’ll take this moment to note their album Superman from earlier this year is my favorite of the year thus far — and songs such as the dizzying cooking-leson “Chaplin” and the funk-strut of “Melos” sounded great live. Yet they also felt secondary to the sights, as the set ignored the bulk of the group’s most well-known songs in favor of moodier fare that matched the evening’s vague underwater theme (read: lots of bubble sound effects). It was a bold move for sure, but also one that could be ironed out for the better.
But man, when it worked, it worked. The most present complaint I heard about this set was on her decision to play the bulk of it away from the main stage, which at times made her hard to see. Yet KOM_I was bringing the stage to the people, and correcting one of the most annoying trends at the Red Marquee at Fuji Rock 2017, which was the near impossibility to see stationary acts if you weren’t close to the stage. She flipped that over by covering us all in a parachute and then moving around the near entirety of the floor, performing close-up for folks who normally would have felt miles away. And then there was “Momotaro,” her biggest hit and the night’s most fun segment, finding her chucking bowls of noodles (I think?) into the crowd before climbing into a plastic ball and running over the crowd during the final chorus. It felt personal, and probably forced the dozens of knuckleheads sitting in camping chairs in the back to actually stand up for once.
There were miscues, found in too-long ambient passages and a final stunt involving a white sheet, except said prop couldn’t be fit into the Red Marquee (I think it would have spread over the audience while KOM_I shined crystals at it, making for a trippy effect. Yet no sheet just left her playing with power stones and a flashlight). One can’t be ambitious without failing. But so much of it felt like a clever adjustment of a format that often felt predictable all weekend long, with some whirlwind numbers worked in for good measure and one of the more touching dedications of the fest, with KOM_I noting that four years ago her mother died while she was at Fuji Rock, and her desire to come back and gather people together. And she achieved that, scuffed details and all, leaving me with one I know I’ll recall with ease.