Best of the Fest: Tiernan
As this was my first year with Fuji Rock – and, truth be told, my first year with any festival of this magnitude – I didn’t know quite what to expect, going in. However, rather than feeling uncomfortably overwhelmed – as I feared I might be – I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I rejoiced in the stunning array of details that, together, made up this complexly beautiful organism we call Fuji Rock. Another pleasant surprise for me, this year, was – contrary to my past experience – discovering quite a few fiercely fresh Japanese rock acts in very little time. Each year, Fuji Rock’s staff writers are asked to pick their favorite elements of that year’s festival. Here are mine, for Fuji Rock 2019.
1) 突然少年 (Totsuzen Shounen)
Rocking the Red Marquee like it was a stadium, and possessing the humility of a school boy who discovered the cure for a rare disease, comparing Totsuzen Shounen to “a breath of fresh air” would seem trite and inadequate. These fearless young men took the lessons of their musical grandfathers (Nirvana, Sonic Youth, et. al.) and made them relevant, like the rush of adrenaline one possesses in moments of crisis; the strength a mother is inexplicably given to pull her child from under an upturned vehicle. One hears of many efforts made by the Japanese music industry, or the Japanese government, to promote domestic artists overseas. However, as the western entertainment industry truism goes, they should, “Give’em what they want”. This is what western audiences want; rock that actually ROCKS, and ROCK that actually kicks ass!
Yet another Japanese band, and yet another band that kicks ass. These young men dealt it like they owned it, and they did. If they don’t win the Rookie à Gogo competition – or at least come close – I will be both disappointed and surprised. Mastering the styles of fellow Fuji Rock bill-mates like Death Cab for Cutie and American Football, while being steeped in the lessons of Japanese indie legends that preceded them (like Freezer Noize) Kotori also possessed the hidden ace of being able to shift into peerless grind-core while hardly breaking a sweat. They also flowed through all the aforementioned musical genres seamlessly, and tied them together with exemplary musicality. Like Totsuzen Shounen, this is another band that is entirely deserving of the support of any person – or organization – looking to act as a patron.
3) Death Cab for Cutie
Having followed this band since their second album (2000’s We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes) as a fan who was there at ground zero, I can attest to the unmitigated beauty of the flower into which Death Cab for Cutie has blossomed. While they performed their Pet Shop Boys-tinted new single “Gold Rush” on Fuji Rock’s massive White Stage, it was clear that DCFC is a band that has fully arrived as a world-class pop act. With a huge LED screen behind them projecting a bespoke video show synchronized to their every move, and as they dished out hits such as “Soul Meets Body,” “ I Will Possess Your Heart,” and the heart-wrenching solo acoustic love song that is “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” it became amply clear that Death Cab for Cutie unquestionably deserved the heights to which they have ascended.
4) The Cure
The absence of integral bassist Simon Gallup mitigated their sound ever so slightly, just enough to make it slightly uncomfortable at times. And, even despite his valiant efforts, Eden (Simon’s son) could not fill his father’s shoes. However, thanks to that young man’s courageous efforts, thousands of Cure fans – like your humble author – finally got to fulfill a long-cherished dream of seeing The Cure live. And, nothing could make that experience less precious. For those who get it – like the thousands standing in that mud-soaked field on Fuji Rock’s last night – hearing tracks like “Close to Me,” “Just Like Heaven,” and “Plainsong,” live, reclaimed pieces of our souls that we feared were lost with our youth. And, truth be told, most of us would have stood in a torrential downpour just for a chance to see the legend that is Robert Smith; perhaps the truest surviving Rock God of outcasts and misfits.
5) The Food! The FOOD!
The food! The FOOD!! It would have been literally impossible to sample the dizzying array of culinary splendor on offer at Fuji Rock 2019 without incurring a serious tummy ache. However, this author did his best, and felt both fulfilled and rewarded for his efforts. In this category, my two favorites were Mumbai (an Indian food stall) and 1066 (a British Pub food stall). Both being entirely authentic – with the owner of the former hailing from Mumbai itself, and the owner of the latter being a native of Sussex – they both offered fare that was reasonably priced, and, entirely delicious. Extra points went to 1066 for offering two kinds of British draft beer, and bonus points were accorded to Mumbai for their excellent Vegetarian Set; the latter consisting of two different full-sized servings of curry, one delicious samosa, and a scrumptious full-sized nan.