LIVE REPORTWHITE STAGE7/27 SAT
American Football took the stage in a downpour that looked like it was created for a movie; especially lit up as it was by the overhead stage rigs. Hundreds of rapt fans stood attentively waiting, as the band tuned their instruments onstage; possibly fighting the humidity to little avail. Towards the end of the sound check, their lead singer started singing “raindrops keep falling on my head,” and, as if by magic, it started raining even harder. The band then left the stage for a few minutes before their official start time. At exactly 8 p.m. the crowd started to cry out like banshees, but nothing happened. Then, the lights dimmed, and the crowd went crazy again, as a 16th note rhythm of glockenspiel music came over the PA. The stage-side screen revealed it to be played live. Then, a quick hi-hat rhythm started to accompany it, like a crowd clapping for more. A swelling of guitar notes became audible, and then the kick drum kicked in. Following the entry of the drums, American Football’s trademark syncopated single-coil guitar sound rang out, and the crowd went wild as the vocalist’s voice made itself heard. It must have been a newer composition, because there were strings and there was more of a cinematic sound than they possessed in their early years.
Electronic twiddly bits filled the air after the first song ended, along with ambient horns fading in and out, like an indie-rock version of some instrumental passages from Music for the Masses-era Depeche Mode. Suddenly the second song started with a syncopated kick drum patterns to match their trademark guitar licks. The classic longing of this band is conveyed in the lyrics “stuck on yesterday”. Gentle female backing vocals complimented the lead singer’s languorous voice well, and the song ended in a long instrumental passage which would be perfect for the soundtrack of a movie about shattered love. It’s no surprise that they were placed on the same stage as – and right before – Death Cab for Cutie. They both carry the same melancholy, seemingly proprietary to the rainy regions of the Left Coast. This latest song in their set evolved into a polyrhythm of the chiming guitar picking against a counter rhythm on the kick drum. Very progressive. The rain continued to mercilessly pelt the crowd like animals in a rain forest. Suddenly, the current song ended, and the audience hooted and hollered its appreciation. The lead singer said, “Hi, we’re American Football, and we’re so grateful to be invited here, to share this moment with you, on this beautiful day.” No one laughed. American humor.
As a collection of yellow stars made out of light beams danced over their heads, American Football performed a song on the happier side of their nature. And, in a flash, things got more aggressive (yet still happy) and the crowd roared with its own wave of happiness. In a sense, this band are heroes to thousands of Japanese people because of their shoe-gazer nature; it’s brooding and anthemic, and concentrates on creating something beautiful without seeking to glorify itself. The song then died down to a rattling of glockenspiel.
The next song started off with a gentle trumpet solo which turned out to be an instrumental. The drummer then struck a gentle rhythm on a hand drum and, as the guitars kicked in, the crowd erupted into cheers. It seemed like an instrumental of hand drum, guitar and trumpet, but then a gentle vocal came through, singing “thinking about how I should say goodbye”. The bass and the kick drum then jumped into the mix. The crowd cheered wildly at the end of this song, but their enthusiasm was dampened by the sudden start of the heaviest downpour Fuji Rock 2019 had seen so far.
Fuchsia and white lighting danced over the band as a song about father issues commenced, with American Football’s vocalist crooning “Now as a father, I blame the booze.” Beautiful female backing vocals and glockenspiel counterpointed the percussion of the rain. This song ended, and then another started, with chiming 16th note picking on a Telecaster; with counterpoint being played on another single-coil axe, to angelic effect. After about five minutes of intro, the drums and the bass came in, with a triumphantly homecoming feel.
The before-last song started with a 6/8 pattern on the high hat, and a 3/4 pattern on guitar, accompanied by gentle glockenspiel punctuation. After a few minutes of intro, the drums came in kicking heavily on the kick and snare; as if there were a passive-aggressive point to be made. The song then broke down to a chime-y 6/8 pattern on the guitars; as they supported the vocals, before the drums came back in with a vengeance. An outro of funky bass, drums and glockenspiel then riffed out before the song suddenly ended.
Once that track drew to a close, the lead singer gently stated “We’re just going to play one more song. Thank you for being here!”, before launching into “Never Meant” from their eponymous debut album released in 1999; perhaps their first indie hit. It sounded as fresh as when it came out twenty years ago. The crowd went wild as if they were watching global superstars, when the first guitar breakdown came around. As the last strains of clean guitar died out, the crowd applauded enthusiastically, and the band left the stage with a simple and gentle “Thank you very much”.