This weekend was spent at the Summer Sonic 2008 music festival in Tokyo. Me and 200,000 of my closest friends. OK, 200,000 sounds like hyperbole (I’ve been using that word a lot, maybe because I use hyperbole at lot). But I read one account that said 200,000 attended. I thought it was only 120,000. What’s another 80,000 when it is already that many? You can imagine what the train was like.
Does it make sense to do a music festival during the hottest and most humid season in Japan? Not really. But Summer Sonic is always this time of year. Every time I go to a festival I vow that I won’t go to another. And then I do. I’m getting too old for this kind of thing. But it keeps me young? Tomo promised me that he was going to be mellow and not get in “concert mode.” Ha! He can’t not get in concert mode. That meant that Sunday we got to go to the stadium stage at 3:00 ish for an 8:00 pm Coldplay show. Anyway … that’s what we did.
Although it is hard to believe, this was Tomo’s first Summer Sonic festival in Japan. In the past he’s not been that interested in the bands, or was living in the States. After having an all access pass to the Fuji Rock Festival this year as a translator for White Lies, he was back with the proletariat for Summer Sonic. We decided to get a hotel in Tokyo on the Keiyo train line which is the only line out to the festival site in Chiba (Makuhari Messe and Chiba Marine Stadium). Interestingly, the only Japanese baseball game I’ve ever gone to was at the Chiba Marine Stadium. So I had one leg up on Tomo in Tokyo. Again.
We got out of the hotel by 9:30 am and headed to the site. We weren’t the only ones on the train, but it wasn’t too bad. What complicates things a little bit is that Tokyo Disney Resort is on the same train line. That could spell disaster for the return home. We got to the station and then followed the stream of people to get our wristbands. Along the way we passed some scalpers. The same scummy people in Japan as they are in the States. There must be an international brotherhood of scummy scalpers or something. I think there is also a maximum tooth limit to be a scalper. Something in the mid to lower twenties. Along the way we passed the “Offcial” merchandise area. Yes, even in this big international event, english typos can happen. And jerks like me will be quick to point it out.
The Japanese is spelled correctly. About the only thing that was in english was the merchandise signage. There was a large foreign population at the festival. Let me make a little statement here. It seemed that whenever people were out of control, breaking the rules, and generally being jerks they were white. Sigh. I saw my people (although I’ll say most were English and Australian) arguing about bringing beer into the stadium venue (which you can’t), smoking in the venues (which you can’t), squirting people with squirt guns, pushing their way through the crowd, talking during entire shows, and generally being obnoxious.
Here’s another picture of the entrance before we even got to our wristbands. That long queue in the background is for the official merchandise. Most of the good stuff sold out in the morning.
One particular T-shirt them has SS art on the front to represent Summer Sonic but it looked more like Nazi SS style. Apparently the Japanese did not lose sight of the ridiculous appropriation of an historic symbol that represents such evil. That was the only t-shirt that was left by the end of the day. Someone really made a bad decision.
Now on to the shows (with a one or two sentence review):
CAUTION: Clicking on the link could surprise you with music.
Los Campensinos – Did I see them?
Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong – Who?
Micky Green – This is actually the first group that I recall. We only caught a song or two, but she was good. The setting was cool, right on the beach. I’ll probably get this CD.
Cajun Dance Party – Tight set. Very British. Not sure if I want to buy their music. One of their lyrics had to do with spitting out your thumb with Wrigley’s gun because they are both a waste of time (thank you MySpace).
South Central – Where did they get the name? A bunch of white boys from somewhere (Brighton). Wore black hoodies and were generally impressed with their coolness. Although I must say one of the emo ones came out and shook hands with the audience.
Friendly Fires – More dance from the UK. Catchy tunes, no hoodies required.
The Fratellis – A very tight set. A lot like listening to the CD. Fun, but not multi-dimensional enough. Still, I actually own their CD.
Paul Weller – Excellent show. A great performer, with “A Town Called Malice” as an encore. We scored a set list from the FOH crew (Front of House). This is the 3rd time I’ve seen Paul Weller.
Wombats – We don’t predict great things. They were like little boys with inside jokes and overwhelmed by the stadium stage. The singer was too chubby to take him seriously as a front man for a band. Watch them become bigger than U2. After all, I used to make fun of Guns N’ Roses before they made it big.
MGMT – Tomo is a fan. I thought they were good but I got a little bored. You know, it is a lot of music to see over two days. My feet were already tired. Good to listen to though.
The Teenagers – Dance from France. We caught the end of the show and I felt like I was watching a Pierre and Gilles photo come to life with the lead singer, at least from as far away as I was.
Crystal Castles – I can’t forget them. I can’t say I enjoyed watching them, but they certain had the crowd in a fenzy. If I needed some alternative, avant garde movie scene with a band, I’d hire them in a second. Not my style, but memorable. Much better to listen to at a club than watch. But look, they got the biggest write up. Hmmmmm.
The Kooks – Very tight, good show. Why am I not that inspired to go buy their CD?
The Radwimps – A J-Pop band I had never heard before. Really rocked the place at 23 years old. I WOULD consider buying their CD.
Alicia Keys – Yo yo yo, can really perform. R&B. Yo. Got a little boring for me yo.
Coldplay – Their imperfections always make for a great show. I really enjoyed it. I spent half the show squashed against all those around me so I can’t remember all of it. It is the 4th time I’ve seen Coldplay – 2 festivals, one front row (Chris was wearing Banana Republic underwear – yes I was that close and he had droopy drawers), one 10th row.
Here we are at the end of the show. I look a little frazzled!
Wow! You can see why I needed a day to recover. I can’t really even remember some of the bands we saw. One thing that was really cool about a Japanese festival is that you don’t get a buzz from second hand pot smoke around you. I saw some really drunk people, but I didn’t see any pot, people tripping on ecstasy, or tweaking on methamphetamines.
I did enjoy some silly T-shirts. Pardon the expletive.
Here’s the crowd leaving the venue. One of many bottlenecks.
Getting there and away
Arriving at the area was OK, because since it is an all day event people don’t arrive at the same time. Departing is different. Even though the stage times are staggered, everyone needs to get out. And there is one train line. It gets to be a madhouse. The first night we were pretty lucky. Of course, you know to buy your ticket when you arrive so you have it ready when you depart. Unfortunately, you still have to catch the train. The train was packed. Remember the Disney note I made earlier? Well, of course the train was still packed when we arrived at Disney and you could see the look on the parents eyes when all these wiped out concert goers were in the train blabbing away! One other interesting note is the festival is over by 9:30 pm (for the most part) because of transportation!
The second night was actually scary getting to the train. The JR station staff decided to stop the people going in to the station. Now, everyone just got stuck at the bottom of the stairs. Then a few foreigners went through (to meet friends or jump the line) and then some other foreigners decided they would jump the line. The Japanese staff was powerless to stop that. So then more people starting jumping. In the meantime, more and more crowd was gathering. They released the rope, the crowd surged, and I thought, “Uh oh. Trample potential.” Tomo and I got separated and I was definitely getting pushed. Someone just behind me did indeed fall. We didn’t see anything on the news so it seems everything worked out. It was a really crazy situation. We took the train in the OPPOSITE direction (as we had noted other people to have done the night before) and were going to jump on the next train BACK to Tokyo. Then we would be seated when the crush came. However, we saw a restaurant at the next station and decided to eat instead. That was a good idea!
It was a very fun weekend and now I’ve spent the last few hours pounding out this blog. Yes, it really does take time to put it together so please enjoy it!
And if you want to see a professional report, check this out from NME.