It’s amazing how time has had the tendency to get away from me lately. Case in point: I meant to write this blogpost far earlier, considering its subject – the Summer Sonic music festival – occurred a month ago today. But for whatever reason, the days are flying by even more quickly than usual, and I can’t believe that it’s already well into September.
The reason for my August trip down to the tropics of Tokyo was Summer Sonic, an annual music festival that’s held dually in Tokyo (or technically, Chiba, a nearby city) and Osaka. I think of it as the Reading and Leeds of Japan, only much, much smaller. Basically the two-day festival trades lineups between the two cities. Whoever plays in Chiba on Saturday will play in Osaka on Sunday and vice versa. One of the reasons I’m really fond of Summer Sonic is because they tend to divide their artists pretty evenly according to style. Last year, for instance, one day’s lineup included Ke$ha, Rihanna, and a host of other pop acts. The following day boasted bands like Grouplove, The Vaccines, Franz Ferdinand, Crystal Castles, and Sigur Rós. (Take a wild guess at which day I attended…)
This year, that division was a little less clearly-defined. On Saturday in Tokyo, Metallica and Fall Out Boy, bands you wouldn’t expect to play nicely together, were the top-billed acts.
Sigur Rós was the heavy hitter for me last year, but this year, the draw was even more tempting. Muse is by far my favorite band, and their headline slot at Summer Sonic meant that I was bound and determined to park myself in the front row at the QVC Marine Field to get as close to the action as I could. In the end, I succeeded, marking the seventh time I’ve seen Muse. Funnily enough, I’ve now seen Muse more times in Japan than anywhere else, even though they usually only make it over to Asia for a proper tour once every album cycle.
As I mentioned earlier, it was horribly hot in Tokyo the weekend of Summer Sonic. Ballparks like Marine Field aren’t exactly rife with shady spots, so that made for long, hot hours in the afternoon. People took relief where they could get it.
Muse wasn’t the only band I was craving to see. Imagine Dragons, a relative newcomer to my “favorite bands” archive, were conveniently playing on the same stage. By that time, I’d made my way up to the barrier and latched myself there for the rest of the day. Imagine Dragons were really refreshing to watch, because it was their first time playing in Japan, and you could definitely tell. Their onstage banter was filled with genuinely enthusiastic glee about how surreal it felt to be playing in Tokyo. When they pulled out a giant taiko drum (the same kind that is played in traditional Japanese festivals, like Nebuta) for their last song, I couldn’t help but grin that they’d made the effort to make this gig special for their mostly Japanese audience.
Since Muse was playing on the main Mountain Stage, I hadn’t planned on leaving to ensure that I’d still have a front-row spot for their set. Luckily, most of the artists I’d have seen anyway were on the same stage, like The Smashing Pumpkins, but I did miss out on seeing Earth, Wind & Fire and Cyndi Lauper. So it goes. One artist that I wouldn’t have seen if he’d been on a different stage was John Legend. I don’t profess to be any sort of huge fan of Legend’s – in fact, I only knew one song in his entire set – but it was definitely a nice break from the rest of my rock-oriented day.
Finally, after hours in the heat, Muse came on stage. I can enter shameless fan-girl territory pretty quickly before a Muse concert, and this was no exception. And the beauty of seeing the Teignmouth Trio in Asia is that you’re pretty guaranteed to get a decent surprise in terms of setlists. This can rankle other fans and understandably so…but for those of us getting the treat, it’s hard not to enjoy the special treatment. For Tokyo, that surprise was a full-length “Yes Please,” a song that hasn’t been played in its entirety in literally years. When it does show up in setlists, it’s only in brief outros to other songs.
Here’s where I descend into a cranky rant, though. Up till Muse’s set, the crowd had been awesome. From the start, though, it was a battle to enjoy them because of the waves and waves of (mostly) teenagers crushing those of us in the front to try and get closer. I understand that being in close proximity to your idols can be pretty exhilarating; it’s why I was so determined to be in the front row, after all. But if I’m up against an iron barrier, it doesn’t matter how much you push and shove…I literally cannot go anywhere. That didn’t stop the crowds from attempting to flatten myself and my other front-row cohorts into pancakes. My ribs the next day were in a sorry state.
But that’s basically a given at any festival. When I complained about it to a friend, who’s frequented loads of gigs in the UK, included Reading and Leeds, he simply cracked, “Said every festivalgoer ever.” And he was right. At the time, it enraged me to no end, but looking back, it’s a small price to pay. And another nice thing about Japanese shows…if you’re in the front and the crowd becomes overwhelming, you can simply shout “出ます!” (demasu!) and one of the security personnel will haul you over the barrier to safety. Maybe that’s something that exists at American shows too, but I’ve never encountered it before. Needless to say, rather than fight my way out of the crowd when Muse’s set ended, I just 出ます-ed my way out of there.
As it turns out, one of the hidden perks of being a foreigner in the front row at Japanese shows is that you’ll end up on the front screens a fair bit. This is even more common if you obviously know the words…and it quickly became apparent to the main cameraman that I did. However, I think my fangirl ways ended up being showcased even more than I realized. On the metro back to my hotel, one woman gave me a searching stare before asking, “…were you the girl on the screens…?” Another friend, an Irish guy who works in Tokyo, had a similar reaction: “I could’ve sworn I saw you in the front row of Muse tonight.” Shrug. Sometimes it pays to be that crazy fan.