Makuhari Messe International Exhibition Centre, Chiba, Japan
August 9th ~ 11th 2013
Part One: Sonic Mania August 9th 2013
While not technically the three day national holiday, Obon, in Japan yet the start of the busiest travel days of the year have truly begun. Tokyo is effervescent with people wheeling suitcases, groups of teenagers racing about and trains packed with people going off to their home towns, to theme parks or to any number of big summer concerts and festivals. The kinetic energy of everyone it punctuated by cries of “Atsui des ne!” (It’s hot) as for a second month Japan is saturated in an extremely hot and humid spell not unused to hot summer seasons life continues; albeit with a few more bottles of water and stops for delightful rest bites in overly air conditioned convenience stores.
Kaihin-Makuhari is a busy station throughout the year however during high season exiting the building is extra slow and steady – like a viscous andesite lava flow the mass of people glide along platforms, slides down stairs and finally bubble out into wider spaces. Makuhari Messe is on average a 10 minute walk along well signed pathways that shoot of too other exceedingly large and well used commercial buildings. Arriving early there is already line organisation in effect small groups of people are sitting in the extraordinary heat as the hazy sky stains red then burgundy and finally falls into darkness, there is an excitable feeling in the air, oddly to the uninitiated observer, it’s with a quiet calm: almost a contemplative time, the zephyr before the tempest. At 8pm sharp the doors open and the serene peace vanishes above the venue dozens upon dozens of fireworks are exploding, the staff are shouting through loudhailer’s for people to not run as the first few hundred through the door run the entire length of the exhibition centre only to run all the way back to get to the halls entrance – even the prepared are sucking in the heated air a little faster as on mass we slowly descend in to the halls. The Crystal Mountain stage is the furthest from the entrance and it is a stop start dash as either the staff or lazy legs temporarily halt the sprinting.
The Japanese female pop trio Perfume are the opening act and I was not the only one taken by complete surprise but the audience reaction, as people left and right overwhelmed by the initial surging crush and strong crowd movements are difficultly extracted, lesson learned never underestimate the fervor of 20 something men for a girls group, I again thank the stars for the front row position and something solid to hold onto. The elements of cute and simplistic choreography, comic book styling and a dash of techno production are well polished and executed with sweet dispositions and lots of audience interaction. The band whom have been around for 13 years and have a new album out later in the year, sing in Japanese and English and the majority of the energetically spirited crowd are singing along mirroring hand movements in perfect unison, when no doing so the names of the girls are screamed in happy repetition. It is a with some happiness, on several levels, that the set is under an hour long and as the crowd thins out a little there was undeniable relief on many flushed faces as we went from crushed to exceptionally close.
I have seen the Pet Shop Boys a number of times over the years; those years being the mid to late 80’s and not much has changed there is a structure to a Pet Shop Boys show that for me has always been a bit of a see saw of highs and lows the two guys in the group are great, intelligent and creative people with wonderful values, the songs for the most part, there are newer tracks included, are classics: they all still carry resonance be it cutting confidence or contemplative charm and for the most part the minimalist element of the band remains, the extreme costumes the band wear actually beautifully enhances this. However the theatrical elements of the show seem to be shooting at two targets and hitting neither. The full stage semi-transparent curtain, on which fast moving footage is played, stays up for a protracted amount of time Chris and Neil having not only made their stage entrance behind it but continuing to play and sing for an entire song, finally it falls at what seems a bizarrely uninspired moment revealing a band we’ve been straining to see for 10 minutes. If you want an extravagant stage production then do that get ten or twenty dancers on the stage wacky head gear included, roll out the lasers, the lights show and get those glitter balls hung height and plentiful ~ what doesn’t work is the ‘unplugged elaborate’ stage show of just two dancers in which ever artiste embellishments were sourced for them to wear while knocking out their very best contemporary dance moves: it felt uncomfortable. It is the nature of the beast that is the business of live music that is the blame; necessity, dynamics and affordability, after all Chris Lowe does his thing with an almost still stoicism and that’s not really an issue and while Neil Tennant is no stage dynamo but his presence is extremely affable and enormously engaging and the songs while not to everyone’s taste are well crafted pop hits. It could have been more fun than it was, but it is not the Pet Shop Boys music or performance that’s at fault.
After seeing only 5 shows of the ‘resurrection’ tour over the past 13 months at large capacity outdoor shows I’ve anticipation and excitement in abundance to see The Stone Roses at a smaller indoor gig. The arena has filled up again and as the technician’s do their thing on stage and the music plays the audience are like cats on hot tin roofs for the first few seconds of each track everyone is awaiting for Jean Terrell to sing those two sultry opening words, a spontaneous audience sing along to ‘We Can Work it Out’ is an unexpected and warm interlude to the building anxiety.
As the closing strains of ‘Stoned Love’ fade The Stone Roses come on stage all wearing Kazuki Kuraishi and Lucas Price designed A.Four Labs jackets and trousers (except Mani who has opted to stick with jeans) inspired by their debut album cover. It’s a nod to long term friendships, a journey taken and shares with everyone the bands delicious humor. They are all pretty quick to abandon the Diaplex textile jackets with taped seams, as the temperature which, despite being 1:30am, was still in the mid 80’s: although along with the humidity and closeness of everyone it’s anyone’s guess just how hot it really was. There was no doubt the set list would remain the same and that any new ‘stuffs’ will come along in their own good time and most properly not in a live environment, at first, anyhow.
‘I Wanna be Adored’ kicks things off in great style and sets the bar high. An addition to the set list this year sends the enthusiastic crowd wild ‘Elephant Stone’ shows off so much about what the band are about Mani’s bass is a solid embrace to which Reni adds a rolling affectionately massage of funky drumming while John enchantingly caresses with melody, Ian bringing the physicality and emotion together with endearing lyricism that feels exquisitely clandestine. The enclosed space and smaller audience does add a touch more seduction to the performance, and gives the songs a dash more strength and boldness; I hope that there is a chance to see them in smaller venues in the future just to feel all encompassed by the bands musical synchronization is quite sensational. Ian plays around the stage while his stance often is all bravado, it’s regularly followed by a smirk, a flash of tongue or raise of eye brow and even when there is a small glitch at the start of ‘Shoot You Down’ that means they have to stop and re-start the song there are sweet and affectionate glances and smiles between the band, Mani patting Ian on the back and Ian and John embracing: which had the crowd roaring approval. ‘Made of Stone’ is much like the band themselves with it’s easy flowing lyrics and catchy chorus on the surface under which full of depth and atmosphere are multi-layers of emotions, passions and desires: their music creates something, you feel that only you and they could experience, could say, or conceived of. The set list flows along nicely Ian saunters and shakes his shakers, as John engrossed in the sounds his strings plays with ardor and animation, he’s using several new guitars, from what must be quite a collection, most noticeably rocking a Gibson Flying V for ‘Elephant Stone’. Reni is an abundance of smiles playing beats that everyone moves to without question, going into an extended rhythmic drum solo that’s powerful yet harmoniously funky everyone around is shouting his name, setting off another huge cheer as his throws and fails to catch a drumstick and it’s with regret this unexpected treat comes to an end to soon.
It’s the culmination and as is usual ‘I am the Resurrection’ is the closing song immense and thunderous everyone’s vociferously dancing away arms up in the arm singing as loud as dry throats will allow; Ian puts his jacket on and his hood up for a final stroll along the stage and as the sound filters out, he gathers up John and Reni in is arms, Mani shouts “Thank you, Tokyo’ and as they move to the front of the stage a triumphant group hands together held aloft the crowd chanting ‘ROSES! ROSES! ROSES!’ (In case there was doubt of the love) Ian replies ‘Tokyo. Number one” and with that it’s done.
Wandering around taking in the atmosphere of Sonic Mani becomes the penultimate part of my night, there is an array of stalls selling international brand alcohol and food stalls most of which sell the expected Japanese festival and event munches, fellow vegetarians and vegans be warned and come prepared, your choices are pretty much close to zero. Catching up with part of the Ed Banger 10th Anniversary Celebrations, on the Sonic Stage. The French music label has taken their birthday party around the world and Ed Banger main man Pedro Winter is here as his alter-ego Busy P and delivers to an ocean of ‘hands in the air’ action packed house flavored set.
Coming in Part Two – Summer Sonic Festival 2013; A Very British Line Up ~ Two Days of live music including Jake Bugg, Sterophonics, Palma Violets, Peace and Johnny Marr.