Second Fuji Rock Festival Is A Sun-Scorched Success

Beck, Garbage, Sonic Youth, Goldie among Western acts at two-day Tokyo-area concert event.

The only complaint 22-year-old Masumi Mori had about last weekend's two-day Fuji Rock Festival was that she felt confused because there were too many bands she wanted to see.

That wasn't a problem for fellow 22-year-old festival-goer Kenji Watanabe. "It feels so good ... to be outside and see so many cool bands," Watanabe said.

Keep in mind that this is the first major Japanese rock festival to actually take place as planned. Considering that the artists participating ranged from Beck to Sonic Youth, the excitement, the hysteria even, is understandable.

Last year, the inaugural Fuji Rock Festival was scuttled by Typhoon Rosie, which forced the cancellation of the second day of the event. But Japanese concert promoters Smash pulled off Fuji Rock Festival '98 with nary a natural disaster in sight.

Unlike last year's festival, the '98 edition did not actually take place at the foot of the imposing Mt. Fuji, but in the Tokyo Bayside Square, just outside Tokyo. It featured two days of music from such international artists as Garbage, Beck, Sonic Youth, Goldie, Junkie XL, Nick Cave and Korn, as well as a number of popular Japanese rock bands.

For many of the 35,000 fans, more accustomed to traditional Japanese rock shows where the audience stays seated and respectfully quiet during the performance, the festival seemed to be a liberating call to arms.

Attendees lined up as early as Friday night for a chance to enter the arena, a square built on landfill with a view of both Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Bay. By the time the Anglo-American high-tech rock band Garbage hit the stage midday Saturday, the emancipated festival-goers were jumping so hard it almost felt like the start of one of Japan's frequent earthquakes.

"Last year it was a typhoon, this year it felt like it was, like, 400 degrees out there," said Garbage guitarist Steve Marker, who, while happy to play the show, added that the unbearable heat made him realize that the band's highly-produced dance-rock is better enjoyed on cool evenings.

A rainbow parade of umbrellas and wet jackets led from the subway station to the venue, hours before the show Saturday. There were boys with dyed, short, cropped-and-spiky punk hairdos and girls in pig-tails, baby T-shirts and cowboy hats. You'd think that fans who started lining up the night before to see their favorite bands would be overflowing with enthusiasm, but instead they seemed calm and collected.

When asked about the reason for doing a large-scale festival in Japan, Mr. Hidaka, the president of Smash, said, "I really want the Japanese kids to be able to experience and enjoy the spirit of a rock festival in Japan." He further emphasized, "We were also the ones responsible for allowing standing up at concerts in Japan."

Following Garbage's lead on Saturday, noise-rockers Sonic Youth seemed equally stoked by the heat. They tore into their classic guitar meltdown "Death Valley '69," during which bassist/vocalist Kim Gordon stomped on her instrument and vocalist/guitarist Thurston Moore screamed into a toy microphone as he jammed his guitar against his mic stand and monitors. Picking up on the energy, the crowd broke into loud cheers.

Crazy from the heat, some fans almost started a melee as Japanese garage-punkers Guitar Wolf waded out into the crowd to find a fan to play guitar with them during their brief set. The rest of steamy Saturday blazed along with sets by Japanese punk-poppers Shonen Knife, Australian gloom-rocker Nick Cave, punk icon Iggy Pop and a typically quirky set from pop-rock collagist Beck.

Dressed in a Playboy T-shirt, Beck rocked the overheated crowd so hard that the U.S. Navy men acting as security had to pull several passed-out young women from the crowd and take them away on stretchers. Meanwhile, the festival ground once again trembled and shook like an earthquake from the thousands of dancing fans.

In addition to pulling out "Debra," a rarity he only plays live, Beck showcased the song "Nobody's Fault," which is slated to be featured on his upcoming album, Mutations (Oct. 20). Beck yelled during the song, "258,000 freaks watching my back," to which the crowd reacted with thunderous applause.

With the temperature again rising close to 100 degrees on Sunday, the second day of the festival featured a healthy dose of local talent. There were sets from such popular Japanese punk bands as Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, who had the audience so stirred up that the show was stopped several times as fans threatened to storm the stage.

Hitting just the right summertime mood, thrash-rockers Korn took the sun-scorched stage on chrome low-rider bikes and spent part of their performance previewing the songs "BBK," "Dead Bodies Everywhere," and "It's On" from their forthcoming album, Follow the Leader (Aug. 18).

Sunburnt and tired, the attendees finally began to mellow out when evening approached and the more electronica-oriented bands -- such as Junkie XL and Goldie -- took the stage.

While a portion of the crowd was still happy to dance and jump around to the rock-meets-techno beats of these bands, many took the opportunity to dip themselves into the wading pools set up at the outer edges of the concert area.

Others napped or began their trips home, contented.