Live Review: Summer Sonic 2009

Culture-clashing highlights from the festival on the other side of the planet – in every sense. Chiba Marine Stadium, Japan, Friday, August 7 – Sunday, August 9

Unless Neptune, Gabba Land or Lady Gaga’s knicker draw have started throwing parties, there’s few more amazingly alien festival destinations for the average British gig-goer than Tokyo. From the minute you step off the plane, the things that strike you as you enter mid-summer Tokyo for the first time are: the heat (stifling), the air (oppressive), the language barrier (baffling).

Somehow fitting, then, that the first set NME staggers into at the Chiba Marine complex (the city’s answer to Earl’s Court) is The Big Pink. The east Londoners are every bit as disorientating as the muggy throng of underground music geeks could have hoped for. It’s the Japanese capital’s notorious subculture of frenzied vinyl collectors that’ve fed this crowd, and their devotion is paid off with an impenetrable sonic smog of noise as they steamroller through the likes of ‘Too Young To Love’ and ‘Dominos’ to stunning effect. Later that evening 30,000 revellers are treated to the very definition of the next word never to get added to the Oxford English Dictionary – ‘stemo’, aka stadium emo – as three ginormous letters mark the stage backdrop: M, C and R. Bolstered by more pyrotechnics than a Vin Diesel skull-buster, New Jersey’s angstiest, My Chemical Romance, showcase the first acts of their post-Black Parade era. And if the snippets like ‘Death Before Disco’ on display tonight are anything to go by, the Broadway-esque conceptual pomp of the last album is giving way to rawer, near-Stooges-like bare-bones stomping punk’n’roll.

“It’s like stepping back into Hoxton circa-2006,” says Metronomy’s Joe Mount of Saturday’s new rave reunion bill. His prime-time slot on the Dance Stage sees language barriers erased on the choruses of nearly every cut from last year’s landmark ‘Nights Out’ album, further proof of the brazen criminality of its oversight from the Mercury Prize list. Next in the metallic Sonic Stage hanger are a road-weary CSS and, making the most of maybe their most devoted fanbase, they have little to show other than how few tunes they’ve written since the first record. That well-earned break is needed, guys, see you in ’10.

Nothing thankfully could be any further from the truth for the band that follows them. Klaxons, tonight dressed down, display
an ominous sense of momentum, with new song ‘Future Memories’ providing a chillingly bittersweet highlight of the set and leaving thousands of punters breathless.

Grotesque, surreal, crass and perverse: all the elements you could want from a closing set from Lady Gaga, then. Accompanied by
a death-metal combo and a troupe of ripped S&M dancers and interspersed by Warhol-pastiche videos, the buzz is inescapable as the costumes make Barbarella look like Hannah Montana. All the singles sound like national anthems to a newly founded rebel state, and tonight her deranged sense of totalitarian empowerment is every bit justified.

Sundays are about winding down, aren’t they? So Grizzly Bear’s inertia-state stumbling set of dreamadelic indie-rock is the perfect hangover cure to the previous night’s carnage. Woozy, parched and spiralling, the foursome ease through a zoned take on songs mostly from this year’s ‘Veckatimest’ album, to suitably warm, reserved response before The Vaselines mark another Summer Sonic milestone, making their maiden Japanese voyage on this long-awaited reunion to scenes that rivalled the reception their biggest fan got when he aired songs like ‘Molly’s Lips’ and ‘Son Of A Gun’. The newly beefed-up twee-heritage Glasgow duo may not quite shout-down Nirvana, but today in scenes that rival the closing scenes of Anvil it’s plain to see where Kurt’s orgasmic pop smarts came from.

In terms of idyllic climaxes, armies of gyrating wolves, frogs and giant bogies guarding a 30-foot pixellated kaleidescope portal that fires smoke and confetti into seas of transfixed worshippers, all soundtracked by anthemic, impassioned psychedelia would have to be up there on the Most Dreamed Of, right? Well, regardless, its what’s in The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne’s head, and now ours, after ‘Yoshimi…’ draws proceedings to
a close so otherworldly for a second you could almost think you’re in a culture where Bis and Shampoo achieve Hall Of Fame status, and where Hoobastank still nudge the top of bills, and… Oh, hang on.

Jaimie Hodgson