Bob Dylan, Kendrick Lamar, Post Malone Lead Fuji Rock Fest's 22nd Edition

Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Post Malone at Rock in Roma festival on July 10, 2018. 

Bob Dylan, Kendrick Lamar, Post Malone and N.E.R.D. led the way at the 22nd go round of Japan’s celebrated summer music Fuji Rock Festival. Held July 27 -29 at the Naeba Ski area in Niigata prefecture, this edition, with a ‘60s legend and a huge hip- hop star ,was reminiscent of the 2001 lineup which featured Neil Young and Eminem.  

Reports of a typhoon didn’t scare the devotees. Some 125,000 people attended the fest, equaling the last two years, which were a jump up from the three years previous. The rain did hit hard Saturday night, but it didn’t seem to matter.    

The enthusiasm was due no doubt to both the headliners and the strong overall lineup, which included Anderson .Paak, Jack Johnson, Vampire Weekend, Skrillex, Johnny Marr, MGMT, Starcrawler, Superorganism and Dirty Projectors.

Dylan was in fine form and his frequent grins suggested he was enjoying himself immensely. This idea is bolstered by the number of iconic tracks he played from his canon, including “Simple Twist of Fate,” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Don’t Think Twice," "It’s All Right,” “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” “Desolation Row,” “Ballad of the Thin Man,” and "Blowin’ in the Wind.” He played the piano with gusto belying his 77 years and the crowd responded. As usual, Charlie Sexton’s lead guitar work stood out as exemplary despite the fact Dylan changed up the arrangements on many tracks to make them difficult to recognize.

Other standouts of the fest included Post Malone and Super Organism. Austin Richard Post, Post Malone’s birth name, appeared on stage solo, comfortable to sing and rap over backing tracks for his slow jams. He charmed the crowd, thanking them profusely and noting how much he was enjoying Fuji Rock Fest. The audience went wild during Post’s smash hits “Better Now” and “Rock Star” though it could be noted it was more non-Japanese heavy than other sets at the fest.

Superorganism’s synth electro had the jammed Red Marquee stage enraptured. Lead singer Orono Noguchi is originally from Japan, though the teen refused to speak to the crowd in Japanese except when she faked terrible, broken Japanese, clearly busting on the bewildered throngs. 

Starcrawler’s set was something to behold as well. The L.A. thrash band brought ultra-intense energy and the masses responded by crowded surfing and generally losing their minds. The crazed set ended with lead singer Arrow de Wilde covered in fake blood and writhing around in the audience while nervous security personnel looked on.

Other performances of note included Skrillex​'s dubstep set which featured sub-woofers beyond the usual heart-stopping waves. He brought out Japanese legend Yoshiki for a turn on piano and drums in a moment that can only be described as a tribute to X-Japan (Yoshiki’s band which lost its original guitarist Hide in 1998).

Fuji Rock made a huge leap forward technologically with YouTube live streaming the celebration on two channels. As each channel broadcast nine performances, that meant 54 of the roughly 200 performances were accessible in real time around the world. YouTube also decorated and broadcast in the hospitality/press area, which led to an interesting dynamic as musicians, press and industry people cheered and screamed for performances at a fest they were attending but watching on a screen.

Festivals 2018