Radiohead went deep into their long list of hits, classic tracks and fan-favorites when they headlined the 17th edition of Japan’s largest international repertoire music festival, Summer Sonic.
The fest was held simultaneously at Makuhari Messe and QVC Marine Field in Chiba near Tokyo and Osaka’s Maishima site on Aug. 20 and 21, with Radiohead appearing on Saturday in Osaka and Sunday in Tokyo while British electronic duo Underworld headlined in the opposite order. Weezer, Fergie, Alesso and Underworld led the way on Saturday at the QVC Field.
Underworld’s closing set saw a marked improvement in the lighting. Gone were the rather clumsy looking rectangular light blocks that flanked the stage and in came rapid neon green pinpoints, which combined with the giant color changing balls that were set loose over the crowd. The band mixed tracks from their recent ninth studio album Barbara Barbara, as festival-goers were hit with older faves like “Dark & Long,” “King of Snake.” Japan loves Underworld and it was clear the feeling was reciprocated as they dedicated “Born Slippy.NUXX” to local fans as another great Japanese love — summer fireworks — burst out over the stadium.
But it was the packed Sunday in Tokyo when the fest reached its peak intensity. New York’s currently-hot Sunflower Bean opened up the Sonic stage and their spirited set established the tone for the rest of the day. Their almost bashful, polite banter between songs belied their stage presence as they played. The synergy between lead vocalist and bassist Julia Cumming and guitarist Nick Kivlen was refreshing and energetic, finding Cumming down on her knees at one moment and gently headbutting Kivlen’s chest the next. Summer Sonic marked their Japan debut but it seems they’ll be back quite soon, given that they enthralled a respectable pre-midday crowd of more than 2,000.
Danish vocalist MØ, who last year jumped to international fame as the singer on Major Lazer’s smash hit “Lean On,” took the baton and entranced the 3,500 or so gathered at the Mountain stage. Her set included the single “Kamikaze” from her upcoming album produced by Diplo and tracks “Don’t Wanna Dance” and “Pilgrim,” from her 2014 long-player No Mythologies to Follow. She ended with “Lean On,” sending the crowd into a stomp mode.
Electric energy ran through the packed-out stadium for Radiohead, who also headlined the fest back in 2003. After a six-minute opening ambient jam the Oxford lads played the first five tracks from A Moon Shaped Pool, in order. They departed from that with a bout of maniacal laughing from Thom Yorke before diving into “2+2 = 5” from the Hail to the Thief album (the release they were touring in 2003). The set pulled liberally from Radiohead’s oeuvre including “Airbag” (OK Computer), “Reckoner” (In Rainbows), “No Surprises” (OK Computer), “Bloom” (The King of Limbs), “The National Anthem” (Kid A), and “Idioteque” (Kid A). The boys were in fine form with tight instrumentation and the subtle textures they are known for. The six-song encore started with the relatively rare “Letdown” from OK Computer before working up to their megahit “Creep.” The stadium exploded into a frenzy with those in the balconies literally jumping from their seats. “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” (The Bends) concluded the 2 hour 15 minute set and Yorke offered a quick “goodnight” before fireworks echoed the energy of the crowd.
In total 209,000 patrons passed through the gates, a drop of 26,000 from last year, and the deficit was felt most acutely on the days Radiohead did not appear, where the crowds were thinner.
Billboard estimates that ticket sales returned ¥2.5 billion ($24.9 million) in revenue to promoter Creativeman Productions.