The Phoon Fighters
Words, photos and pac-a-mac: Tony Woolliscroft
The Mount Fuji Festival is staged in the most exotic location on earth, and this year featured THE PRODIGY, RED HUT CHILI PEPPERS, FOO FIGHTERS, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE and GREEN DAY.
It was the perfect rock gig. Until Typhoon Rosa hit Tokyo…
IT’S ALWAYS hard to gauge how big a city is unless you’ve read up on the place before you arrive. But after an hour of driving on the freeway that circles and runs through Tokyo, we’ve only just reached the outskirts of the city — and we’ve been moving at a good 50mph, stopping only for the odd toll booth. We surmise that Tokyo is one hell of a big, dense chunk of concrete.
The time is 5:30am, and we’re on our way to Japan’s first ever outdoor rock festival. The venue is the supremely impressive Mount Fuji, which you can see towering into the sky from miles around. It’s in a region of mountains to the north west of Tokyo. The higher we climb, the cloudier it seems to get and the more it starts to rain. We remain optimistic that the weather will change, hoping that the sun will come out for what, on paper, looks to be just about the ultimate festival bill: Red Hot Chili Peppers. Foo Fighters. Green Day, Rage Against The Machine, The Prodigy. A ‘Who’s Who’ of ’90s rock playing in epic surroundings over two glorious days. If only those clouds would lift…
ARRIVING AT at the festival site, it looks increasingly likely that the rain is here to stay. It’s getting worse by the minute, and we’ve just heard some cheery soul announcing that a huge storm — the affectionately-named Typhoon Rosa — is due to hit the shores of Japan sometime tonight. Great.
The festival site itself is a good three-quarters of the way up Mount Fuji — it’s hard to tell exactly how far, as the whole mountain is covered in thick, dark cloud. The crowd is facing down the slope towards the stage, ensuring a pretty cracking view for virtually everyone here.
Immediately evident is the fact that all the Japanese organisers are extremely nice and polite. We queue up for our festival passes and enter the site, but no one asks to see our passes or our tickets. Very odd. We just walk in and make our pay to the backstage area, unmolested by security guards and the usual army of jobsworths who would normally have frisked us twice and asked us to show our passes 50 times by now.
The festival kicks off at ll a.m. with Californian newcomers Summercamp taking the stage. It’s raining constantly now, and one of the stalls lining the site’s perimeter wall is doing a brisk trade in the plastic mac department.
THE CHILI Peppers arrive at the site at 1 pm, and head for the comparative dryness of their, dressing room. I quiz frontman Anthony Kiedis about his wrist, which was broken in a car smash a week earlier. His arm is in full plaster, and bent to a 45 degree angle. His wrist took the full impact of the crash, and he not only shattered his bones but severed the tendons as well.
Anthony tells me he has no feelings in three of his four fingers, and won’t know how they will heal until the plaster comes off in six weeks’ time. His doctor has allowed him to play this one concert under certain conditions. More of which later.
The first of the superstar bands onstage are the Foo Fighters at 2:30pm. As I stand in the photographer’s pit at the front of the stage waiting for the band’s imminent arrival, the heavens open up and sheets of rain teem down. The wind is picking up, too.
I hide my camera underneath my waterproof as the band come on to an enormous cheer from the crowd behind me. The Foos seem oblivious to the weather and look to be having a blast, running through a set which contains all the best bits of the new The Colour & The Shape’ album and their self-titled debut: ‘Monkey Wrench’. For All The Cows’. This Is a Call’, `Everlong’. Right at the end of a hectic, full-on performance, new drummer Taylor Hawkins collapses over his kit and throws up.
Dave Grohl later describes the gig as “f**king fun-, and he says it was his ‘Altamont’. Altamont, near San Francisco. was the site of an infamous Rolling Stones gig in 1969, where a member of the crowd was stabbed to death. Nice!
Back in the Chili Peppers’ dressing room, Keith Flint from The Prodigy has popped in for a chat. He, Flea and Anthony Kiedis sit together discussing nose piercings, skunk hairstyles and playing together at the Roskilde Festival a few years ago. The vibe backstage is very calm and laid-hack, with different bands popping in and out of each other’s dressing rooms for a natter between sets.
Rage Against The Machine are next up — and yes, it’s still pissing down. There’s a massive cheer as the hand come on for what is apparently only their second Japanese gig ever and launch straight into ‘People Of The Sun’. Of course, the crowd goes suitably mental.
From the side of the stage, all of the Chili Peppers, The Prodigy and the Foo Fighters are also watching. Rage’s set is so intense that we wait for Mount Fuji to erupt.
The highlight of the LA quartet’s show comes when Keith and Maxim from The Prodge bound onstage with Rage to jam through a brand new, still untitled song. Later, I ask both hands about the song: it turns out that it was totally unrehearsed. Rage ran through the song the night before in Tokyo without Keith and Maxim, and then — out of the blue — walked up to them at the side of the stage on Saturday and asked them to join in. Keith later claimed that he didn’t even know the lyrics, he just followed Zack de la Rocha…
IF YOU believe all the rumours, it’s a miracle that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are here at all. Will they split? Will Dave Navarro and Flea leave to join Jane’s Addiction? Do they all hate each other? Well, as far as the latter goes, not today. Here, the four Chili Peppers are laughing, joking and generally just getting on. More amazingly, the band are bursting to get onstage, willing Yellow Monkey (a Japanese retro outfit) to get off so that they can get on with it. Yellow Monkey do provide one of the comic highlights of the day, however, by repeatedly shouting ‘JAPANESE! in an attempt to try and excite the crowd.
The gig is running an hour late when the Chills are finally set to play. Unfortunately, this is also exactly the same time that Typhoon Rosa chooses to arrive at Mount Fuji. As the band walk on, all hell breaks loose. One song in, and the crowd are asked to back up and calm down. A number of people have fallen at the front, on the now very waterlogged and increasingly treacherous slopes. Despite Anthony’s arm being in a sling and fears that he may have to play the gig sitting down, the Chili Peppers play amazingly — Navarro, in particular, is playing the gig of his life and loving every minute of it, while a hyped-up Flea constantly screams ‘JAPANESE!’ at the crowd between songs. But the storm’s become ferocious now, and a bunch of Japanese stage-hands have been asked to stand behind Flea and Dave’s amps to hold them upright in the driving rain and wind. The Chilis respond by asking the crowd if they like the Spice Girls, and then serving up a quick burst of ‘Wannabe’.
As the wind and rain continue to intensify, there are genuine fears that someone may get seriously injured. Finally, after just 45 rain-soaked minutes, it’s decided that it would be wise to cancel the rest of the gig. Flea, Dave and drummer Chad Smith trash their equipment, seemingly unaware that the wind has battered the lighting rig so badly that several lights are hanging by bare wires. Annoying as it may be, the right decision has been taken. The show is over.
BACKSTAGE, ANTHONY is drying himself off with a towel. The show was great,” he enthuses, “but at a certain point all the amps got totally saturated and lights were dangling from cords. While it lasted it was cool. And the doctor warned me in order to play the gig that I shouldn’t get the plaster on my wrist wet!”
The next morning at 9am, the decision is made to call off the remainder of the festival. Bizarrely, in the town of Fuji at the foot of the mountain, the sky is blue and clear. But at the gig site, several hundred metres higher, it is apparently still pouring.
I travel back to Tokyo with an unhappy Prodigy, who were due to play today. At least two of The Prodge did manage one song with Rage Against The Machine — Green Day interrupted the recording of their new album in San Francisco to travel to Japan, only to be sent home without playing a note.
As for the future according to the Red Hot Chili Peppers… Well, it’s difficult to say how long they’ll last. The only real certainty is that they’re playing more gigs together soon. Well leave the last words to Anthony Kiedis: “This has been one hell of a festival: Rage Against the well-oiled Machine were beautiful, and we have been and will always be the Red Hot Chili Peppers. See you in Vegas in September!”