Perhaps it's just third day festival fatigue kicking in, perhaps it's the uncertainty over who will be replacing the cancelled Morrissey, perhaps it was the unassailable brilliance of Franz Ferdinand yesterday, perhaps it's my rapidly thinning wallet, but from the start there's an anticipatory sense of anti-climax about today. Also, perhaps as a result of the impending White Stripes, I'm increasingly thinking about how delicious my shiny, stripey, red and white electronic wristband looks.
Anyway, The Soundtrack Of Our Lives (Green Stage) are shit. They ignore all of the most interesting moments of "Behind The Music" and play a whole load of deadly boring Hobbit-rock off their previous two albums. We can't stand it any longer and the weaker two thirds of Clear And Refreshing's Fuji Rock team head off to see the likeable Stellastarr* (Red Marquee) and I run over to catch the exhilaratingly, screechingly unlistenable Aburadako (White Stage). Aburadako don't so much play songs as make confusing mathematical experiments with the rhythm section. Guitars drop in and out of the music on a hair-trigger while drums and bass stop, start, change speeds and cause tightly regulated havoc with split-second co-ordination. Chuck in a screaming lunatic vocalist and you have a winner on your hands.
Down by the river there's a guy selling those horrible pixie hats that you see all over the place at festivals and talking knowledgeably yet tediously about his life in music. Restraining the urge to throttle him I try to wash my hair in the river, watching in alarm as great clumps of the stuff are washed away, perhaps to line the nests of some rare Niigata mountain bird. The others catch up with me roundabout this point and we take in a short burst of the Verve-influenced Brit indie of South (White Stage) before taking a wander through the forest where K-106 (Orange Court) are making some horrible jazzwank noise next to the really nice chicken curry place that I wanted to sample. A hasty retreat takes us past Hanaregumi (Field Of Heaven) but the fetid stench of organic food and teepees drives us onward, past the hilariously titled Solar Power Stage Gypsy Avalon (So you're a hippy? No shit Sherlock!) and back down to civilisation.
A quick straw poll has us watching The Cosmic Rough Riders (Green Stage) instead of the far more interesting looking Icelandic weirdniks Mum (White Stage) and we regret the decision instantly. "You're such a polite audience" jibes Stephen Fleming. "You're such a fucking shite band", the audience doesn't quite reply. By this time, the nagging feeling of discomfort is growing to stomach clenching proportions and we are slowly realising the reason why.
A quick push down to the front and we're ready to catch 75% of The Libertines for the second year running. When Carl Barat calls out "I want everyone to give a big round of applause for Peter Doherty" no-one responds initially, and the sorrow on his face is painfully evident. It's not that we don't love him, Carl, it's just that everyone here only knows him as "Pete". The band then go straight into "Can't Stand Me Now" and it's almost too emotional for words. When songs like "What A Waster" and "Whatever Happened To The Likely lads" follow it, you can see the pain and discomfort that Carl is feeling playing these songs with only a big Pete-shaped hole next to him. He gets tetchy with John, he drinks a lot of red wine straight from the bottle, and he sings the line "The Arcadian dream has all fallen through, but the Albion sails on course" from "The Good Old Days" and there are tears in the eyes of at least one member of the audience. The truly tragic thing about it is that The Libertines are still totally brilliant. Stand-in guitarist Anthony does a fine job, never trying to imitate Pete and never seeming to milk his moment in the sun. John is a good singer and as charming a gentleman as any seen at this festival so far. Gary's drums are as tight as you like as he skillfully manages the difficult feat of holding the frequently shambolic songs together. And Carl is magnificent. A true star with passion, love and honesty, where so many singers have professionalism, practiced lines and artifice. But finally, and most tragically, all the songs from the forthcoming album are amazing and point irrevocably towards the arrival of a generation classic.
It's an act of extraordinarily poor scheduling that allows Jet (Green Stage) to go onstage next. Everything that The Libertines are, Jet most certainly are not. While their debut album was a likeable, unreconstructed, shamelessly retro feast of third-hand riffs and desperately simplistic sentiment, their live performance is static, arrogant, and completely bereft of any kind of charisma or charm. "Who wants to hear a new song?" yells Nick, and everyone keeps quiet. He doesn't get the hint and keeps nagging at them until they muster up a slightly less half-hearted roar. Perhaps what he could have said is "Who wants to hear 'Are You Gonna Be My Girl' and then fuck off to get a good place for Keane?" because the exodus from the stage that greets the end of their solitary hit is of Biblical proportions. They trudge on through their prefabricated patchwork assortment of broken pieces of other bands' music and one is left with the overwhelming sense that this is a band who have been caught believing their own hype and are now withering in the glare of their own mediocrity.
As if to hammer home the point, and providing the day's glorious high point, here's a brilliant set by The White Stripes (Green Stage) to completely blow the young Aussie chancers out of the water. Meg is her usual enigmatic self, and Jack is in fine form, improvising much of the set on the spot and launching into a bizarre, surreal, and quite sinister monologue about what he and Meg had for breakfast before ferociously attacking "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself", stopping the song after a couple of bars to announce that actually Meg had toast, and then starting again. The beautiful, dysfunctional, Pinteresque theatre of everything they do suits the open-air arena brilliantly and they reward the crowd with an encore and even a smile. "My sister Meg says 'Thank you'", announces Jack as they take their final bow, and the memory of Jet seems reassuringly distant.
So, finally, drum roll... the band who will be replacing Morrissey is... will it be The Music? Robert Harvey has been seen hanging around backstage at The Charlatans and The Libertines shows. I heard the The Coral were embarrassed about canceling last year and they stepped in. No, no, no, it's going to be a surprise Babyshambles gig. Pete Doherty flew in last night with Wolfman and some mates he found outside the local bookies. Well... no, all wrong. What we get is Morrissey/Smiths tribute band These Charming Men (Green Stage) playing what must be the biggest gig they have ever and will ever play in their whole lives, and doing their damnedest to enjoy every last second of it. Hey, kids, I remember the day that a Smiths tribute band headlined the last night of Fuji Rock. Oh, granddad, you do talk such shit. Still, as baffling as it must have been for all the confused kids battling their way towards the green stage against a stream of fleeing Morrissey fans as they hear the strains of "Ask" bellowing out in a pitch-perfect Mozza honk, this really happened and all I can say is "wow!" -Ian Martin, Aug.12.04.