A man walked on stage at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium wearing a white baseball cap, red T-shirt and black athletic pants, lugging an inflatable raft behind him. An outsider might not have realized that this was the star of the night, until the venue thundered with cheers for Joji. Despite his lack of frills, Joji floored the entire crowd, as he serenaded the audience with the dreamy track, “Sanctuary.”
On Sept. 2, Joji transformed the auditorium into a utopia transcending time, where fans floated on luscious clouds listening to his ethereal melodies. Joji’s live vocal talent excelled beyond his studio recorded tracks, and his charismatic nature captivated audiences, making his San Francisco show on the “Smithereens” tour a euphoric night.
Joji’s vocal presence dominated the venue as he expertly performed his lo-fi tracks. Without flashy costume changes and big dance numbers, the concert primarily focused on Joji’s artistry. His simple external demeanor was stunningly juxtaposed with pensive, intricate lyrics that created an intimate environment.
The range of his live vocals exceeded expectations built by the studio recordings of his music. While lo-fi beats and dreamy musical accompaniments tend to drown Joji’s voice, his live performance proved that exquisite instrumentation is not the defining element of his songs. Compared to the forte piano notes and raspy tone on the produced version of “Attention,” the background piano drone was lowered in volume, and Joji sang at a deeper range, adding a somber tone to the introspective love song. While holding low notes, he belted them at a loud volume, artfully increasing the amount of pain and emotion regarding his unrequited love in the track.
Both bold and boisterous, Joji is unafraid to shake things up. Rather than relying on the produced version of the beloved “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK,” he performed two cuts of the track – a stripped version and the original. In his performance of the acoustic cut, Joji added new depth to the popular song by infusing raw emotion into the melancholic lyrics with deeper and higher tones, impressing the audience with his vocal range. While his discography is predominantly composed of somber ballads, these tracks invigorated the crowd with more energy than a Y2K disco beat. Joji used his performance of each version of the track as an opportunity to interact with concertgoers and bond with them over their shared love for the song.
Rather than be shrouded behind special effects and rehearsed speeches, fans got to experience Joji in real-time. Through rating his Postmates order delivered on stage and watching the artist fail to test out a trebuchet to deliver T-shirts to fans, audience members left the venue with a stronger connection to Joji that surpassed a musical relationship. Joji, staying unapologetically himself, made the concert unforgettable.
While his time preparing to sing generated episodes of anticipatory disarray, the moment he grasped the microphone, it felt like class was in session, with the crowd looking to Joji as an instructor. Unique to Joji’s ability as a performer is his ability to conduct his audience. Once Joji was belting heartbreaking lyrics, audience members were completely silent. When the artist deemed it was time for the crowd to shout, he would direct them by yelling “San Francisco,” sending a wave of fervor through the venue. The audience recognized Joji’s passion with heightened respect, basking in the glory of witnessing his relationship with his art live.
Even during his closing song, “Glimpse of Us,” the crowd was silent, both wonderstruck and enraptured by his hypnotizing melodies. Joji’s solemn syllables floated through the crowd, as the audience swayed back and forth together in perfect rhythm with the music.
While concerts can fall into the trap of becoming an excuse to show off an artist, Joji stayed true to himself and his passion for music, creating a “Sanctuary”for his fans to bask in.