Throughout our Saturday Governors Ball coverage, it was clear to both Laura and me that Joji’s performance was a highly anticipated one: from our interviewed attendees saying that they were most excited to see his set to the groups of media personnel planning to cover it, the signs for that traditional, cramped shoulder-to-shoulder festival set that we briefly lost to COVID were all there. Even an hour before his set, as big names like Roddy Rich and Denzel Curry performed, the crowd forming in the pit was comparable to the peaks of smaller performances from earlier. People crammed in to get the best spots while it was still possible. Seemingly anticipating that this crowd would bring problems, security staff indiscriminately threw packets of emergency water into the crowd, striking those in the pit (myself included) every other minute. The incessant pelting of emergency water packets eventually gave way to the crowd’s screams as Joji came on stage after a few minutes’ delay.
Accompanied by hazy retro visuals and guitar backings that often drowned his voice out, this set was heavily defined by an air of melancholy and sadness that often defines his discography. Split between songs from Nectar and Ballads 1, he maintained a very minimal stage presence, occasionally interjecting between songs to express his love for New York, and, more commonly, throwing miniature bags of chips into the crowd, claiming that “sharing is caring”. It seemed incredibly strange to me that a man known for a brash and eccentric YouTube personality only a few years earlier could make the transition into such a reserved performer. This lack of stage presence didn’t seem to affect the crowd at all, though: they weren’t there for theatrics, but rather, to experience the music. Occasionally, I caught glimpses of people with tears welling up in their eyes or small groups of people swaying together: these groups reminded me of how difficult it is to truly review a performance, as it is impossible for one to experience it through the perspectives of everyone in attendance.
As the sun began to sink below the stage and the crowd became wearier, the encore began: a slow acoustic rendition of Slow Dancing In The Dark preluded an abrupt fake-out transition into the regular version of this song, sending fans into hysterics as they pumped the last bits of their energy into singing along to the chorus (even I put out a word or two). Then, just as abruptly as it had begun, the encore ended, with Joji taking a short moment to appreciate the crowd before retiring backstage. Overall, I would say I enjoyed this performance, as despite not knowing much of Joji’s discography, I was truly captivated by how he managed to enthrall the audience with so little engagement, and I was astonished to see how deeply his music affected those around me.
review and photo by ciaran c.