Braving the torrential downpour, fans lined up around the block of Boston’s newest venue Roadrunner to see Japanese sensation Joji take the stage. Despite the horrendous weather, the show’s sold-out crowd was punctual, and Joji’s hypeman SavageRealm noted that he didn’t see “one empty seat.” As the show neared its start, fans chanted “Filthy Frank,” an homage to the artist’s popular YouTube channel from the early 2010s.
After a brief silence, the piano introduction to “Sanctuary” boomed over the sound system, and Joji started his set. Immediately, his smooth, mumbling vocals filled up the room and reverberated thanks to the acoustics of the venue. Thanks to its upbeat tone and quick tempo, “Sanctuary” filled the crowd with a high energy and got fans hyped for the set.
Greeting the audience, Joji then announced that he was going to play one of his older SoundCloud songs, “YEAH RIGHT.” The screens behind him showed footage of his early career on grainy film, eliciting feelings of nostalgia and gratitude for how far he’s come. The slow, sad vibe contrasted heavily with the tempo of “Sanctuary,” demonstrating the variety within his discography which ultimately makes concerts entertaining.
The set design was unassuming, featuring a raised platform and LED screens. Given the slow, introspective nature of his discography, the simple stage fixtures blended well with the sonic texture of his music. The lighting, as well, contributed to an overall feeling of warmth. Rather than utilize Roadrunner’s impressive lighting system, Joji’s team relied mostly on LED backlighting, which casted his silhouette into the audience. Between songs, the lighting changed so that he could be clearly seen in his black overalls, but he was often no more than a vignette during his tracks.
Additionally, it should be noted that his stage band was truly impressive, and Joji gave them space to shine. On “CAN’T GET OVER YOU,” pianist Isaac Sleator, known as “Gator,” performed an improvised soul solo and brought new depth to the song, which was originally featured in the 2018 album “Ballads 1.” Similarly, guitar player Joshua Snow rounded out the band’s texture with a silky electric guitar sound, especially during his solo on Joji’s newest release, “YUKON (INTERLUDE).”
Not only was Joji’s stage presence confident, but he also brought a goofy energy to the room, perhaps emulating his earlier days as Filthy Frank. He fired a t-shirt cannon, brought a local Elvis impersonator out on stage, and performed a vulgar, yet comedic freestyle. Furthermore, frequent joking with his hype man on stage reinforced the low-key vibes of the performance; Joji truly was there to have fun.
This being said, the singer’s energy while performing was underwhelming. While his discography is surely slower and sadder, he did little more than stand in place and sway a bit while performing. Only at the end of the set did he utilize all the space on stage and approach the audience. His laid-back energy contributed to an informal relationship between artist and audience, but it also detracted from the energy one might want when purchasing an expensive concert ticket.
Regardless, Joji’s artistry was undeniable, and no other moment demonstrated this more than the a-capella rendition of his most-streamed song, “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK.” Whereas his mumbled vocals were overshadowed at times during his set, there was nothing between his voice and the audience during this moment, allowing himself to fully exhibit his vocal prowess. Complemented by the slow piano in the background, Joji took his time during the verses, only continuing when he felt he was ready. When the chorus arrived, he let loose and perfectly held his sustained notes, bringing chills to the audience, who were singing along in unison. This moment of the show — not only memorable— redeemed any hesitations previously held and demonstrated why Joji sold out the largest GA venue in New England.
Before the audience could even stop applauding “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK,” Joji returned to the stage to perform his recent chart-topping single “Glimpse of Us” as his encore. Again, the combination of piano and longing vocals flooded the audience with a sentimental wave. Although a song about loss, “Glimpse of Us” brought a fulfilling closure to the evening and hinted at the quality of his upcoming album “Smithereens,” which is set to be released on Nov. 4. If the rest of the album is of the caliber of “Glimpse of Us,” it would be surprising if his next tour was not sold out as well.
—Staff writer A.J. Veneziano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @aj_veneziano.