show review: joji @ the observatory oc

Written by Marisol Contreras

On October 26th, 2018, Joji released BALLADS 1, his first full-length album. On November 7th, 2018, he announced a North American tour in support of this album. Two days later, I jumped at the opportunity to buy tickets to one of his shows. Seeing as the first show was set to take place just a day after the conclusion of my winter session class at The Observatory in Orange County, one of my favorite venues, I chose to attend this particular show. As soon as the tickets went on sale, I bought VIP tickets, not fully understanding what this entailed, but hoping that the high-ish sale price would be worth it and that the tickets would not sell out before I could complete my purchase. Less than 10 minutes later, I had done it, I had purchased a pair of tickets to see Joji on January 29th, 2019 with one of my friends. Despite the fact that I was very excited about this show, I purchased the tickets nearly 3 months in advance and soon forgot about the show.

On January 18th, 2019, Joji announced that Rei Brown would be opening the show. By that time, my tickets had been mailed to me and I had memorized the lyrics to the entirety of BALLADS 1. I was, however, only vaguely familiar with Rei Brown’s discography, so spent the last half of my winter session making my way though Rei Brown’s discography on Spotify as I worked my way through my various reading and writing assignments. As I familiarized myself with the opener’s sound and made up potential Joji setlists in my head, my anticipation for the show only grew.

On the day of the show, I arrived at the venue about 5 hours early. After scouting out the line, my friend and I decided to make a quick food run before lining up. When we returned, the lines had gotten a little longer and my friend and I took our spots in the VIP queue, taking the 16th and 17th spots respectively. We passed the time talking to a 41-year-old woman, her 17-year-old daughter, and their circle of friends. Soon after, the VIP lanyards were passed out and by 6:00 pm we we allowed into the venue. After racing to pick up the VIP merch – a black drawstring backpack with “ballads 1” scrawled across it in white as it appears on the album cover, a similarly designed black beanie, and a signed poster featuring all of the North American tour dates superimposed over an image of Joji himself sitting in some desolate looking space – my friend and I raced to the pit and took up spots front and center at the barricade. By 8:30, Rei Brown was on stage with a minimal setup. The lights were low and a heavy black curtain covered most of the stage, forcing the audience’s focus on the soloist sitting humbly at his keyboard. He played for about 30 minutes, his no-frills aesthetic fully showcasing his mellow vocals, lulling the crowd into a peaceful mood. While I would’ve preferred an opener that was more energetic, Rei Brown’s low-key style was a surprisingly good precursor to the quirkiness of Joji. Rei Brown’s DIY instrumentals and and delicate vocals served as a more romantic and soft version of Joji’s sound.

After a short break to prepare Joji’s stage setup wherein random fans airdropped memes to each other and the crowd collectively screamed the beginning of the second verse of iLOVEFRiDAY’s “Mia Khalifa,” Joji’s set began. As the stage projections were turned on, the lights were dimmed, and the intro to “Will He” began. The crowd erupted in cheers and Joji soon came on stage. He took center stage, donning an all-black ensemble, featuring a North Face puffer vest, jeans, Nike Air Force 1 high tops, Smith ski goggles, and a plastic championship belt. The set, however, had a bit of a rocky start as sound issues caused Joji to motion to the techs off-stage and apologized to the audience before leaving the stage. He then re-entered and began the song over again. The sound difficulties continued throughout the entirety of the set, but only momentarily disrupted the performance, resulting in Joji cutting certain verses short and looking visibly annoyed, but not phasing the energetic crowd.

From “Will He”, Joji then shifted to “Demons” and then “YEAH RIGHT”, arguably the most empowering simp-song and a personal favorite of mine. It is at this point that the shoot dancing and the random utterance of “unblock me bitch” began; thus, the Joji that I saw on social media came to life before my eyes. As I and the rest of the crowd screamed the lyrics “Imma fuck up my life” at the top of our lungs, the energy level plateaued with the coming of “Head In The Clouds” and “TEST DRIVE”. After a brief water break, Joji said “this next one’s about a website,” and the intro to “worldstar money” began as Joji cheekily sang the minimal lyrics to the song. As this track came to a close, to my surprise, Joji mumbled something about doing an old song and began the charmingly simple lyrics of “you suck charlie”, with strong backing from the OG Filthy Frank/Pink Guy/Joji heads who had memorized every sound of this 3-year-old track. When this song ended, Joji said that this was the first time that he had even performed that particular song live as a smile overtook his face. Given that this was my first time seeing Joji live, the special experience became even more meaningful to me with this milestone performance of this old classic.

As the crowd came down from this high, Joji went into  “I Don’t Wanna Waste My Time”, “ATTENTION”, and then “XNXX”. The mood took and sharp upturn as “CAN’T GET OVER YOU” began and bled into “NO FUN”. Joji, feeding off of the energy of the crowd, jokingly dancing around the stage, only causing the audience members to jump along to the beat even more excitedly. The vibe, however, mellowed out once again with the coming of “I’LL SEE YOU IN 40”. The simpy feel of the beginning of the set and the mellow atmosphere of the middle of the set once again returned, as the set was coming to a close. As the outro began to play, Joji left the stage and the instrumentals faded out and the lights dimmed. The crowd, unwilling to accept the end of the show began to chant “Joji”. After a few minutes of this unified screaming, Joji returned as stage lit up in red and the beat to “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” began. However, this was the acoustic version of the song. I, admittedly was a little disappointed by this because this meant that Joji would not be doing any high notes as he pointed the mic to the crowd for them to scream the chorus, rather than him. However, when this concluded, I realized that he was faking us out and Joji set into the studio version of the track. At first, Joji pointed the mic to the crowd during the chorus, only this time it was louder. Thus, as the end of the track neared, Joji matched the confident fervor of the crowd and belted out the lyrics “in the dark” along with the crowd, to my sweet satisfaction. Then, with the conclusion of this song, Joji left the stage for the final time and the show came to an end.

Despite the fact that my feet were aching by this time and that for the first time in over 3 hours I was able move freely and wasn’t pinned against the barrier, my heart was racing and I was savoring the moment. As I tried to eternalize my memories of the concert, I knew that, though VIP was kinda pricey, it was still worth it. After all, how else would I be able to honestly say that I saw the one and only Joji do the shoot dance within arms length of me.

Some songs that I wanted to hear are “R.I.P.”, “Introvert”, and “Midsummer Madness”. The first because I think that hearing Trippie Redd screaming R.I.P. at the top of his lungs is the funniest thing ever. The second because Rich Brian was at the show and, therefore, easily could have gone on stage to perform my favorite song of Summer 2018 with Joji. And the third because I love hearing Joji hit those high notes.

Setlist:

  1. Will He
  2. Demons
  3. YEAH RIGHT
  4. Head In The Clouds
  5. TEST DRIVE
  6. worldstar money
  7. you suck charlie
  8. I Don’t Wanna Waste My Time
  9. ATTENTION
  10. XNXX
  11. CAN’T GET OVER YOU
  12. NO FUN
  13. I’LL SEE YOU IN 40
  14. SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK – Acoustic Remix
  15. SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK

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