Representing ascendant Asian record label 88Rising, Joji took the stage at Fortune Sound Club Friday night to display his lo-fi genre-bending tracks.
Joji’s childhood friend Rei Brown, who many on the Internet previously assumed was simply Joji under another name due to the degree to which the two sound alike, stepped out first.
Staying in the shadows for most of the performance, Brown put the crowd in the appropriate musical mindset. Barely moving, it was all about his spacey, transfixing vocals as he sang about loneliness.
A trap beat entered and punctuated the hypnotic acoustic guitar pattern like an uneasy, disorienting rattle. The audience’s full attention was already drawn to the stage.
Joji, a more outlandish personality, arrived with a bit more theatrics, yelling excitedly at the crowd to snap them out of the calming trance his opener put them in.
After launching into the somber opener “Will He,” Joji apologized for being “a little sick.” Performing the track “Demons” next, he missed a note, shouted “Nope!” and cued the crowd to back him up, which they did willingly.
Joji did hide most of his vocals behind a louder recording for most of the show, but the consummate entertainer found other ways to keep people engaged.
Formerly known as the foulmouthed, surrealist YouTube comedian Filthy Frank, you could sense some of the character’s essence despite Joji’s attempts to distance himself from that material and start a more serious musical career – the way he engaged with the audience made it evident that he is a comedian at heart.
A naturally funny presence, most of his songs were introduced with a pun playing on their title.
“I wish I had more energy,” he said, searching for a way to transition from song to song. “I’ll do a handstand every time instead.” For an apparent lack of energy, he paradoxically did multiple handstands before the end of the night.
He introduced the track “XNXX” by saying “This is named after a porn site – UH, I MEAN, a REGULAR site.” There was a lot of laughter to be had.
Joji’s music occupies a unique niche, blending together aspects of modern pop, alternative R&B and hip-hop in a muted, lo-fi fashion that shows off his raw and emotional vocals – vocals that are far from perfect, but perfection isn’t the point here. Joji’s music is intentionally left a little messy, and it’s highly effective for that reason.
The club setting of Fortune was a better fit than you’d think for Joji’s lower-key style, especially on the back-to-back pop anthems “Head in the Clouds” and “Test Drive.”
White flashes of light illuminated the swaying arms of the crowd as Joji flashed the slightest of smiles, aware he was creating a moment. “Test Drive” in particular hides depressing lyrics behind its jangly production, but the crowd moved slowly together in approval, like a singular, cathartic mass.
The track “Can’t Get Over You” prompted the biggest response, the crowd dancing as Joji’s keyboardist added an impressive solo to the synthpop track.
Joji saved his biggest hit, “Slow Dancing in the Dark,” for the encore. He performed it first with nothing but the piano, turning off his recording.
The track is entrancingly beautiful, and it was nice to really hear his vocals for the first time. A couple of fans actually began slow dancing before Joji performed the song again with its full instrumentation.
Joji left the stage after only 40 minutes, but you wouldn’t be able to say that he didn’t have the crowd’s undivided attention while he was there. The mysterious, alluring figure retained some of his mystery.