I know a buzz when I hear one. And all the chatter I was picking up on Montreal’s Suuns indicated something interesting was about to go down.
Stepping out of my apartment into some refreshingly cool August night air, even the elements were conspiring to make this a special evening.
I’ll admit that half the reason I entered Legacy Saturday night had nothing to do with Suuns, and that’s with no slight intended to the headliners. When I noticed Hang in the Air 盪在空中 were the support band, that sealed it for me. I was there.
It had been a damn long time since I’d enjoyed these guys on stage, but instead of making me feel bad about that, they did what they do best - a unique blend of reggae and rock, heavily localized with Taiwanese words and passions - and so I was feeling pretty freaking good. Simply dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt, Lai Q (vocals, guitar) is still the coolest cat in town. One hand casually resting in his pocket, the other quick to smack his guitar as the impulse came, it’s a kind of badass-ness that derives from comfort and confidence and less from a “yeah, whatever” sort of disdain. To all the young rebels, this is the man you wanna be.
The band’s other leading character is bassist Allen. His levity serves as a nice counterweight, providing comic relief as he welcomed Suuns, discussed betel nut (“a Taiwanese drug”), and joked of HITA being the nation’s role models.
But back to the music, the grooves were laid out, and the guitars were jamming. From chilled bass lines to shredding solos, how their mix of music has achieved its balance, I’ll never know, but it makes all the sense in the world. The set was filled with familiar material from their album 一大片的風景, but we were also treated to a fantastic new number to close their night. Wielding a melodian, Lai Q led the way through sonics peaks and valleys, and Allen’s crazy skank dancing brought up the rear.
盪在空中, I’ve missed you.
It had also been a while since I’d been to a show at Legacy, what with summer travels, etc. Taking a rest on a bench outside the venue between sets, I had to admire how pleasant the whole Huashan 1914 setup is these days.
With all the false starts and politicking about the warehouse property over the years, from my perspective it seems to be working successfully nowadays - exhibits, restaurants, Taiwanese specialty shops, and now an arthouse theater to complement the livehouse at Legacy.... I know if I were touring the world with my music, I’d feel really impressed see I was playing here. Kudos to Legacy for their role in creating such a cool part of town.
But I was soon awoken from my reverie by noisy bursts of guitars and feedback on the other side of the wall. It was showtime.
I reentered Legacy as the spits and spurts of noise settled into darkness and a drone. Vocalist/guitarist Ben Shemie lurched over his microphone as the drums thumped out a slow, simple walking beat atop a low warbly sythn line. One-two, left-right, boom-cha. People were getting happy.
Late to the Suuns party, I’d only watched two of their videos before the show, and these were sufficient enough to intrigue me. One of those songs, 2020, came early in the set. This is the song that gripped me at home. I love when a band will exploit the simplest of ideas and craft a cool tune around it. In this case, it’s the demented, stuttering, downward-sliding guitar riff that sticks in you. And it sounds just as cool live. People were getting happier.
The way of the Suuns is peculiar. There are trance-y beats, and edgy, evil guitars. There are tender, whispered vocals and deep loud bass. There are things happening on computers and keyboards that I don’t understand. At times it all evokes a Thom Yorke vibe, other moments I feel I’m hearing a misplaced U2-My Bloody Valentine instrumental mash-up at a ketamine party, or vice versa (however that’s possible). But it all works. They’ve got a sound to call their own. I think what holds it all together is a less-is-more ethos. Applying restraint to one’s art is a great challenge and clearly these guys understand how that works, coyly raising tensions and withholding resolutions just. a. little. longer. Or even not at all.
It is this playful manipulation that provoked me to annoy my girlfriend all night with the question, “Is this the one with naked girl masturbating in the video?” (My other reason for asking is that I was simply ignorant of their repertoire) But the question is not invalid. Suuns have a dark sexuality about their music. Even though my girlfriend always patiently told me, “No, not this one,” I always replied, “Oh, ‘cause I can picture that happening to this song.” For all the modern circuitry of their arrangements, Suuns has a primal intensity at its core. That’s what was making folks sway just so, if you know what I mean.
My other impressions from the night include a rolling, almost disco bass, evil throbs, noisy swells, and lush soundscapes. Somewhere in there I swear I even heard a cowbell. Deep-set, moody hormones had been rendered danceable, and there was love in the air. People were happy, and from behind the shadows, it seemed the band was feeling it, too. I can only imagine how intensely awesome they’ll be at The Mercury in Kaohsiung, a place 1/10th the size of Legacy, but an experience assuredly 10 times more fervid due to such close quarters.
At last, Pie IX made it to our ears and we all enjoyed more cathartic release. It was as close as Suuns will come to a party anthem, and they seem to know it, allowing for a semblance of a crazy rock out moment. As good as that was, it wasn’t my favorite tune of the night. That was the encore, highlighted by what I concluded were the sounds of flying saucers and UFO propulsion. The jam was on. Bring on the love, bring on the gratitude - it was a good, good night in Taipei and the people were happy. Thank you Suuns.
Your new fan,