At first glance, it seemed an unlikely pairing - Taike 台客 heroes vs Canadian slackers.
But as odd as it is may have appeared, having these two seemingly unrelated artists on the same bill, they in fact share a great deal in common: they are both subversives of the highest order.
In the summer of 2000, I was visiting Ladybug’s Xiao Bao at her job - some sort of music website where people could order/buy actual CDs (that sounds a little quaint and funny now). She was giggling as she uploaded information for a local band. The album cover featured a black and white drawing of farting maidens rocketing up into the air, with sperms dancing around them. Or something like that. Anyway, she was delighted to be including this album in the company’s catalog. I asked who they were. She replied, “These guys are fucking crazy. I love them so much!” She was talking about LTK 濁水溪公社.
While LTK haven’t achieved anywhere near the same levels of popularity or success as a legend like Wu Bai, they are, in their own way, arguably just as iconic and important to the underground indie rock scene of Taiwan.
Pro-independence, anti-KMT punk rock revolutionaries, LTK achieved both renown and criticism for outrageous shows that featured satirical skits and lots of destroying of things. When I first saw them play, it was at Underworld in the early 2000’s and I was hosting an old friend from America. I didn’t know what to expect, and what we got was just that: the unexpected. A horde of diehard fans occupied the front of the room donning nothing more than motorcycle helmets and bikini briefs. As the music commenced, there was a swarm of humping and imitation butt-sex. It was as far as one could get from staid tourist experiences like the CKS Memorial. My friend loved it.
Things change. Specifically, the line-up has had its share of turnover over the years and the rascally stage antics - at least on this night - were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps the band was subverting the conventions again and defying expectations of themselves (I’d heard a recent performance involved strippers, so maybe this night was a one-off). However it was, LTK chose to take the stage and just kick out the jams.
The set began rocky, as the sound mix was out of whack. After a few songs it settled into an agreeable balance. One-third of the set came from their incredible album Taik’s Eye For an Eye (1999). The crowd didn’t seem to react much during the performances (i.e., no mass-humpings) and while the band’s presentation would have really benefited from some jumping around or any kind of movement, the affection was still real and tangible based on the loud applause and cheers. Helmsman 柯董 dished out his share of jokes and commentary in between songs and that’s where the subversion lay: in the content. LTK still blow raspberries at world. Thank god.
There is a ready fall-guy in this modern age and it is the hipster/scene-ster dude, with messy, uncoordinated fashion ideas and snarky, sarcastic humor. People resent them and their bedhead ‘cause they generally emit an air of superiority. Nobody likes that.
So being rather unacquainted with Mac Demarco, aside from an interview we’d published here and watching a few videos, I was little leery seeing him and his band on the stage all sloppily dressed, bad-hatted, and wildly bedheaded. But I know not to judge on appearances (I’ve got my own freak thing going on). I considered the good-taste track record of my enthused friends, saw that they had plenty of company (The Wall was pleasantly packed) and my mind stayed open.
Disarming and charming, Mac Demarco defeated the stereotypes with ease. Rock and Roll Nightclub, Ode to Viceroy and Waking Up the Neighborhood paved the way for happiness. His sound has light, quirky, noodle-y touch - kinda dance-y, kinda lackadaisical - and made think of Ween, Danielson Family, and even Pavement - other bands that are on their own trip. She’s All I Need and I’m a Man kept the party rolling.
The bassist took several turns in the spotlight with his weird dialogues and lounge-y fillers. He even treated us to what was both the worst and the briefest bass solo ever. It was perhaps 3 terrible plucked notes. But it was also the most enjoyable concert solo of my gigging life. The whatever-y fuck-all-ed-ness of the set was somehow working. Whether by intent or inspiration, Mac and the band dropped more and more snippets of other songs into their own, from Rammstein to Eric Clapton, eventually culminating later on in an epic medley that morphed from the Police to Metallica to AC/DC to Rush.
In a lesser band, the joke would have gotten really old, really quick. So kudos to these guys for not becoming annoying. Indeed, it was a blast.
Introduced as his ”only serious song tonight,” Still Together was the final tune of the evening, and also my favorite. By the crowd response, I wasn’t alone. The falsetto chorus made it a winner. So what then do you do when people demand an encore? Neil Young’s Unknown Legend. The classic rock-isms that make up middle America/Canada and have tongue-in-cheeked their way into Demarco’s aesthetic became unbridled, and whether or not we knew the song, we all certainly felt like we did. Warm, witty, and certifiably talented, Mac Demarco was a good, good time in the big city.