Thirty minutes before showtime, Legacy was cloaked in a thin blanket of delicate keyboard music, blue light, and the low murmurs of hushed conversations. The audience sat peacefully on the floor, their numbers slowly and stealthily growing. I thought of spores dividing exponentially in the shadows, settling in at three-quarters capacity. It felt more akin to a meditation seminar than a rock venue.
This unexpected scene was the calm before the storm, and even the storm itself was unique. No violent upheavals, but rather a beautiful convergence of sonic elements, all swirling, swelling, transforming, and releasing.
Sugar Plum Ferry (甜梅號) has officially become Shimmering Islands (微光群島). Essentially, what we’re getting now is what what we got before, only more mature. It’s top notch musicianship and sensitive, well-crafted opuses. It is not a stretch to claim that Taiwan is a post-rock island, and in the 16 years since their inception, Sugar Plum Ferry cum Shimmering Islands continues to lead the way in instrumental rock. They are masters of the game.
And of the night’s performance? Slightly veiled behind cloth screens receiving projected videos, the band began with the tempo spelled out on the cymbals, accompanied by a simple two-note pattern on a guitar lightly accented with effects. The drums turned to a stompy beat as the rest of the band joined the march forward, the patterns repeating for several cycles before expanding and evolving. The colors and shapes shifted accordingly, and occasionally the light was just such that the group was clearly revealed behind them. Like the music itself, it was all hinting at something larger, that there was more to this than what we could readily see and hear. Pay careful attention for the subtle beauty of the moment - a life lesson if there ever was one and quite appropriate for this evening.
Shimmering Islands is not a band inclined to seek the spotlight or personal accolades, but I do want to mention guitarist 蘇啟文 Su. He’s a musician I have long admired, going back to our days working together in 78bpm. I always enjoyed watching his preparation and hearing him play through ideas, and back when he joined Sugar Plum Ferry it struck me as a perfect fit. Su’s playing is understated but profound. There is a great power in restraint and knowing when to unleash it, and Su gets it. Further enhanced by e-bow and other effects, his phrasings were sublime. It was great to hear him in action once again.
The most affecting moment from the evening, however, was deeply personal but something I feel is no less relevant to my review. I held my baby daughter, snug and sleeping, throughout the first half of the show. This is perhaps my most favorite thing in the world - a physical manifestation of my love for her in the form of providing real comfort and security. In these such moments I watch her and both wonder about her future and reflect on the days she’s blessed me with thus far. I’ve done this countless times in her short life, but why was I feeling so tearful about it now?
I looked up and through my blurry vision I recalled my surroundings. And then it it hit me - what I was hearing in my ears was exactly what I felt inside my heart - all of my tenderness and hope for her rendered in sound. Shimmering Islands was providing a real time soundtrack to my most intimate experience. My daughter then awoke and her eyes met mine in silent agreement. We studied each other as the band unwittingly channeled my soul for all to hear.
Is there a word for that?
Everything at that exact moment was perfection. As artists, we create to express our ideas, desires, and feelings. We strive to connect with others. As an audience, we listen to find empathy and take solace and enjoyment from a determined arrangement of sounds over time. And this - this - this was a musical/artistic connection at its purest.
Every artist deserves to know when they’ve succeeded so brilliantly & absolutely, and I think it rarely, if ever, happens on such a level. So here’s to you, Shimmering Islands: you nailed it. Thank you for that beautiful moment.
And now back to our collective reality.
At one point the video displayed footage of the ocean, presented sideways and upside-down. It was an apt metaphor for the music. Waves rolling, surging, and abating like the patterns of the songs themselves unfolding and growing. The stage was bookended by Su and Insecteens (昆蟲白), and it made for another great sight when the music would erupt and they rocked out. Both of these guitarists get quite emphatic when the songs reach their zenith: Insecteens headbanging and Su primal screaming. Awesome. I loved it.
After a brief intermission, the band returned with a song from the first Sugar Plum Ferry album. The screens were gone and I found I preferred that. Being able to clearly watch the group perform was more satisfying for me, and the cool videos were now projected on the large screen behind them. What looked like fluorescent light tubes perched on mic stands were the new stage prop, but I don’t think it worked too well. Maybe if the lights themselves were dimmer or the physical design less raw it could work, but I felt it cluttered the stage, and didn’t suit the music so well.
Before the end we were treated to a song collaboration with another veteran of the indie music scene, 阿德 (流氓。阿德). While it was the only piece performed with vocals, it didn’t feel out of place. Indeed, the entire night’s performance was highly professional on all levels, and these considered efforts attest to the band’s intentions of taking their career to another level. It was a performance both Shimmering Islands and their fans can feel proud of.
This GigGuide.tw article will also be printed in Poster magazine. Go pick up a copy - it's free!