I feel like I've been telling anyone who will listen that the design for Underworld's 15th anniversary is one of the most perfect I've ever encountered. Created by artist & designer Dizzy Ha, a longstanding friend of the bar as well as a resident DJ, it simply & eloquently captures the particular rite of passage we Taipei rockers have all traveled in pursuit of good times - the Underworld stairwell. It represents a descent into smokey rock and roll madness, or if you squint a bit, the woozy Mt. Everest one must conquer in his/her effort to escape into fresh air or a bedridden hangover, or, most likely, both.
For these last two weeks in July, these stairs serve an additional function - that of a time machine. Tonight music lovers journeyed en masse to 2001, the year of Sugar Plum Ferry's classic debut Lack of Something 是不是少了什麼 performed in full by the original members Insecteens, Leaf, and Yoz. Maybe I can't fit into the same pants from that era, but I know I can still appreciate this wonderful album like I did way back then.
Bowz Tiger, Yoz's current band, were already mid-song & mid-set by the time I squeezed around the lingering drinkers hanging by the doorway. As is the case when an Underworld show reaches capacity, I was left to stare deep into the backs of people's heads and let my ears do all the work. And what did I hear? New songs! The first I took note of would fit perfectly on The Strokes first album Is This it?, a driving, rocking ditty in tight jeans and a sweaty t-shirt. A few seconds on tiptoes allowed me to see their new drummer in action, and a closer look revealed her to be the ubiquitous Ms. Ben Ben knocking the crap out out of the kit. I can't keep up with her. If I had to nominate anyone for Most Possessed by Rock, it would have to be her. Hats off for never fucking stopping. Go go go!
還要愛 from Bowz Tiger's great Highway Children disc (reviewed here on Giguide.tw) was next in line, burning bright and cutting deep. Man, this is a band with feelings so raw, so earnest, and so stark, you'd swear they were naked up there, or even inside-out. Nothing can contain them - not clothes, not flesh, nothing. I wouldn't be shocked if one day they spontaneously combusted on stage. No, I wouldn't be shocked at all, but I would be devastated. They are absolutely one of my favorite bands. They do it right.
Insecteens 昆蟲白 is a busy bee, serving not only as the guitarist in Sugar Plum Ferry, but also in 絲襪小姐 (Miss Stocking) and now his self-named solo work, too. I recall he performed in a later incarnation of Tin Pan Alley a few years back, rocking the six string and the mic. With an upcoming album release and the celebration of Sugar Plum Ferry, tonight was a logical place to showcase this new project. His full band features fellow Miss Stocking bassist 嘟嘟, Telephone Booth's 小光 on drums and 維尼 of Sorry Youth on second guitar. How would it be?
I found myself writing one of my stupider observations as I took notes during his set - "..sounds like SPF but with vocals and verse/chorus structure." Duh. But that is in fact an apt description and not a bad result. Even from the back of the room, it was clear music is his natural habitat, handling his new frontman duties in confident and relaxed way. His vocals are assured, laden with hooks and catchy melodies; the arrangements allowed for extended jams, prolonged intros, outros, and breaks, his skills and experiences with Sugar Plum Ferry's instrumental epics certainly guiding him along. On the whole, with a balance of shoe-gazey and rock out moments, the set felt like it would have a place in the Touch and Go Records 1990s catalog, beside Seam and Bedhead. In the next few weeks when the album comes out, Insecteens will definitely have a place on my music collection, too.
And now the moment we've all been waiting for. Anticipation begat cheers as one of the best opening songs ever, No More Soundtrack, unrolled in all of its glory. I confess to an emotional reaction - a wave of memories crashed over me, and I pretended the tears in my eyes were nothing more than sweat dripping from my face, should anyone be looking at me. They weren't, of course. Headbanging isn't just for metal. Shoegaze has its own variation, more of a headnodding, but to me, a man who indulges in both, it is pretty much same thing. And I wasn't alone. A basement full of downturned heads bobbed along in time, eyes closed, hearts in communion with sounds. My little crying secret was safe, but I guess I've blown that now.
Three or four songs in, local veteran rocker Stan leaned over to me, "The glasses are off! Yoz's going for it!" It was true. Working through a few clunky moments, Sugar Plum Ferry was beginning to gel, the force of their music overtaking the space. Yoz was clearly entering a zone, drums dripping with sweat. Leaf, as always, stood with his back to the audience, seemingly oblivious to the whoops and cheers that erupted as 體育 commenced. Each favorite section of each song received hearty acknowledgements, all the way through to the end. There would be no encore but the deliciously drawn-out jam, William Wuss, heavy on the feedback, concluded the night - a damn good night.
"You can't put your arms around a memory," sang Johnny Thunders, but we just did.