It was late Friday night (about 1a.m., so early Saturday morning, technically) - about 20 hours before his gig - when drummer 金剛 King Kong made his way down the stairs and through the smoke at Underworld. I was in the midst of my weekly DJ shift at the bar while pockets of friends were chatting, drinking, laughing... the normal thing for a weekend night.
I looked up again and there on the drum riser was King Kong, not drinking a beer but diligently setting up his gear, testing the drums, replacing the cymbals with his own, and so forth.
I've known King Kong for years, but it still struck me - who does that? Who shows up an entire day before a gig just to make sure his equipment is going to be exactly they way he wants it? And who does that on a Friday night with everyone drinking and joking and relaxing around him?
Only a bad-ass, diehard rocker does that. A veteran of the Taiwan scene, with stints in numerous important local bands ranging from 骨肉皮 Groupie to 董事長 Chairman to 四分衛 Backquarter, King Kong has been there, done that, and come back for more. In 24 hours it would be with his current group Black Summer Days.
As a reviewer, there's a tendency to want to nail down a band - they play XXX style or something - but BSD wouldn't let me pigeon-hole them so easily. From hard rock to metal to boogie blues to pop-inflected punk, it's simplest and most accurate to say Black Summer Days play ROCK. Lead guitarist 蔡豪 Cai Hao traded licks with rhythm guitarist/vocalist George Yang , the bassist wore a mohawk, and they all played shirtless. But what left the biggest impression was, again, King Kong. He lived up to his nickname, just a monster drummer with all the cool moves to boot. His powerful playing could easily overwhelm the band, but he's too smart for that. Still, you knew that as he pounded away there were an extra 10 gears, just in case.
Loud with longtime fans, Underworld cheered through bluesy riffs and stompy 80's metal as the singer entered the audience for a final sing-a-long. That is, until the calls for an encore brought out one more round. Sounding a bit like a sped-up, dirtier version of "Welcome to the Jungle," Black Summer Days ended with what I think was their best song of the night.
Then time to take a break. Time to get another beer. And time for a visit from Japan.
Everyone who knows me knows that I move kind of slow, thus it's no surprise that it took me so long to get to an Icon Girl Pistols gig. My friends all love them, and now I know why. Frequent visitors to Taipei in both their current form and as their previous incarnation/alter ego Quizmaster, Tokyo-ites IGP are now entering their fourth year together. This weekend we were blessed with more fun as they returned to Taipei to celebrate their new CD Goodbye Donuts (Hey Statue of Liberty).
Their set began with a big bounce that never stopped until the final encore song. How bouncy? Drummer Ken Fukuda seemed to lift off of his drummer's stool with each kick, while bassist Christopher David O'Reilly bopped and danced circles through the lights and shadows. Anchoring all of this action was singer/guitarist Shinnosuke Shirakura. I marveled at how effortlessly he delivered the goods. His fingers and chords worked so naturally with the guitar I wondered if it might not be another limb. And whether belting out a chorus or mumble-chanting through an interlude, his voice proved charismatic and strong, leading us through the clouds of nicotine to sonic fields of pleasure.
The guitars were choppy and upbeat, reminding me of the good old days when The Strokes wrote fun rock and roll songs. The audience danced, girls swayed and swooned, and I reconsidered my own songwriting approach. Long before Shinnosuke commanded us to "Taiwan party party," clap-a-longs were starting from the back of the room, surging forward. The party was already rolling.
Peppy basslines continued and the ska-like upstrokes of Onion Ring kicked it up another level, culminating several songs later in voracious demands for an encore. Oh, but of course! Old fans were thrilled to hear an old Quizmaster classic and the show concluded two songs later with a thumping post-punk rocker. Oh, sweaty, happy people throwing their love around. Yeah!
Shows like this are always special, and the reason is that love. It's a love that exists on many levels: there's the love between Taiwan and Japan, yes, but more specifically there is a love between Icon Girl Pistols and Underworld (the band were delighted to cheer the 15th anniversary of the bar and purchase the commemorative t shirts & bags post-gig). And then there's the love that develops between an artist and audience. There was clearly a real affection in the air. Furthermore, what makes all of that possible is the love essential to any indie band to go beyond the daily grind and create something honest, supported by their listeners' appreciation for such truths and beauty. To experience this love manifesting as the celebration we just enjoyed is a reminder that for all of the hard headlines and shit in the world, it's still a life worth living and sharing.
I know I'm getting sentimental here, but for the devotion of all of the musicians tonight and for fans who keep our music scene alive, I just want to say thank you. Let's rock!