Straddling the bar on Saturday night surrounded by semi-inebriated Thais, one wildly intoxicated Brit with one of those twatty hats that Liam Gallagher used to wear who took his pants off and jumped on the bar (and was hastily evacuated out the secret door leading to a dungeon of unspeakables) I convinced myself I was having a vorspiel for the Dirty Beaches show the next day. Bar 23 has a habit of making people celebrate far too often, or drink when there is absolutely no reason to.
I came to my senses, thanked the owner, caught a cab back to Nam Du Plee for some Shrimp Penang Curry at Kenny’s, and slept.
Sunday appeared as a lonely phantom. Slightly worse for wear, having overslept by many hours, I took to the streets and shook off the decaying remnants of the night before. Fed, I managed to find a cab that was willing to go out into the boonies to find the venue. Google maps fucked up once again. We spent almost 1 hour circling within 300 meters of the venue and I ended up getting dropped off almost a kilometre away, found a tranny bar, got help from a suspicious looking woman with an iPad who found the address and pointed me in the completely wrong direction. Further star-aligned calculations later I found the venue and bought my ticket. It was 9pm. 33 degrees with humidity. I sat by a huge fan and sank a couple of cold beers.
Alex walked by and I spoke with him at length about the different cultures we grew up in and their effect on our lives and ways we live them. It was great to meet a like-minded person and an artist who wasn’t caught up in the whole game. Miraculously enough, sitting behind me was Pen Ek Ratanaruang (google him) and we were introduced.
At this point my night had already been made, but a 20 minute conversation with an iconic filmmaker was definitely a cherry on top. Mid sentence Willy and Nevena called me. Stuck in a cab, clueless as to how to get to the venue. I missed most of the opening band (sickly sweet Thai love songs) to walk around the streets trying to find them. Finally they walked by and we ran back to the venue just after Dirty Beaches took to the stage. It was RAMMED. 150 people shoved into a venue that ideally should hold 80. The temperature was unbearable so we had to stand by the door which slightly dampened the live experience, but we were not the only ones. People literally poured out every 10 minutes to gasp “fresh” air and down some water before venturing in again.
Alex refused to play any old songs that were screamed out by avid fans. “The past is gone”. Much like the stance WIRE took on proceedings a few years ago, until softening and allowing songs from Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154 to creep back into their set, much to the delight of fans who were not old enough to see concerts in 1979 and would have missed hearing their favourite songs in that setting. I understood where Alex was coming from. However, in the case of playing your first show in Bangkok, maybe indulge them with True Blue or Sweet 17. Bah.. whatever.
The show was set in an awkward venue, with the “stage” on the floor and bleachers around the sides to help people see. The room was about 110 degrees. People were piling out after the first songs to gasp for air before heading back into the cauldron to glance at their hero. The songs formed strange patterns and rattled along with a below par sound system creating a slight dissonance that wasn’t an effect. The show was good, although in some ways I doubt most people really understood what Alex was trying to do, and it was perhaps a step or two too far for the burgeoning underground scene in Asia. People are not really far enough along in their musical educations to properly comprehend what was being performed. However, it is a step in the right direction, and someone has to start the ball rolling.
The next few days rolled by with the constant frustration of Apple Thailand fucking up my computer repairs and delaying it by week after week. The only good thing that came out of it was that Thee Oh Sees were playing on Thursday and it was quite possible I would still be in town for it. Five days of gorging on the finest food available to humanity, spending a small fortune on a meal at Nahm (worth every penny), and discovering Soul-food thanks to Mark V with the best ribs i’ve eaten in Thailand by a mile, numerous Penang Curries and Som Tams later it was time for Thee Oh Sees.
Willy and I grabbed a cab and headed out to the area of RCA to grab tickets early before they potentially sold out. We arrived there and got tickets, managed to catch up with Petey Dammit and John Dwyer which was great, and then headed out to find some food (recurring theme?) before the show. We stumbled upon a huge place with live music, but what drew us to the restaurant was the plethora of empty plates lying scattered on everyone’s tables. A good sign.
We ordered fresh squid salad, spicy pork with fresh herbs and a coconut tamarind curry with chicken. After waiting for the better part of an hour the food arrived. HEAVEN. One of the top 10 dishes I have ever eaten in Thailand. The squid just melted in your mouth, the soup was tart and balanced perfectly, the pork was to die for…… we polished it off in a couple of minutes, had a quick beer with a british couple we met and headed back to find the venue packed to the brim. Good sign.
As usual Thee Oh Sees came on stage, set up within 10 minutes, and proceeded to burn a hole in the Bangkok skyline. With the kind of P.A. you’d expect at a kids barbecue and a rickety old stage, they commanded the night and kept the 400 strong crowd jumping for just shy of an hour. This band always delivers. No matter whether you like the music or not, they live, breathe, die music, and you can sense it. Thailand has rarely (if ever) had a show this good come to their shores, the people who were there to witness this should consider themselves lucky to be part of a historic night in Krung Thep. Willy and I were left sweaty, blitzed (they only served vodka in the bar) and ready for a trip to bar 23.
While the taxi passed the highways and side streets of Bangkok and outside the window people washed plates by the road and ate hot noodles on small picnic tables, kids running around chasing and tired workers waiting at bus stops for the ride home, it is times like this that I just sit back and realise how much I love Bangkok. It’s a grimy, gritty, brash city that scares off most people who visit, but if you stay for a while and scratch a bit beneath the surface, it will never disappoint.