Gig Recap: Pale Air, Trip Fuel, Backspace, Utopian Daymare, Carsick Cars (2021.07.18)

Pale Air, Trip Fuel 退格, Backspace 退格, Utopian Daymare 乌飞兔走昼还夜, Carsick Cars – Modernsky Lab 2021.07.18

Sunday night saw Part 2 of Modern Sky Lab’s China Rock Royalty Doubleheader, packing as much firepower into one show as possible and showing us what Modern Sky does, when it does best. As you are about to find out, this was a night to remember. Although not every band was as competitive…I’m not naming any names: Let’s get into it.

– Philip Hsu, Contributing Writer

Opener Pale Air was given probably one of the toughest assignments in Modern Sky Lab history, but they aced it – Gaokao got nothing on these good-time-bad-boyz. Considered a “Neo Shoegaze” outfit of only a couple years vintage, Pale Air for sure show Neo Edge in sound, a trifling urgency and atmosphere reflecting cityscapes, infused with neon flashing lights and sirens manifesting existence itself. Sound mixing was expert, integration of visuals was simple but effective – although how much water imagery can we really stand. Pale Air truly shines when they slow into being; their music can be heard in its depth, its decision, and something approaching poise for this young outfit.

Somebody in the band went to music school since you can hear it in the song composition and structure, although these still need some work: Individual notes and expression could be better placed in pieces to achieve higher integration and a fuller flavor. Pulling pieces through from start to finish becomes an issue as the good time boyz lose steam and take calm songs with nice chords to rest up before the finale. Pale Air have all the signs of Young Masters in the making, and we have reason to believe this was only 8 out of 10. Here’s hoping next time will be 11. 

Taking seconds was Trip Fuel, whose notes and songs are eerily enchanting, but somewhat uncoordinated. Flashes of merriment and great ideas roll inside a prog-rock atmosphere, but unfortunately tonight’s performance didn’t have the rhythm or vocals to support. The music is objectively good, entrancing and heavy hitting, but rock music is dance music: Bass and drums – along with vocal syncopation which was coming through very nicely but needed to be more defined – must anticipate, not follow, unless you have someone to set and keep time who also happens to be crazy energy. 

The quality of the band’s sound is good and reminding me a bit of early Nine Inch Nails, with guitar pulling through generous and catchy riffs and demonstrating strong technical skill. With just a bit more tightness, music of this high melodic caliber would be a show-stopper, so I can’t wait to see how Trip Fuel finds their power and connection as they continue expanding on unique vision. 

Annnd then, Backspace hit us with a wave, the kind that makes everyone start cheering as we are inundated with North African guitar riffs – like Pulp Fiction but deeper, richer, fuller; Tarantino is plastic in comparison. Driving vocals and rhythms pushing through with unreal intensity and clear themes which make it obvious that no one’s holding back anymore. As a jungle boogie beat underlies the performance, LiveCNMusic founder Will G. exclaims, “Wipe me in oil and throw me into the crowd already, I have arrived!” Backspace is smoke puffs at the speed of sound, a malignant aura which tastes too delicious to deny. The devils in the details and no exception to the rule when you scratch and scrape against the ceiling of humanity only to find an infinite dark, but stars. It’s musically simple but not simplistic. The hypnotic nature or hypnotism, which generally results in some sort of monastic austerity in monotonous repetition, for Backspace instead becomes highly musical and advanced. All bands aspiring to this sound, take note.

A continuing jungle beat with Unrelenting Dischord releases certain Particles which transcend. Primal energies, caustic forces, unfollowable, become their own direction. We hear a bit of Bloody Beetroots, but mostly sounds of an arhythmic Paradise Lost, a garden of Unearthly Delights. As that stupid dog meme/emoji thing likes to say, Much Wow, Many Win. 

Next up is Utopian Daymare, more concisely The Doors meets King Crimson meets Inner Mongolia and traditional instruments. Despite lacking a bit of the spark the previous band had, the ensemble still demonstrates what makes this band unique: Emphasis on no emphasis, Riders on the Storm to nowhere calling out into air which does not respond except to say ok, you slam drums and guitar and slap bass but I don’t unnaturally obtain those gems laid out before me. 

I deny, I cannot accept, I will not accept until you coronate me, treat me and set me as your monolinguistic entity. Ringing out upon the plains lies emptiness which fulfills in meaning only allied with true determination, of mortal being, of undestined destinations, of nomads spiritual and physical, of essences unrequited, Purple and Silver, Untamed. I don’t think most of the audience got it. It’s hard to keep that sound going for long, I don’t know if I would call this fun, but I’m glad they were here tonight. 

Then released such noise, such promise, which Carsick Cars devises and we derive. Those unflinching soundtracks, guitars multitude and designated to violent delights, though whether meeting with violent ends, remains an open-ended question – for who may answer? Who may heed the call? Verily at Woodstock did Gypsy Sun and Rainbows perform their live set, at Jimi’s request, last. To those pilgrims who remained, at the final chapter of this. 

They who knew the ennui of Beijing heat, not so much humble, not so much cautious, ringing the bells of consciousness. To our ears though only sound, to the three onstage an analog army, propelled through time and space, defying their electronic counterparts, though captured in the digital vagaries of our second emotions, beholden at times but not solely to the first emotion, the mother’s first words to her infant: I remember you when you were only a child, and I shall remember you, as a child. Will you remember me?

People are dancing, they remember. Unfortunately, Carsick Cars falls victim to the same problem plaguing many Chinese bands: Their lyrics are incoherent or incomprehensible, and the real excitement of the moment devolves, rather than develops, into chaos, and not in a musically sophisticated way. Pacing is lost, which denies the performance as a whole its deserved completeness. The climactic final song saw the crowd throwing cigarettes onto the stage and at the band, which I am told is some bizarre Beijing ritual, some even deigning to snatch the scattered tobacco up and smoke outside the venue after the show concluded. Savage. 

Yet at the end of it all, let us not debate music so much as humanity. Unto us is given a moment, however fleeting, which will last forever, or at least until the end of our lives and the lives of those who are around ourselves. Whether we accept it, or let it pass, is entirely up to us. And although memory does not serve me so much as it did at the start of this epic performance, and though the event horizon remains pointed and dedicated towards a future perfect for all, still we must know, in this moment, that we are not alone, and we never will be. 

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