When M and I located our seats last night in the first row of the Level 3 gallery at Dallas Brooks Hall, I was astonished to find how good our vantage point was. (I had purchased the cheapest category of ticket so did not have high hopes). It is true our perch was very high and from time to time I had to grip the low rail in front of me to feel secure. But vertigo was compensated for by proximity. When the lights came up around 8 pm to reveal the Taiwanese sextet engaged in a furious rock treatment of one of their early songs, there they were: only about three metres below us and a little to our left. I could see the details of Qing Feng’s satyr-like leggings and all of Ah Gong’s clever work on his Yamaha keyboard.
Sodagreen’s Gong Yu Chi (left) and Wu Qing Feng perform live in Melbourne.
The other big surprise was just how loud the group sounded close up. (My only previous experience of hearing them live had been from a distant seat in Gaoxiong’s World Games Arena in 2011). I had long thought of them as an indie folk-pop band and was never sure why some observers inserted the word ‘rock’ as one of their descriptors. Now I knew. During the cacophonous drubbing they gave that innocent little song, Oh Oh Oh Oh, from their first album, I wished I had brought cotton wool for my ears. Soon, however, they let this initial energy go and relaxed into a really graceful and elegant version of Ping Lu, and I found myself humming along.
I had noted in Gaoxiong how Sodagreen seemed more centred and confident live than they had seemed on the DVD of their first Taipei Arena concert in 2007. Of course, by then the group had several successful albums behind them, and much more experience performing for demanding audiences in Taiwan, Shanghai and elsewhere in Asia. Last night, in their first engagement in the southern hemisphere, Qing Feng brought an even higher level of maturity and introspection to the group’s song selections and delivery. At one point he confided to the audience that his relationship with his father had always been troubled. His father’s health had never been good, he explained, and thus he had never once attended one of Sodagreen’s live concerts.
Qing Feng then turned his back on the audience to face the blank big screen at the back of the stage. In an intense but controlled, centred voice he sang two very poignant ballads about his father. He later explained that he wanted to be serious about these songs and was afraid if he faced the audience, he would be distracted by the ubiquitous green glow- sticks. I thought that with his backed turned away from us he appeared to be petitioning the cosmos. Today it occurred to me that maybe it was his own psyche he was metaphorically examining.
A green Sodagreen glow-stick
The group then built upon this intimate atmosphere by inviting audience members to request songs. Fans seated in the mezzanine level opposite us entered into the spirit of this by arguing among themselves. Eventually the more determined requesters got their way by writing the name of their favourite songs in giant characters on iPads and smartphones and holding them up for the band to see. Acceding to audience requests, however, led to some odd sequencing of tracks. An enthusiastic young woman who had come down from some seats behind us and wound up sitting next to me in the aisle, shouted out in Hokkien for 追追追. The band heard her and duly launched into this rousing, barnstorming number: they often use it as the finale in concerts. It took me awhile to adjust to a series of quieter songs that followed.
The great majority of audience members were of university age and of Taiwanese background. Soon, however, Qing Feng became interested in how many 澳洲人 were lurking in the audience. He wanted to find out which songs they wanted to hear. A large, confident man seated in the first level across from us, who later said he had once lived in Taiwan, duly obliged. When Qing Feng crossed the stage to stare up at our gallery, however, I ducked. I missed a great opportunity. Why didn’t I lean over the rail and shout, 是我的海？Thus my shyness caused me to miss out on hearing the group perform my favourite song live. When Qing Feng implored the previously mentioned Australian to come back to Taipei, however, I personally decided the invitation extended to me also.
The next section of the concert was given over to introducing the band members by name, and allowing to them to indulge in their traditional on-stage antics. This my friend M tartly called ‘entertainment’. We both agreed that all this went on for too long. All I wanted was to hear Sodagreen sing some additional songs. Admittedly, seeing Qing Feng dancing around (to borrow a description of James Joyce) as if he had no bones was amusing. Moreover, Ah Gong’s serial collapses onto the stage with his large feet in the air like a dead insect was hilarious, as were his pleas to get bassist Xinyi to come and give him CPR.
Lead singer Wu Qing Feng and bass player Xie XInyi sing a duet. Guitarist Liu Jia-Kai is on the right.
While drummer Shi Jun Wei played a hypnotic drum solo, the rest of the band managed a quick costume change into matching green jackets. Soon they struck up the introduction of the cute little ballad Qing Feng has released as a single with Ella Chen of girl group S. H. E. I think it is called 你被寫在我的歌裡. I was unaware Xinyi was much of a singer, but in fact she took Ella’s part and sang it quite well, with some precise harmonies. Finally, about 10:2o, Xinyi announced the final songs. Unsurprisingly, Sodagreen concluded with the hymn-like What is Troubling You? an inspirational song that has set the theme for this year’s Walk Together tour. This they sang with great conviction as we all clapped along with the stately rhythm.
Sodagreen perform at Dallas Brooks Hall in Melbourne. Qing Feng (left) and Ah Gong are featured on the big screen.
I wanted Sodagreen to go on singing and playing.
I felt sad and didn’t want them to leave. I wanted to hear them perform more songs live. But the group had to marshall their energy levels as they have a concert in Sydney on Sunday at a much bigger venue. It is no surprise to me that it has reportedly almost sold out. Sodagreen’s live act manages to be both dynamic but also friendly and engaging. In fact, on the basis of last night’s generous and exhilarating performance, I’ve set a personal goal to see them play again one day at Taipei Arena.