It's rare that a big-ticket foreign independent rock band, or any foreign band for that matter, passes through Taiwan, but when one does it's often enough to generate a dedicated and thankful following.
In the case of Cat Power and Dirty Three -- two of alternative rock's most acclaimed groups -- the thanks have extended to an invitation to return to Taiwan this weekend for the second Leaf International Festival in Taichung and Taipei, alongside a lineup of local indie bands.
Cat Power, which is primarily singer-songwriter Chan (pronounced Shawn) Marshall's personal project with all-star backup help over the years from the likes of Steve Shelly, Dave Grohl and Eddie Vedder, was on the festival's ticket last year as the headliner, while Dirty Three were in town in October, 2002. The festival will mark the first visit to Taiwan for Damon and Naomi, both former members of the legendary alt-rock band Galaxie 500.
"We had such strong reactions after the Dirty Three show, and since they recorded before with Cat Power, we decided it would be a good lineup to bring them back for people who didn't get to see them last time," said Nuno Chen (
This year Dirty Three will be headlining the shows, which is probably a wise choice on the part of Gama, because Cat Power is notorious for her painfully awkward stage presence and long trail of wash-out concerts, while Dirty Three are one of the loudest, most exultant live-show experiences in rock.
Since forming in the early 1990s, Dirty Three have become known for their all-instrumental songs that usually begin with some swooning, discordant notes from Warren Ellis' violin, followed by guitar and drums to build into a massive heart string-pulling arrangement.
What: The Leaf International Festival, featuring Dirty Three, Cat Power, Damon and Naomi.
When, where and tickets: Tonight at the Taichung Cultural Center, 600 Ying-cai Rd, Taichung.
Doors open at 4:30pm.
Opening bands: .22 and Tuxing. NT$1,050, or NT$850 with student ID.
Tomorrow at The Wall, B1, 200, Sec 4, Roosevelt Blvd, Taipei (
Sunday at Taipei County Culture Center, 62 Zhuangjing Rd, Banqiao, Taipei County. Doors open at 11:30am.
Opening bands: The Hohak Band, Groupie, Tizzy Bac, Panai, Mr. Pig Head Skin, Xiao Fude, Braces. At NT$1,250, or NT$850 with student ID.
Like Cat Power, Dirty Three make rainy-day music, but while Marshall finds vocal expression of sadness, Dirty Three achieve the same effect merely through instrumentation, turning the violin's groan into the hoarse voice of someone who's been mourning the loss of a family member all night.
"Our music comes from a really private, personal space," Ellis said by phone from Taichung on Wednesday shortly after landing in Taiwan. "It's from a very basic and simple place." The band formed in Melbourne in 1993 and has since released six albums. With band members now living in New York, Paris and Melbourne working on their own projects, Dirty Three nonetheless join up frequently for tours and to record. Their latest LP, She Has No Strings, Apollo, was released last year and Ellis said there were plans to lay down tracks later this year for a new album.
"We all do our own things. But the band is like our baby," he said.
Too drenched in sorrow to ever become epic, Dirty Three songs are more like drawn-out wordless confessions told at a heel-dragging cadence until they peter out, or occasionally explode with violent feedback, creating large, emotive soundscapes.
What helps take some of the sting out of the drama of Dirty Three's music is watching Ellis' excited gyrations on stage, or marveling at the brush drumming of Jim White, whose timing and subtle touch gives the impression of a master jazz drummer. Guitarist Mick Turner is also outstanding by adding subtle melodic ornamentation that tries to become background but ultimately steals the show on numerous tracks. Only between songs do the bandmembers communicate with the crowd, losing themselves in their sound as soon as the music starts up again.