It’s Monday night and the house is packed at EZ5 Live House, a bar hosting live music shows on Taipei’s Anhe Road (安和路). The atmosphere is electric with excitement and anticipation, felt through the clinking of beer bottles and chatter of the 150 or so people in the dimly lit room. Everything goes quiet when singer Tiger Huang (黃小琥) steps on to the stage.
She fills the entire room with her powerful voice, and sways with the poise and presence of a veteran lounge singer. The entire audience claps along with her rendition of Chic’s classic disco tune Le Freak, listens quietly as she sings Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and cheers loudly after her delivery of Taiwanese and Mandarin pop classics.
This is a typical scene every Monday at EZ5, known as the one of the best places to hear both established and aspiring Taiwanese pop musicians live in an intimate setting, any night of the week. The bar celebrates its 18th year this Saturday with an already sold-out concert for more than 3,000 people at the Taipei International Convention Center (台北國際會議中心大會堂) that features many of its regular singers, including Huang.
The patrons set EZ5 apart from the average Taiwanese pub with live music. They come to listen to music, not just to socialize.
“It’s very lively here and you might talk [before and after shows], but people really concentrate on watching the performance,” says Eric Chuang (莊睿程), an EZ5 regular for more than 13 years. “There’s probably no other place like this … where the singer and the audience have good interaction.”
EZ5 is by no means Taiwan’s first “live house,” the term used commonly here for a live music club, but it is one of the more successful.
ADDRESS: 211, Anhe Rd Sec 2, Taipei City
TELEPHONE: (02) 2738-3995
OPEN:Daily from 12pm to 2pm (lunch) and 8pm to 1:30am. Music starts at 9:45pm every night
ADMISSION:NT$600 to NT$850 depending on the performer. Cover charge includes two drinks
ON THE NET:Schedule changes monthly. Go to www.ez-5.com for the latest lineup (in Chinese only)
Hosting singers like Huang has certainly helped. She started performing at EZ5 when it opened in 1990, around the time she made her break into the Chinese-language pop music world. She continues to be major draw for customers, one reason why owner Max Hsu (許理平) schedules her exclusively for two-hour shows on Mondays.
All other nights feature three different singers, who each play a 45-minute set. Performers include well-known crooners like Julia Peng (彭佳慧), who sings on Tuesdays, and lesser-known artists such as Liu Wei-jen (劉偉仁), who enjoys a following among regular patrons.
Hsu recruits and hires all of the singers, who sing mostly Western pop covers, Mando-pop and Taiwanese folk songs, backed by the house band. He chooses them by one criterion: can they sing live? And being a star is no guarantee of landing a gig — it sometimes even goes against the singer.
“We’ve had ‘stars’ who couldn’t cut it on stage because their sound only works in the recording studio. They might not have enough ‘punch’ or may not know how to sing properly in a live setting,” said the energetic 40-year-old, who looks younger than his age but sounds older with his gruff smoker’s voice. “Why do we [EZ5] promote live music? Because we think live music is real music, it can move people.”
Hsu says the idea for EZ5 was inspired by past visits to clubs in the US such as the House of Blues chain, New York City’s CBGB and various blues clubs in Chicago. The nuances of a live music setting, where the people, performers and the mood can change day to day, have always appealed to him.
“I might hear a singer sing one song today, and the next week that singer will play the same song and it will be completely different,” he said. “I think that’s what’s fun about live music.”