Live Wire: Detente in Shida

By David Frazier  /  Contributing reporter

Fri, Oct 05, 2012 - Page 12

On Wednesday, the BBC ran a report on Taipei’s noise problem, in part inspired by what’s been happening at Shida. Stricter noise control laws will go into effect in Taipei at the beginning of next year, and the threshold for “noisy” will be lowered by three decibels, according to the report. This won’t really get to the root of the problem. Taipei City needs to proactively find a balance between lively commercial zones and quality of life. The city is just being reactive. People complain, and it is reacting to complaints.

The BBC story was dreadfully uneven. It jumped from talking about the general population density in Taiwan, to extended periods of noisy home construction (which I’m against), to the Shida Night Market. These are obviously not identical problems.

As for the current situation, the warring forces in Shida have reached something of a detente. After Underworld closed at the end of July, a flood of media support for the bar followed, and Shida suddenly became a “cultural” issue. Attacking the rocker bar was probably the worst mistake the Shidahood Association (師大三里里民自救會), a pressure group comprised of Shida residents, made. Before the Underworld story, city inspectors were able to shut down businesses without much media scrutiny.

The media flurry included one curious apology, which was mailed to Underworld’s owners and published in several Chinese newspapers. The author, who was anonymous, claimed to be a defector from the Shidahood Association and alleged that the group was dominated by a small clique of loudmouths, who were attacking businesses for personal reasons. The letter also said that most Association members didn’t even know Underworld existed, and few if any wanted it to close. This badly undermined the association’s claim to represent the neighborhood’s “silent majority.”

Riding this wave of popular sentiment, Underworld reopened in September, and has not experienced further problems. For the most part, the city seems to have called off the dogs. But if the harassing inspections have died down for Shida businesses, there are still casualties. Roxy Jr. Cafe, which operated for 18 years on Shida Rd, closed down in September after receiving severe fines for excessive noise. All the restaurants on the “International Food Street” remain closed, except Out of India, and many new-growth areas have likewise been shut down. Foot traffic and sales have also dropped off. But for the most part, Shida still feels like Shida, and that’s a good thing.

I would however like to give kudos to the Taipei City Government for one thing. There is a new, experimental program that allows old buildings to renovate their facades, with the city funding up to 70 percent of those costs. It’s a very interesting idea that would preserve the character of the city’s wonderful low-rise neighborhoods like Shida, while also allow for a degree of beautification. If they could extend the measure to include double-paned windows for those who live above night markets, I’d support it 100 percent.

On the music front, this week’s pick for Taipei has got to be the one-man band and bluesman extraordinaire Jack Conqueroo, who plays at Revolver tomorrow night. His real name is Chad Worden and he’s from Canada, but he considers that person to be a distant alter ego now. In his post-college years he found his way to New Orleans and began developing a skuzzy, lo-fi guitar style derived from north Mississippi hill country and delta blues.

“I’m probably what Son House would have sounded like if he grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and Sabbath,” says Conqueroo.

“I remember the first time I saw Bob Log III years ago in New Orleans and being blown away that this one guy was able to make that much sound and project so much energy all on his own,” he continues. “When I saw him again back in 2008, I knew I had to do this. Watching old footage of John Lee Hooker playing guitar, singing and using his shoes as percussion really made a strong impression on me as well. Stylistically, I hope I’m somewhere between the two.”

One-man blues bands are something of a Vaudevillian throwback, so in case you’re wondering, here is how Conqueroo describes his stage show. “My set-up hasn’t changed much over the years,” he says. “I still play an old crappy hollow body [guitar]. I use a harp rack to keep my hands free for guitar. My right foot stomps on a beaten up guitar case (with a mic inside) while my left foot stomps on the tambourine. I used to play with a tambourine Velcro’d to my shoe but after almost killing myself a few times I decided to mount one to my guitar case instead. Whiskey and tethered foot tambourines don’t mix.”

Tomorrow at 10pm at Revolver, 1-2, Roosevelt Rd, Sec. 1, Taipei (台北市羅斯福路一段1之2號) with Blind Acid Date and 88 Balaz (8十八顆芭樂籽). Admission: NT$300, includes one drink.