Dreadlocked, sunburned farangs (foreigners in the Thai language)emerged from their hovels on Khoa San Road, and the few Thais who could afford to fork out half a month's pay for a ticket turned out as well, for the annual Bangkok 100 Rock Festival this past weekend. Billed as one of the 10 best fests in the world, the best in British and International Rock played to numbers that were, in the case of most acts, far less than they were accustomed to, but that didn't seem to stop most from having a good time. As local unsigned emo, punk and metal acts paid mind-melting dues on the tarmac in the mid-afternoon heat on Saturday, the first international acts were warming up the main stage for a weekend of raucous entertainment in the unsightly Bangkok heat.
Day one began with veteran band dEUS delivering a catchy set of Euro-Indy styled rock. Reaching as far back into their catalogue as 1994, they played a full octane show, impressive giving the stifling conditions, complete with a horn section and a fiddle for added depth.
Then came former Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown. Dressed in a bright red track suit, he strutted out to a reggae intro, raising his arms in a "raise the roof" gesture, which got the crowd going. Playing some Stone Roses tunes, along with crowd favorite "Fear," Brown encouraged the crowd in his Manchester dialect to do some serious "shoulder shuffling," in lieu of dancing. A Bob Marley medley mid-set wasn't surprising, given the intro, but put the crowd into a kind of lull, save for some inebriated Brits who decided to pass the time trying to tear down the barricade between the second section and that directly in front of the stage.
Franz Ferdinand, showing no signs of any ill-effects after being shut out at the recent Brit awards, despite three noms, and delivered what was by far the most energetic set of the night. Playing all the hits, the Scots knocked out "Do You Wanna?" and "Take Me Out" as if they were unveiling them for the first time, making a case for a recount in the Best Live Act category at the Brits.
And then it was time for what was supposed to be the definitive act of the night. Oasis was here. The brawling Gallagher brothers. Steeped in tabloid rumor and rock cult status. The band emerged first, minus Liam, who entered a few minutes later, looking particularly too cool for this planet. In a blue track suit and aviators, he could have passed for Ian Brown's long lost progeny. The crowd, sparse by Oasis standards, roared approval, but when Liam paused to give the crowd some mic time during the first few songs, the response was sporadic from the crowd, of whom half were Thai and probably didn't know the words anyway. This drew the ire of the mercurial frontman, as when the crowd finally did choose let loose during the chorus of "Wonderwall," all Liam could do was point to his watch and scream "It's about time!" and angrily knock over his mic stand, before he stormed off stage to let Liam shrug through "Don't Look Back in Anger." But Liam would graciously forgive his paying customers and return for "Champagne Supernova." He also dutifully performed a 3 song encore, but during the last song, a cover of The Who's "My Generation," he didn't stick around to even let the song finish, leaving during the instrumental outro without so much as a "Thank you, goodnight."
The Futureheads started off Sunday's festivities, which were unfortunately missed by some due to the aweful Bangkok traffic. Fellow Brits Maximo Park were up next. Engaging frontman Paul Smith offered charming dialogue and explanations of each song, hopping around and dancing like he had kippers in his knickers when the situation called for it. Despite the somewhat dorky lyrics (Who would have thought "5x5=25, don't you know your times tables by now?" could be a chorus?) the songs had a zealous and energetic appeal that endeared the crowd, hungry for an act that was not only willing, but far too happy to actually interact with their audience.
And then came Snow Patrol, playing their last show before running off to finish work on their new album. The SP boys were clearly having the time of their lives, with the two mammoth video screens at either side of the stage barely containing the ear-to-ear grin of singer/guitarist Gary Lightbody. The set went off without a hitch, despite one false start on the uplifting downer "Run." Lightbody quickly accepted responsibility, joking that "I was almost asleep, and I hope you were too." It was SP's first time in Thailand, and the band exhibited heartfelt appreciation at shows end, thanking the fans profusely in both Thai and English. It was refreshing to hear a band that still enjoys the privilege of performing to the adulation of thousands, as opposed to some dried up husks of thankless rockers that may have performed the previous day.
Thrust into the headlining role because of the last minute cancellation of Stereophonics, the veritable United Nations of musicians that is Placebo took the stage to conclude the BK100. It was their first show of the New Year, and diminutive frontman Brian Molko and company showed no signs of rust on their instruments. The band went through all the hits such as Special K, Special Needs, and Nancy Boy, making use of the catwalks at either end of the stage to the thrill of the crowd anxious to get as close as possible to their idols (unlike some brother-fronted Brit acts who you would have thought were chained to their Marshall stacks by their stoic performance). Molko did seem to notice the less than stellar turnout, delivering a sigh that could be heard in Cambodia before half-heartedly saying that the crowd was "amazing." Still, he was gracious, if not visibly disappointed. "Pure Morning" was saved for the encore, preceded by a hilariously suggestive dance by stickman turned bassist/guitarist Stefan Olsdal. By the end, Placebo had the crowd muttering "Stereo-who?"
The only vice of the festival was the attendance, or more accurately the lack thereof. Tickets for the first section in front of the stage sold for 5,000 Baht (about $125 U.S.) which is about half of what someone with a good job in Thailand makes. Tickets for the next two sections ran at 3, 500 and 1, 700 Baht respectively. The first section was maybe half full, mostly with farangs, while the second was at about 1/5 capacity. The third had a few stragglers who should have mercifully been allowed to at least move to the second section. Maybe next year organizers will make the event more accessible to the people in the nation that host the event. Maybe next year they will book more bands like Snow Patrol, Placebo, Maximo Park, Franz Ferdinand, Ian Brown, and dEUS that actually still appreciate traveling the world and playing for the fans.
Writer: Joe Henley