A night to remember, a night for remembering

Moderndog at 22, still raucous and relevant

Photos © Live Nation BEC-Tero

This isn't a trip dripping with nostalgia. This is an arcade of fire, of mainstream grunge, power chords and roaring vocals, of soul-refeshing ballads and eye-opening musicianship, and it all sounds as relevant, as transformative, as ever.

Moderndog 22, the big gig celebrating the 22nd anniversary of one of Thailand's seminal rock bands, beckoned the indie kids of the 90s to throng Impact Arena on Saturday -- those who must have heard the band when they first broke out in the euphoria of 1994, with the economic bubble here and the smells-like-Cobain spirit everywhere else. Those who were once in their 20s and who're now 40-something and older, those who must have once let the music possess them to perform the shamanic, loose-limbed jumping popularised by Moderndog's talismanic frontman Thanachai "Pod" Ujjin.

Thanachai, the flyweight enchanter, embraced the adulation of the crowd and acknowledged the passage of time. He danced, jumped, belted, barked, screamed and hung his full-bodied voice above the punkish fuzz of the rousing music. He then joked, self-deprecatingly, that it wasn't the same as when he tore the stage apart like a tiger in his 20s. "Being in your mid-40s is different," he laughed. We laughed, too, because we understood what he meant.

But who cares? Moderndog -- with May-T Noijinda on guitar and Pawin Suwannacheep on drums -- is still a powerhouse. They can just keep going like The Stones. Entertaining, industrious and even heartfelt, they made their music fresh and, well, modern. The concert was 200 minutes long, with 30 songs from the band's six studio albums, a parade of anthemic rock, punk-tinged jam, singalong-able ballads and a 30-minute acoustic set on an auxiliary stage crowned by a luminous light sculpture. There was a moment when the tempo dragged, but never once did they lose their audience.

The set list rolled out songs from their six albums -- the first in 1994 and the latest last year -- building up the tempo and the crowd from Bangsing (Something); Scala, Gala, Ther (You); Tee Jing Nai Jai (Actually); Niyai (Novel) and the raucous Daad Song (That Song). That was just the opening section. Fans knew what to expect and they craved more, and as Thanachai commanded the 10,000-strong audience, standing and seated, it was his co-conspirators May-T, technically audacious on guitar, and Pawin, his heartbeat as precise as a neurosurgeon, who made things soar.

Moderndog knew that their earlier songs, coming out in the 1990s and early 2000s at their peak, were more popular than the later stuff. But they played everything, old and new, because, rightly and admirably, there's no compromise when fans come to soak in their spirit, not just to hear their hits.

And yet the high point came near midway with one of their best, Kon (Before), a poetic ballad telling us that there's something for everyone on this cruel Earth. Instead of singing it himself, Thanachai brought out the sole guest of the night, and what a guest! Prai Pathomporn, his face painted blue, his voice trembling, came out and brought the house down. Here's the original indie artist, from when the word "indie" didn't mean anything in Thailand. He also wrote Kon, a warm, soothing display of gratitude and a pledge to keep fighting all obstacles in life -- today this is indisputably one of the modern classics in the Thai pop-rock repertoire.

A dozen more songs sent the crowd alternating between jumping and reminiscing. In a show of versatility, the three band members switched to an intimate acoustic set on a second stage in the middle of the floor, on which Thanachai sang Luk Sueng (Profound), Kor (Ask), WanSood Tai (Last Day) and Ma (Come), an enigmatic tune that Thanachai revealed he wrote while thinking about Lord Buddha.

Those who're curious should go on YouTube and look up Moderndog's outdoor gig at 7 See Concert in 1995 to see the wild energy and irrepressible vigour of the band in their youthful brilliance. There, dressed in secondary-school uniforms (to good effect), they unleashed Thai music from the doldrums of the mid-90s and the crowd knew it, chanting "More! More! More!". On Saturday, they came out for the encore in Boy Scout uniforms and gave us more, more, more: Busaba, Tob Tuan, Khob Khun (Thank You) and Ta Sawang (Found). With Busaba particularly -- it's their breakout hit from the first album, a timeless rock item with hard riffs and sturdy chords -- we were brought back to 1994 and yet our feet were firmly planted in 2017, because the sound remains new, and the song, about a flower-obsessed lady who finds out there's no flowers left in the world since she's picked them all, remains a lesson for our times.

From left, Pawin Suwannacheep, Thanachai Ujjin and May-T Noijinda. Photo


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