Wrapping up Zandari Festa for me, I make my way over to Evans Lounge to see a band I’ve been lightweight obsessed with for the better part of two years. By now you already know who I’m referring to, so I’ll dispense with the introduction.
As I sit at my table near the front of the stage, I can’t deny my anticipation had reached its peak. I haven’t stopped singing Decadent’s praises since I’d first heard them. Being able to experience one of their live shows was an honor I didn’t actually think I’d ever get, but here I am. Their final soundcheck, as with most soundchecks at the festival, is typical, if not a bit short. Obviously they’ve been through the paces enough times to know how they sound as a unit no matter the venue. So after another five minutes or so of waiting, they walk back out on stage, and I’m transported to another plane.
The first thing you hear, no matter the song, is Chang’s guitar, twining and full of deep hurt. Honestly, his might be the most expressive guitar I’d heard the entire weekend. Of course there’d been a handful of “Shit talkers” throughout the festival, guitarists who just had so damn much to say and did so with little to no respect (still a bit shook from watching Kook-kook blast blues-rock out of his instrument). However, Chang’s delivery is… subtle. He’s not ostentatious, not overly demonstrative. But when he lays his fingers on that guitar of his… dear Lord, it’s like there’s an ache in him so thick he simply must let it loose on his instrument. And, damn, does that thing ever weep.
It’s instant emotion from the moment they begin their set. After the first note, all one can do is hope to hold on to their own sanity for the 40 minutes Decadent is on stage. A first-moment gut check compliments of Chang’s guitar, then… the voice. It has to be said. Dennis Jin’s voice is a work of art. He, too, seems to have some sort of tight pain in his chest that he’s got to get out whenever he steps on stage. It’s so reminiscent of some of my favorite deep soul crooners I get flashbacks to moments when their vocal delivery had me completely overwhelmed.
It’s no surprise, then, that Dennis shares my fondness of Jeff Buckley. It’s easy to recognize the adulation he has for the late troubadour in his vocal delivery. Also admitting a great love of the late Amy Winehouse, Dennis wears his influences openly. One can see it in the way he handles himself on stage, equal parts cheek and Victorian romance. But the raw blues and effervescence of the two grand-voiced singers slam and crack out of him like he’s been through hard moments in his life, nights of mean sleep that have left him vulnerable and eager to scream.
However, what endears him and Chang to me more than their ability to bust out a painful blues at the drop of a hat is their love of the band. It’s not for nothing, of course. Understand, each member of Decadent is absolutely necessary. Every single one of them has blues and poetry in their execution. Vocally they’ve all got easy power, voices that don’t insist on their greatness, but rather have a tone and character that make the Decadent sound what it is.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed in the power of the two standing in the center of the stage. But you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t give equal attention to the two bookends. Seol on bass is also incredibly understated. You almost wouldn’t notice him there.
However, while you find yourself absorbed in Dennis’s voice and Chang’s guitar, you’ll notice a thick throb in your gut, a thrumming boom that just won’t quit. That’s Seol, his fingers flying with dexterity over his ax and serving to supply the gritty underbelly of Decadent’s sound. Without him there’s no anchor, no way to keep yourself strapped to your seat. His performance is heady and deep, a subtle hand on your shoulder that soothes just as easily as it seduces.
Then, oh then, there’s Christian. If you want to talk understated, nobody on that stage does it quite as well. He just sort of sits there. No wasted movement, none of the hair-flailing ostentation that many of his drummer peers are wont to do. And yet… Thinking about watching him on his instrument brings a lengthy sigh out of my body. While I’m wrapped up in watching Chang’s fingers fly over the strings of his guitar, I shift my focus ever so slightly to the right, and all I know is the sound coming from that drum kit is unreal.
He’s got all the power and fire of Dave Grohl or even Lee Hyun-joon of Billy Carter with none of the theatrics. It’s interesting to watch him play, the ease with which he coaxes heavy sounds out of his instrument. Perhaps it’s a testament to the experience the band has amassed in the past two years. Maybe he’s just that good, so focused he doesn’t have time to worry about flinging himself into the kit. He does, however, have his moments when the sound gets good to him, reaches into him and brings out subtle emotions. In those few moments he cocks his head back ever so slightly and just plays.
In every way Decadent, stuns and excites the audience. The set seems comparatively shorter than everyone else, but that might just be because I wanted to see so much more of them. I promised them there’d be no pouting on my part because they weren’t going to play “A,” or “B” for that matter. But what they did play was a Master Class in both performance and the ability to wring every ounce of emotion out of a set without relying too much on the dramatics inherent in many rock performances. From Dennis’s soaring high notes, so reminiscent of the famous “Flying Buckleys” of his predecessor, to the gritty wine and growl of Chang’s guitar, the pulsating bellow of Seol’s bass and exquisite technique of Christian’s drumming, Decadent is a band to be reckoned with.
Thus ends my very first Zandari Festa. It was an experience I’ll never forget, a moment in time for me that will stick with me no matter how many times I’m able to go back to Korea. I thank all of the bands for their kindness, their openness, and the blessing of every single one of their unparalleled talents.