Underground 93

06-02-10

Thank you so much to the wonderful crew of The Underground for running the event that night! I heard I missed SIX great bands and many special moments. I look forward to the youtube videos! Thanks to Zane & The Melting Pot for hosting!love Chris B xx

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Ding Ding & Shi Shi (Taiwan 台灣)

Setlist:
1. Think About It
2. Exit
3. Dictator
4. Sunday Morning
5. It’s a Rainy Day
6. Perfect Life
As is my wont, I walked into a quite hectic Melting Pot to find someone tuning up. This time, it was the group from Taiwan, spending their last night in HK. Melodic chords wormed their way into the relaxed yet buzzing ambience. The (extremely proficient) sound engineer was advising them to stick with the chorus pedal over the distortion. A half hour later, after they were announced on, a mellifluous voice was catching us up to their recent ill-health. To be fair, while they looked a bit worse for the wear, they were still enthused by the sizeable gathering.
The mood-creating chords along with the lilting bongos on Think About It began, paved the way for the singer’s unfathomably tranquil voice to come in and take the leads. With Tori Amos-like restraint, her voice rose and fell, while some clever fingerpicking of barre chords created a charming soundscape. The guitar’s pickup was very sensitive indeed, bringing out the bass notes with great clarity (helped, of course, by the ace sound engineer.) That said, one humbly feels that they should consider adding a bass player, to counterpoint the vocals and round out the sound. Using a megaphone towards the tail-end of Dictator to mix things up a bit, the singer informed us of a songwriting glut they had after graduating.
After asking for the bongos to be turned up, it was increasingly clear that they were having to pull this performance out from elsewhere than their now-depleted energy-reserves. The proceeding songs were, perhaps consequently, deeper; three fairly soft instruments created an atmosphere of marvellous intensity; the sing-along bits on It’s a Rainy Day being good illustrations of this. Finally, and fittingly, Perfect Life – a song about following your heart and being free – had some moments of Steve Van Zandt-esque sweetness. As the lyrics became more despondent, the distortion on the guitar ramped up, finishing off in a calm harmony of guitar and voice.
Shashwati

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The Reply (formerly – Fruit Basket)

Setlist:
1. Eyes (Rogue Wave cover)
2. Problems are Potential (P.A.P.)
3. Into You
4. You are the Best
5. Shadows Passing By
6. Wide Awake
7. Fireflies (Owl City cover – “Self-proclaimed encore”)
The stage was handed over to a duo of very young boys, who clearly had their own legion of adoring fans there. Setting up with two acoustics, an electric bass and a tiny ukulele, they were greeted to thrilled screams of the (probably equally young) girls in the crowd. In evidently au fait territory, singer David began the set by talking the crowd into their cover of Eyes by Rogue Wave. They displayed the utility of having two guitars, with lead duties being intermittently exchanged. Some simple yet clever arpeggiations combined with the bongos had the crowd singing along in P.A.P., followed by the self-critique of “Not all our songs are that cheesy.”

The following Into You had some clever nursery-rhyme beat lyrics, with some deft uke added on to give the song a unique touch. David’s voice was reminiscent of a young Bryan Adams, with a tinge of rasp about it, proving an interesting counterpoint to the unruffled backing of Kuya Justin’s voice with some interesting melodic counterpoints on guitar as well. Giving credit where it’s due, David knew how to control his crowd – between songs he made a surprisingly nondescript announcement that they were changing their name to “something that means something” – The Reply (a move with some foresight – having a picture of Honda Tohru pop up in peoples’ heads when introducing the band is probably not the way to progress musically.) Following this with the faster Wide Awake, the set finished 5 minutes or so earlier. Laudably, they took advantage of this with their “self proclaimed encore” of Fireflies. As with the others, their crowd was busy singing along, and when they ended, they were serenaded off stage to the sounds of cheers and fervent clapping.
Shashwati

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F.T.T.

Setlist:
1. Intro.
2. Sunday Morning
3. I Am Standing Where I Belong
4. What a Waster
5. Opinion
6. I Feel Fine
7. Leaving on a Jet Plane (John Denver cover)
8. Ride with Me
Even before these guys had started, the prospect of an all-Fender axe attack (two beautiful Telecasters and a P-Bass) was tantalising. The vista was made even more enticing by the rapid-fire bass notes emanating from the stage. Looking every bit the Brit invasion-inspired young Turks, they began with a solid, bassy opening, with a lot of distortion and a mean salvo of downstrokes (a.k.a. heaven) in the form of the Intro. Singer Po Kei, with his penchant for jumping around, combined exceedingly well with the ball-of-energy bassist, and were quite the spectacle. There was a fire-and-ice dynamic among the axemen, with Jonathan standing gentleman-like aside, hammering away at his strings. Po Kei was increasingly reminiscent of Billy Idol as the night progressed, leaping and headbanging with a cheeky smirk, while with their wall-of-sound, with delayed and heavily fed-back solos, hearkened back equally to the early days of punk and bands like the Banshees or the Damned, as it did to the Kinks and the Yardbirds.

What a Waster (with the appropriately punky title) featured some prodigious, Geddy Lee-esque bass work, while some powerhouse drums formed the rock solid foundations for the distorted riffs. There was a small delay when Donald busted his bass jack and had to have it replaced, before Opinion, which was marked with a cool walking bassline and semi-jungle beats; notably, at the end of their songs, they all let the feedback continue just long enough to make listeners’ ears pound with anticipated pain before stopping. Their rocked-up cover of Leaving on a Jet Plane, was graced by some near-ska upstroked chords (a la The Clash). The guitars on (sadly) their last song had some near-atonal chords, in the vein of (the late) Bob Quine of the Voidoids, before they almost ran off stage. If you hadn’t known that this was a one-off show they were doing after a very long time, you’d never have guessed it; their chemistry was alive and well, with the playing fluid and electrifying.
Shashwati

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Kris Lao

Setlist:
1. Little Voice
2. Samson (Regina Spektor cover)
3. Machine Gun
4. What You Want
5. Fill Me Up
6. Sebastian’s Bowl
Kris Lao’s people filled the stage next (literally) with a massive double bass and cello. Proceeding smoothly to set up and begin playing in just a few minutes, the somewhat bohemian set of instruments (cello, double bass, keys, acoustic guitar and djembe) was a complete change of pace; however, it turned out to be a good one. With her crisp, clear vocals and sweetly laidback voice, Little Voice had some pure acoustic folksy overtones, complemented to perfection by the other two deep-toned instruments. Her remarkably unforced presence on stage (evocative of Cat Power) was one of an experienced pro; part of this demeanour was informing the crowd that her very apt glasses were not, in fact, prescription and that she was taking them off ‘cause she couldn’t see the crowd. Her cover of Regina Spektor’s Samson was eloquent, with reserved instrumentation, and a subtle display of her considerable vocal skill.
A mixture of haunting notes with intricate yet uncomplicated arrangements were the order of the night, with meandering, restful melodies coming from the two big stringed instruments, while the simple strumming of the guitar and ornate keyboards made for very interesting listening. In no song was this more obvious than on Machine Gun – mixing vaguely pan-human issues with personal themes, with some firm bass-work. Interestingly, Sebastian’s Bowl saw the keyboard almost leading the song’s melody. Kris had a unassuming command of the crowd chatting effusively to make the delay between songs seem minuscule, and was certainly the most able lyricist of the night, with the rare propensity to tell a weighty story without the song getting self-conscious. Combined with some solid instrumentation, it was a thoroughly mellow and refreshing performance.
Shashwati

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GriN

Setlist:
1. Alone
2. Life is Simple
3. Nosy
4. Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (Frankie Valli)
5. Without Him
Grin walked onstage with the night’s most extensive pedalboards, full of distortion, tremolo, fuzz, overdrive and phasers. The axes were pretty impressive as well – with a P-Bass, a Tele and a Gibson SG. Their set opener was drenched in quintessential Noughties rock – post-grunge, post-punk and classic-rock-esque at the same time. Alone and Nosy had some very well executed stop-start moments, with the band demonstrating some great coordination. Drummer Wah was most redolent of Mike Chiplin (the Lostprophets’ ex-drummer) and was highly skilled at bringing out the salient features of the otherwise almost indistinguishable guitars; in particular, his extensive use of the bass drum contributed to this end.
Life is Simple began with an arrangement reminding one of Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills”, moving on to meld fascinatingly with a Brit-poppy riff; parallel to the early days of Blondie (certainly, singer Jenny’s vocals too were not far off from Debbie Harry’s rich, full voice.) Their cover of Frankie Valli’s classic was done especially keeping non-Cantonese-speakers in mind, and received with thanks (however, at points they could revise their rendition a bit, for while Jenny’s voice if strong, it needs to be stronger for this song, but nothing a little reinterpretation of style won’t put right.) Moving into without him with the classic riff from the Courageous Cat theme song, it was a dark-hued and fast number to put an end to their set, with the band’s second-prefect coordination on full display, before they packed up (remarkably quickly) and hurried off.
Shashwati

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Helter Skelter

Setlist:
1. Use it For What it’s For
2. Seedy Cadillac
3. I Don’t Wanna Have to Lose You
4. Just Love
5. I’m Still Alive
6. Built for Comfort
When it’s an absolute joy to hear a band tuning up, you know that they’re good. They certainly had the aura of long-time campaigners who knew exactly what they were doing about them. With their Les Paul – Strat – (highly enviable) Firebird combination, they insouciantly began Use it For What it’s For, with its circular, winding bassline, positively reeking of a Johnny “Guitar” Watson-like blues-funk mix. Some fantastic slap bass took over the song in the in loops and whorls, complemented perfectly by some cool noodling, and singer Vincent’s soft rasp. Shades of Bo Diddley and the Yardbirds were seen constantly through the night,, as they often walked the line between rock n’ roll and the blues (and what an awesome walk it was.) A segue into I Don’t Wanna Have to Lose You, brought keyboardist Adrian’s voice to the fore, and his punchy vocals complemented the soloing (which bordered on being almost metallic at points.)
A song written for a friend’s wedding (but which didn’t quite pan out that way) Just Love was more pop-ish in its form, but with bone-rattling bass and unmistakably bluesy so(u)lo. Their unequivocal answer in the negative to a request from one of the audience for “something fast-paced”, I’m Still Alive was the kind of song that just makes the bystander go “These guys can really bend!” possibly invoking B..B. King while doing so. At this point, the gig was supposed to end while they continued to play into the night, but because the bar needed to close, they had a forced encore of Howlin’ Wolf’s Built for Comfort, only to reveal that they had been holding back (!) till now. But no stones were left unturned, as the palette of blues was covered across the board, all the while joined by the lead-heavy riffs and growling guitars. With a heavy heart, then, the night was thus curtailed, but with the quality of music having been played, I doubt anyone left unfulfilled.
Shashwati

photos © Copyright 2010 by ANGUS LEUNG

poster by ANGUS LEUNG

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