Underground 94

26-02-10

What a wonderful evening! Four bands with passion and creativity! Thanks so much to ROCKSCHOOL for hosting this event and thanks so much to the bands who oozed talent and got people dancing. Big thanks to the audience, we see some regular faces now, for supporting live original music in Hong Kong. See you all again at a future show!love Chris B x

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Dark Himaya

Setlist:
1. Subtle Knife
2. Across Morpheus’ Palm
3. Giving Away Gizmo
4. Distraction
5. False Hope
6. Papercut in Your Eye
7. Personal Demons (Encore)
The kind of music that Dark Himaya plays could be said to rest on one thing – atmosphere. Every element of their music is essential in contributing to a moody, synaesthetic soundscape that unquestionably stems from their very canny use of instrumentation and vocals, set against the rudimentary pop-song structure. This was clearly something that had connected with their past audiences, as there was the biggest turnout I’d seen for the first band of a night. Subtle Knife began with a very mellow intro on the keys, and it is immediately evident that Ivy has reallygot a set of pipes, moving into some nicely structured harmonies between her and Aileen, with the bridge having mainly downstroked chords (– some punk roots showing, perhaps?)
Across Morpheus’ Palm was introduced as being loosely based on the character, and was followed by some very John Frusciante/Lou Reed –esque use of the guitar; i.e. not as a leading instrument, but for backing effects, really underscoring the brevity in their music. Further accentuating how clued in they’ve been to pop culture in the past 20 years, Giving Away Gizmo was announced as being based on the character from Gremlins. Unlike the mogwai, however, the song was less cute than it was deep and brooding, beginning with a smooth bassline and contrastingly abrasive guitar work, and a very hummable bassline during the chorus. Distraction and False Hope served to further emphasise the synergy created by the band – semi-minimalist in terms of ornamentation, making every effect used significant.

Papercut in Your Eye is one song that could really be taken up several notches by using some deliberately set up lighting or video, a la the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, with some frantic chords and very dark/murky notes, backed up by a solid backbeat. The encore which they said they’d “try to do”, began with a highly delayed guitar, and the notable use of drums for only accents, and not fills, set against very smooth bass, really bringing out the ‘maya’ (Hindi for illusion/magic) in Himaya.
Shashwati

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Transnoodle

Setlist:
1. Tony Chan
2. People Aren’t Bad
3. Pousada
4. Obama
5. Referendum
6. Huddersfield
7. Body Snatcher
8. Big Parade
9. Monkey Magic
10. Polonium 210 (Encore)
When a band walks on with a keytarist among them, you know they’re gonna polarise your opinion. When they walk on with a bassist who looks exactly like Geddy Lee you get the feeling that you may really enjoy the music to come. And thoroughly enjoyable it was (although, to be fair, who’s ever heard of a boring ska band?), with the place almost reeking of third-wave ska. They were evidently seasoned veterans of playing live (and that’s not just at the Underground), and singer John’s verbal dexterity at keeping peoples’ attention and enthusiasm immediately shone through. They jumped into their set with the bass-drum opening to Tony Chan, proceeding into People Aren’t Bad (apparently about “how disappointing life is”), which had an almost standalone walking bassline, and the horns coordinating with the drums to create some great melodic rhythm.
To follow, was a ‘ballad” about a Filipino sailor who gets lost, featuring the clever repartee of the lines “ ’Darling I’ll never leave’; ‘I know- you’d never dare!’ ”, and an array of fascinating tempo changes (like, going from a 3/4 beat to double speed, in a mere 6 seconds!) Some light was shed on their initial worry over lack of further material upon the end of the Bush presidency, and Obama followed, highlighting their knack for coming up with memorable vocal phrases in their songs, a la the Clash. The conversational tone of lyrics, local references aplenty, and notable subject matter (“sex and politics”, crimes with dead bodies, the CPC and their 60th, and general social commentary) made them highly relatable, and their fans (who had long since moved right upfront) could not help but move to the music.

Having played the kind of music that puts fluid into shoulder- and hip-joints, Monkey Magic was a bit more rocky than the rest of their songs, with some Chuck Berry showing up in the melody, and a bit of Cab Calloway’s big band tendencies. They were also joined by Ivy, who lent her sizeable vocal skills to the song. After actually trying to walk off without doing an encore, the stop-start, highly Latin-oriented Polonium 210 brought their set to a close at an insane pace, stopping with a classic R’n’R flourish, and making it clear to all and sundry why these guys have played for the Underground 9 times already.
Shashwati

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Nocturnal Rose

Setlist:
1. Heart of Flame
2. Green Fairy
3. Dream Catcher
4. Lost
5. Cynthia Poison

It was just before these guys’ set that the versatile nature of the crowd that night became clear to me- each band had a fairly different-looking set of fans, moving up to the front as and when their preferred band came on. With their significantly more Noughties-rock look, Heart of Flame began with an immediate hearkening back to 70s arena rock, with plenty of keyboards and minimal lyrics, moving into a highly distorted guitar backing, reminiscent of ELP or Brian May. The solo for the song was taken from the intro to, paradoxically enough, Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd, but played as though by Tony Iommi – their roots were certainly showing. Green Fairy began much faster, with some absolutely blistering drumwork, and shades of Black Sabbath’s Crazy Train. Sadly, though, the guitars were a bit buried when playing rhythm, along with the violoncello (which answers the age-old question o f ‘Why soundcheck?’), but more than made up for by the drums. If the Germs (especially Don Bolles) had had John Doe as their singer, they would probably have sounded a lot like Nocturnal Rose.
It must be said that their varying influences seemed to be pulling their sound in sometimes conflicting directions, making the song’s progressions become a bit lost at times. The addition of a second guitar, or perhaps a more virtuosic style of bass may help to this end. However, playing more being the only way to get over this, they’re already on the road to remedy. Drummer Milk showed some staggering skills on the bass-drum, playing them 4 times a second with just one pedal (a la Chad Smith.) On Cynthia Poison, you could hear the Metallica/Misfits roots, with the song’s structuring being reminiscent of Cough/Cool. Some marvellously balanced axework combined with finessed keyboards provided a very good end to their set; a build-up of classic and arena rock on a bedrock of solid punk.

Shashwati

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Velvette Vendetta

Setlist:
1. Too Late
2. Passion of Silence
3. Black Star
4. Intentions Renewed
5. A Very Pale Rose
6. Perfect Murder of the Queen
7. Ashes
8. [Encore: This is Our Rotten Love

Another set of Underground veterans took the stage, with the instantly commendable set-up of having the drummer in the back-centre stage, with the axemen to either side of the stage. A slap piece was being played on a 5-string bass that was so punk you just wanted them to start playing. Which they did, with the fast-strummed start of Too Late, with off-beat accents, and simple but hard-hit drums in the vein of ROBO. Their method of amplifying the guitar with a mic on the amp allowed for a good bit of feedback to mix in with the highly flanged and distorted opening to Passion of Silence. The keys made themselves apparent, in a deceptively soft song with minimal guitars. The call-response vocals in the chorus allowed to mood to change to a darker, more metal-like mood just before the solo.
Opening Black Star with a loud wave of uncomfortable feedback for everyone, the keys were slightly more dominant here, showing their more melodic side (as an interesting aside, the vocal progression was similar to that of Charlie by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.) Intentions Renewed was introduced as a new song, and opened with almost a croon, moving into an angry yet bright bridge, with military beats.

The bands’ sound can be compared to My Chemical Romance (as, indeed, has often been done) not so much in actual style, which is sufficiently different, but more in terms of how they achieve their sound through a careful concoction of influences; exemplified in the bone rattling bass and sitar-like guitars on A Perfect Murder of the Queen, or the haunting, almost atonal melodies set to a jazzy bass with frequent tempo changes on their 8th song. They walk the line between metal, punk and Noughties-rock with great élan – sure, there’s some Muse in there too, but then again most cakes have salt, so… An encore requested by about 5 people, only served to further highlight their ability to not lose themselves in a variety of sounds, with a moody, downstroked intro, Hendrix-y solo, but Metallica-esque bridge and punky outro. Having proven themselves to be more than a set of influences thrown in a pot, the tired band walked off, ending the night on a high note.

Shashwati

 

photos © Copyright 2010 by ANGUS LEUNG

poster by ANGUS LEUNG

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