Underground 96

26-03-10

Well well our numbered 96 show was musically very very satisfying! We had surprises in the shape of guests with bands, great songwriting and amazingly 4 out of the 5 bands had never played The Underground before. We’re really delighted to see these bands lovingly perform their carefully rehearsed and patiently crafted songs. Thank you to all the indie musicians in Hong Kong! And of course thank you to ROCKSCHOOL and the great audience that came despite the Rugby Sevens gurgling away. 🙂
love Chris B xx

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Eli

Setlist:

1. Isolation
2. Deep
3. He Is Definitely Coming
4. Gone
5. Creep (Radiohead cover)

Once upon a time there was a show on the Friday before the Hong Kong Sevens. As you can probably already tell, the draining effect it had on all other gatherings was considerable. Unfortunately, one of those gatherings was this show, and attendance certainly seemed to have suffered towards the beginning of the show (luckily, the numbers did pick up soon, so I won’t bitch too much about this). It was to a burgeoning crowd that Eli began their set. They appeared to be drenched in somewhat cynical boredom – a critical element of 90s rock – with their staid demeanour and unadorned clothing. Having a kind of revisionist take on grunge, they brought some cleverly constructed songs, along with largely simple yet effective instrumentation. Singer Sun has a kind of buzzy, droning voice that really holds their semi-melodic sound together. Plus, to hear a voice like his from someone with his lean frame is always an entertaining paradox.

Isolation was a moody, atmospheric song which had elements of early Radiohead, followed by the deceptive calm of Deep, which, as the song went along, became increasingly insolent and frenetic with the vocals devolving into a guttural scream. The two notes repeated rapidly throughout most of Gone threw it into spacey, weird-out territory, with an interesting contrast offered by the relatively upbeat drums. An interesting feature of their songs was how nonchalant their endings were – you barely realised when they’d stopped! Finally (and very inevitably) the set closer was the classic Creep. This was the only song I felt could have used some more embellishment; however, the choice of abandoning Thom Yorke’s falsetto for a scream was a commendable one, and the set was ended with a pronounced guitar flourish.

Shashwati

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The Cambodian Space Project (Cambodia 柬埔寨)

Setlist:

1. Wa Wa Wa
2. Au Go Go
3. Old Pot Makes Good Rice
4. I’m Unsatisfied (Cover of a Cambodian singer)
5. Cha Cha Cha
6. 16

By the time CSP was up, the crowd had swelled considerably; good thing, too, because they were really worth watching. With the drummer’s pink coat, the variety of hats on display on the band-members, the Noel Redding-looking livewire of a bass player, and their striking singer Srey, they were as much a visual spectacle as they were a sonic experience. The groove began right away with Wa Wa Wa, with its sort of rural, dancy mood (courtesy the accordion), and cheeky-sounding vocals, making all present begin to sway immediately. The guitars were excellent throughout, having a very bluesy sound, yet played with a light touch so that the cumbersomeness that usually accompanies the blues was absent, giving their sound a very enjoyable freshness. The solos and riffs could have spilled off the guitar of Mark Knopfler in their ease. There was some stirring harmonica onAu Go Go, while a version of the Troggs’ Wild Thing riff featured on Old Pot.

It was tremendously clear how much these guys love playing music – from the Srey’s dancing (which compelled you to join in as well) to the drummer and bassist feeding off each others’ energies, they were as involved in the music as anyone else. (All this, despite their packed schedule shooting for a video, and playing 3 consecutive nights!) There was good-‘ol rock ‘n’ roll in the songs’ as well, especially the blistering solo on 16, dubbed “a melting pot of all their Western influences”. Sadly, the set had to end sometime, and it did so to each instrument booming in its own way, while people danced like crazy in the front. Apparently, their sets usually are much longer and more free-form, with 10 or 11 people playing; one could certainly imagine this happening, as the dynamic was very much the-more-the-merrier. Perhaps, if Gogol Bordello played the blues, they might happen upon the territory that CSP just blasted off from. ‘Till then, keep watching the skies for any sign of these orbiting rockers.

Shashwati

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Six Pack of Wolves

Setlist:

1. A Little Bit of Hell
2. Regretmenots
3. Ceremony
4. Eugenics
5. Lost in a Myth
6. Misadventures
7. Dagger-sharp Wits
8. Twinge
9. Losing Streak
10. Money (The David Bowie Knives cover)

Ever since seeing their description of themselves, which reads like an angry Gen-X malcontent’s manifesto, I’d been curious to hear what they sound like. The set began with some yelling at the “SOUND GUY!!” to adjust the levels. With no time wasted, they moved into the murky, heavy opening to A Little Bit of Hell, complete with aggro-filled vocals and guitars that clock you upside the head. Regretmenots was prefaced by the highly informative comment “This song is about…two and a half minutes long” from singer/guitarist Art, while the song swung between NY punk to slower, more eclectic areas. They were, unfortunately, repeatedly stricken with sound issues, but somehow that did not detract from their act – probably due to all the witty repartee that resulted from it.

The songs were a cool mix of punk speed, with the aggression mostly substituted with the cynicism of 90s alt.-rock; there were even hints of jazz, added by the keyboards. The misleading “sweetness” of the music was sarcastic in its delivery, increasing the intrigue of their sound, such as withLost in a Myth. The proficient guitars of Art ripped through the songs, with little regard for genre, complemented by Tiffany’s smooth basswork. However, to me, the standout work was from drummer Gabe. Already known to be super, he had the extremely difficult job of constantly switching styles and gears; a job that he was more than up to, even if he did miss a couple of beats here and there.

The presence of Shaun from the David Bowie Knives in the audience meant that he was inevitably going to end up on stage at some point. And, so he did at the end, playing DBK’s Money, to “fix the fact that they are not playing tomorrow” (at the “Music for Your Marrow” gig). And, as expected it was an idea as good in concept as in execution; Shaun added another dimension to the Wolves’, with the assured presence of the veteran singer. Mixed with a catchy guitar solo, the song finished the set with the audience in the best possible mindset – wantin’ more.

Shashwati

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The Heroes

Setlist:

1. This Is the Time*
2. That Place
3. Mental Disorder
4. My Child*
5. A Letter for Myself
6. 20th Century
(Note – these titles are a translation, by Dawn, except *)

Normally having an aural allergy to anyone who calls themselves “pop”, I was pleasantly surprised when the Heroes turned out to be more than the dustbin-muzak that the tag usually implies. With some pleasantly crooned vocals and sweet guitars, their main sound involved plenty of easy-on-the-ears melody. That Place was slow and pensive, while Mental Disorder was pacy, and notable for the vocals being delivered at warp speed. There was even some mild comedy added by the addition of that kids toy that makes that annoying honking sound (no idea what it’s called). To their credit, they added backup vocals to the songs only when needed instead of in every chorus like many bands (and good vocals at that). Overall, they reminded me very much of a band called Jal from Pakistan in their general performance.

Even though the lyrics were in Cantonese (hence, beyond the realm of my understanding), it was clear that the singer was putting a lot of emotion and energy into them without ever having to ham; kudos to him for that. He was a ball of energy, and their act benefitted greatly from it.My Child was apparently written because the guitarist “really has a child” (*wink, wink*), and featured a heartfelt guitar solo. The audience’s energy was upped as well, as they were called to join in to bits of 20th Century, probably their best song of the night. With the light-effects cooperating perfectly towards the end, some nifty chord-work heralded the end of a very fun set.

Shashwati

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Quasar

Setlist:

1. Restless Soul
2. Anthem of Rock ‘n’ Roll
3. My Girl
4. Peace Bells
5. My Day Will Come
6. Let it Be
7. No Reason

When someone’s been described as a mixture of Dylan and Springsteen, you know they’re probably good. And Sanjeev Gurung from Quasar certainly is very good; with a voice that has the seasoned sound of the best classic rock singers. These guys were fun to listen to in the best terms of classic rock. Right from the start of Restless Soul, their epic sound filled the air, with some smooth bass, and drums that were played as hard as I’ve ever seen them being hit (seriously, the drummer was beating the crap out of those things). Strange thing is, though, they never sounded overdone, as many bands have done, always maintaining the fun that rock music from the 50s had. The songs were largely led by the vocals, but guitarist Sarad held his own, with his grandson-of-the-blues, somewhat Hendrix-ey work, as on Peace Bells.

A new song, My Day Will Come, was played with a lovely sense of sonic tension, maintained by the deliberately restrained rhythm section, topped off with some quickfire fretwork on the solo. Let it Be made me wonder if it was composed in a raga (can’t recall which one!) with its harmonic, and strangely psychedelic sound. There was even more notable guitar-work on No Reason, with plenty of great licks, and the only bass solo of the night. Finally, with the room (happily) much fuller than it was a few hours ago, the last notes of the night echoed through the air, leaving a contented haze in the air (although it may just have been the noxious collective beer-breath of the hundreds of people on the road leaking into Rockschool. Hehe.)

Shashwati

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photos © Copyright 2010 by ANGUS LEUNG

poster by ANGUS LEUNG

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