Underground 99

03-12-11

IMG_5151.JPGThank you so much to the amazing bands that performed our final show for 2011, we’re very sorry that The Sinister Left pulled out at the last minute due to a torn ligament in the drummer’s right knee. Still the night was magical with three bands playing their first Underground performance. The audience, The Underground team and Backstage all felt that specialness when you see talent bursting from Hong Kong musicians. Thanks to everyone there and to all our sponsors – we really appreciate your support in The Underground. See you all in 2012 and watch out for Underground 100 to take place soon. love Chris B xx

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NEU

Setlist:

1. [Untitled Instrumental]

2. Special Thanks

3. Gas and Drugs

4. Here

U99 was given a grand opening thanks to NEU – and good thing too, for only the sort of rousing, anthemic opening that distracts the mind from troubling facts would do. Certainly one band out of four (and perhaps the biggest draw) withdrawing before they could be replaced is quite a setback; but, I think it gave the bands remaining on the bill extra impetus to perform well. A unique opportunity that NEU did not let go to waste.

They, like many metal-esque bands, tend to go for a sound that’s 90s or before. What these guys have done wisely is to play a particularly fertile style of metal that’s not been done to death (or not consistently within the past 20 years, anyway). They play a crunchy, melodic metal which combines shiny glam-rock notes played in a stretched out, compressed prog-rock form with the terse and punchy expression of metal/hard rock. This approach means that they’re low on the breakdowns, but still retain some of the raunch that early 70s (post-Zeppelin, basically) guitars had. And most of this was guitarist Wai – his chosen combination of the above-mentioned sounds is reminiscent of Jerry Cantrell (a comparison I never, ever make lightly); both manage to combine multiple forms of rock in a manner that sounds organic and without any fluff. They also used acoustic guitar on some songs – or, more accurately, tried to, since it was totally drowned out during the show proper. But, from what I heard during soundcheck, the intention is to provide some weird-out, staccato counterpoints which show a more post-punk side of them.

Drummer Winston is one with a shockingly good kick-drum technique – he could play for a bloody grindcore band if he so pleased. What wasn’t cool was that his forays into jazz were well below-par of what should be expected of a versatile drummer, and that when called upon to change the beat things tended to lag for a bar or two. Both of which impinged on my enjoyment… Singer Olivia’s voice is one I’m not sure about; I have always despised the momentary lapse into high-pitched near-yodels that many singers do (it’s a CRUTCH!), and her technique is no exception. Plus her voice is at a sort of halfway point between being a typical thick metal voice, and an ironically thin one. It’s rather like Alanis Morrissette, which is the best way I can sum it up. But like Alanis, she executes the singing confidently and consistently, and at junctures when the singing is mid- to low-range and the tune is more Procol Harum-ish, her voice actually sounds rich and substantial – so this complaint may just be me (other people testified to liking her voice quite a lot).

The poky moments of unsolicited jazz drums came during their opening instrumental, although it was made up for by the rock drumming in it. Special Thanks had a terrific sludgy riff a little like Blue Öyster Cult mixed with Queensrÿche (and someone in the crowd mentioned Candlemass, which is kinda appropriate too). The ominous notes continued into the more Sabbath-ish Gas and Drugs which slowly but nicely morphed into a Dream Theatre-like epic. Here, dedicated to their loved ones, was unflaggingly soppy to me, but a lot of the crowd seemed to like it. It also sounded quite a bit like Alanis’ Everything; and, typically, a band can do little because this is a singer’s song, and to her credit Olivia really took hold of the song. The Bryan Adams/Chris Daughtry territory of pop-rock is is NOT my thing, but I can see why someone with a more open mind than mine would like it. Still, many promising signs, perhaps the best of which is that they seem to have an instinct for not making their clearly long-form songs overlong – a rare thing.

(On a tangential note – the floor tom was outside the realm of the drumkit throughout – did the drummer seriously not miss it at all?!)

— Shashwati Kala

NEUunderground 99第一隊演出的progressive rock的樂隊,樂隊成員有結他手Wai、鼓手Winston、主音Olivia及低音結他手Peter O’Kelly。他們音樂的結構很豐富,富有強烈的節奏感,其中令人印象尤深的是結他與鼓的演出,有一種能夠震撼人心的感染力。他們演出多首節奏明快的歌曲,但並沒有帶給人歡愉的感覺,而是在豐富的節奏中有一種淡淡的憂鬱,彷彿有一種爭脫不出、緊張不安的張力,像飛車般的風馳電掣,帶給人們一種危險的快感。

NEU主音的歌聲也是樂隊的一個亮點,她的聲音很有性格,在演唱最後一曲較為抒情、節奏也較緩慢的作品,更見其功力,她以雄厚的聲音唱出很妍溫婉的風格,聲音的控制及技巧均十分出色。此曲談的是對家人、愛人的感情,而以progressive rock演奏,結構也較之前演出的作品較為簡單,令人不禁想起Beyond的《真的愛你》,表現出那種細膩的情懷。而NEU出色之處更在於他們音樂的多元及多樣性,演出多首progressive rock不同風格的作品,為觀眾帶來精彩的演出。

— Eva Leung

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operator

Setlist:

1. Hurricane

2. Fire in a Sweet Shop

3. The Miracle

4. Sandfly

5. She’s the Devil

6. Red Light

7. Ear Poison

operator is a band I’ve had a chance to observe for nearly a year, and they’ve shown tremendous growth within that time – be it the songwriting itself, or the ability to find appropriate instrumental space within those songs, they’ve managed to raise the bar for themselves. They’ve got one of the swingin’-est, kickin’-est drummers I’ve heard, a bassist who could pass for musical bedrock, and two guitarists who exchange leads without missing a beat. All this supplements a voice, which although thin and at times uncomfortably nasal, has genuine range and a slight ironic edge (something like Billie Joe Armstrong’s, but better). It all combines to sound like a solid, well-frankensteined Bush+Small Faces+Foo Fighters, with some King Crimson overtones to boot. This particular night, given the combination of space and the feeling of occasion (they’ve been due to play the Underground for a long time), their performances seemed extra-charged and they were fun to watch too. Adding to the mix was their more recent decision to have bassist Marc occasionally take to a strategically placed floor tom to add to the spectacle and sound (which irresistibly pushed my mind in the direction of that Pete Quaife quote about most bassists being frustrated drummers).

I apologise at this point for taking this review in an utterly subjective direction, but I have to confess that despite their significant merits, their music has somehow always left me somewhat cold. The individual elements are empirically good and, on paper, I should like them combined too. Perhaps the root of my issues is that, like the Foo Fighters in the early Noughties, the particular way in which they chose to combine Bush with Small Faces serves to neuter the ironic-feeling edgy propulsion and the driving R&B feel of one or the other respectively. Or perhaps because they let their melodies occasionally stagnate to Bon Jovi levels of overblown-ness, like towards the end of Sandfly (admittedly, it may just be that the chorus reminds me of a Kylie Minogue song, from which I cannot recover). It’s all pleasing to the ear, but rather empty. Or even that they always sound on verge of beginning a Butthole Surfers kinda song but never do… One non-subjective issue I have is that they’re not always composing songs meant for a voice that’s strongest on higher notes like singer Ben’s is – when they do (like with Red Light and Ear Poison) his voice flourishes and slots very well, but sometimes it can sound like a square-peg-round-hole situation.

But these are issues for nitpickers like me – if you’re not one, their songs are thoroughly enjoyable, which no less than 5 people actually ordered me to write in my notes (happy?). And it’s true that in their best songs they have a certain free-rockin’ flow that reminds one of Pearl Jam since Matt Cameron. Fire In a Sweet Shop was bounded by a deep, swirling current of a riff which particularly underscored the bass’ vital role in their sound. She’s the Devil had a very Strokes-y lopsided riff to start and sustained that zippy feel right through. Hurricane‘s combination of vocals and guitar tones was haunting, as was that on Red Light; the harmonies added a lot here, and the song had plenty of contrast and tension that bubbled over in the ears. Ear Poison was a great closer, with perhaps their strongest hook, wonderfully understated lead guitars that reminded me of early 70s rock, and an excellent vocal performance; and the Shakespeare reference doesn’t hurt either. If you’re reading this review, don’t let my personal niggles throw you; this is a band that should definitely be checked out live.

— Shashwati Kala

Operator是一隊演出British Alternative Rock的樂隊,成員有Jonathan LeeBen RobinsonVix PeñaMarc Greiner,樂隊是全男子的組合,充滿了陽剛的味道。Operator無論在樂隊的風格或是在組織上都是很typical的搖滾樂隊,他們在台上散發的力量,都令人想起那屬於搖滾樂的原始精神那種永遠年輕不老、充滿幹勁及熱情的精神。

主音是整隊樂隊的靈魂人物,他的歌聲時而狂野,時而抒情,時而跳躍,甚有台型,令觀眾聽得如癡如醉。樂曲的舖排見其心思,演出以由節奏強勁的歌曲開始,帶動起聽眾的熱烈情緒,中間為一首較為抒情的歌曲,緩和一下氣氛,而此曲的鼓及電子結他的配合精彩,帶有一點迷幻般的感覺,再以一首狂野音樂作結,讓人不禁隨歌起舞。

— Eva Leung

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Apache

Setlist: (Titles translated into English)

1. World

2. Liar

3. Missing

4. Greedy

5. Tear

6. Unreal

Despite these guys’ description of their own music being a phrase sometimes used as a pejorative (by other people, of course), this is a pretty cool band. Now, I’m not saying that it isn’t fairly generic, subgenre-spanning light metal that they play; but they play it with some more alt. rock touches which makes their sound fresh and more rubber-band-ey and bass-driven, rather than over-distortedly choppy (which is an unfortunately common choice). Not surprising, given the beautifully smooth sounds that a Rickenbacker bass (4003?) will give you. The guitars sound like MCR’s Ray Toro being doubled up – a wonderful, soaring and filling sound, that oscillates from pure 80s Eddie Van Halen type stuff to 90s nu-metal (but without the stupidity of either), with occasional hints at funk. Combine that with a VERY competent singer, who can sing full-throated and operatic without being lame, and a drummer (apparently new) who’s got a lot of groove for this style, and you have a band that’s fun to listen to. World and Liar started off more centred on a chugging 90s rock feel, while Missing had touches of math rock which salvaged it from sounding like cheese metal. Unreal had a bit of the early-Lostprophets feel (think Shinobi) and the band seemed to really have fun with it, adding anthemic guitars and swinging drums. Overall, a strong set to close out a strong show which, to everyone’s delight, was a great one to be at.

— Shashwati Kala

Apache是一隊Canton Rock的樂隊,成員包括主音逸、結他手Kelvin及花、低音結他手Mann及鼓手科。Apache的音樂很有力量,旋律性很強,以電子結他奏出的旋律更有一種跳脫的感覺。主音在演唱不同的作品時都有不同的演繹方式,對聲音的控制很好。Apache的歌詞及音樂內容均圍繞著自身的所思所感,樂隊的整體演出更充滿熱情。以廣東話作為創作的樂隊在The Underground的音樂會中可能是屬於小數,但語言絲毫不阻隔音樂的交流及溝通,很多擁有外國人面孔的觀眾(雖然也可能是擁有外國人面孔的香港人),聽得比誰都投入。Apache的演出為The Underground這年度最後一場音樂會Underground 99帶來了精彩的結束。

— Eva Leung

photos © Copyright 2011 by ANGUS LEUNG & ManHo

poster by ANGUS LEUNG

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