What a great way to wrap up 2012. We had 3 bands playing their Underground debuts and Hazden triumphantly returning with their new line-up.
Zippo very nicely gave us 3 more lighters to give away and thanks too to HKGFM.net who gave us a bag of Tshirts as early Xmas presents 🙂
Amazing support from The Live House and it’s wonderful sound staff and bartenders. Biggest thanks of course goes to The Underground team members who make shows extra fun and run smoothly! See you all in 2013!
love Chris B xx
1. Come Together (Beatles Cover)
The night began with the Canto-pop-rock of NuPage, which they chose to do with a Beatles cover. And, pleasantly, they chose to make the song their own, adding a Latin-Jazz, almost dancey, feel to it, combined with touches of some spiky, very alt rock guitars. Despite the fact that I, personally, very nearly hate the song, I found myself enjoying the novelty of it. 16月6日晴 started off a bit like Green Day’s Basket Case – fast and fun with a pop-punk feel – and moved into a chugging hard rock number, almost sounding like Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen, but with the tones that guitarists often have used from the 90s. The song’s lyrics also had a percussive, rhythmic quality, seemingly having been written in consonance with the articulated drum beats. All this and it was a fast peppy number, that got even jaded listeners rocking along. The singer’s voice helped in spades with this; with his made-for-radio voice and his non-melodramatic style, he added to the polish of the songs, which were already fairly cleanly composed.
However, it seems that they flattered to deceive with their opening, because the energy, and the quality of the songwriting, seemed to dip for the rest of their set. They largely stuck to midtempo pop-rockers, with the requisite alternations between the ‘rocking’ feel and the single-note-emotional appeal feel. 問號 sounded a bit like the Police’s Message in a Bottle, while 抽離 was a more glam-metal song, complete with squealing solo, and they were both heavier songs than the ones before. 難得 was a very Maroon 5-esque song, with a similar property of being lightly funky in a way that takes the fun out of pop and the oomph out of funk. However, I could countenance that if their energy was winsome, or it sounded like an effort by the whole band. As I have said, the energy did dip as they moved into increasingly vanilla-rock territory. What was worse, in my opinion, however was that they stopped sounding like one unit, and much more like a singer with a backing band. The oneness of composition that had made their first two songs endearing was gone, replaced by vocal highlights supplemented by mellow and unmemorable backing music. I understand that they are a Cantonese-style rock band, in which the focus being on the singer is not uncommon, but I don’t that that should automatically exonerate them (and any band that does this, of which there are many) from having to play as a band. Quite a few local bands manage to sing in styles of Canto-rock and still maintain the significance of there being musicians playing instruments on stage – Senseless, Airtub, Milkshake7, Amino Shower, Killer Soap, The Merriweather Deer come to (my) mind.
To be very clear, the singing was quality all the way through, and the musicians (their drummer in particular) do appear to be skilled. I also understand that bands tend to be part-time, with their members having day-jobs and things, so time is at a premium. However, if I were to point out one area that they could improve in, it would be investing time in composing for the whole band, as opposed to just the singer. I do hope that the band takes this in the spirit it was intended in.
— Shashwati Kala
2. I See It
6. Capri no. 2
Second up were Hazden, returning to The Underground’s stage after a long hiatus. They’ve been around for a long time, and so they’ve been through the typical line-up changes shifting of band-members around that comes with that fact. I happen to have heard them a few times during this period, and am happy to report that it doesn’t appear to have suffered many problems from this fact, as the band’s sound and energy hasn’t been negatively affected by this. Their very first song announced them in perfectly – they are a band that like a big metal sound, with a little bit of drama and a little dread thrown in. Their set that followed played this out without being boring, which tends to be hard to do for metal bands, so full marks to them for pulling this off. (Also their guitarist was wearing something that looked very much like a semi-dress, which was also interesting.)
They do have one issue, which is that singer Faye’s voice, while notable, tends to be inconsistent from gig to gig, and their songs are demanding on the throat, and require vocal integrity to be maintained, as they have a lot of very high-pitched extended transitions. This night, however, was generally a good night for her, and aside from a few songs that appeared to be composed outside of her range (which can be remedied by a few sessions of rethinking, if they wish), she was rather good. Which isn’t surprising, because her voice is rather good – clean and strong, it puts me in mind of Amy Lee and Liz Phair at the same time, and it suits their style of metal quite well. Just, maybe, cut down on the outlying high notes, and they could have a non-jarring vocal performance all the way through.
I See It was a more minimalistic song, broody in the vein of Garbage, with a chorus nicely structured to show off Faye’s strengths and its concluding high note being satisfyingly built up to, and an almost atonal (in bits) guitar solo mixed with Paul Gilbert-y pentatonic riffing.  mixed textured guitars with shreddy guitars in a manner reminiscent of the Lostprophets’ second album.  saw the bassist join in, and took on a much more classic rock feel, but moved back over into the sustained-note-holding pattern when Faye sang (perhaps an interesting contrast between composition styles); I did feel, though, that it could’ve been shortened by quite a bit as it got repetitive towards the end. Capri no. 2 was a more poppy, with perhaps the best vocals of the night, played with an Yngwie Malmsteen palate on guitar, which was a great way to close out the set.
— Shashwati Kala
We Wanted to Be the Sky
1. Because All Romantics Are Quitters
3. Play Again
4. Heart Attack
5. Up the Walls
WWBS began their career while I was away, so I didn’t get to see their first couple of months of development as a band. When I asked someone who had, they were described to me as “Tilly and a bunch of maniacs”. (Note – this is not to say that Tilly isn’t a maniac on stage; merely that I was familiar with her work.) Well, this, I’m happy to report, is essentially true – the band is Tilly with her delicious ear for good rock ‘n’ roll, combined with a swirling whirlwind of guitars, an appositely solid bass, and a kickin’ drummer (which, as Krist Novoselic said, is very important for a band) who, at his best, bears an uncanny resemblance in style to the late, great Jerry Nolan. So, they’re great on paper.
They’re even better in reality, because (awesome) music aside, they’re quite the spectacle on stage. Tilly was always a livewire, but guitarist Sam takes that to another level by being rather dervish-esque. These two alone are reason enough to go out to watch them. They sound very much like the bands that came out of the post-grunge woodwork in the 90s to sound like a mix of (and it makes me very happy to be able to say this) the grinding propulsion of L7’s Smell the Magic and the classic-yet-alternative rock sound of Mudhoney’s Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, with some of the sweetness of the Kooks. At their best, they seriously remind me of Fugazi It’s a compelling combination, and they have the songs to match (if you haven’t heard them, they have a few songs for download here..) They also use sampled sounds (including people repeating their name), which is not only clever, but breathes freshness into the set by replacing the mid-song banter.
From the shreddy goodness (and great title) of Because All… to the more slow and winding Fire, they already have some pretty good songs going. There are a couple of songs, Play Again and Photographs+Nitrogen, for instance, in which the elements don’t quite all work together, and Tilly’s peculiar style of singing does get to me a bit when she overdoes the replacing of high notes with a shriek/squeal (in my opinion), but they are a band to be watched out for. This, not only because they’re great live, but also because the stuff they’ve recorded so far sounds terrific. Great stuff with, I’m confident, more to come.
— Shashwati Kala
3. Someone Like You (Adele cover)
5. No Regret
The last band to take the stage was also an Underground debutante, and they jumped right into their set, beginning with a droning, early-thrashy song, with some well-executed screaming and a massive melodic hook. The heaviness of the song was nicely leavened with the quite glammy harmonies, which was fun. Naturally, my hopes were up, as they seemed like a solid band. However, they quickly moved into much more hackneyed Noughties rock territory with喜愛夜蒲, which was more late Linkin Park-like – a tired semi-melody of poppish metal with some spoken word thing, which didn’t suit them well. Things didn’t get much better after that for, though they tended to start of their songs quite heavy, they quickly transitioned into playing unsuitably pop-metal tunes, which felt jarring to listen to. 冷戰 was a return to a more headbangy style, slightly reminiscent of early Judas Priest. However, most any heavy elements in their songs had their corners shaved off as they felt really safe and lacked the all-important punch of metal. It didn’t much help that their singer came off as really hammy, and almost smarmy at points (especially during their last song). I’m not automatically against metal bands doing covers of pop songs – quite the opposite – but their cover of Adele was massively hampered that their singer’s voice sounds weak. This made his on-stage emoting come off as, frankly, a bit lame.
I’m thrilled that these guys have formed a band – which is a rare enough thing for young people here to do – but now that they have, I’d have to say that they are going to have to give some serious thought to the music they’re making and what suits them. Admittedly, he was quite good at screaming, very animated on stage, and he knew how to get the crowd excited and going with him too, and the musicians are clearly talented, but that doesn’t count for all that much (to me) if the music is lacking. Again, I hope that my comments are taken in the intended spirit, and I hope to see these guys playing again, vastly improved and making my current comments invalid. When they played in the style of the big arena rock, they were actually quite interesting – perhaps that’s a direction they may consider focusing on. I wish them the best for the future.
— Shashwati Kala
Poster by ANGUS LEUNG
photos © Copyright 2012 by Steve Schechter