Underground 110

19-10-13

IMG_5763.jpgWith three solid bands featured in this showcase, this night was all about the music. Thanks to the Phew & The3Think for playing their Underground debuts with passion & joy. We welcomed back Helium3 to the stage to perform lots of new songs.
As always, thanks to the enthusiastic audience, the visuals from the Hong Kong Mapping group, Backstage Live for hosting this event, HKGFM.net for radio airplay and biggest thanks to The Underground team for consistently making each show better than the last.
love Chris B xx

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Phew!

1. Gentle Rain
2. Lord of the Flies
3. Beautiful Night
4. Desert Sand
5. Of Infinite Space/Time
6. Jaded Moon
7. Walk in the Park

It’s rare a night begins with words like “classic” and “legend” going around the crowd, but this night was one of the rare ones. I can’t remember the last time I was at a show where the anticipation was quite as heavy in the air is it was before Phew started, but it was a great feeling. However, I must say I was surprised when the band started playing….mostly because I didn’t expect them to be quite as good as they were. When most people use words like “psychedelic” and “atmospheric” it usually means a lot of meandering half-tunes without and drive or punch behind them; this was not the case. Phew uses simple notes and chords and repeats them to create feeling and franticness, such that the anticipation only grows as the song progresses (which, from all I’ve heard of and about ….HUH!? and Edmund Leung, is pretty much their forte). They sound something like a mix of Audioslave, Smashing Pumpkins and Quicksilver Messenger Service, and a little bit of Television, especially with regard to the general lack of distortion in the sound. The smooth, interlocking dynamic between the two guitarists is also very similar to that between Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, which I found great to watch. Additionally, it’s rare to see a band who play with as little fanfare as Phew – despite the fact that most people in the crowd at that point were visibly there to see them, the band’s body language was almost like they were in a practice studio and not a stage, which was intriguing to watch. Weird in a good way. Their songs also have consistently good lyrics – songs actually seem to be written to make a point, and the lyrics are interesting in themselves, not just as something you sing, which adds an extra dimension to the songs.

Perhaps it’s a testament to all of this skill that only a few seconds into Gentle Rain the song had already achieved a feel like the slight uncomfortable but exciting feel of jazzy rock. This was only made better by the fact that Edmund Leung’s singing voice has the quality of Eddie Vedder’s; slightly uneven, deep, and often whispery. Their first few songs didn’t really place much emphasis on openings, which I thought was an interesting choice to have made considering they were going to be how the show was opened, but it also made the songs stand out. Lord of the Flies was an early-Pumpkins-esque song, with the notes being played creating immense space in the soundscape, like on Mellon Collie… Of Infinite Space/Tiem had the feel of a Bob Dylan song, with its juxtaposition of almost nursery-rhyme like melody and deep lyrics. Jaded Moon was an unexpectedly faster song, almost funky and sounding a bit like The Clash after Sandinista!. As was to be expected (so I’m told), they ended with the ….HUH!? classic Walk in the Park, and it was an amazing closer; the amount of tension built up during the song was almost physically intolerable, and the composition of the melody deliberate confused and appealed to the ears, something like Skin Yard, or Nirvana was able to do in their best songs on Bleach. In all, I’m glad I got to see these guys, and I don’t think I’ve seen better openings to a show, or a set that was as consistently strong as this in a long time.

— Shashwati Kala

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Helium3

1. No one’s in
2. Rule the World
3. Leaving
4. Take me to South Stand
5. Satellite
6. Chase the Sunrise
7. Sundays
8. Home
9. Come Undone

A retro-computer-sounding recorded intro opened up their set in an unexpected way, almost throwing one off, before some big guitars by Dave Campbell brought things back to more familiar territory. They oscillate between power-pop and American radio-rock, with bouncy melodies and generally uptempo songs. They’re definitely radio-ready; in fact they sound like a band that’s already on rotation on the radio. Which is a good thing in some ways – they’re tight, they’re fun, and they have likeable songs, they have a rich sound. In addition, they’re confident on stage and have a fun rapport between the band members, which adds to watchability. They’ve got solid, experienced musicians who add to the songs with their performances. All of which makes for an entertaining performance. They sound much like the Dandy Warhols or Franz Ferdinand (as on Satellite,and the catchy Home), and in their better songs they almost sound something like The Jam, like the punchy Rule the World. There are a couple of more soft-rock, Coldplay-esque songs, most of which involve the singer moving to the keyboard and while generally good, the few notes he kind of missed on Chase the Sunrise really stood out because of the melodicity of the tune, which was a bit jarring.

A radio-ready sound also has some downsides though, of which the most major is that the songs end up sounding quite samey, and (forgive me if I’m being too harsh) a little vanilla. Indeed, I felt a vague sense of “where have I heard this song before?” during each of their songs (I made sure to ask around a bit to confirm that it wasn’t just me being picky, and quite a few people agreed). …South Stand in particular sounded like a variation on Bohemian Like You’s theme. Which would all be fine, in my eyes, if they didn’t call themselves alt. rock. There’s really nothing challenging about the music, nothing that would weird you out even a little, so “rock” is a better characterisation of their sound. “Alt. rock” is already an abused term, too broadly applied to bands that have nothing ‘alternative’ about them, and I think that should stop. Having said all of this, make no mistake, these guys are good performers and are fun to watch. I would say that if they worked on making their songs more distinctive, they would be a much better band all around, and surely that’s something to be aspired to.

— Shashwati Kala

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The3Think

1. 不可一世
2. 風林火山
3. 流星
4. Sound of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel cover)
5. 電腦
6. 世界真細
7. 張開手擁抱

If there’s one word to describe this band, that word would be ‘polished’. The3Think are the kind of band that sound like they’re ready to play to huge audiences from the very first song, and this night wasn’t an exception. They announced themselves on with a huge, Van Halen-esque riff, to which were added poppy-fast drums and a dash of keyboards. Indeed, if there’s anything that unites their songs it would be their dance-rock mood. All these songs are meant to be danced to, and it appears to work. While they change styles mildly, from the metal-ish 不可一世 to the clubby 風林火山 to light funk in 世界真細, there is an undeniable feeling that the corners have been sanded out of the sound, and it’s all interpreted through the pop—oriented mindset of wanting to simultaneously appeal to as many people as possible. And, though I often make it sound otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with that, for they don’t pretend to be anything other than entertainers, and they’re good at it. They do also play their instruments generally competently, which is an improvement upon groups that don’t. Their singers have very nice voices, harmonise well, and are generally able to carry off the songs well. However, the focus on pop seems to make peoples’ instrumental imaginations rusty, and this appears to be the case with this band as well; there’s a feeling of tedious sameness among their songs that I think stems from not trying different things. They clearly want to sound different, which was reflected in 張開手擁抱 which, according to a fellow attendee, sounds like “Cantopop trying not to be Cantopop”. So, while they’re good at entertaining their standard audience, I put it to them that if they tried a few things not typical to pop music they would become more entertaining, not less so.

— Shashwati Kala

poster by ANGUS LEUNG
photos © Copyright 2013 by ANGUS LEUNG
海報由Angus Leung。
由​Angus Leung攝影。

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