Live review from Underground 103:
Capturing and keeping the attention of the crowd isn’t an issue for this upbeat acoustic three-piece. Their infectious enthusiasm seemed to grip the whole room. Some issues with the sound engineering on the first couple of songs didn’t affect the overall set, and in fact, the excessively cheery attitude of percussionist Fred meant that the setbacks were turned into an opportunity for the band to connect with the crowd and bring them onside. Small tip to the guitarist though, if things aren’t going well, smile and act like they are…
Once the sound issues had been resolved, there was no stopping Kestrels and Kites. With incredibly catchy songs, a jubilant, joyful nature, vocal harmonies, singalongs, and a modern acoustic folk-rock sound, the audience reaction went from strength to strength.
At the heart of their sound is the sweet yet sassy voice of Tiffany Laue, bassist from Hungry Ghosts and previously Six Pack of Wolves. Her vocal style is reminiscent of Gwen Stefani, with a hint of “girl next door” into the mix. The singing can’t be faulted, with some heart-stirring moments where the voice soars such as in the song “Friday Feeling”, and some straight pop phrasing on the likes of “45”, simple and effective.
The songwriting is amongst the highest quality I’ve heard in Hong Kong. The lyrics tend to use simple phrases to portray complex emotions and situations. This approach is perhaps unintentional, as the songs don’t sound in any way contrived. It seems Tiffany has a natural flair for using lyrical primary colours to paint rich and meaningful images. The same can be said of the music, which for the most part utilises basic structures and chord patterns. No ten minute guitar solos here! And the result is songs and sounds that grab your attention, and make you listen closely, letting the hooks slide into your memory painlessly and seemingly indelibly, whilst your mood is turned to sunshine with each new passage.
One of the songs “Romance” saw the lead vocals and seemingly the songwriting duties handed to guitarist Luke Chow, who is also the singer of the band Hungry Ghosts. His voice is resonant and soulful, gliding into the ether with a great presence. The harmonies on the chorus were superb. Tiffany’s voice complementing Luke’s perfectly. I wouldn’t want to have seen any of Tiffany’s songs cut from the set, but I’d still like to have heard more from Luke.
Fred who also plays drums in Hong Kong pop-punk favourites Shotgun Politics, plays cajon in Kestrels – which is a snared box that the percussionist sits on and hits, strokes and taps with his hands. The playing was exemplary. Perfect hits and taps and an incredible amount of sheer energy and exhuberance, Fred is a force of nature.
So, do I have any criticisms? Not really. These guys were fantastic, as the huge crowd reaction testified on the night. But if I were to nitpick I’d say they don’t always come across as a tight and coherent unit, and more like a side project of musicians from other bands. And that’s a shame, because with songs and performances like these, Kestrels and Kites could very well be the best band in Hong Kong, and who knows, maybe beyond. Tiffany’s confidence in the spotlight in the role of frontwoman changed during the course of the show. By the middle of the set she visibly relaxed and started to look like a pro. If she can come out all guns blazing and her band can perhaps dedicate a little more time to getting tighter on these songs, Kestrels and Kites will be unstoppable.
– Stuart Lennon