HUGE thanks to Transition for flying in from the UK to play at The Underground in Hong Kong as part of their Asian Tour! Again thanks to The Cavern for continuing to host The Underground events. Thanks to the amazing audience who filled the room up and showed how us Hong Kong people appreciate live music, thanks to big Cliff on the door and to Paul for reviews and most of all to Willem for his amazing photos!!
love Chris B xx
P.M. Creative began a rousing Underground in a distinctly understated way. The band shuffled onto the stage, amiably strummed through some lilting Housemartins-esque tunes backed by two acoustic guitars, bass and tambourine. Assured songwriting and light arrangements soon got the audience nodding along.
Dual boy-girl vocalists promised a little variety, but that was undermined by having the first two songs sung by Bungi and the second two by Christie, rather than mixing it up a little. Were they auditioning? Bungi’s style was a little karaoke-like for my taste, but well suited to songs seemingly constructed to evoke couples strolling hand-in-hand through golden fields. Or something.
Christie’s delivery had a little more edge, taking the band’s sound towards Faye Wong in the late 90s, circa Di Dar (admittedly, your reviewer’s only reference point in local pop music).
What was missing from the set was any real sense of performance. Why just a tambourine? Having no drummer isn’t a crime, but would it kill them to try some bongos? A little vigour or variation in the strumming of those guitars? How about some harmonies? Surely a waste of two accomplished and seemingly complementary voices.
Ultimately while obviously clever and accessible, PM Creative let themselves down by lack of visible commitment. Must try harder.
Commitment clearly wasn’t lacking from the entirely admirable Elf Fatima, kicking off with the marvelously titled Drop a Bomb into a Radio Station.
Chorus and all manner of other effects pedals to the fore, the band were clearly going for a slow-burning, hypnotic effect, and it worked. Worries about lack of vocals from this instrumental act subsided as the song grew in intensity. At the climax of pounding fuzzy guitars, you could almost see the morning show DJs’ heads exploding, before a gentle close evoked the smoking rubble of the remains of Commercial Radio headquarters… Good, earnest, shoe-gazing fun.
My friend Jim suspected that song two featured all the same notes, just in a slightly different order. To me it sounded like something like Low-Life era New Order in a chill-out mood and was just asking for some spoken-word vocals over the top, or an art film projected behind. But this song too began to get the audience in its grip and gave them a solid blast of intense guitar noise for their trouble.
The next two songs continued on the same theme, each song seeming to tell a story, invariably with a decent dose of drama before a bittersweet ending in a minor key. You might not like them – and you have to wonder how long the Underground audience might have tolerated such a different approach – but Elf Fatima are the finished article. Each band member played their part in a tight performance, though special praise should go to the drummer for both subtlety and power throughout.
Wigs and wah-wah were a winning combination for Karat. Making no secret of their funky leanings, bass, guitar and drums were played by funky afro wigged boys in matching black outfits and white All-Stars. Strangely, singer Cherry looked as if she’d just come from the office. Doubly so, since Underground was on a Saturday.
Opening song Escape from Reality set a clear agenda. Funky bass slapping and popping like a thing possessed, with the guitarist making liberal and welcome (and funky) use of the wah-wah pedal. Just a few sips of Vita lemon tea seemed to be all that Cherry needed to belt out a funky and engaging delivery.
As second song Friday Night got underway, it became clear that Cherry can hold a tune and hit a note. Which is just as well, because Karat’s lyrics are entirely forgettable. I was hoping for quirky, modern day parables about love on the MTR, air quality and red-chip equity markets, but instead we had to make do with “give me soul”. Still, good fun nonetheless.
Cherry promised us the third song was crazed up and she wasn’t wrong, with the band beginning to enjoy themselves, and the crowd beginning to dance. More wah-wah beyond the call of any imaginable duty, more funky moves from Cherry and more banal lyrics going into the fourth song Deep in my Heart (“deep in my soul…” You get the picture).
Closer Daydreaming my Office gave the Underground a final slug of irrational – and funky – exuberance, and Karat earned their enthusiastic applause.
Did I mention they were funky? Actually, they’re not quite as funky as they’d like to think, but still, Karat get an A for effort. Swing out, sister.
For UK-based headliners Transition harmony was a secret weapon, transforming what might have verged on a pastiche of everyday indie rock into a truly rousing performance.
Being both good and original is a tough challenge, and Transition could be criticized for magpie tendencies, taking a little Coldplay here, a little U2 there, and a lot of Doves everywhere. Yet strength of vocals and tightness of delivery won over what was now a pretty-much full up Cavern.
They may look a little like chartered accountants on holiday, but Transition are very good. They know exactly what they’re doing, and clearly enjoy it. Their opener suffered from both sound level glitches muffing the guitars, plus a surely-too-close-to-be-coincidental resemblance to U2’s Beautiful Day. But follow-up number Jericho broke down a few walls, and by song three the Cavern was pretty much won over.
While not blazingly new or fresh, the set was consistently good. Catchy songs, uncomplicated arrangements and proficient musicianship throughout. Note to other Underground bands: you only need 10 seconds between songs.
Personally I’m not a huge fan of less-than-established bands who presume that we already like them enough to wave our hands in the air and sing along. It’s possible that we just don’t care. But I was in the minority this evening, and it was hard not to respect the feat of getting the Underground audience to sing along in three-part harmony.
Harmonies were what made this performance special – and far too uncommon in at the Underground. Transition have three powerful voices, and they’re not afraid to use them, to best effect in a quieter number halfway through the set that featured an intro that could almost have been Crosby, Still and Nash.
Transition made a real impact with the 200-or-so audience at Underground 47. More please.
Above photos © Copyright 2007 by Willem Van Der Merwe
Poster by Sheli