Another amazing Underground show! Thanks to everyone who turned up and thanks to Up Dharma Down who were in town and asked to play! Thanks to Tim for recording and to Bun for videoing. Of course thanks to the soundguys (Iris & Ivanne) at The Cavern who make each show exceptional. Hope to see you all at a future Underground show.
love Chris B xx
There’s a lot to be said for a really, truly beautiful guitar, and Gray@DREAM5’s guitar is a work of art. A big, deep, fat, semi-acoustic Gretsch, all lacquered top, deep ebony fretboard, and f-holes that could have been etched by the gods, not to mention the finely-turned gold knobs. You have to love a finely turned knob.
This wonderful instrument gave out an all-enveloping, fuzzy glow to get Underground 51 started. Only problem was it didn’t suit the music that much. A lean three-piece playing energetic rock and roll songs needs an itchy, scratchy, gutsy, Jack White kind of sound, but the Gretsch was a bit of a warm, wet fart.
Unfortunate, because Gray@DREAM5 have a simple and potentially effective plan: short, upbeat songs sung with a Billy Idol sneer. Riding with the Radio was a standout, and a short set had only one real low-point, which was announced, ominously, as a change of pace. Sadly the weird guitar sound, along with some pedestrian drums and bass robbed Gray@DREAM5 some of the energy they could have promised.
One final disappointment: I thought the last song was a magnificently-titled Cream of the Teas, yet a check back with the band’s website suggests that it was actually Queen of the Tease. Pity!
Chris B @UNDERGROUND51 warmly welcomed Frozen Matches next. The band had lost their lead singer moments earlier and had decided that the show must go on. Good for them. Slightly less clear-cut for the rest of us, although bonus points for the short instrumental intro to stop the early evening chatter.
Opening song Your Fair Lady then set the tone with a Muse-esque arrangement and some rather earnest singing. If Gray@DREAM5 were all about the gorgeous guitar, then Frozen Matches were all about the bass. If Jack White played bass, he’d insist on this itchy, scratchy, gusty sound. The rest of the band had a hard time competing.
There’s individual talent in the band but unfortunately it didn’t quite come together tonight. On their day, you can imagine Frozen Matches providing a soundtrack to the clearly dysfunctional mind of an average Hong Kong 25-year old. A little odd, and misunderstood, but determined nonetheless.
It just took a couple of bars (or was that beers) to realise that Spodac were the first real band this Underground. Perhaps it’s musicianship, or perhaps it’s simply confidence that comes from being over 30, but it was good to hear four musicians playing original songs together with discipline and commitment.
Their first two songs mixed all kind of sounds with an assured vocal delivery that switched between James’ Tim Booth and Ian Astbury. Tight bass and drums and a very talented guitarist worked together to get the Undergound nodding and shuffling from foot to foot for the first time in the evening. This was getting interesting.
But it was all downhill from then (for me!). Third song “Gravity” saw the band change gear. At the beginning of the set, singer Nicholas Palmer gained points for actually raising his arms above shoulder height, but he lost them all the first time he pointed at his heart while singing “mah sowull”. It was a little like going from a fine unwooded chardonnay to a bottle of Blue Nun…or Blue Girl. They’ll both get you pissed, but one has just a little more style.
So it was for the rest of the set. Every member of Spodac is clearly good at what he does, particularly the rhythm section. And the crowd showed their appreciation. It’s just a little disappointing to me to see them content to put one foot up on the monitors and succumb to such clichés. However I just might be in the minority…..
If it took Spodac a few bars to establish their credentials, it took Innisfallen a matter of seconds, delivering young, spirited songs with a sense of independence from whatever else is going on in the Underground, on the radio or on MTV (or whatever it is the “young people” listen to these days).
Singer Eric Cheung captured audience attention early with an endearing grin and vocals that effortlessly spanned light and shade, and. Songs sung like they really meant it, plus some excellent, spidery guitar rhythms prevented any risk of Innisfallen sliding towards an indie version of the same clichés that let down Spodac.
I don’t think people over 30 can make this kind of music. At the risk of sounding like I have a crush on them, Innisfallen look like the real thing too. Lead singer from the cheeky scamp school. Marvelously angular guitarist complete with Elvis Costello specs, and a drummer with a perfect drummer haircut, wearing a sweater. Bass guy, you’ve got to get a “look”.
A great set of songs warmed up the Underground with threw up influences and references thick and fast, but escaping pigeonholing. To paraphrase someone else talking about something else, when you can make such diverse comparisons, there’s a fair chance that what you have is actually something quite original.
Best moment: fifth song, a Coral-ly kind of number when Cheung’s eyes started bulging like Lou Reed in the seventies.
Up Dharma Down (Philippines 菲律賓)
In from the Philippines, Up Dharma Down took the stage and began to plug their CD even before fingers had touched strings, keys or sticks. With good reason too – these are songs worth buying, before the stock markets turn us upside down again and give us another good shake.
Starting up, the band offered a Cocteau Twins kind of vibe, but with drums hit like John Bonham. A pleasing combination. You might call it belligerent soul.
Singer Armi Millare looked the Underground right in the eye and pulled together some jazzy instrumentation under a commanding vocal. Second and third songs pushed the boundaries further, blending theatrical elements of prog rock into the mix.
Perhaps five bands in one night was a little much, for the crowd seemed entertained but slightly less than gripped, and by song five, you could hear the background conversation volume increase. But the band had the last say with a pulsing, pounding closing number in tagalong that stopped the chat.
Millare is certainly the centre of attention, yet it’s hard to describe her appeal.
Imagine, if you can, an attractive, female Roger Waters. Actually don’t try that at home. Go and see Up Dharma Down for yourself.
Above photos © Copyright 2008 by Willem Van Der Merwe
Poster by Sheli