Underground 52


On one of the coldest nights in Hong Kong, we still had over 150 people come to watch four great bands – big big thanks to the audience! Club Cixi, thank you for being a cool venue and for having a hard working soundman, we hope to have many more shows there. Now over to our reviewer Isobel
love Chris B xx

Another excellent night at the Underground, which has just got to be Hong Kong’s equivalent of (New York’s now-defunct) CBGB’s!!!..hee hee…and easily the best gig in town for people addicted to noise. With a cold night out and the mercury showing not too many degrees at all the audience was still in decent numbers and very dedicated to having a good time. This was because word had got around that Transnoodle, the ‘nutty’ UK-ska-inspired lot were headlining. So much so that even National Geographic sent a film crew…(just kidding). Seriously, they were, in fact hunting the rare and amazing species called the Chris B. According to David Attenborough this nocturnal creature has spectacularly colourful head and neck plumes, is highly musical and very gregarious. When it mates it usually hatches two chicks.
Isobel Shahzneen Saunders


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Set List:
– rebirth
– mystical
– switch
– 虹 (L’Arc~en~Ciel cover song)
– The Simple Days
5-piece LesAiles (Marvin, Kinyat, Arthur, Eddy + Sayaka) began the night’s sessions with some good solid rock sounds in Rebirth. The pint-sized, spiky-haired lead singer was gutsy and emotional. I liked the fact that his vocals weren’t what you heard above all else but the band’s sound was still tight and together. Mystical saw the lead singer take up the guitar to create a different nuance to LesAiles’ brand of very listenable rock.
Switch featured some beautiful guitar-led melodies and strong drumming. (National Geographic spotted the elusive Chris B and filmed what they could of it which took some focus off the band for a few seconds.)
A cover of L’Arc-en-Ciel’s followed with some nice crystalline keyboard sounds from the female keyboardist. I’m not a fan of Japanese pop sounds as the sound is too saccharine and convoluted to my ears and everything sounds like a karaoke-version of My Way, as executed horribly in every bar across Japan. I like to call a clear division between indie and commercial music when I go to hear indie bands. And yes, I know there is an acceptable face to indie pop, such as R.E.M., Travis, etc. but, unfortunately this was not it, in my view. So I guess all I can say was that it was ‘pretty’… in an erky-blurky Celine Dion kind of way…
Their final song The Simple Days was a return to a great rock sound with a strong rhythm section and three guitars – the lead an enviable shade of fire-engine red. The band worked hard to deliver really nice strong riffs and punchy vocals right to the loud, loud end.
An enjoyable, competently-played set in all. LesAiles are consistently good – they have found their sound and own it. They offer both rock and gentler pop sounds stamped with that all-necessary mark of innovation.
Isobel Shahzneen Saunders


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The 4-piece band F.T.T (Po Kei, Jonathan, Donald + Edmund) – 3 guitars and drums – played fast and loud. Set list:

1. Sunday Morning
2. KFS
3. Nobody Does it Better
4. Opinion
5. I Feel Fine
6. Ride With Me

F.T.T. are real live wire performers, delivering totally spastic Attention Deficit Disorder–levels of energy with a fun, infectious sound. You get the urge and dance whether you want to or not.
Sunday Morning featured a clear, jumping rhythm guitar, which reminded me of an early 80’s UK Mod new-wave sound. Nobody Does it Better was in the vein of sillier UK punk songs, like Toy Dolls’ Nellie the Elephant. Lead singer Po Kei was happy to do the silly antics to match the mood and the band generated copious amounts of feedback to layer further the effect.
Opinion was fast, fun and well played, performed with F.T.T’s own touch of insanity. The lead singer knows he’s a bit of a wag and throws in funny lines constantly. We eventually found out what was written on his T-shirt… These guys are good musos with a whole heap of silliness and weird personality thrown in to boot. I Feel Fine was a self-penned number and a good one at that with driving and fast punk rock rhythms unleashed. Again F.T.T’s great, fast, insane sound, was not unlike, say Stiff Little Fingers. The last song of the set was a tribute to the guy’s motorbike with a nice loud guitar intro and supported by a driving, steady drumming throughout. Melodic vocals, strangely reminiscent of 70’s soft rock, worked brilliantly with the blasting instruments, creating that great unlikely mix that often defines interesting indie music.
That Nat. Geog. crew popped intrusively into this poor band’s set as only a TV crew shamelessly knows how. The skinny lead singer guy can jump, though it’s probably not recommended on a stage the size of Club Cixi’s. The danger he was going to go through the front of the bass drum was imminent quite a few times. And he should never apologise for ’not playing well’ …What, mate???! You do!
His last comments were far more indicative of this band’s worth. He said he plays because he loves music. Well, my friend, we come and listen because we like your music.
Isobel Shahzneen Saunders


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Set List
Luxury’s deceptively gentle meandering start soon turned into a full-on metal-pounding bass and drums number, loud enough to interfere with a few weaker hearts. In a nice contrast the vocals were surprisingly soft in a Goth ballad kind of way.
Their second song again featured a loud rhythm section with the interesting contrast of sweeter melodic vocals. I thought the song could do with another instrument to help support the vocal line.
Song 3 saw the volume of the lead guitar turned up to improve the sound out of sight and in step with some very fast, furious bass and drum rhythms. I’m not sure the lead singer appreciated the tall girl in the audience blowing her cigarette smoke directly into his face as he was singing but you get all sorts, I suppose. Could have been the reason why there wasn’t much feeling and variation in vocal style on this one.
Song 4 was a slower number with vocals perhaps too commercial sounding for an indie band, but partly saved by a loud bass, thumping drums, noisy lead guitar and deafening feedback shrieks.
Song 5 was what I had been waiting for – vocals delivered in an unconventional way. Clipped and staccato, the lead singer gave us something very cool.
Song 6 was loud and frantic – a return to less than interesting vocals but still a good overall sound. The audience dug Luxury’s forceful sound but perhaps more variation in the vocals would make a small set more interesting. The vocals were emotive and sweet but delivery was a bit repetitive .
Isobel Shahzneen Saunders


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Set list:
1. Port Royal
2. Spicy Island
3. Hong Kong
4. Pohwahyuen
5. Huddersfield
6. Down in the Delhi
7. I Need a Mormon
8. Ferry Pier
9. Monkey Magic
10. The Journey (a.k.a. the Ballad of Khaled El-Masri)
According to the curly-headed guitarist, ska band Transnoodle had seven members, but I counted 8. (9, if you count Chris B ‘‘just posing, not playing’’ for the Nat. Geog. video crew…) Like Madness in the early 80’s you never knew how many you were going to get. On Cixi’s small stage, they almost formed a solid straight line across the stage. Transnoodle evoked a return to UK-bred 80’s ‘nutty’ ska, punk and new wave sound, in turn a pastiche of Jamaican ska from the early 60s celebrating independence from British colonialism. Pork pie hats, black suits, thin ties, saxophone, trumpet, new wave keyboards, Jamaican references – it was all there to the T of the genre – (though, no Oi Boys in red braces and 12-hole Docs with National Front tendencies in sight, luckily). With their ardent followers jumping and skanking in Fred Perry shirts from the first note, this band meant great musos, best fun and loads of entertainment.
The lead singer’s great vocal style was made apparent from very start with Port Royal and Spicy Island had the very welcome feel of a Wreckless Eric song recaptured. The bah-bah-bahs of Hong Kong took me straight back to Summer Fun by the Barracudas. This is a band that makes you smile uncontrollably as you dance.
The next song saw a line-up change and a guest guitarist join the stage. Was that the guy from Very Ape? Vocals were deep and gravelly on Pohwahyuen with forceful rhythms from drums and bass. ‘…That was years ago…’ some of the lyrics went and could be applied in reference to the ska and punk music of the 80’s that this band heavily borrows from. (And even if they were years ago, so what? They were still GREAT times.)
If you could offer any constructive criticism, I perhaps would have liked to have heard a small number of quality covers of the great original ska songs made famous by the likes of Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff, Ernest Ranglin and Bob Marley mixed into this band’s set. If the band’s original songs are so derivative of 80’s UK ska, then a big part of that also referenced Jamaican ska in a kind of reverence. Why not throw in one of these great songs to balance out the moods and extend the musicianship?
The songs continued, danceable, likeable, about revolutions and other types of angst-ridden stuff. I Need a Mormon was another silly song for the lads to sing down the pub and get a laugh out of like Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Please. The band, ever off in multiple directions of wit, even managed to mix in the Beatles with a riff and line borrowed from Help in there somewhere, too.
Ferry Pier was manic and fast with just the right rhythms for a skank. The expats went off, the Chinese went off, the whole place went off.
An encore followed but only after the band made the audience beg…and beg we did. Monkey Magic and then The Journey telling a sordid tale of CIA prisons, hotels, wives and people doing things altogether untoward finally ended the night.
Transnoodle are simply, silly and brilliant. We got flawless musicianship and great entertainment. Everyone was happy.
Isobel Shahzneen Saunders

Above photos © Copyright 2008 by Manek
Poster by Sheli

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