First things first, a BIG thank you to Backstage for hosting this event! They don’t normally open on a Sunday but they stepped in to save The Underground & Berri Txarrak’s show. Huge hugs & kisses to Shotgun Politics & Milkshake7 (ok two of my favourite bands, so I’m biased but at least I have taste!) for supporting the enormous power of Berri Txarrak, probably the best thing to come out of the Basque country if you ask me. Thanks to the audience who turned up on a Sunday! and last but not least thank you to The Underground Team for all that you do at these events, it wouldn’t happen without you.
- United We Stand
- Look Back
The first Underground show at Backstage was flagged off by this lazily energetic trio, who, FYI, had one of the funniest soundchecks I’ve ever seen (never heard “Oh my God!!” being used in quite this context…except, perhaps, in the U-Men’s They). They began by just joshing about on their instruments, but the beginning of Change was clearly demarcated by some classic jungle-beat drums, followed by a sudden burst into heavy, thrashy territory. The soundscape changed a number of times though the song (a sign of things to come), more conventional rock at times, and more metal-esque at others. What remained constant was the pacy, almost-hardcore punk feel of the songs, and the consistently uncomplicated guitars. They kinda sounded like an unassuming-slacker version of early Metallica – but in a good way. The solos were brisk and succinct, with a majority of the non-singing parts occupied by exploration of rhythmic riffs. Hotwheels had an injection of Motörhead, and swapped solos for sing-along bits, led by the bassist. Seven saw the singing become more melodic, while the drums moved away from the largely 4/4-dependent punk style to a less groovy Noughties one. Yet, this somehow combined to sound almost like surf-rock at points!
Their set was excellently arranged, and really built up pace as it proceeded. United We Stand had the three-note flourished of post-grunge, and a very headbang-able rhythm initially, but also visited post-punk and awesomely cheesy hard-rock spots. It’s almost like they were winking at the audience when they launched into non-punk, and this created a nice variety within their songs. However, sometimes these bits weren’t written into the songs subtly enough, and stood out to their disadvantage, making the feel slightly formulaic (though, I’ll admit, this is always a sticky wicket, and may just be a function of my not understanding the lyrics). That said, it was these very forays that also gave the songs many of their hooks without letting them descend into mere static hook-ery. It also gave the band a certain charm, as they seemed to be making an earnest effort to make varied music; juxtaposed with their relatively blasé stage presence, it made for fine viewing- much like this band from Seattle, Nirvana (heard of ‘em?) used to do [on a technical note, Milkshake7 didn’t have the tree Kristus Novoselicus growing on stage, but the effect was similar nonetheless]. By the time that the rather chord-driven Look Back had built up to its zenith and finished off, Milkshake7 had convinced me of the validity of their approach, while having shown the (regrettably thin) listeners a good time too.
- Rebel Radio
- Paper Heart
- Carry On
- London Town
Speaking of showing audiences a good time, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that SP must rank among the best of HK bands with this ability. They’ve got tremendous stage presence, due in no small part to the utter commitment and energy with which each set is played – which is invariably contagious. It also helps (a lot) that their style is one of the most visceral rock ‘n’ roll, overlaid with thick punky tones, rounded off with the pithy riffs of good garage-rock – a highly potent combination, much like the one that the Fleshtones have been using for many years with great success. Also like the Fleshtones, they are a consummate party-band, but never reduced to being merely that. I must admit that I have on occasion wished (loudly) that they reintroduce their excellent Johnny Rage into the sets; however, on contemplation I realise that its non-inclusion is a move that allows their sets to be very different from their earlier ones – a sign of a band that is on the move towards new things. So, kudos, guys, good on ya.
They seem to have made a ritual of opening with Rebel Radio, and this night was no exception. The (slightly borrowed, and) very hummable song was a perfect start to the set, which quickly moved into Paper Heart – a ripping number that got everyone there on their feet (about damn time too!). There’s so many things going on when they play that you must watch as though entranced for fear of missing something cool; and Timmy’s jumping off-stage to rock through the crowd was just one more thing to watch. Between that, the exchanging of leads, the fact that drummer Freddy has the energy to sing along every lyric while still punishing the drums (in Dan Peters style) at warp speed, and the ironically still figure of Jimmy on bass, you’re totally spoilt for choice visually.
It’s rare that both guitarists’ instruments detune after a song, but evidently I underestimated the magnitude of power put into playing their axes – consequently, both Timmy and Niall had to retune before Glow, whose garagey powerhouse riff kinda reminded me of the Wildebeests, and was a perfect instance of how catchy their songs can be. This was significantly augmented by their very different soloing styles and contrasting guitar-tones, which provide a real punch to the songs. The activity ‘til this point was clearly sapping, as both singers needed to recharge a bit, while we were treated to a drum solo before the madness of Carry On – this point forward, their set really escalated; which made up for the fact that it was, honestly, their most generic-sounding song. Strangely enough, despite the fact that 852 was a slow, mildly syrupy pop-rock ditty, it didn’t reduce the vigour of the set, and had an awesome solo to boot. The energy they regained during it was to come in use, because they really pulled out all the stops as the snaky, spiky riff to London Town began. Not only was there drumkit-jumping (by Niall – good thing he didn’t fail to get his leg over, unlike a certain Sir Ian Botham [you cricket fans know what I’m talking about…]), running out into the crowd, and generally convulsive behaviour. During the irresistibly sing-along-able outro (reminiscent of the Ig’s The Passenger) they actually got the Sleeves’ Bee on from the crowd to play out the song! A fantastic ending to an awesome set, that only raised the standards for the night’s act to follow.
Berri Txarrak (Basque 巴斯克)
- Etorkizuneko Aurrekari Guztiak
- Izena, Izana, Ezina
- Espero Zaitzaket
- Isiltzen Banaiz
- Denak Ez Du Balio
- Hil Nintzen Eguna
- Bisai Berriak
- Gure Dekadentziaren Onenean
The stage had been totally set by SP for a rip-roaring finish to the night – and as tough a task it may have seemed at the time to top the preceding set, these guys actually managed it. Their set had a good dose of the low-slung buzzsaw guitars, abrasive tones, monster basslines and amphetamined drums that characterise hardcore. A substantial part of their sound is having the thickness of tone and lightly bluesy influence of early heavy metal, with (appropriately reduced) riffs peeking around the edges in many places, and lots of plam-muted, shreddy bits. But, there were also some very punk tendencies, especially with regard to the choice of chords, singer/guitarist Gorka’s vocals, the hooks in the songs, and quite simply in terms of feel – despite all the weight that their sound possesses, it also retains an unforced semi-lightness to it, a Devo-esque quality, which adds to the songs’ speedy feel. The overall sound was something close to the Dead Kennedys’ early work in spirit, SSD’s punchy metal-esque form, with the sonic depth that bands like the Accüsed reached. This made for an extremely headbang-able blend, which more than compensated for the fact that their lyrics were (regrettably) not in a tongue that we understood.
Things began with the Sabbath-ey riff and driving drumwork of Etorkizuneko…, and wasted no time moving into the almost RKL-esque Folklore, which used the chords from the Ramones’ Pinhead (whether deliberately, or by some amazing coincidence is as yet unclear) in an interesting new fashion. Izena… featured an almost minimalist metal riff, that could easily burrow into your subconscious and stay there. We were given a little background to Payola before the song’s zipping riffs (oh, man, this song, it has a hook and a half!) took over without the atmosphere dipping an iota. Jaio.Musika.Hil was a grungy bit of feedbacked goodness, as was Denak Ez… that explored a mildly less hyper form of hardcore, of the sort that Fang used to play. There were moments in the set where they went in quite tangential directions, such as the pensive, chord-driven Eskuak/Ukabilak, and the near-jazzily overtoned Bisai Berriak. By the time the very Melvins-like Oihu finished off, they had definitely succeeded in showing us the (racing) heart of their sound, while also exploring the finer gullies between punk, hardcore, metal, and grunge. Because the vast majority of their songs are fast and heavy, this can make them blend into each other sometimes, but they’re also packed with riffs, and clever instrumentation. Plus, if you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with playing a solid hardcore set through and through.
The trio were also more than capable of maintaining the energy on-stage, as despite having played a very long set, they were always mobile, and charged. Even when the guitar had a couple of strings broken, the energy did not flag, as they ably kept the audience engaged. The encore (that I got to call them on for, much to my delight) was a DRI-esque number, well-balanced between all the directions that their music pulls in; a fitting closer to their set, and to a night of very high-quality music and performances. I’m sure that all present were as bowled over by the bands that night as I was, ‘cause it was hella–fun!
photos © Copyright 2010 by ANGUS LEUNG
poster by ANGUS LEUNG