The last show of 2010 for The Underground was such a great event!
The atmosphere was electric at Victoria Prison and it was also our first outdoor event. Big thank you to Detour Design Festival for inviting us to take part and create an event there on a glorious Saturday evening. With over 300 people there and some of them realising that yes there are talented musicians and bands right here in Hong Kong.
Thank you to all the bands and to the wonderful team of people who make The Underground happen 🙂 Happy Christmas everyone!
- For my Brothers, Friends and Sisters
- Restless Soul
- Anthem of Rock n’ Roll
- Let the Peace Bells Chime
- Let it Be
‘Twas a nippy and bracing December day, and those that had gathered in the Central Police Station were defying the very spirit of the place’s fabric, by having a good time there. As 6pm dawned (or should that be dusked?), the feeling was pleasant, yet buzzing – the perfect time to start the show. And what better to capture the eloquence of the moment (and get the show started too) than the uncontrived fervour that is Quasar’s music? Armed with their simple melodies and deep lyrics, the acoustic arrangements provided for interesting renditions of what are, usually, their anthemic rock almost-ballads. The added body of the double bass provided a nice foundation for the semi-acoustic guitar which, although a bit too twangy for its own good, was effective in setting up the songs’ moods. I must say, though, that it felt to me like they were holding back throughout their set – they never really ripped into the songs – and a large part of this was because the drums were somewhat underplayed (proof of the fact that there’s more to drumming than just drumming). Whenever drummer Alex did let loose, though, the songs instantly flowed, and naturally acquired the groovy good-time feel that rock n’ roll should have (acoustically rendered or not).
That said, they also have a not-so-secret weapon in the form of singer Sanjeev’s voice and singing style that can cover up almost any flaws in the sound, with its perfect rock ‘n’ roll quality and sinuous style. This made itself obvious right from the start, as the simmering revolutionarism in For My Brothers… had all the singing chops brought out. The drums crept in, in an unobvious and delightful manner, and the song was poignant without being drippy. Their set was well arranged, with the songs building up nicely, and at its height, it was evocative of good ‘ol 50s rock ‘n’ roll, much in the Bo Diddley vein. This was particularly true of Let the Peace Bells Chime and Let it Be, and the crowd joined in avidly, clearly unworried by the set’s unfulfilled potential. And that’s what it’s all about, after all, isn’t it? Let it Be had some lovely guitar solos as well, and was a great way to close the set at its high point, with the crowd building up slowly as the evening gently moved on.
Agatha & Tjoe
- It Could Be Love
- Red Bean
Usually, when you hear highly melodious singing and sweet guitars that don’t really have a pronounced style, you can conclude that you’re listening to some form of acoustic pop music. Mainstream, popular, and commercial are words that may come to mind (I shall refrain from using other epithets). However, sometimes you get to hear people executing such pop music with such ease and sincerity, it reminds you just why it’s so popular. I’ve always been of the opinion that you can tell a good (read: skilled) singer from the very first note they sing, and Agatha was no exception. With a rich and deep voice, that is not needlessly forced into higher frequencies, hers is a refreshing change from the female voices one normally gets to hear in this neck of the woods. So, while they may not cause consternate and challenge musical perceptions, they do what they do well, and that’s just as valid.
The guitar was ably handled by Tjoe (who, if I recall correctly, also plays for Pick Pak Zhai), although if they are to remain an act, he must incorporate more rhythm into his playing – songs like Overjoyed tend to suffer from the lack of it. As does the general sound, which needs him to play more major chords than barre, in order to round out the lower end of the soundscape. The guitars were arranged to flourish alternately with the vocal, and this made for some fascinating listening, especially on Sundayride, which had a lightly ska feel as well. To their credit, nothing was over-sung or overplayed, and this allowed songs like Overjoyed to be quite down-to-earth, much like Jack Johnson’s songs are. The offbeat strumming and greater attitude in Time bodes well for their musical future, as it had an accelerated rhythm and stronger singing that makes them sound a lot better, and it was on this positive note that their set concluded.
- Mistress of the Sea
- Where You Are
- Passing the Night
- Champagne Eyes
- Chinese Translation (M. Ward cover)
A break of roughly 15 minutes preceded his set, and this worked very well in Corey’s favour, as there were significantly more people by the time he got started. The lone guitar was quite enough to ensnare people into having to stop conversations to listen to the music – a rare, and significant, occurrence at an event where the majority of the audience is there incidentally. The children that were there seemed a lot quieter during the set, and I don’t think that was a fluke – further evidence was provided by the considerably fast movement of his EP off the shelf…er…table into the hands of the fresh converts. And why not – his particular brand of folk-rock-thing features multiple delightful infusions of styles woven unpretentiously into it. The result is an earthy and honest sort of urban-folky sound, capably sung, with some well-written lyrics as well. Plus it was nice to hear some bleedin’ overdrive being used too. The brevity in the guitars is one of the things that really makes his music – a lot is done with a little, especially with simple arpeggios. His guitar-work was effective, and well-rounded, with a solid sonic foundation owing to his chordwork. Plus he isn’t shy of going full-tilt on the strumming, which really creates contrasting soundscapes at the appropriate moments, like in Perfect.
There were some deft touches, like the whistling on Mistress of the Sea, and the breezy, almost tropical feel at points on Passing the Night, serving to emphasise its light bluesy quality while lightening the song’s feel. The cleverness in putting the brooding, melancholy-ridden Honey just before the playful Where You Are is evident, as he tries to persuade the listener to drown – and one may well be tempted to oblige. He successfully created some great moments, as the songs crescendoed in him holding an extended note while frantically thrashing the strings. The light Clapton influences in the feel came forward a bit in the dreamy Champagne Eyes, and he ended with a competent rendition of Chinese Translation, giving it a mildly Latin twist while he was at it. Overall, a brilliant Underground debut, definitely setting himself up as one to watch in the scene.
Brothers of Roadkill
- Hanging Around the Clouds
- Not Meant to Be
- Questions and Doubts
- This is Me
- There’s a Time [Encore]
If Corey Tam was able to get the crowd’s attention, these squished siblings picked it up and teasingly ran away with it while yelling ‘neener-neener’ (which, incidentally, is something that siblings are prone to do). But, seriously, their set was a lesson in just how fun it can be to see these guys live, even if it wasn’t exactly idyllic. Their drummer appeared to be having a bit of an off day (even I could spot it), but to his credit, he took everything thrown at him with a wide smile. The effects used on the bass that night served to smoothen out the edges, which was a bit of a pity, since this reduced its pop, which goes so perfectly with the upbeat and bright keys. While it’s always fun to listen to something that reminds you of Bootsy Collins, to my ears, it sounds a bit… artificial (if you get my drift). Still, the quality of bass playing was so good (as usual) that this was merely reduced to a background issue (things can nearly always sound better, can’t they?). There’s a phrase in Indian music which talks about “tying up the atmosphere”, presumably referring to having the crowd in your pocket, and this is just what these guys achieved. Their lively pop-rock mix still worked at a high efficiency, and when mixed with the atmosphere (which had built up a remarkable awesomeness through the night) you couldn’t help but enjoy yourself (this effect was boosted a lot by the presence of some non-female fangirls, who were even lucky enough to have a song dedicated to them during the set’s course).
The fun and jazzy Tits accelerated smoothly into Hanging Around the Clouds, which instantly set the mood up. Their unique set up of using the bass as the melodic anchor, and the keys as an accent-creating instrument was highlighted in songs like Not Meant to Be and This is Me. Gayle was apparently written “for Rosa Parks”, and was unconventionally evocative, but still had space for one of the night’s really cool bass solos. Need I say, that singer Adrian’s voice was great, as always? Even if the ol’ voice box sounded in need of a little warming up, his versatile singing really helped diversify the soundscape – from gruff yells to falsettos, it was all covered, and done well at that. This infectious mood had very much spread to Chris B, who promptly called them back on for an encore, and we were treated the charmingly Liszt-esque There’s a Time. Not once did the ambience flag right up until the second they stopped playing, and were justly rewarded by a massive outpouring of deserved applause – a perfect way to close a very enjoyable show in such a perfect place.
(Even though this is probably a lost cause, I must say this for the record – if anyone who can do something about it reads this in time – don’t sell that compound to some redeveloper…it has tremendous potential as a centre for art. You can’t buy that kind of relaxed and inviting environment, and it was truly wonderful to be watching a live show sitting under a tree.)
photos © Copyright 2010 by ANGUS LEUNG
poster by ANGUS LEUNG