The first show for 2011 was a first on many aspects, first time in Kowloon, first time in a football bar and first time on a Friday since March 2010 🙂 Thanks to Manchester United Restaurant Bar for hosting this event, with some fine-tuning, this venue could be so great for the live music scene in Hong Kong, so thank you for exploring this potential. Thank you to the four great bands, to the audience who cheered and drank
love Chris B xx
- Wong Gum Dai Do (Golden Avenue)
- Yau Ta Hui (Let it Be)
- Shining Eyes
- Ming Wun Gong Lou (Destiny Highway)
- Mong Yao (Sleepwalking)
‘Twas the night before the 22nd-day-of-Jan-mas, and all through the hour since the doors were opened, throughout the ManU Bar, there was a dense anticipation afoot. One so infectious and positive, that even Sir Alex’s unsightly mug couldn’t impinge on it. Obviously this was because the start of the first Underground show in Kowloon was nigh, and HOME was about to get on stage. One major bummer, as was soon to be discovered, was the sound. To put it politely, the mix was well below perfect, and this did not help the bands, who valiantly ploughed through the muddiness. To be fair to the sound guy, though, his ‘booth’ was a couple of shelves in a cabinet that was in a corner of the stage, roughly two feet directly behind the drummer – can’t get much done when you’re struggling not to be hit in the crotch by the drummer, I imagine. On the bright side, though, what was lacking in sound quality was made up for by the hilarity of the tableau I just described.
HOME kicked off flamboyantly, both in the singer’s stage manner and their largely guitar-driven style. They started off with the grandiosely punk Wong Gum Dai Do, which had plenty of the bouncy rhythms typical of pop music as well. This was a feature of all their songs, which were generally pacy and peppy. Singer Frederick was quite consistent, and aside from a few uncomfortable moments with the higher notes, sang well within his limits that night. Occasionally, they moved away from simple melodies to bits with more of a metal feel, accompanied by the use of chromatism (i.e. ‘sad’ notes), which provided the counterweight to their otherwise light sound. These bits were usually followed by a move back into their more typical, sunny territory, and such movement was seen more than once in Mong Yao. The transition between these portions need some work, as it’s not enough to just throw in different techniques and sounds for the sake of it. Their melodies can also be a bit repetitive, as with Heaven, which sounded like a rehash of their other songs.
Having said that, it is a good way to highlight guitarist Sam’s proficiency, who moved between different styles quite well. From Ming Wun Gong Lou – which could’ve been a song by local punks Senseless – to Shining Eyes, which is made for the romantic-montage portion of some movie (and sounded a bit like a lovey version of My Way). This kind of approach is very much like the one Steve Clark (Def Leppard) applied to great effect. Simply put, their sound is radio-friendly, and as their set proved, this epithet is a double-edged sword. But, all said and done, they worked the audience well (especially considering that they were the first act), and looked very much like they were having fun too; all in all, a job well done.
2. Cursed Muse
4. Papercut in Your Eye
5. Personal Demons
Well, what a pleasant surprise. Having never heard Dark Himaya play, going off their name I thought I was going to be listening to a heavy rock band with screaming vocals and crashing guitar. What I was presented with instead was a refreshing and atmospheric set spearheaded by not one but two fantastic female vocalists. Personally the revelation of two great female singing voices in one band already had me on side, helped along by a solid and entertaining pop sounding element. The voices of both singers although strong and interesting alone, worked best and most effectively when joined together in some fantastic harmonies. Unfortunately due to some microphone issues and with no full band sound check, almost half of those moments were lost by a dead microphone.
Moving on from the vocals, I felt that the songs were very well structured and the whole set followed a strong strain strengthening Dark Himaya’s sound. The Bass, although perhaps a bit too domineering in places, added an extra enticing ingredient and the drums were used sparingly and effectively to accentuate the vocals and chords. The band seemed to grow in confidence as the set progressed. A slightly unsteady start developed into a captivating and intriguing performance that kept the crowd watching throughout.
In terms of the set list, the highlights for me were Papercut in my eye and Bia. I really look forward to seeing Dark Himaya play a lot more shows and develop the showmanship and confidence that was emerging towards the end of their set. All in all they have the potential to really build on their unique sound and impressive vocal talents.
- In My Dreams
- Because You Called
- Song of Songs
- I Miss You
- Live Inside
My favourite thing about their set was that the songs really embodied a belief that I have long held (and ripped off from RHCP, Edward Elgar, and God knows how many other people) that music is everywhere – the musicians are just the incidental antennae that transmit it to us. They had the kind of organic melodies that felt like they had taken the best parts of the atmosphere in the room that night and put them into song. Drummer Jon’s lively fills and the notably smooth lines by bassist Samuel formed a strong frame upon which singer/guitarist Solomon could wind his tapestry of calm, breezy melodies and earnest lyrics. His voice is a very malleable one, that moves gently, and is like a less nasal version of Joey Basha’s (of local freaky-folks Milkteeth) pipes. Their sound has much in the vein of the By the Way-era Chili Peppers, and despite its carefree nature, there were some moments of a true earthy beauty, which the gently swaying crowd seemed to perceive as well.
Because You Called had a unique balance of comfortably familiar acoustic warmth and engaging novelty. They do have a tendency to stray into sounding loungey at points, getting too caught up in mid-tempos and –tones, as in Song of Songs, but this didn’t happen too often, and was usually compensated for by the ever-present compellingly understated emotion. Live Inside was texturally different, with greater use of the relatively dissonant 7th chords, and this proved to be quite engaging, along with a very well-controlled change of pace towards the end. Turning was a lively finisher, groovy and energetic, creating intrigue in every verse by using an ascending melody (a method also used by rockers Hungry Ghosts) which would put a wide smile on anyone’s face. It was almost a pity when they finished with a warm flourish of guitar because, with the maltose-like sweetness of the songs they’d made the chilly weather outside seem less hostile.
- Jam I
- Standing at the Edge
- Cold and Dry
- Stop Your Misery
- Jam II
- Jam III
Before anything is said about their performance that night, it must be made clear that HA were missing a guitarist that night. One will usually see their reviews peppered with Radiohead and Pink Floyd references – these influences were not evident that night. It’s unclear whether this is because they have moved on in terms of musical direction, or whether the lack of one axeman made the quite ferment and brooding nature of these bands’ music difficult to achieve. Indeed, it seemed that the lone guitarist was stretched to his limits while trying to condense two fully developed guitar parts into one, making the result sound underdeveloped. However, they do deserve the benefit of the doubt, as despite all the odds, they still displayed their adroitness at leisurely creating drama using sound. With the sensible use of keyboards to accent the guitars and solid bass, their sound that night was a good indicator of the depth that they usually achieve in their sets. That said, the vocals need some work, as there were many moments at which the note attempted exceeded the singer’s range, and this is more jarring than stark (which is what I’m guessing he was going for).
The guitar-ral assault of Jam I greeted the audience, and though they clearly intended well, the melody was somewhat hackneyed and bloated. The haunting Standing at the Edge was an improvement, with its cool keyboard riff, followed by the haunting Cold and Dry. It was obvious that in a place with better sound, it could easily create a lump in the throat. Hedonism was more punk-funk in form, but still had those slow, very deliberate moments, when the contrasting styles of bass and guitar started messing with your head a bit. The set-ender was the sonic exorcism of Jam III’s menacing spectre being suddenly dispelled, as the song ended on a cliff-hanger. For all that night’s flaws, they still managed to make an impression, and make their skill clear. And on this note, the night was ended, and a good one it had been too – methinks there be more visits to Kowloon in the Underground’s future yet.
photos © Copyright 2011 by ANGUS LEUNG
poster by ANGUS LEUNG