What a fantastic cool night! Five great acts from “Breaking Through” rocking out at Backstage (thanks for your support of our events)! All the bands were on top form and it was a brilliant night of live music! Thanks to our lucky draw prize sponsors: Sennheiser, Edifier, Tom Lee and Hotel Icon. Huge thanks to Becks, love ya! And huge huge thanks to Koya & Mark 1 music Centre and to The Underground team, you all did an outstanding job! Now it’s time to listen to CD5 again, what a great representation of the Hong Kong live music scene and its diverse creators!
love Chris B xx
The wonderful Koya-san from Mark-1 Music Centre:
2. Distort the Truth
4. A Drunk
5. The Song That Keeps Her Up
6. When You Coming Home
Up first on a five-band night were the Bollands. Like the Carpenters, only different (not brother and sister, for a start). Hard not to type the description straight from the flyer: folksy, foot-stomping goodness. They kicked off with Mr Bolland’s clear voice ringing out about a bed of nails. The song, like the set, featured rhythmic acoustic guitar along with simple piano lines (the only keyboard of the night) and sparing harmonies from Mrs Bolland. Variety was provided by a mix of lyrical amiability and worthiness, with – thankfully – friendliness winning out. A great start to the evening despite an extended broken string incident, with their last song an exhilarating race to the finish. Nicely done, Bollands.
— Paul Mottram
The first time I ever saw the Bollands was on a sparse Tuesday night at the Wanch, when the only thing thinner than the crowd was the atmosphere. Within an hour they had proved that they’re the kind of band that can casually reverse cases of terminal boredom with their music and stage-presence, ‘cause everyone there went home good and toasted, boy howdy (what?!). So who better to start off the show with than with the sprightliest mavericks around? And they didn’t disappoint – with the (unusually) rich sound and (much) better lighting at Backstage they looked and sounded as good as they ever have. Not that making them sound good is hard to do – their simple-yet-not-simplistic aesthetic, the fact that they have two (and a bit) basic instruments and their instantly recognisable sound mean that they’re a pretty sure bet to impress with any rig. And yet things aren’t as simple as they might seem on the surface.
Joyce Bolland’s playful fills belie the heavy lifting her keyboards do for the sound. Her style blends the sweet-sounding chord-oriented tendencies that you need to play folk, and straight-out-of-the-pub, good times, blues-infused rock ‘n’ roll pianos. It’s plinky and merry, but with character – something like the late, great Nicky Hopkins’ style (one of the greatest session musicians in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s not hard to hear why) because the drive in the music is provided by her like some kind of ghost-bass. Plus, as a personal observation, she has an unusually light touch for someone with classical training – no ham-fisted shoehorning of unnecessary classical-sounding bits. And she’s got a voice that perfectly complements the edge that Chris Bolland’s usually shredded vocal chords bring, so it all balances out.
Chris’ guitar, on the other hand, moves between various styles with ease. There’s something of Irish folk in them (a non guitar-using style that adapted to using it), judicious use of major-fifths and whatnot that make for a rootsy sound. This is mixed with his style to play what I can only call ‘borracho’ chords, and this is not a remark about the musician, but rather the texture of the chords. Joe Strummer had this tendency, and it’s a little about timing and a little about the slight muffling and bending of chords; a purely stylistic quirk that makes the guitar sound a little sloppy in a funny way. When juxtaposed with the basal level of skill it takes to be a good folk musician anyway (which is much higher than with rock), this leavens the sound in a wonderful way. He also doesn’t abuse the capo like many musicians here do, which lets the sound have depth and resonance that would otherwise be sacrificed.
A Chestnut it might be, but “hoary” and “old” it isn’t; it’s instead a wonderful trick of composition; it starts of hinting at melancholia but turns tail while approaching the chorus and becomes a soaring singalong. The slightly cracked quality of Chris’ voice that night added a lot to the feel. In the tradition of the last 3 shows, the guitar maimed itself (by breaking a string) during the very first song, but it really didn’t matter. The foot-stompy Song That… was particularly sparkling, and every moment of their set was testament to their ability to hold an audience’s attention. There were some really spellbinding moments during the gentle ditty that is A Drunk. A certain observer suggested that it is a new truism in HK’s music scene that whenever The Bollands play, it is good. Well, they certainly did play. And it was good.
— Shashwati Kala
Winner of Sennheiser headphones:
1. Uskudara (unplugged)
3. Kya Hei Yeh Jadoo (unplugged)
4. Percussection (unplugged)
5. The Cuckoo Says (unplugged)
6. The Power Of One
What to make of ReOrientate? Let’s start with the good: A truly mighty voice with both soul and an edge. Great drums and rhythms: right for the room, right for the music. Surprising and arresting flamenco-influenced dancing (think the Happy Mondays’ Bez meets Natalie Portman). While a melting pot of cultures is clearly their bag, however, I’m not sure the arrangements did justice to the Chinese instruments, or vice versa. The result came across, to me at least, as tokenism. And a bit of the Bollands’ self-deprecation wouldn’t go amiss.
But with slower numbers rounding out the full-on productions, it was an ambitious set from an ambitious project altogether. Mostly successful and always entertaining. I bet their school or college mates hate them.
— Paul Mottram
Who Shot Holga?
1. Killer Heels
2. Ino Uno
4. The F Song
5. Let it Burn
7. The Lie
Who Shot Holga? Offered the first decent band name of the evening and the blissful simplicity of drums, bass and guitar. Two things to take away: First, the power of a good drummer to hold everything together in small room with imperfect sound. In this case the drummer was a stand in, but I’d say “keep him.” Second, the capacity of a perfectly distorted guitar to evade the descriptive powers of an amateur reviewer. Let’s just say it was a perfect mix of crunchy and chewy, and a perfect match for the squeaky vocals.
With fast songs played fast, Who Shot Holga? generated the most energy of the evening and as such were the most satisfying band by far. My favourite was the song about f**king (I think that’s what she said), which ended much too quickly. How apt.
— Paul Mottram
Winner of a stay at Hotel Icon:
3. He is Definitely Coming
Eli started strong with a scene-setting number, throbbing guitars creating the perfect backing for the second best voice of the evening (behind Reorientate). Unfortunately a technical blunder obliterated my next two paragraphs of notes, but Eli played some stirring stuff, with the delivery only marred by over-long monologues between songs.
— Paul Mottram
1. Ear Poison
2. She’s the Devil
3. Red Light
4. The Miracle
5. Fire in a Sweet Shop
Operator finished up the evening. Confident, disciplined and tight, they could well have been the teachers (yep, older too) of ReOrientate at the International School of Rock. A little over-wrought for my personal taste, but very well executed from start to finish.
One got the feeling that no one was enjoying the performance of the lead singer quite as much as the lead singer. Except perhaps the psycho-fan who was getting down like a thing possessed. A thing with no discernible sense of rhythm, that is. But their last song marshalled the talents of all four band-members best and was far and away song of the night. Again, great drumming anchored a tight performance that easily covered any patchy spots. Amateur bands of the world unite and ditch your amateur drummers!
— Paul Mottram
photos © Copyright 2012 by ANGUS LEUNG
poster by ANGUS LEUNG