Ladies & Gentlemen! It was a night to remember! Under one roof, we had five very entertaining acts who put 200% into their performances. It was fantastic to hear such positive feedback & enthusiasm from the audience. I would like to express my gratitude to The Underground team for keeping things running so smoothly. Special thanks to Abe & Backstage.
See you at Underground 110!
love Chris B x
2. Better Go Down Upon Your Marrow Bones
3. Tangled Up and Blue [Bob Dylan cover]
4. I Used to Live Here
5. Some Trace of Her
6. It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It) [Rolling Stones cover]
The night began with one of the few solo acts at the Underground, and also with someone returning to our stages after a long time. Jingan Young, with her deep, husky and versatile voice is a true pleasure to watch. Charming on stage, and with superlative pipes, her songs are catchy, interestingly written. She has quite a range, and some of the high notes she hit, in songs like September and Some Trace of Her. Unusually (in a great way) for a female singer-songwriter, she uses her guitar as more than chordal accompaniment; there are some short-but-assertive solos, and chords to create texture in the interludes, but her chordwork in general is active, and just a tad ahead of the beat, which gives her tunes a palpable liveliness. Better Go Down… in particular is a particular success; it’s well-composed, has a stop-start structure that digs itself into your brain, and the delivery was flawless. Her Dylan cover was oddly melodic in a good way, and a rockin’ cover of the Rolling Stones with an entra-long note held at the end closed out the night. While her voice and singing style is reminiscent of KT Tunstall, her songwriting style and on-stage demeanour are evocative of the wonderful Tilly, who used to be part of our local scene (except for the barefoot thing). In all, there are few better ways to start a show than with a performance as captivating as this.
— Shashwati Kala
Mr. Rocket Head
2. Hey! Mr. Rocket Head
3. Whatever Me
4. Time Machine
Mr. Rocket Head, too, proved to have quite the chatty singer, who immediately warmed up the crowd, and jumped straight into their set with huge-sounding drums and bass. The band move between standard rock ‘n’ roll fare; fast beats and distorted guitars; and light funk, mixing Canto-pop tunes with light funk motifs from the likes of RHCP, and just a little bit of Fishbone. The musicians in the band, generally speaking, have an “active” style; one can hear each of their influence in their songs. The drummer has a Matt Sorum-like style, playing big on the beat, and keeping things simple with few fills – which, I think, he could do more of. There’s space in the music to work with, and I should the best should be made of that fact. The guitarist’s style is more akin to Nuno Bettencourt’s, with metal-like, noodly solos but with a god sensibility for keeping the rhythm interesting. I
must admit I was expecting more when I read the word ‘funk’ in their description, from their bassist. He had a smooth, fluid, and occasionally imposing style, but there was little of the imperiousness one expects in funky songs. Adopting something approaching the almost lead guitar style of bass in bands like The Meters or Sly and the Family Stone would make things much more interesting. Their singer has promise, and has a decent range, but skips notes while ascending them, sort of allowing the voice to fold in on itself, which is usually symptomatic of simply lazy singing. Some singing practice, and this could be easily remedied. Sometimes this combines to make lackluster songs, like the overly Maroon 5-ish Whatever Me, or Time Machine which was too poppy to really have an identity of its own.
However, their set was an enjoyable one, and their brand of poppy funk certainly got people engaged, and this was because some songs were definite successes. 末世煙花 was a pub-rock stomper, while Hey!… had the feeling of Naked in the Rain by RHCP, with a similar zipping guitar and off-beat rhythm, but with a solo more like something by DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight, with a frantic succession of notes. 追逐 had a beat like Throw Away Your Television, but faster and with a catchy, hooky insistent composition that made the audience get into it, and a solo that was not only technically impressive, but also had a lot of feeling. So, they do get it right quite some times. However, I do feel that they can and should be better. They’ve got the elements of a good band, and a good demeanour on-stage; I sure hope they find a way to translate this into more good music, and I wish them the best of luck in this endeavour.
— Shashwati Kala
No Drums Needed
Note: They didn’t have “songs” per se, so I’ll be referring to the three sections of their set by their number in chronological order.
Two men, with a lot of what looked like rubbish on-stage; it was easy to see that this was going to be an interesting set. They had water drums, paint cans, and even kettles; this alone brought the audience to the front out of curiosity. And all of this was used to create three acts of percussion. They started off each bit with a theme, and varied on it for the rest of it. No. 1 was a relatively simple number, that took on a Latin-ey tone at times. No. 2 had almost a club-music feel to it. Kettles heralded the opening for No. 3 and this was the most intricate piece, with lots of stops and starts, and changing beats midway through the song. I’m sure there are other similar things, but the one I am most familiar with is duets between mridangam or tabla players in Indian classical music – each takes their turn and tries to outdo the other – and the street music version was as captivating as I have known these to be. The two have clearly honed their skills through a lot of busking, and it shows, for they’re not only (evidently) talented percussionists, but also good at the showmanship side of things. I only wish it could’ve lasted longer, but it was certainly unusual and a great interlude.
— Shashwati Kala
The Gatling Gun Revival
1. Bittersweet Nothingness
2. Solomon’s War
3. Gift of Regret
4. Cauldron of Doubt
5. The Darkest Shades of Grey
The Gatling Gun Revival finally played at the Underground, and I, for one, was excited to see them there. They are a band replete with technical talent, in the forms of the chops of all three band members, and also a small melodeon/keyboard/drum contraption played by Zane, that’s not only functional, but also looks cool. Corey, as I have seen several times, has always been a solid guitarist; the addition of Erik on lead was, however, a great idea, as it gives them both more room to do what they do best. The small elaborations, be they the various modes of sleek solo or simply the slide, add a layer of intrigue to the music, such as the guitar almost sounding like a fiddle on Gift of Regret, or the zippy feel on The Darkest… The melodies are simple and folky, and their arrangements vary from plain ol’ acoustic songs to bluegrass to country, and yet it is this melodicism that makes them feel almost intense. The songs’ moods are generally “soothing”, but also calm and spry at the same time, which can feel really great to listen to. The strange thing is that their three singing voices sound so similar, that it can sound like multiple tracks by the same person, except all at the same time and live; it creates a resonance and depth in the sound, which few bands have access to, and it is beautiful to watch happen.
Most of the songs started off, apparently, as poems by Zane, and were then made into songs collaboratively. Probably owing to this, the lyrics have a polish and a finish to them as they were clearly not written to fit the contours of the tunes. This has the effect of making their sound come across as fully realised, which isn’t something one finds often. Several tunes have the stamp of Corey’s composition on them, like Bittersweet Nothingness and the slight echoes of his song ‘Mistress of the Sea’ on Cauldron of Doubt, which is generally major keys and catchy tunes played in a manner that makes one want to sway. There’s definitely a lot of Simon & Garfunkel in there, and a good bit of Elliot Smith, but the overall effect is something like a Travelling Wilbury’s acoustic show (without their quite boring drummer, though, and MUCH better singers), and a lot of 50s-style rock ‘n’ roll. It was an excellent performance, but then again most of theirs’ are. This is definitely a band to catch live if you can.
— Shashwati Kala
2. 毅行者 (Trailwalker)
3. 男人唔可以窮 (Man of Steel)
4. 兄弟 (Brothers)
5. 起錨 (Act Now)
6. 請緊握搖滾 (Please Hold, Rock ‘n’ Roll)
The phenomenal Senseless were back on our stages after a year, and it’s like they never left. Aside from every other good thing I can say about them, they have a stage presence like almost no other band. All of them, but in particular singer Raymond, are not only visibly comfortable on stage, they’re so much so that they relieve the bit of tension an audience naturally feels before someone starts playing too. They get a rapport with crowds of all sorts going so easily, that one must wonder if they work on this… They’re funny and charming, and make you want to listen to them, even if you don’t understand the language (as in my case).
Another good thing they’ve done is moved on from their earlier setlist – their set now is almost entirely different from what it was last year, and I consider this a great sign. It’s always good to play a couple of old songs (Please Hold, Rock ‘n’ Roll was still as good as it’s ever sounded) but writing new songs stops the juices from stagnating and preventing further songs from being written. Their comedic punk is as good as ever, and the new songs have all the vigour of the older ones. 毅行者 (“a song about hiking”) is a standout; right from its gunshot drums, the song undulated between slightly different rhythms and textures. All of this is expertly managed by the band, who are very, very tight. The shreddy 毅行者 was something like mid-90s NOFX, made funnier by the brief forgetting of lyrics. 男人唔可以窮, however, I thought, was something of a clichéd mid-tempo rocker, which while still pretty good, took the shine off the song for me. 兄弟 was a sit-down spoken-word song, with a really great solo that was full of colour, while also being short. In all, perhaps the best thing I can say about Senseless is this – there have often been bands that I find less good than I remember them after not having seen them for a while; Senseless are actually better than I remember them, and believe you me my expectations were very high. All in all, there’s really no excuse not to go see them if they’re playing – you’ll have a blast; we all sure did.
— Shashwati Kala
poster by ANGUS LEUNG
photos © Copyright 2013 by ANGUS LEUNG