Live review from Playful Palooza:
4. (New Song)
Aftertales is trying to tell us a story of a far away land where a young girl works her hardest to make her dreams come true. Dressed in casual browns and long jackets, the band felt like they came straight out of a fantasy isekai anime. And this is probably deliberate; they brought their own backdrop which had a beautiful fantasy valley, glowing lights and a little cryptid with horns and turtle head.
But the music – oh the music. Cantopop meets Radiohead meets Baby Metal with a lashing of J-pop. A cute innocent looking girl, Danielle, leads the band. With a guitar in hand, she stands in front of the mic, guitar (Kit) and bass (Thomas) flanking her and drums (Ken). It was nice, almost like a homecoming, to see the singer of a new band stand, largely planted, in front of the mic. She tells the audience her stories directly through the music, as though a narrator. The performance is proper; Danielle even insists on having in ear monitors to make sure her pitching never goes off. And it pays off. Their second song “流光 (Glittering)” is a cutesy j-pop inspired ballad, that is to say fast, complex with lots of jumps in the melody and yet no one missed a beat. Danielle’s vocals were pitchy at times but well pitched and very much in character (I do wonder whether they overplayed the pitchy just a little bit as the chorus does sound slightly high for her, but I’m nitpicking). Published in 2021, this is a relatively early song for them which makes it all the more impressive. The most impressive part of the song though was not of the song itself but their brilliant segue into the next song which used the feedback from the guitars to lead into a synth organ and introducing the next song 西區小說.
This song, ‘A Tale Of The Western District’ was a big contrast from the previous numbers. If 流光 was the calm, 西區小說 is the storm. There is a lot more energy, Danielle starts yelling as the song romps through landmarks of the Western district. This is where the Baby Metal-esque influence comes in; the juxtaposition between cute girl and hard rock, creating something that, as they themselves quote from a previous review is “refreshingly sweet and obstinately stubborn”.
Their next number returned to the fantastical atmosphere of the opening few numbers and at full speed. The use of a choruser on the guitar made it sound like an organ or a keytar, and along with pre-recorded harmonies on Danielle’s voice created a magical introspective moment where it seemed as though she spoke to herself in a dreamlike world. In fact, the effect of the song’s musical narrative was so great that the only thing I wished was that the background visuals could match and move along with the music more. Something to think about!
But perhaps their most impressive number was saved for last. 雙失少女 – NEET girl. NEET stands for “Not in Education, Employment or Training ” and is here used ironically. The 7 minute epic of a song begins with an extended narration where the innocent girl talks about “working hard, working hard” every day but receiving not much in return. As Danielle tells her story, the crowd naturally gathers closer and closer, like children to a campfire. The music grows. She starts to sing – this is the climax of the song, I thought to myself, but it keeps going. It’s a rock opera. Kit is pulling off some very impressive guitar taps. Danielle flips her hair back; let’s go. Hair on her face with every chord she plays. Kit starts shredding. And all the energy is bursting out of them as they keel over letting the music flow forward into the cold air.
“Bye, see you next time”
– Cyril Ma
Live review from Girls with Guitars #11
1. Intro Opening
5. Sweet Dream
I think this is the third time I’ve seen these guys, and each time I’m increasingly blown away by their ability. Without so much as a “hello”, the band launch into their first track, a tune with power, melody and fluency in equal measure. Vocalist and rhythm guitarist Danielle Leung wields her lilac Telecaster with great aplomb, and immediately – visually as well as musically – wins over the crowd. But wait! It’s actually just a musical amuse bouche, an appetiser of sorts.
She then sweetly thanks everyone for being there before the band dive into the first track proper – ‘西區小說’. ‘Math rock’ gets a bit of a bad rep in these parts, but the way these guys inject such passion and panache turns it into a completely different kettle of fish. For sure there’s some element of complex rhythmical timing going on, and Metallica it ain’t, but this stuff rocks, man! The combined dynamic is exquisite as well, it’s as if they are joined by a musical umbilical cord, such is their near supernatural understanding. And yet it’s so damn melodic, all underpinned by Dan’s sweet yet feisty vocals. Kit Yan, on lead guitar, is a superb player, understated, technical, melodic and never puts a musical foot wrong. Thomas Wong on bass is equally talented, Ken Poon on drums provides the perfect level of rhythmical accompaniment.
Next track ‘流光’ offers a lovely syncopated intro and near Canto-pop style verse which yet rises above that genre to offer something infinitely more original and interesting. Normally I’d be drawing all kinds of musical comparisons, but on this (rare) occasion words fail me. Sublime.
‘咫尺之遙’ Dan introduces by saying, “I wrote this for my best friends … and they are all here!” It turns out that more specifically the track was penned in honour of a close pal who moved to the UK. Regardless, cue more fluid and fluent playing, in Cantonese, so I can only catch the odd word, but I assume full of poignant meaning. Certainly I can hear the emotion, which is brilliantly conveyed through Danielle and Kit’s chiming twin attack. It’s almost symphonic in the way it glides through several movements before returning to the opening motif, like an Olympic gymnast pulling off a series of complex spins and pikes before touching down for an effortless landing. It’s a perfect ten from Judge Dan! Anyway that’s way too much mixing of metaphors, I’m giving myself a headache.
“This is our only song in English,” announces Danielle, introducing ‘Sweet Dream’. That’s fine by us, music overcomes all language barriers, right, compadres in rock? A typically gorgeous vocal meets equally sublime twin guitars, have a three-way, fall in love and produce a divinely melodic offspring. Never too heavy, yet always with substance, I hear traces of bands like The Cardigans, but only in terms of how well everything slots together.
Last track already? It seems like they only just started. ‘雙失少女’ has a bit of a talky intro, but I can’t make much out except something about time and the future, two things they have in spades I reckon. Either way, there’s not much to criticise here. It’s like they just appeared, fully formed, like Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, emerging from her oyster shell. And indeed, headliner Maryjane herself draws mythological comparisons after the show, referencing Sailor Moon in terms of Danielle’s image. I’m not quite sure about that, but there is a certain cutesy anime element for sure, which definitely doesn’t hurt the onstage persona. More importantly, it’s fun, fresh, sweet and exciting. I’d like to hear something strong and anthemic from them, but I suspect the best is yet to come. Lovely show.
– Dan Creffield