1. party time (c)
2. We are
3. 延遟起飛 delay to depart
4. 一種感覺 (c) one feeling
5. 五月天空 (c) may sky
6. 虛構喝彩 an empty cheer up
7. 腳印 foot step
On Saturday, Cantonese five-man rock band EMPTY showed up at Threesome, our three x three-man band-concert, without their drums and bass. “Who here speaks Cantonese?” lead singer Mandy asked, around 70% of the room did, “Good. Because I’m not used to speaking English” he immediately replies in Cantonese. It was not only their first time at an Underground concert with an audience that could not be more different from their usual mainland tours but also their first time as an acoustic trio. It was probably not the smartest idea but one that should pay off in the long run having now expanded their music, which can easily be understood without words, into the English-speaking market.
The loss of drum and bass would not have been recognizable to anyone who were not avid listeners. The pulsing quasi-classical guitar parts are ever present played masterfully by Ka Ming and Tin Hang along with the percussiveness of Mandy’s vocals drives the ethereal music. Despite the ‘cloudiness’ of their music, they are definitely not niche. It is clear they know their market very well: %60 Mainland China, %40 Cantonese HK. One English cover aside, every song is exactly what you’d expect from a modern Chinese language pop song; melody with lots of words, country-classical guitars and high, slightly strained, vocals. However, there’s still something about them that’s not quite mainstream – in the same way that Sam Smith isn’t indie but isn’t as mainstream as, let’s say, 2010 Bieber.
Their opening song was called ‘Party Time’. It sounded exactly as you would a Cantopop ballad – Formulaic and with few surprises. There was little excitement in the song with a slow chorus simply going ‘Party Time, it’s my party time [keep playing when I wake up tomorrow]’. Nothing in the song sounded particularly like a party, if anything the slow, flowing melody crooned by Mandy sounded like sit-at-home-quietly-with-a-book time, not Party Time.
Their later songs quickly regained the audience. There seemed to be a recurring theme of flying throughout the concert with songs such as “延遟起飛 (Delay to depart)” and “五月天空 May sky”. These songs had soaring melodies, tight vocal harmonies and incredibly well written guitar parts.
By the last song, EMPTY had convinced the audience that they were anything but empty, even without their full band. Everything was tapping along to their final song “ 腳印 (Footsteps)” aptly written with a solid, continuous tapping rhythm.
Despite enjoying every song more than the last, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that they could have been literally any other Cantopop band. There was nothing particularly astounding about their writing, all their songs were well written, catchy and masterfully performed with great stage presence to match but there just wasn’t anything particularly unique about them aside from skill. Their songs could be background TVB music and no one would know the difference.
Having said all that, Cantopop isn’t exactly in a second renaissance and although EMPTY doesn’t quite push the boundaries or match up to the old masters like Roman Tam or Beyond, they are a tight group with great music. Would I personally go see them again? Possibly, I might not have had my mind blown but I was impressed by their writing and personality. Do I recommend them? Very much so. Go support good music.
– Cyril Ma