Live Review from The Underground’s 17th Year Anniversary Party
1. Funky Snow (short instrumental warm up)
3. About You
4. New Normal
5. Lonely Jim
6. Big Wave Bay
7. Don’t let me down (cover)
When I was asked to review the Underground’s 17th Anniversary, I had expectations for a loud, aggressive, mind shatteringly powerful opening. You don’t go to an Underground show to chill out, you go to rock out. But we chill we did, and chill we enjoyed. Riding in first on an expectedly smooth wave was Mr. Koo – a classic Britpop band that styles themselves with chilled out California vibes, what with their medium length hair, baseball caps and slightly-too-long stubble (rocking it guys!). A very original Hong Kong vibe.
Their first number Funky Snow came without introduction because it was the instrumental introduction. Bluesy, funky (obviously), not too loud but not too soft; perfectly suited, if unlikely, lively opening to the night. This was followed by a mix of lyrical British Invasion style songs such as Surreal, About You and New Normal that got the crowd swaying. Some of their offerings had additional influences: New Normal for instance had strong jazzy Dave Brubeck vibes which aptly fits with the chorus’ tagline “it’s alright” – and of course shows the great originality that bands performing at The Underground are known for.
Big Wave Bay deserves special mention – perhaps special mention to the Tourism Board. The song is a tongue-in-cheek love letter to the popular Southern District beach with music and lyrics working perfectly together to create a relaxing late Saturday afternoon in the sun. Changing the setting on the keys, the soundscape was filled with sea sparkles rushing over on a cool, lightly rocking wave. This was delightfully reflected in the line “The sun don’t shine everyday” because it’s Hong Kong and the sun does not shine everyday and it will especially not shine if you decide to take a trip to Big Wave Bay. Or maybe I’m just that unlucky. I was on a junk trip the afternoon of the concert and it started raining.
What I liked the most about Mr. Koo’s music however, was not their influences, even though I am a big Beatles fan (cheers for the brilliant cover of Don’t Let Me Down as your finishing number – really felt like we were on the roof of Abbey Road) but the perfect structural composition of their songs. Many local bands, in the name of experimentation and originality, have songs full of guitar solos, special effects, key changes, rhythm changes, and are just in any case, far, far too long. Mr. Koo doesn’t do that. Mr. Koo knows that sometimes less is more. Mr Koo knows that we’re all here for a good time, not to philosophically ponder the hermeneutics of Wagnerian chordal structures appropriated for contemporary vernacular musical forms (imagine that was by a British guy with a moustache in a stuck up suit).
Having said all this, Mr. Koo’s performance could still have some improvement. At multiple points during the opening few numbers, the harmonies between the two vocalists, Ollie Rodgers (lead vox and guitar) and Tom Chan (backing vox and rhythm) were noticeably flat. The overall performance could have been tighter with different parts sometimes being out of sync. In addition, I had really hoped to hear Ollie sing in his upper register, which sounds brilliant, but most songs opted to stick around his lower range which sometimes became gravely. An octave reach for the final Don’t Let Me Down would’ve been perfect – John Lennon does that and Ollie isn’t far off from being a Hong Kong John.
– Cyril Ma