Live Review from Underground Legends 2021
The boy who wouldn’t grow up (part 1)
Back in time
When their song “That’s Why’ was featured on a hit TV show in 2020, Nowhere Boys found themselves catapulted into mainstream success.
One year later, hungrier than ever, the band found themselves opening for Underground Legends and exceeding all expectations.
The Boys kicked off with 生死時速 (Extreme Speed). Self-described as cinematic rock, the song was like something from an Anime Movie with a catchy guitar riff and powerful vocals.
愛情動作神功 (Miraculous Actions of Love) showcased some fun tunes, with chromatic chord progressions and impressive piano and drum solos.
A pleasant surprise was ‘Back in Time’. This allowed the Boys to show off their versatility by playing a rock ballad- however, it perhaps was the odd one out of an otherwise upbeat setlist.
You would never expect a violin to feature in a rock band at a packed LKF bar, but Nowhere Boys are so experimental that they nailed it.
狂想曲 (Rhapsody) is akin to a Cantonese version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’- a mixture of hard rock, rap, and even a children’s song.
Yep, they incorporated “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” into it!
Sophisticated and layered, this track was a true gem to experience. It reminds me of Guns n Roses’ “November Rain”, with dynamic instrumentation and a building intensity throughout.
Nowhere Boys ended their set with 天外飛仙 (Fairy), when the band’s frontman Van Chan performed a live sound check with the audiene, hyping up the crowd even more with some sing-alongs.
One unique talent of Nowhere Boys is their ability to get the crowd going. Despite most of their songs being in Cantonese, it was not hard to sing along to such catchy music. The performance even capped off with a loud growl from Van, waking the audience up (although I doubt the audience needed any wake-up calls by this point).
Of course, even the best of the bunch come with a fair share of performance-related snags.
Perhaps due to the limitations of the space, keyboardist Fisher Kan seemed a little cut off from the rest of the band as he stood in relative darkness.
Another problem faced during live performance is achieving a balance between the vocal and the instrument sound levels. The vocals were somewhat inaudible at times, with the drums and lead guitar dominating the speakers.
Looks can be deceiving, and the same can be said for the Boys. Unassuming Van Chan shines onstage as a frontman, comfortably working with an array of vocal techniques from polished falsettos to opera. Similarly, clean-cut drummer Nate Wong (who might be the last person you would imagine rapping) came bounding out from behind the drum kit to spit some bars during 狂想曲 (Rhapsody).
They’re walking, talking, musical contradictions. But these contradictions allow them to complement each other as an enigmatic band of loveable misfits.
Nowhere Boys are pure talent, and we should expect many more quality performances from them as they continue their ascent to stardom.
Live Review from The Underground’s 17th Year Anniversary Party
3. That’s why
4. The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up
6. Superpowers (eng ver.)
Nowhere boys’ electrifying performance got the whole bar hyped. A mixture of Cantonese and English pieces, their setlist featured a variety of songs from conventional Canto band pieces with uplifting beat and easy-to-follow music patterns, to more interesting pieces. The balance of songs showed the expertise of the band, with two experimental pieces 狂想曲 (Rhapsody) and 小丑 (The Joker) inserted between other simpler pieces. Their use of both English and Cantonese was also very well received, as the crowd, no matter what they spoke could dance along and enjoy the energy of the band.
The performance of the songs themselves were also very well done. The band described themselves as cinematic, meaning that many of their songs are based on a movie. In particular 小丑 (The Joker) really reflected the mood of the surreal movie with the lead singer Van Chan conducting the band with his back to the audience, bringing to mind infamous scenes where the joker watched the buildings behind him burn. The song itself was dark but musically diverse with forays into classic rock, rap and references to carnival piano music. The rhythm swapped between multiple complex musical metres from 6/8 to 4/4 and 5/4, creating a chaotic setting. This sort of song is difficult enough to write, and even harder to play but with the tight quality that Nowhere Boys showed, it’s no wonder that the audience was cheering nonstop the whole night.
But even on their less experimental numbers, the band’s originality and skill still shone through. For example, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up is a pop song with a catchy chorus, but otherwise pretty normal. What made it really special was the way that the band performed it. The smiles on their faces, the pure enjoyment of every note was infectious. When Van Chan then asked the audience to sing along to the simple but beautiful melody, we just couldn’t resist! The only improvement that could be made was that sometimes the instruments would be too loud and so the vocals were inaudible, but this was an issue for every band.
Overall, this is a great exhibition of what Hong Kong bands can offer in the music world. Not only were they able to perform brilliant Cantonese songs, but their English songs were entirely on-par. Unlike more commercial groups which may add in English or Mandarin songs to push their market, Nowhere Boys wrote and played every song without at all sounding out of place. It’s interesting to note that although they performed the English version of Superheroes at the show, the original version is not in Cantonese but rather in Cantonese, English and Japanese. The stars of the music videos are African Hong Kong children which shows how the Nowhere Boys are not only aware, but actively providing excellent platform for cultural exchange, reflecting, the multicultural city of Hong Kong.
– Thomas Chow (co-authored by Cyril Ma) in collaboration with Harbour Times–
Live Review from Wild Boar Music Festival 野豬音樂節:
An Underground show is special because you get new bands, veteran bands, English bands, French bands, marching bands (we did have one) and of course good old fashioned Cantopop bands. But that’s not what Nowhere Boys is. They’re Cantopop, they use ‘old’ music (we’ll get to that), but they’re not old fashioned.
What first struck me was the violin. Standing in the corner was keyboardist Fisher Kan who decided to whip out a violin for their first song 天外飛仙 (Little Fairy). In their musical video, the band members dress up in classical Chinese outfits and do Kung-fu outside Yau Ma Tei Tin Hau temple, and rock-out next to the Star Ferry pier. They didn’t show up in costume but the whimsical, yet hardcore vibe was just as present. The violin was a little quiet, it could have been the mics, or it could have been their placement, but it would have been great to hear it more.
The second song 狂想曲 (Rhapsody) gave more surprises yet. Released in 2015 near the beginning of their career, the song is an eclectic mix of hard rock, Baroque piano, choir music, rap and more. Nowhere Boys is a band which excels in both recorded and live forms; they understand the difference between the two media and artistically transform themselves depending on what their stage is. In the Rhapsody music video, the band members don different outfits showing the many sides of the band, someone’s the Joker, someone’s a cop, they’re in an old timey Hong Kong style barbershop – then everyone changes roles. The chorale section has very strong Queen vibes and seems to reference Bohemian Rhapsody. For such a chaotic video, the performance is actually incredibly tight but not overwhelming. On stage, however, they change completely. The whole performance is a musical whirlwind. The hard rock starts, pinning you to your seat. Then the baroque piano solo comes in – in the video, it’s underscored by black and white visuals – here the whole band stops and points synchronized at the pianist to great applause. The performance is intense; they’re jumping around the stage yelling into mics but then comes the chorale. Everyone stops and sings in perfect acapella harmony despite having just run a marathon.
There’s something to be said for a Cantopop band incorporating so much classic rock, pop and classical music into their performances. Hong Kong is a city where almost everyone has a Grade 8 in musical performance, but becoming a musician is not a career most people will consider. It’s unrealistic, useless, for a hobby only. Our professional choirs and opera groups are performed in by amazing award-winning singers who are actually bankers and doctors. This means that just in terms of classical music knowledge, Hong Kong really is world class – much of local slang actually comes from musical terminology – but it’s ignored. Nowhere Boys whether they know it or not, is bridging that gap. As a rock Cantopop group, they excel perfectly with creative lyrics, great stage presence and top-notch performance, but more than that, they encompass the musical soul of Hong Kong, telling those that play classical music that the pop world does have a space for them and simultaneously letting popular music fans know that the classical side also has a place. Their creativity and performance style weren’t just for a good show, it was inspirational. At least it was to me – a classically trained musician writing rock show reviews.
– Cyril Ma
Live Review from 14th Year Anniversary Party
1. 4, 3, 2.5
3. The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up
They may describe themselves as a “cinematic rock band” but I don’t think that does these guys justice. Having said that, I really have no idea how to describe them, and believe me, that doesn’t happen very often. They kick off with a honky tonk workout which every now and again stops for a few seconds of comedy classical piano in a kind of Mozart music hall way (see, I said I had no idea how to describe them). Their second track is epic Cantopop with a big dollop of Chinese opera which they throw everything at, including a few bars of rap. It’s all crazy over the top and absolutely hysterical and yet these guys are all great players and immaculately rehearsed like you wouldn’t believe. Their madcap antics totally win over a crowd charmed, enthralled and confused in equal measure. More of an experience than a band, they get the audience to freeze mid-song before singer-songwriter Van Chan teaches us all some kung-fu moves and sing-along lyrics. Their influences range over several decades and individually are not particularly original – put through the Nowhere Boys’ magic music machine however and it becomes totally their own. They’re clever and detail-orientated as well – during “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” I heard a sample from what I guessed was a classic British Peter Pan movie (no idea which one), but unless you grew up 100 years ago obsessed with that fairy tale stuff like I did you would never recognise it. Mad as a bag of squirrels, but awesome.
– Dan Creffield
Live review from The Underground “Back to its Roots” Festival Part 2:
5. Peter 2
6. Mark (film)
Nowhere Boys flaunt a dapper style befitting their ‘cinematic pop’ label, with sharp suits a la Guys ‘n’ Dolls, Cantopop-worthy hairdos and ostentatious rock moves. Their polished all-round performance overcame the carnival-goers’ natural apathy, drawing a sizeable crowd to the astroturf, and we were kept guessing by the wide array of musical styles on show – from synth pop to blues rock, rap to cantopop, and noir soundtrack to cartoon theme.
-The Carnival Rat
Live review from Jager x Underground:
2. The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up
4. Castle In The Sky
5. 4, 3, 2.5
一直都覺得Nowhere Boys是一隊比較正經的樂隊, 但在Jager x The Underground之後, 對他們完全改觀。將原創音樂稱為Cinematic Rock, 開首的<推石頭的人>選曲亦有鋪排。<推石頭的人>一開始只有主音Van和琴/小提琴手Fisher站台, 以Acoustic吉他和憂怨的弦樂伴著Van壓低了的唱腔。吉他手Ken一上台就表演Solo, 最後鼓手Nate和Bass手Hansun進場將歌曲帶至高峰。整首歌就像電影開首, 將隊員一一介紹。慢板又陰沈的<推石頭的人>之後是兩首夢幻的< The Boys Who Wasn’t Grow Up>和<Castle In The Sky>. 前者是講述<小飛俠 Peter Pan>的故事, 繽紛熱鬧又易上口。後者是樂隊向<天空之城>致敬的Folk-Rock作品。如果看電影時, 一直預計到劇情的走向, 其實並非一件好事, 可能玩著Cinematic Rock 的Nowhere Boys亦有同感。所第四首歌開始決定來個估你唔到的劇情大暴走。<狂想曲>就像經典的<Bohemian Rhapsody>所包含的編曲層次實在令人目不暇給, 亦是這曲一下洗走我對Nowhere Boys是正經的印象。瘋狂繼續, 快板Rock ‘n’ Roll的<4.3, 2.5>講述一個男人走進婚禮亂鎗掃射,一個極Cult的場景。最後加入電音的<麥克折射線>將聽眾帶入了一個未來的科幻世界。在短短半小時多, 就像在看多套電影Trailer般精彩。
– Dicky Kwong
NOWHERE BOYS opened their set with and absolutely beautiful vocal, acoustic guitar and violin duet. Truly with a Cinematic vein, reminiscent of the 1988 film Cinema Paradisio. I WAS TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY BLOWN AWAY. Moving into more of a Queen, Styx theatrical set, they grabbed me and never let me go.
Nowhere Boys are one of the best, most appealing bands I have seen in Hong Kong in my thirteen years here. With their very complex compositions, arrangements, musical talent, cool fashion, attention to the small important details, they have a real chance to break out of the all too boring, prepackaged Canto music dribble, and really make a mark on the international music scene.
These guys are unique, unusual, stylish sophistication, deeply passionate, emotionally moving, rockin’, creative, fun, playful. With “Cinematic Rock” as their self-described style, they are in a slightly different way expanding some of the music of the great bands they note as their influences – The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Guns N’ Roses, Queen, Aerosmith, Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It is really musical rock theater.
NOWHERE BOYS are continuously preparing by writing more music, recording and making more live performances. I can see them really starting to connect with the Hong Kong fan base, and playing festivals locally and internationally.
– Gregory Tancer