Live Review from Pairs (Shanghai 上海) Live in Hong Kong!
- No Regrets
- Cloud Nine
- Yangpu Qu
- Oh Ghost
- I Want to Die in the Ocean
- Fragile B
First off, I’d like to say how much I personally love the concept of these guys – for one, there are far too few guitar and drums groups that aren’t blues-based. Secondly, having been through so many eras and varieties of music, there are very few remaining ways to really challenge listeners, while still being musical. While Pairs are not quite that difficult to listen to, they are still very much in the musical wilderness, purveying a hardcore yet punk yet post-punk-esque rabid mutant strain of music. And a much needed mutant it is, too.
Anyhow, these guys were the first band to actually ask, nay,demand smoke from Chris (by wailing “Smooooooke!” between songs, hehe). This made for excellent entertainment, as an ego-war of smoke was waged. However, as Chris B possessed the lone remote, this was somewhat one-sided, as she succeeded in silencing singer/drummer Xiao Zhong multiple times, right in mid-banter. Everyone still there clearly enjoyed these bits as much as they did the music, as they were dancing to the songs, with their gaze fixated on the stage at all times. And justifiably so, for the two of them made for compulsive viewing. Having a singing drummer already makes an act very interesting to watch, but this was on another scale altogether – he was like an ADD-afflicted child, with his hyper-convulsive movements and semi-pained expression while playing and singing – kinda like Darby Crash (including some his self-mutilation tendencies) . As mobile as the music itself, he even got off his stool at points during songs to writhe and jump around onstage – there was even a bit where he seemed to mistakenly throw the mike off its stand, but that really didn’t stop him, as the set continued at breakneck speed (happily, the mike was recovered soon, and surprisingly not all that worse for the wear.) And during all of this psychosis, F just stood there, an Arthur Kane-like living statue, with a blatantly uncryptic way of antagonising the audience, by playing with her back to us nearly every second. Combine these two drastic visual with some kickass music, and you have an enthralling act.
If you talk to them, they’ll be totally self-deprecating in their description of their sound (as they were in their interview with the Underground; read it by clicking here). You’d be inclined to think that they really can’t play – but don’t be fooled. Their musical minimalism is one born out, not of incompetence, but higher judgement. Zhong’s drumkit is very austere, but it produced every sound their songs need (in addition, of course, to the adjacent amps, wall and his own spine that he also played); and he played them in a style that calls to mind Topper Headon, and even a little Barrett Martin-era Skin Yard. There was a barely-detectable backbeat, covered up by crashing foreground drums (along with various pieces of stage equipment that were played as well). F’s guitars were just plain awesome – she has the elbow-version of Johnny Ramones bionic wrist, and she uses this power to rapidly downstroke the crap out of the strings. With just two simple pedals she created a plethora of textures, combining the near-atonal calm of post-punk with the speed of punk, and served in grungy sauce. The result was a surprisingly decadent set, despite the fact that most songs had around two chords in them.
Birthday was “dedicated to Laura Palmer” (though I imagine the original more so than the band that night), and had some near-psychedelic guitarwork, as with No Regrets. Oh Ghost had a plodding military beat, which really made the straight-laced guitars really pop. The lyrics (the ones you could hear anyway) were delightfully quirky, and had that element of pidgin symbolist intrigue. The songs as of now, though, are pretty much one-note- they haven’t yet developed distinct characters and hence tend to meld into each other. But, this is something that can be developed over time – in the meantime, they do have the je ne sais quoi that can only be natural, and this bodes well for their future work. As Fragile B stopped as abruptly as it started, the night was capped off with a final blast of “smooooke”, and as they hurried off stage, the mutant was put to rest once more.