Live review from 19th Anniversary Party:
1. See You in Hell
3. Nothing’s Gonna Go My Way
4. Melancholic Fantasy
6. Beneath the Surface
7. A Buttdial is Not a Booty Call
One of the most active live bands in Hong Kong at the moment, What They Do is gaining a reputation as a reliable crowd-pleaser with a live set that draws from across the rock genre. Fresh from an acclaimed performance and the debuting of a new lineup at West Kowloon Cultural District’s Pop Fest, the group has moved away from the Rage Against the Machine covers that defined earlier shows and towards original material that blends thrash, 00s alternative and nu-metal influences.
The lineup change has paid off: zany former drummer Ferdie Ramos was undoubtedly talented, but prone to unpredictability; Gabe Andre brings serious craft and workmanlike stability to the group, especially on tracks like Amazing and Melancholic Fantasy on which the long-time scene fixture’s versatility and mastery shine through. As a team, he and new bassist Rusty Wishart create a rock-solid rhythmic foundation that allows singer Josephine Persson (“JP”) and Bay Leung’s melodies to bloom.
The band’s true identity has so far proven evasive and it sometimes feels like its sound is still in development – although that’s not necessarily a criticism, certain songs lack a feel of originality. Leung, the stylish showman to Persson’s quiet fire, is a versatile and commanding performer, but to progress the band past this point, it would be interesting to see what the dimension of a second guitar would add. The solo on Climb, for instance, feels off-kilter, and the song peters out without a decisive ending, yet the solo on Nothing’s Gonna Go My Way punches through the mix very effectively. However, it’s clear that rougher ridges and looser ends are slowly being smoothed out and a band of serious substance is taking flight.
Persson, in possession of one of Hong Kong’s most unique vocal deliveries, has significantly grown in confidence compared to early shows, likely boosted by the beefed-up musicianship around her. Her voice is at its most comfortable when prowling huskily, though the singer is not afraid to throw in a growl or let things really soar, which makes for a magnetic effect. Using jazz-inflected motifs, seasoned performer Wishart brings greater personality and flair to older tracks like Nothing’s Gonna Go My Way and Amazing, embellishing each enough to create depth and intrigue without veering into ostentatiousness.
Melancholic Fantasy and Beneath the Surface are Persson’s creations; the former a shape-shifter of a track that blends thrash with a sultry, Middle Eastern section; the other delivering a strong chorus aided by locked-in drums and bass and Iron Maiden guitar that chugs along evilly. Closer and What They Do signature A Buttdial is Not a Booty Call twins Red Hot Chilli Peppers funk bass with a growly chorus. It’s a pure party song that doesn’t take itself seriously, and a good choice to top the set.
Ultimately, the members never look like they’re not having fun, and this upbeat atmosphere rarely fails to imprint upon the audience. Now the band has a real backbone, it’s exciting to see where they’ll go, and – apologies – what they’ll do.
– El Jay
Live Review from The Underground’s 18th Year Anniversary Party
(soundcheck: Time is Running Out – cover)
1. See you in hell
3. Nothing’s gonna go my way
4. Bulls on parade (cover)
6. Survive (cover)
8. Killing in the name (cover)
Ascending to the stage after Parallel Horizons and maintaining the same level of energy among the crowd is no easy feat at all, but What They Do managed to pull it off with a set of hard rock originals and covers, combined with oodles of personality and charm. Usually sporting utilitarian boilersuits, tonight the band were in Hawaiian shirts for a dose of party-starting fun.
They burst out of the speakers with a cover of Muse’s Time is Running Out, executed well as a close duplication. So good was their soundcheck that it was indistinguishable from the rest of their set… Singer Josephine Persson boasts one of the city’s finest rock voices, disarmingly low-pitched and brooding but able to soar and shout at a moment’s notice. Some nerves were evident towards the start of the set, but her confidence and delivery grew to match the crowd’s warm and enthusiastic reception.
Catchy original See You in Hell combined drummer Ferdie Ramos’ dustbin lid smashing with punk chugging by guitarist Bay Leung, who also provided backing vocals for a call-and-response effect with Persson. He launched into his first solo of the night, combining screeching fretwork with finger-tapping. With a loud smash, the song ended.
A close cover of Rage Against the Machine’s Bulls on Parade and a sped up version of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive—both What They Do signatures—had the crowd in a frenzy of excitement. Leung showed off an impressive versatility, nailing Morello’s distorted and distinctive solo in the former song, and bringing in a cowboy western flavour for the hypnotic guitar motifs of original tune, Climb.
Ramos, an Amazonia stalwart, brought a vicious energy that drove the set forward and gave his bandmates a platform to push the tempo and volume so that the set never felt bloated or lacking in momentum. What Nicola Shannon’s basslines lacked in complexity they made up for in punch and depth, bubbling threateningly on songs like Nothing’s Gonna Go My Way, creating a helicopter thrum on Climb, and teaming up with Leung’s guitarwork for fully fledged rock breakdowns throughout the set. Buttdial, their own, channelled a funk sound and featured a solo from both Leung and Shannon.
What They Do rounded out their set with Killing in the Name, another RATM cover, and as that infamous climax was reached, there was barely a soul in the venue whose body wasn’t flailing around and yelling “F**ck you, I won’t do what you tell me” to deafening, dizzying effect.
The band is capable of conjuring a huge sound and captivating a crowd, and as their confidence grows as a unit, a set less reliant on covers and built around more of their own demonstrably superb and effective songwriting will ensure their position is cemented on the scene as one of the city’s favourite rock groups. This is a full throttle band coming into their own—and it’s exciting to see.
– El Jay
Live Review from The Underground’s 17th Year Anniversary Party
1. See You In Hell
3. Nothing’s Gonna Go My Way
5. Raining Men (cover)
With power chords in their hearts and a nineties swagger in their step, punk kids What They Do took the stage as the second act of the evening.
Their sound is an eclectic one, that much you can gather from opening track We Are Doing. They seem to be gunning for a rock n’ roll genre bender; think if Metallica and Hole had gotten wasted together and collaborated in Kurt’s basement. Whilst their sound has a way to go to achieve it, WTD are a curious group who attempt to encapsulate those converging worlds of grunge rock and thrash metal.
Lead vocalist Josephine Wellton offers shades of a Courtney Love/Taylor Momsen lovechild, her gravelly deep vocals and powerful belt a match made in heaven with any rock band. The raw energy in her performance buffs the edges of a few missed notes, reminding you of the sheer beauty of live music because dodgy notes don’t matter at all when you’re putting on a show like See You In Hell.
However, with each song centred around djent-y riffs and manic guitar solos, they feel virtually indistinguishable from one another in style and structure. The result is a predictable – though in no way objectively bad- setlist.
With chugging guitar notes tearing over shimmering high hats before descending into chord-laden verses, I am never blown away by any one track. Rather, I am preoccupied with figuring out how I know the blatantly sampled (or borrowed?) intro riff of Nothing’s Gonna Go My Way. It is Marilyn Manson’s Sweet Dreams, of course. A solid, dark, winding riff. This thew me off- it works well with the trebly punk rock edge of WTD, but it jars against the utterly hectic Metallica tribute guitar solo shoehorned into in the song. Well, all the songs.
Bay Leung, guitarist and songwriter for WTD, is very clearly a skilled and impressive lead guitarist. However, the disproportionate focus placed on the guitar elements is extremely pronounced throughout the set. Even their rendition of Geri Halliwell’s Raining Men, featuring revamped heavy metal instrumentals of Blondie’s Call Me, had a guitar solo squeezed in. The transition into this solo in particular could do with some fine tuning. Who knows, maybe Hammett and Harry wouldn’t sound bad together if the tempos actually matched up?
So what are What They Do doing? Trying to make ‘post-hardcore-punk-metal’ happen, I reckon. Perhaps next time they can do more to showcase their killer bassist, Nic, whose effortless cool and wicked talent deserved more of a spotlight. Or perhaps Adrien could have had more of an introduction with a cheeky drum fill? They are so close to something brilliant, and I look forward to watching them find it.
– Jasmine GW