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Saturday, August 11, 2007

ROCKS WILL CUSHION YOUR FALL

Singing is a lost art in the Singapore indie scene.
"Attitude" is abundant it seems - wearing the right clothes, looking cool on stage, learning the right moves, utililzing the finest pedals...but singing, well, forget that!
I getting a little impatient with Singapore indie bands who don't seem to have singers who give a shit about the way they sing, and expect the audience to appreciate their music when the vocals just don't give you a chance to.
I don't wanna name names cos I don't wanna destroy anyone's confidence or self-esteem but suffice to say that out of the six acts on show at the Open Stage @ Scape today, half of them should really either persuade their vocalists to improve their skills or maybe start thinking of recruiting better singers altogether!
On the postive side, I saw Indus Gendi again and am really beginning to become a bit of a fan. Esther is a good frontperson if only she'll get in front! It's a little odd for your vocalist to be standing on the side (and behind a keyboard!). Sure, the rest of the band is important but the fact of performance is that the audience will look (and listen) to the singer first and Esther has a few obvious features going for her that the band should maximize.
Much, much tighter this time, Indus Gendi, you could say, look up to B-Quartet in the jazz-alt.rock hybrid that the B-boys pull off with aplomb. Except that Indus Gendi is that much more sweeter somehow, presumably, having a female singer produces that effect. That said, Arep, Adam, James and Bonk are getting very adept in delivering concise blocks of sonic intricacies.
Then and Now is the highlight again, a real keeper. I could listen to James' guitar solo all day!Much potential here...
As some of you would know, the meat of Open Stage @ Scape is the talk cock session with HYR and the Funkie Monkies folk. HYR was in top form today as he recounted the experiences behind the making of the 881 movie soundtrack. All very interesting stuff...
Best part of course was Jia Hui and Ngak performing songs off the movie soundtrack album - in stores now - and proving my adage about vocal quality. The difference between professionalism and amateurism I guess - both of them are just so good at what they do. Our young indie rock singers have so much to learn and so far to go. Which is fine as long as they are willing to do so...
Sorry for the mini-rant but listen to any of the foreign bands that come over here and you can be guaranteed that the vocalists will not be flat, off key, straining and so on...you know I'm right.
...but there's more...

Oh and it's was great catching up with the usual suspects viz. Beni, Edward, Jack & Rai and good to meet James (S.O.F.T.) and Dex.

BUUUUUUURRRRRRNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Is it Deja Vu?
When Zero Sequence came on at the Esplanade Powerhouse stage last night, I honesty did not know what to expect. What I got was a Deep Purple medley... I tell you I was grinning throughout. Hahahaha. The songs of my teenage years! Man, memories... being the keyboards player in a band which covered mumerous DP songs I observed that the TWO keyboardists that ZS had and must admit they did a competent job with four hands what Jon Lord achieved with only two. Hahaha.
ZS ended its 1st set (didn't hang around for the 2nd) with a Queen medley, which was appreciated loudly by the audience. In between, ZS performed a couple of originals off its upcoming album and to be honest, did not make much impression on me. I was expecting more, as ZS had been billed as a progressive rock band. That said, the band does possess certain melodic chops (and the lead guitarist is really good!) which may put it in good stead when the album is released.
Of course, the reason I was attending this gig was the opening set from B-Quartet, which as usual, was awesome. Augmented for last few gigs as a sextet, the natural manner in which the band goes about combining jazz, prog rock, modern rock, pop and anything else you can pick up is well, hypnotic. Vocalist Bani Haykal is the focal point with his playful stage antics, leading the band through its paces like a gleeful conductor. A sight to behold.
But it's the music that truly mesmerizes as the band will move from piano ballad to headbanging metal to cinematic ambience sometimes in the same song. Shoebox is my absolute favourite!
Funny, but when I was thinking about Zero Sequence, the word "regressive rock" seemed to come to mind and although this sounds a little snobbish, I'll let it ride for now. But when you look at B-Quartet, like Zero Sequence, they owe a huge debt to the seventies. Certainly you will hear elements of the great jazz fusion masters e.g. Miles Davis, Weather Report, Return to Forever and even Steely Dan, except that the influence of the great widescreen rockers like Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev and of course, Jeff Buckley are brought in to produce a dazzling result.
And of course, B-Quartet hope to have an album on the shelves in November. Can't wait...
...there is more...
oh and thanks to Saiful and Armi for the good company.

Friday, August 10, 2007

...STILL THERE'S MORE...

Some of you may have wondered where this repeating motif of mine originates from. It actually comes from the opening track of one of my all-time favourite albums viz. Todd Rundgren's
A Wizard, A True Star...

Released in 1973, the song is International Feel and the lyrics are as follows -

Here we are again, the start of the end, but there's More
I only want to see if you'll give up on me
But there's always More
There is More, International Feel
And there's More, Interplanetary Deals
But there's More, Interstellar Appeal
Still there's More, Universal Ideal
Still there's More, International Feel
I swear something lies in your ears and your eyes
'Cause there's More
You hear and you see yet you do not believe
That there's always More
(I know)

Basically, it's all about being positive about the future and never giving up because, as Todd sings ... still there's more...

In any case, here's a performance of International Feel from 1994, I think... the man is a genius even in a skirt... hahaha

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

BAYBEATS 2007 - A SUMMARY

This is my 100th post so perhaps it's fitting that it's a summary of Baybeats, the biggest indie rock festival of the year.
Different groups of people approached Baybeats 2007 differently.
For the diehard moshers, it was the perfect opportunity to gather friends together and mosh and bodysurf. For the indie rock fans, it was a chance to catch great bands, both fledging and established, in the live element. For the casual visitors to the Esplanade, it was a fascinating gawk at the alien world that is the Singapore indie scene.
For me personally, I considered Baybeats 2007 to be a buffet meal, where an assortment of sonic delights awaited. However, like most buffets, it's always about astute selection rather than wanton gluttony, in order to extract the maximum benefit, without suffering indigestion.
The obvious highlight to me was the Mercury Rev gig, which was eye-opening and inspiring and perfectly justified the organizers' decision to break from tradtion and present a ticketed performance from a renowned alternative band. The Rev provided a wonderful example of artistic and commercial success model that our own bands would do well to emulate...
Out of the ten new bands given the Baybeats showcase, I must say that I was impressed most by Allura, the Fire Fight and King Kong Jane - which of course reflected my own bias and prejudices towards music, that it is first about the songs and then about the performance.
Yes, I am sure the indie rock purists will point out that these bands have more mainstream appeal than some of the rest but from my perspective, it's where these bands will be, come August 2008 that will count in the long run... and that's where appeal does come in handy.
I also appreciated the acoustic performances put together at the Singapore Art Cafe especially Warren Chan, Reza Salleh, Love Song and City On Film - alas I missed Sunday's sets - and the warm atmosphere and sweet tunes that resonated that sunny afternoon has served to inspire certain future directions from yours truly. More of which in the weeks to come...
With my emphasis on Singaporean bands, I missed many many of the foreign bands' slots but did view the Blindside show with respect and awe. A good combination of song power and performance savvy - images of the high-kicking, jack-knifing vocalist will forever be burned in my memory and all that in the Singapore humidity!
So where does the Singapore music scene go from here - to the next gig, the next CD release, I suppose. We've just got to have a paradigm shift to what local bands can achieve. I mean, where we can get to the point where Singaporeans (and foreigners) don't question the wisdom of forking out hard earned money for the sake of a Singaporean band then we're moving in the right direction. The talent and potential is certainly there. The belief and the commitment, I'm not too sure. If unless we can build up a nurturing environment, rather than one that puts (and pulls) down, it'll be a bit of a lost cause. I'm not saying to soften the truth or lower the standards when it comes to evaluating our own music but giving it an even chance to grow and mature...
Most of all, those two days and four nights were fun also for the many many people who made it all worthwhile, so a shout-out to Josh, JBarks, Jon, Iain, Chris (the Fire Fight), John Chiong (WMUM), Razi (Rockstar Collective), Beni, Adam, Bonk, James (YaWA), Fahmie & Mojo (Pinholes), Joseph, Lumpy, Leonard Soosay, Warren, Reza, Pat, Jack, Aaron, Matt, Han Quan, Mark.
And of course, Inch, you rocked girl (as always)...
...and there's more...!!!

Oh, thanks to Blueprint Studios, you can get a glimpse of what the fuss was all about here.

Monday, August 06, 2007

I TOOK CONTROL MADE A RUN FOR THE SUN

After four days of almost non-stop intense rock music, the Happy Monday Northern Lights gig at Earshot was a suitable and timely comedown. Featuring acoustic performances from some of the finest pop musicians our neighbours can offer, it was a welcome two hour-plus chill out as melodic pop held sway.
Working late on a Monday night is par for the course so unfortunately I missed Ben Harrison's set but arrived in time for Zack Yusof of the Deserters. Zack solo is sweeter than the Deserters jagged pop edge and betrays a twangy Neil Young-Teenage Fanclub vibe, which is aces with me. Standout tracks for me were Last Chance and Confusion, not to mention a sparkling version of Wilco's What Light.
Warren Chan (Ferns) and Reza Salleh, I had witnessed only at Saturday during the Baybeats afternoon sesssion at the Singapore Art Cafe so it was familiar territory and twice the pleasure. Warren's fragile high-register vocals, sublime chord progressions and self-effacing charm left a smile on many faces. A couple of new songs illuminated the proceedings with wit and musicality delivered in a unique fashion.
Reza, certainly has the chops to be a mainstream attraction, a star in the making. Superb guitar skills, silky smooth vocals and smouldering good looks. Add quality tunes to the equation and you'll believe that the pop world could be at his feet. "Malaysian pop's last hope" was Warren's candid assessment. Trust me, Reza probably possesses one of the better larynxes in the region and not to be missed live.
In between Warren and Reza, Singapore's own Fahmie and Mojo (out of Pinholes) entertained in their own special way with a few of the band's numbers and even though as you probably know, the Pinholes are never technically proficient but their personality shines through to paper the tiny cracks. All this and a crackin' Shake and Bake encore. The Pinholes rule, ok!!!
Thanks to Zack and Reza for passing me their EPs for review... will keep you all posted. Thanks to Ben for putting this cool event together...
...still there's more...
Just in - photos of the gig here.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

BAYBEATS DAY THREE - 5TH AUGUST 2007

My neck, back and feet are sore, my lips are parched, severely dehyrated and tired as heck. But it was all worth it so that I could feel like a 20 year-old again!
In the 80s, I never had the chance to watch my rock heroes in live action e.g. U2, Echo & the Bunnymen, Big Country, Simple Minds, Comsat Angels but thanks to the phenomenal set tonight from the Fire Fight, I felt transported back to those heady days. Not that the boys were regressive but they managed to tap into the same vein of passion, verve and authority. Jon, Josh, Iain and Jbarks played as one in a shimmering display of emotive vocals backed by incisive guitarwork and frenetic drumming. With joyful abandon, Josh twisted and turned, his guitar painting imaginary brush strokes in the night air as he provided the focal point for the Fire Fight's sonic thrust. Despite the odd technical hitch, the band was in fine fettle and certainly the highlight of the night. Many in the audience were touched, a memorable performance. Certainly, a young band in ascendancy.
The other main highlight had to be B-Quartet. Certainly one of the most technically accomplished bands in Singapore, they impressed with their unique blend of jazz piano, jaunty pop and guitar rock licks. Again, Shoebox was the one that captured my attention with its balladic introduction culminating in a manic coda that floored all in attendance. Now, instrumental skills are laudable but as long as it does not get in the way of communicative songcraft, it's not a problem. An issue I have with bands like B-Quartet is sometimes they become too intellectual, being too clever and inaccessibility can be the result. In the end, these bands often become musicians' favorites but never quite go beyond that niche. Lack of hooks is the predicament. Now, B-Quartet is obviously influenced by Jeff Buckley but Buckley knew how to sing the blues and had a soulful quality which I believe that B-Quartet would still need to develop... not that B-Quartet isn't a great Singaporean band but I have my reservations.
In between these highlights, we had Giants Must Fall who seemed a little tenative and muted but picked up speed halfway through its set. A little too laidback, they never quite connected with the audience, which to be fair, was rather sparse.
Bismuth is composed of three young men, who appeared kinda dwarfed by the huge stage. Still a work-in-progress, I honestly feel that vocalist/guitarist Flint should concentrate on either vocals or guitars solely because this is seriously getting in the way of Bismuth's performance. I thought the Bismuth track on the Junk CD revealed good promise so I was disappointed by the uneven set.
Malaysia's They Will Kill Us All was a little hard to figure out as their songs tended to be short and ended abruptly, the vocalist sounded like Liam (Oasis) Gallagher singing falshetto and whilst again technically competent, I cannot quite recall any melody that made an impact.
... and so Baybeats 2007 is over... I will be presenting a summary review soon enough... once I recover from the rigours of the last four nights of non-stop indie rock music...

BAYBEATS DAY TWO - 4TH AUGUST 2007

Mixed feelings about the second day of Baybeats 2007.

Well, okay, to be honest, the so-called negative vibes were more or less overtaken by the positive ones.

On a personal level, I was totally ecstatic about Allura's performance at the Arena stage. I do know for a fact that beforehand, the band were nervous but once they hit the stage they captured the attention and hearts of the sizable crowd with their competent musicianship, superior songcraft and of course, Inch's dynamism, charm and that voice! The crowd were enraptured by the complete package that Mark, Han Quan, Inch, Matt and Aaron were delivering and it was less about any on-stage gimmicks and more about the group presence that kept the crowd enthralled.

I must say that the more I watch Allura the more I am convinced that they have the potential to be an artistic and commercial success not only in the Singapore music scene but beyond. Uniqueness is the key and between the band's hybrid sound and Inch's soulful larynx, Allura possesses a potent combination that will only grow stronger when you consider that the average age of the group is 20!

But let's back up a little, I made it a point to attend the afternoon events at the Singapore Arts Cafe at the behest of Warren (the Ferns) and I'm really glad that I did. I loved the acoustic setting and it was a marked contrast to the noise and thrashing of the night events.

When I arrived - at slightly past 2pm - Reza Salleh had already begun his set. Reza is a consummate guitarist with a rich voice reminiscient of Jason Mraz. He must be a popular performer on Malaysia's pub circuit. He went about his set so cooly and effortlessly, he is a talented guy.

Warren came up and appeared uncomfortable without his other band mates - he confessed as much - but once he began playing, he amazed the crowd with his high-register voice and sophisticated twee pop material. Self-effacing to the max, Warren threw out one gem after another and closed his brief set with an ambitious cover of ELO's Mr Blue Sky, which to these ears sounded quite like Grandaddy! An absolute treat!

TooKoo was next, an emo indie band from Beijing who sang angsty songs to jazzy alternative tunes, which were listenable if unremarkable. Of course, singing in English presented the usual diction problems but they certainly looked the part.

In the interim period, I had a chance to meet Lumpy, a freelance photographer whom I may work with in the future. Also, had a short chat with Jack, Jon How (of Singapore Arts Cafe) and a longer one with Pat. Massive fun, espcially Pat as we got down into serious discussion about the local scene, and what we could collectively (i.e. Music for Good/Power of Pop) do to move the scene forward. Stay tuned!

Last two acts at the Singapore Arts Cafe were the Love Song (from Hong Kong) and the City on Film (from USA). The former featured a non-singing singer who basically intoned over the rather lush acoustic backing - rather recalling David Byrne (Talking Heads) whilst the latter featured one Bob Nanna (formerly of Braid and Hey Mercedes) who thrilled the assembly with his wry song vignettes.

Basically, a very profitable three hours or so.

After Allura, it was a bit of a mixed bag of performances. Deputy Siren had a new singer as their previous vocalist pulled out just before Baybeats. Unfortunately, this was all too evident as new singer, May, just did not gell with the band or the material and to be brutally honest, shouted her way through the set - I am sure she's a good vocalist but perhaps the pitch of the songs did not suit her. As usual, the supportive crowd was up to it so no harm done, I guess but personally I thought it didn't work, on a purely musical level.

I caught marchtwelve last at the Anberlin/Copeland gig and could not quite get into them. Their performance whilst solid and professional was a bizarre one. Singer Dewi-Marie looked kinda pissed off, my observation, at the crowd. I mean, at one point the crowd was shouting - "We want to mosh!!!" and when the band closed its set, Dewi-Marie actually said something to the effect of - "This is our last song, you can mosh to it too" and not in a celebratory manner, mind you!

This was compounded by the fact that whenever the band finished a song, the crowd barely cheered or applauded. Too much!!! Do these moshers care about the music or the bands at all, or is the music just an excuse to mosh? Sad. That put a serious damper on my opinion on the local music scene. Sure, mosh if you want and have fun but please recognize and appreciate the efforts of the bands who have sacrificed time and money for their art and craft.

So what did I think of marchtwelve? Well, it's a bit too math-rock for me at times and you get the impression that they're trying too hard to impress with their numerous chord and key changes. All fine but the impact on melodies is telling. Notwithstanding that, Dewi-Marie has a powerful voice and made it all worthwhile for me... that and Joseph Cinco's inventive guitar playing - a one-man fret orchestra.

After a break for dinner, we returned as Blindside closed the Saturday night's events with a blistering post-hardcore set that to these ears was more like Metallica than Dead Kennedys. You couldn't help but be swept away by the power and the fury of this Swede quartet. Bonus for me was that Blindside is composed of Christians and that added edge brought the whole proceedings to a different level. The crowd was all course more concerned about moshing and bodysurfing, even when there was a deliberate lull in the music - sorry, if this makes me sound ancient but I much preferred it when gigs were about the bands 1st. Y'know, this is why all of us rockers thought disco sucked in the 70s. What's the bloody difference?!!!

Whatever, nevermind...