"Cream rises to the top."
As promised, I want to talk about "quality" of the Singapore music scene, such as it is and how our collective perception of "quality" (as subjective as that word may be) may be the key to the Singapore music scene moving on to the next level.
I must say that I have decided to use the Fasten Your Seatbelts gig to highlight my arguments and this is not meant to be a put down or denigration of any band or any person, for that matter. I hope that this will be taken as constructive and bands will read my comments and use it as feedback to improve their music.
Before all that, kudos must go to Rach for the superb organization behind Fasten Your Seatbelts. Credit also to Syed's Invasion Productions. Having a stage made the difference... although one common complaint about the Guiness Theatre is the aircon (or lack thereof).
I decided to catch the so-called supporting bands in the afternoon as I could not stay for the so-called headliners at night. I missed first band Cardinal Avenue though.
When I arrived, Iron Buddha was finishing up their set. Ostensibly a heavy metal act, I couldn't tell how many originals the band performed but I did hear an unremarkable Slayer cover which got the kids moshing. Now, if you've ever watched foreign heavy metal bands, apart from the loud, crunching guitars, you need a vocalist who is able to grab the attention of the audience with his (or her voice). This is an area in which the Iron Buddha singer needs to work on. Other than that, I didn't have enough time to formulate any other opinion.
Next up - Three Way Street - whom I had seen before at Home Club. These boys play similar emo-tinged pop-rock that the likes of Caracal and West Grand Boulevard pull off rather well. Whilst I applaud their ambition to play an original set, sadly, the songs did not quite hit the mark , lacking internal rhythm (the drummer was all over the place - the timing would shift within the song - and unintentionally mind you) and distinct melodies. Again, the singer needs to brush up somewhat, although to his credit, he did manage to build up a stage presence and appeal during the course of the set, although I don't think that using tissue paper to wipe his sweat was particularly cool but maybe that was his point. Who knows?
Aphonia, whom I did catch at one of the Deafcons before, is a baffling group. Consisting of two girls and four boys, they look like they should be playing at Dragonfly (!) and based on their covers seem to be influenced by Muse, Evanescence and Dream Theater. The problem with playing carbon copy covers next to your originals is that your originals better be great or will pale in comparison. This was exactly the case for Aphonia. Again, the originals lacked distinctiveness and were rather flat. Worse still, the lead singer loves shouting into the microphone (not a good sound) and when the keyboards player joins her on harmonies, invariably it goes off-key. Loads of work required here. Not irrecoverable of course, Aphonia possesses all the raw materials, they really need to come up with a better overall package. Really.
Compared to what had come before, Allura was an absolute godsend and by any measure of justice should have been a headlining band. A band that always tries to reinvent its music and I'm glad to say performed a vastly superior Closure, beefed up to highlight its "quality". The rest of the set held all the familiar elements - combining U2 guitar pyrotechnics, Foo Fighter crunch, jazz flourishes, memorable tunes and of course, the movement of Inch. Sure, there are common references in all the songs but there's no doubting the sheer power of Allura's music. Looking around at the audience, it was obvious that they were sensing it too. Still a band to look out for, 2008 could be Allura's year to shine in the Singapore music scene.
Frankly, I was expecting more from Withered Tree. I had witnessed vocalist Shyam's solo acoustic performance once or twice at Singapore Art Cafe and was suitably impressed. But the leaden, hectoring grunge (ugh!) that greeted me was simply not on. Again, boys and girls, melodies were sorely lacking and where hard rock fails to groove or boogie, there's a problem. I mean, it's got to move you one way or another, either heart, soul or feet. That's where Withered Tree did not quite do it for me. Apologies, Shyam, I so wanted to like it...
I do believe that bands should all be given a chance to play - how else will bands grow and improve? But we must not allow this sense of giving everyone a chance blind us to accept less than satisfactory musical quality. If so, how will cream ever rise to the top? None of the bands I've reviewed above is the finished article. They have strengths and flaws alike. The question is will our scene be nurturing and discerning enough so that these bands will get the critical feedback so that they can address these strengths AND flaws to move on to the next level.
I know that much of what I've written in this entry is unpleasant, may be unpopular and I even expect some hate mail but if we want to mature as a music scene, we need not only to encourage bands but to be brave (and honest) enough to call a spade a spade and let our bands know when they don't quite meet the "musical quality" and (most importantly) why.
...and there's more...