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Saturday, January 26, 2008

SINGAPORE MUSIC SCENE - PART II

"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...

WON'T YOU FA LA LA LA WITH ME?

The Esplanade Recital Studio holds about 200 plus people. The band is on the floor whilst the audience is on rows of seating that ascends upwards. Rather like a lecture theatre, actually.
The sound and ambience is first rate and provides the perfect showcase for rising bands in the Singapore music scene.
On Friday (25 Jan 08) night, it was the turn of my good friends, Jack and Rai, to stake their claim as a band to look out for in the Singapore music scene.
And the guys delivered with aplomb!
Backed by Melvin Wong (bass), Vickness (percussion), Joseph Saleem (drums) and Chok Kerong (keys/piano), Jack and Rai premiered all the tracks on their debut album, In Stores Now (alas, not yet available) and the sold out crowd lapped it all up.
I was fortunate enough to get into the venue half an hour early so I could have a front row seat and literally catch the whites of the eyes! And it was worth all the trouble, believe me.
The thing about Jack and Rai is that possibly of all the rising Singaporean bands, perhaps musically I share a certain affinity with the boys in the sense that we both deal in classic rock 'n' pop immortalized in the 70s.
Thus, the songs - whilst anchored in that magical era - covers enough territory to maintain interest throughout. Which means you get power pop (my beloved Fiona - which Jack graciously dedicated to moi!), folk-pop (The Fa La La Song), jazz-pop (Beetle Girl), piano balladry (Hurricane), country rock (Television Affair) and so on.
Which means that In Stores Now is already a winner in my view and with several potential hit radio singles available, I am predicting that the album will make waves in Singapore and abroad. Accessible pop-rock with something for everyone. Ok, I'll leave all that for the album review.
Even more awesome were the encore songs - new track Painted Horses on a Carousel touched on the right points and 3 year-old single This Christmas, a sophisticated 80s jazz-rock gem.
A truly magical night and surely this must be the direction for the Singapore music scene as bands graduate from pubs, clubs and the Substation to headline at the Esplanade Recital Studio and beyond to the Esplanade Concert Hall, the Indoor Stadium and the new National Stadium!!!
It's gonna happen for Jack and Rai...

One more time, with gusto - "FIONA, WHY DO YOU HAVE TO BE SO FAR..."

Set-list

1. Television Affair
2. The Fa La La Song
3. Pixelated
4. Beetle Girl
5. Fiona
6. Contemplate
7. Hurricane
8. Us
9. Release Me
10. Poof
11. Prophet Of Universal Love

Encore
12. Painted Horses On a Carousel
13. This Xmas

...still there's more...

Friday, January 25, 2008

FLOWER SHOW RIOTS IN PCP 65

I'm really happy...
My review of the Flower Show Riots has been published by Austin-based magazine Pop Culture Press's latest issue i.e. #65!!!!!
Take a look...


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

JACK AND RAI - FRIDAY, 25 JAN 08

Just got this email from Jack & Rai...

*****

As most of you guys already know, we're sold out for this Friday's show at the Recital Studio -- so to all who bought tickets, thank you so much! We'll see you this Friday 9.30pm sharp okie! Come early so you can get the best seats in the house!

And for those who are interested to know, we've got a real solid line-up that day and it's our honour to have them on the show with us --

Melvin Wong - Bass
Joseph Saleem- Drums
Vickness - Percussion
Chok Kerong - Keys/ Piano

After the concert, we hop down to Timbre at the Arts House so swing'on over! It's just 2min from the Esplanade! :)

*****

See ya there! Come up and say hi!

HAIL THE CONQUERING HEROES!!!

Here are the people who get a free pass to Fasten Your Seatbelts this Saturday -

Audie Afham
Iffah Khairunnisa
Michelle Foo
Vic Chew

Congrats to our winners! Your names go into the guest list under mine!

And... here's the schedule of bands... courtesy of Rach.

Cardinal Avenue
Iron Buddha
Three Way Street
Aphonia
Allura
Withered Tree
Caracal
West Grand Boulevard
Bad Obsession
A Vacant Affair

See ya on Saturday - please come up and say hi!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

THE YOUNG REPUBLIC

Listen up, boys and girls... baroque country-folk-blues is gonna save the world of rock music. Hot on the heels of the Decemberists, come the Young Republic - all eight of them. Hailing from Nashville, this promising group combines Americana and chamber music in the best possible way. The band's debut album - 12 Tales From Winter City - will be released soon and you can check out their music at the following addresses...

myspace

official site

WEEKEND TRIP: PIX GALORE!

Courtesy of Ivanified. Go now!

FREE TIX TO FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS!!!

Ok, boys and girls, here's the deal, there are now SIX tix up for grabs for next Saturday's main event. So send me an email - soulalt (at) gmail (dot) com - and tell me who the hottest band playing at Fasten Your Seatbelts is and why you think so in 25 words or less by Tues, 22 Jan 08...
Come and get it!