By Sonia Randhawa
Paul’s Place is a dive.
As you go in, a multi-coloured sign announces the place. It sits above a doorway half-framed by a flashing-redlight-snake-thing that keeps tempo in a different continuum from our own. You climb a dingy red-lit staircase through a heavy metal door. It looks like the entrance to a meat freezer. Behind the bar is a tacky black-veneer display case. It displays fake sun-flowers. A waterfall-type sculpture sits on one end of the bar. Oh, and the toilets stink.
But. But there is still something that makes the place special. Paul’s Place is about music, it’s about musicians.
Until recently, the place that gave the most support to musicians was No Black Tie. NBT offered open mics, it opened its classy interior to punk mobs. But NBT is shutting down, which is an outrage in and of itself. There is nowhere quite like NBT.
However, Paul’s Place does share one thing with it. The most important thing. The support it gives the music community.
On the walls of Paul’s Place (sacrilege!) a poster of Christina Aguilera pouts next to Bob Marley. Yet, it is somehow apt. Paul (owner of the Place) doesn’t seem to discriminate on genre.
The first gig I went to at Paul’s Place was a punk extravaganza, around ten bands playing from two in the afternoon. Expecting punk, I was a little surprised when the first band covered ‘La Bamba’. It’s okay if a band plays ‘La Bamba’ as long as the crowd boos it off stage. But the crowd seemed to love it. I left early.
However, last night a gem of a gig played. It wasn’t the best gig ever. But the well-known veteran Hassan Peter Brown brought together a couple of acts that haven’t been seen much on the KL circuit.
The crowd seemed a bit weird. A few corporate-looking types lined the bar, while the rest of the audience included a couple in their early 20’s and a rather elderly woman, whose age I hesitate to guess. Somewhere over 70. She was surrounded by a table of 40-somethings: At least three generations of family gathered.
Hassan was already playing when we arrived, covering an Amir Yussof song.
The last time I saw Hassan play, I left feeling a little… lacklustre. Perhaps it had to do with cramped stage space or the other gigs. I enjoyed the songs per se – the lyrics, the melodies – but the delivery was a little jaded.
This time, it was good, folksy and intimate. He played a few numbers from his latest album Warm, starting with ‘Crazy Heart’. For ‘Better World’ his wife, the diminutive siren Markiza, joined him on backing vocals.
Then came a throaty rock’n’roll treat, Broken Scar. He was introduced as being big in Kajang, which is easy to believe.
Known more mundanely as Kevin Teh, Broken Scar plunged into a number of original songs starting with ‘Silence’. Great heartbreak lyrics. It was followed by the ‘Bleeding Confession of an Analyst’, a physician-heal thyself song, with humour and irony. Following a Guns’n’Roses, Pearl Jam tradition he did covers of songs by, um, Guns’n’Roses and Pearl Jam.
Broken Scar was charming. Making sense of the surreal audience, he dedicated a song to his family- including the elderly grandmother, uncles over from across Europe, and (presumably) parents. The song he chose was ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’. For his elderly grandmother.
Another song was dedicated to the audience. Tag line for the night was ‘and it goes something like this’.
The one thing Broken Scar lacked was a band. This boy needs drums, he needs a bassist. He may just be the fastest guitar tuner in the world, but he’ll only really take off once he’s get a bit more backing. And an audience wouldn’t have hurt either, but more on that later.
The final act (other than a couple of closing numbers by Hassan) was one of the most bizarre I’ve come across.
They were the quasi-corporate figures at the bar, Rafil Elyas and Jack Nathan, known as 360° Head Rotation. And they were a bit of a mind-fuck.
The first song was called ‘Blood’. The second was ‘Bury’. Rafil stood on stage, shirt and slacks minus the regulation tie (which you could tell was stuck in a jacket pocket left in the car). Jack stood behind him in black. The light cast what became increasingly sinister shadows on Rafil’s face. And he sang darkness.
From ‘Blood’: “Your eyes are so cold, so dead, so empty.” Repeat.
From ‘Bury’: “Buried her deep in the ground”. Repeat, until your soul feels the earth pack around the prematurely dead woman.
And from ‘Float’ “Suck me in your eyes once more.” This comes across as no metaphor, but some act of ritual sacrifice.
Rafil claimed influences of Joy Division and Bauhaus, and they were undoubtedly there. But the song that I kept coming back to when trying to find comparisons was ‘Harvester of Eyes’ by the Blue Oyster Cult. Violent. Black. With tinges of mythology.
Perhaps for their Satan-worshipping friend at the bar, the last song dwelt on the devil. Personally I was left a little uncomfortable by the assurance “Doesn’t want your immortal soul, Satan wants a cigarette”.
It was creepy, scary stuff, heightened by the ever-so-straight-faced performance. They look like serial killers on stage; imagine the Addams’ family’s Wednesday pointing out: ‘They look just like everyone else’. And it was fun. The audience were smiling, if somewhat uneasily.
Which brings me to my last point. The audience. Where were you? This wasn’t a gig to shake the ground. It isn’t going to go down in history as one of the all-time places you had to be. But it was a good night out. There were talented musicians on stage. And it was free. The only people in the audience were family, one friend and two sets of journalists. And the family trooped out after Broken Scar’s set.
There are some great acts in KL This is brought out everytime I go anywhere with an open mic. Paul’s Place has been around for over a year. For a few months now, every Tuesday, a couple of acts take the mic at Hassan’s ‘For Our Own Pleasure (And maybe yours too)’ gig. And there’s an open mic out there every Friday night. Go along. The place is a dive. It’s not easy to find. And, as I mentioned, the toilets stink. But the beer’s comparatively cheap. The cover charge is non-existent.
And the place thrives on music.
First Published: 28.01.2004 on Kakiseni