By Vanessa Surian
I am tempted to meander on in a pretentious manner about things we already know about the local music scene: Lack of support, the indifference, blah blah blah. But it’s harder not to dismiss the bands as victims of their circumstance and just talk about the evening as is. It was a good night. The Next Stage III was set in Paul’s Place, probably the perfect place for a gig like this – small, with industrial cable spools for tables, and an owner (Yes there is a Mr Paul) who’s a self described mad scientist and almost the sole member of the Happy Death Drummers (an inspired band name if I ever heard one).
The night finally kicked off after accounting for Malaysian and musicians’ timing. Call the Paramedics opened with catchy funkpop tunes overlaid by a stilted and awkward charm that was quite endearing. Telebury brought things down a little, with 3 guitarists (a slightly under-utilised dynamic though) filling the room with a spacey introspective laziness that I probably just didn’t get the full effect of due to the limits of the sound system. The overall result was reminiscent of Coldplay though lacking in emotional soars. Or the ability to make a word like yellow sound deep.
Soft Touch came with their usual brand of hold-hands-around-the-campfire-and- make-the-world-a-better-place and brought up the energy level tenfold (a slight exaggeration, we’re still Malaysians), a feat achieved half by the music and half by the way Peter Hassan Brown was swinging his hair around.
And then there was Groovetank. I’ve seen this band once before and came away only with a covetous impulse toward guitarist Zach’s tone and not much else. After this time I might safely be called a fan somewhat. Maybe it was their opening track that did it (with a guest rapper in tow). It reminded me of something you might have found on an album by The Roots (before Phrenology). Or maybe it was that the lead singer and guitarist’s guitarwork reminded me of Geoff Farina (not the toys’r’us giraffe but the guitarist of Karate). Whatever it was, I would definitely like to see more of them.
Next up was Zhen from Singapore who were brought up here by FYI Entertainment. They came bearing good equipment, a professional air about them (I will not make fun of Singaporeans. I will not make fun of Singaporeans. I will not…), and a female bassist who quite upstaged the guitarist because she was funkay. What? you say. A Prog Rock band where the guitarist is not supreme wanker? Yes, say I. Interesting licks will always prevail over technically stupefying technique. Something all shredheads should know.
For all their prog rockness, they also managed to throw in a rap rock tune, and covers of crowd pleasers. The latter of which brings up my sole complaint. I understand the need to bring the audience in a little and give them something to babble along to, but I maintain that no band should cover Pearl Jam or try to imitate Chris Cornell’s manly screech for the same reason Simon Cowell recommends never singing a Whitney Houston song. You come out second best. Or worse, you might insult the diehard fans. In fact I see no point to covers unless you try to bring something of your bands style into it. But that’s just me, because the audience seemed pleased.
Anyway, the next day. It was the punk rock installment, Hello There Mr Punk!!! I arrived late to arrive on time but was still two hours too soon. Punk rock on a yawny Saturday afternoon? Sometimes I think punk rock and tropical weather don’t mix. Finally, The Blumps opened with a bunch of catchy tunes. Guitarist/lead vocalist Ahmad attempted to relate to the audience by lamenting on the traffic jam and girls who only want you for your Mercedes. Yeah! Whats up with that shit?
I have to confess, I went into a bit of a stupor after this, and one band’s standout factor was them introducing a song “tentang manusia berak” while another band brought me out the stupor shortly with a gleeful punk version of ‘Jingling Nona’ (a paradox that: I’ve never known a Nona who would jingle even if asked nicely). (It’s actually ‘Jingli Nona’, which according to Google’s translation, means ‘Jingli Ninth’. Huh. – ed.)
I woke up again as Zhen prepared to take the stage. They played a different cover this time, choosing the Goo Goo Doll’s ‘Big Machine’ (a better choice; less sacred, somehow) but the set list was mostly the same as the night before. They had a more relaxed air about them this time and weren’t as tight as the night before. But by then I felt like my jaw was made out of rubber so I can’t blame them. Though not at all punk rock, the best band so far.
The punk picked up though with Smurf from Melaka. I have a snotty question. How do you be punk in Melaka? They managed it, however, with some very tight and fast paced instrumentals. The day had turned into night and the closing band was One Buck Shot (though the lead singer pronounces it as One Buck Short). Ended everything nicely – had the most energy, had synchronised jumping, and a drummer who took off his shirt. A good band, one of the few who didn’t seem to have Blink 182 standing over them and inflicting whiny nasal vocals and their practically signature crunchy arpeggios. The night was over and I failed to take photos of the all the Converse shoes. Dammit.
One of my biggest gripes about the local scene in general is that most bands don’t seem to realise the need to draw from more than one influence. The reason? The same Simon Cowell quote again. Oh yes, and they all need better hair. But there were bands that were exceptions. Groovetank, Zhen, and to some extent One Buck Shot (or Short). Not about the hair though.
I think the fact that Paul’s Place was almost filled to capacity a majority of the time at these two gigs is portentous. In fact it downright bodes. In the shape of a hexagon.
“We crush your lame spirit,
We love your apathy
– Skunk Anansie, ‘We Love Your Apathy’
First Published: 06.10.2004 on Kakiseni