Question: can an all-instrumental show sustain itself?
If it sounds difficult to pull off, that’s because it might be. Recently-local band Ben tested this hypothesis out last Saturday at their debut ‘homecoming’ gig at Blu Jaz Café last Saturday, and we managed to squeeze ourselves into the absolutely packed venue with fans and friends of all five of the acts playing the night. Ben, who first met each other in Australia, shared the stage with Amateur Takes Control, and the massively popular ANECHOIS — all instrumental acts in line with Ben’s sound, but with slightly different styles unique to each — as well as with soloist Leon Wan and DJ Shaun, who started and ended the night respectively.
While Leon Wan’s performance was an impressive effort in filling the room with just his versatile vocals, guitar and a drumset, the crowd really only started warming up when post-progressive rock act ANECHOIS came on stage. And by warming up, we mean screaming hoards of girls and boys alike going absolutely batshit crazy, streaming into the already over-crowded top floor of Blu Jaz. Their rapport with their fans (just recall their knockout show at Baybeats last year) was clear, as was their assured energy. The performance, juggling pockets of absolute tenderness with moments of mindblowing explosivity, built steadily through their set to an incredibly full and high-octane sound, washing and enveloping the room and probably every person there. In the rare occasion there were vocals, which sailed effortlessly atop the wave of sounds. It was obvious they commanded the room easily; but it was a pity the act was just a tad draggy and got repetitive towards the end.
Older-timers Amateur Takes Control were decidedly not amateurs but had a tough act to follow. Their way of topping the energetic performance was with heavier tunes — even grittier than their usual sound and a clear evolution from their last show half a year ago. The almost manic orgy of instruments (Three guitars! A bass! Keyboards! Drums!) at times threatened to run amok; anxious drums and a throbbing bass that drove the rhythm barely stopped short of sounding like an unplanned jam session by virtue of the sheer skill of the band members. They do manage to keep them from running loose though, and successfully delivered a performance that truly encompassed controlled chaos. They came into their own towards the end of the set, with more polished songs and a tighter performance that finally roused the crowd into cheering (albeit half-heartedly), although it left one of our friends commenting, ‘Dude, they sound a lot like Mars Volta.’
Ben, fresh off the Pacific, ended the trio of instrumental acts with a set that began with a comparably more minimalist sound, tying the heavier bands of the evening together. It was an appropriately interesting act to end off the evening, in the sense that it was clear they were still finding their musical identity — leaving their set sufficiently open-ended. The guys have their instrumental direction down pat, and their cohesion was flawless; now the rest of us are just waiting to see how they’ll mature from here.
Perhaps the venue was just too cramped and unconducive for us to properly appreciate the homogeneously instrumental and largely similar dense sounds of the entire night. The bands were highly-skilled in and on their own, but unfortunately the individual talents weren’t enough to redeem a slightly lacklustre night suffering from an overly repetitive programme. With all that said — it is always a good thing to welcome a new addition to the local scene to inject some variety. And who are we to say it was -gasp- ‘boring’, if at least the fans in the audience seemed to be having a good time?
By Zixin Lin