Darren Hanlon / Dave Pajo (Esplanade Recital Studio, 4 March 2006)

I’ve been meaning to write about the Dave Pajo gig for so long. To me it was the first and only indie gig in Singapore this year that I’d been excited about, and in hindsight I wish I’d bothered to promote it in advance on this blog. I guess I took it for granted that he’d draw a crowd, especially with the rapturous reception that the Tortoise gig got last year, but I was completely wrong. The turnout was abysmal, even worse than the Analog Girl / Konki Duet / Lovers gig the previous night. This upset me, as it always does. I almost wish I were jaded enough to be resigned and indifferent to it.

Darren Hanlon opened, and was pretty great in his own right. Being a good “guy-with-guitar” act is damn hard. First, you have to have good songs with good music and good lyrics, which approximately 98.5% of such acts do not. Second, you have to be able to communicate those songs to your audience, which for present purposes we shall assume are not rabid fans who have already spent hours listening to your album and memorizing the lyrics so that they can sing along conspicuously at your gig. Clear enunciation and lyrics that don’t read like pseudo-poetic stream-of-consciousness burbling really help in this, but personality zing and lack of pretension also tend to be a huge plus. Darren Hanlon has all of these.

Despite having to start off “cold” in a big, barely populated room, he managed to command everyone’s attention quite effortlessly, simply through sheer force of likability. He was good at introducing his songs in a way that got the audience interested in them, and then at performing the songs well. I realize this sounds like a no-brainer but it’s amazing how many acts I’ve seen that are incapable of this. It’s hard to really describe the songs themselves because they ultimately just sound like a guy playing his guitar and singing in a cafe. It’s just that if you were in the cafe where he was playing, you’d stop your conversation, listen until he was done, and even if you didn’t buy his album at the end of it, your day would be that much better for having listened to him. Perhaps this doesn’t sound like lavish praise but hey, there are bands who sell millions of albums that I couldn’t say the same for.

Then Dave Pajo started, and proved that almost everything I just said about “guy-with-guitar” acts was a load of bullshit. He gave so little acknowledgement to the presence of the audience beyond an occasional muttered “thank you” that he might as well have been performing in his bedroom. He had that sort of overly emo indie guy look that turns me off straight away. I had and still have no idea what any of his songs are about even though I’ve listened to them so many times. And yet I was transfixed.

One spotlight, everything else dark, the performer almost motionless except for his hands on the guitar. No introductions, no banter. Quiet songs for a quiet room, sung without the harmonies or other studio gloss of the recording (his solo album). He’d laid out about ten bells on the floor, and played them by tapping the handles with his feet. It wasn’t a gig for all people or all moods, but it suited me and mine just fine.

After the gig there was time for teh ping and catch-up with Benny, who happened to be in Singapore for the weekend to attend a friend’s wedding, and had come along with us to the gig. Even though the gig had been great, this was probably the best part of the evening for me.

Even though I attend lots of music events in Singapore and have gotten to know some of the people in the scene over time, I somehow never talk uninhibitedly with them about the music I’m into because I don’t know how my conversation will be received. With Benny I know that nothing I say will be taken as affected, snobbish or reactionary even though our tastes clash far more often than they coincide. I can struggle inarticulately to explain how something I’m listening to fills me with wide-eyed wonder, or line up all the pejoratives in my vocabulary and fire them at something that fills me with disdain, and even if he completely disagrees with me in either aspect, it’s all good. We discuss it, argue about it, level snarky insults at each other, but ultimately part ways with no less respect for each other’s music taste or knowledge than before. (Except the bit where he likes Serena Maneesh.)

Thanks for a good evening, Benny, and please come to Singapore more often – I miss you.


  1. Wow … I’m … flattered! And honoured! Likewise Michelle, I really do enjoy our incessant banters whenever we catch up, on music or otherwise. Pity that boyfriend of yours though, what’s his name, Alex? Paul? He always falls asleep! I do wish we can spend more time together but, well, I can only do my best nowadays, what with the distance and work. I’m hard-pressed for a better response, so here, have a virtual hug!

    *Virtual Hug!*

    Alright, enough of the sap. Another word about Serena Maneesh from you, and gawddamnit woman, I WEEL KEEL YOU!

  2. mogwai’s slated to play on the 1st of august at the esplanade. tics go on sale early june and judging from the response for KOC and damien rice, i bet it’ll sell out fast!

  3. Okay, this is now the best gig news I’ve heard all year! I hope the Esplanade sound system is ready to handle Stereodee live because I seriously can’t think of any music that could challenge it more. I wouldn’t judge any Mogwai ticket sales from sales for KOC or Damien Rice though, the bands are worlds apart. It’s the equivalent of saying that because Norah Jones can sell out the Esplanade, so can John Zorn.

    Anyway, I guess this means I have to stop obsessing over EP + 6 and Ten Rapid and start familiarizing myself with their new stuff. Yay!

  4. Well that’s gratitude. You know who bought those teh pings. Me!

    “Two dollars, forty cent”, said the uncle.
    “Wow, that’s a good price. You know if I went to Ya Kun Kaya Toast this would cost me five..”
    “TWO dollars, forty CENT”!
    I remember that chat because it was the closest I came to an inclusive conversation during that entire evening.

    Next time I’m just going to come out and say it;
    “DJ Shadow can kiss my ass! His music was (and I’m using the past tense intentionally here) straight to Guinness advert quality. Whatever he gained from those years spent in splendid isolation with nothing but music, well it’s been used up and he’s got the rest of his life to lament being a complete loser. He can take his ‘peace’, his ‘ keeping it real’ and his ‘y’alls’ and stick them up his geeky ass.

    Now Damien Rice, there’s a musician. He can play the guitar sections himself.

  5. Alec: “I remember that chat because it was the closest I came to an inclusive conversation during that entire evening.”

    Ha ha ha! And awwwww. I know the feeling. I’m forever grateful you were there that night at Cafe Cosmo so that I had someone to talk to about sex, violence and scary movies… not to mention wee little Willy! Those were way more interesting to me than indie pop post-rock yadayadayada music ever will be*.

    * Just kidding, t and Mich: you know I value your friendships a heck of a lot!

  6. Oh hi Alec, I remember you now! You were at the table with me and Michelle weren’t you?

    I’m sorry but you know how carried away both of us can get with our music chat. We do try and include you the best that we can. It’s just not as easy as you think. No offence, but if you ain’t cool, you ain’t cool, you know? I mean, if I were you I’d just stay home. Read [i]The Wire[/i] or something.

    Still, we should really hang out together more often! See you again soon, Patrick!

  7. Oh man, I’d love to see Dave Pajo. Mind you… Tortoise are playing Millions Now Living as part of Don’t Look Back in July… mmmmh.

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