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.