Baybeats 2004, Esplanade Riverside, Singapore

The Observatory, complete with great view
The Observatory, complete with great view

The BayBeats festival was a fairly endearing example of the classic Singaporean maxim: If it’s free, they will come. The samfu-clad grandma seemed to have enjoyed The Observatory, but the 50something couple in one of the first few rows left at some point during Force Vomit.

Fleeting thoughts on the bands I saw/heard:

  • Telebury: Quite pleasant. Like the child of The Shins and Coldplay if The Shins were British and Coldplay weren’t shit.
  • The Observatory: This band has an odd tendency to be present at my rare “Actually, Singapore isn’t so bad!” moments, one of which was the first time I saw them, and the second of which was the sun setting on the bay as they sang their very pretty new song Sea Of Doubts. A class act.
  • Surreal: The same And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead song for half an hour.
  • Furniture: The same Mogwai song for half an hour, frequently employing the same chord progressions as in Aereogramme’s The Black Path.
  • Force Vomit: Not really my thing. I like my punk less catchy and more abrasive. Less smiling guys with indie hair and black plastic specs, more bald sweaty guys in huge singlets bawling out rants against corporate oppression. You get my drift. (Please come to Singapore, Fugazi!) But I can still see why this band has such a loyal following here, and why Paul Zach and Chris Ho have championed them so much. They were pretty fun. I’d see them again.
  • Whence He Came: The same bad emo song for half an hour.

[In the not-so-impossible likelihood that a Googling band member comes across these words and feels slighted, these are the (very brief, and admittedly flippant) impressions I formed while listening to half-hour-long sets. I realize your albums may be quite different. If you feel I’ve misrepresented your musical vision, feel free to disagree. For what it’s worth, I actually love Trail Of Dead and Mogwai, although I can’t say I’m much of an emo fan. Also, if I ever give any gigs you will be fully entitled to write “The same complete silence for half an hour” in your review, because I’d chicken out before even going on stage. All power to you, and I hope you had a good time at Baybeats.]

Observatory/Kreidler (Esplanade Studios, 11 October 2003)

Well, whaddya know? After writing the previous post, I resigned myself to a quiet Saturday night in. No big deal. I’d divide my time between good movies on HBO and the ton of work I have for next week. Then Ida called, the first time we’d talked for a year (I was there, she was here, we’re both lousy at keeping in touch). In the midst of catch-up conversation she asked if, by any chance, I’d be interested in going to see some German group at the Esplanade tonight. She read about them in the papers and it sounded interesting. WAHOO!

We were both somewhat discouraged by the opening guy. He was hard to describe. He reminded me of the time I was at a David Grubbs gig and couldn’t figure out whether a particular “song” had begun, ended, or gone horribly wrong, except that compared to this guy David Grubbs’s song was a catchy pop gem. We decided it wasn’t our thang and popped out for a drink.

Observatory was next. I haven’t been around for four years and know nothing about the local music scene, but the quality of their performance suggests it’ll be well worth exploring. Again, they’re hard to describe, and in saying some songs were kind of like Air remixed by Thievery Corporation with immensely pleasant male vocals sort of like Calexico and jazzy flourishes on the keyboard, and others were like REM at their best with the occasional harmonica and journeys into shoegazy guitar, I’m not doing the band justice at all. Truly impressive, and a huge incentive for this prodigal daughter to find out more about what her own people are doing rather than buying expensive US indie imports all the time.

Kreidler continued my long-running streak of never being disappointed by anything German. (I clarify: obviously I wasn’t alive during the World Wars.) Interesting sounds that evolved rather than doof!doof!doof!ing on for ages the way some electronica does, endearing crowd manner, and although I was too comfy sprawling on the floor for most of the gig to dance, it certainly kept me bobbing my head and tapping my toes.

But as good as all the acts were, the star of the gig, for me, was the venue. It’s not going to be very difficult to convince me to attend anything at the Esplanade Studios in future, because I have never heard such amazing sound in a gig in all my born days. Crystal clear, wonderfully-balanced, loud enough to dominate the room and send reverberations through the floor, yet not so loud that conversations had to be screamed. A floor so clean you could sprawl on it without having to coat yourself in spilled booze or cigarette ash. Recent letters to the papers here in Singapore have asked if the building of such an expensive concert venue was really worthwhile, and whether it actually makes the arts accessible to the masses or only caters to a certain wealthy elite. I paid $21 (about 8 pounds) for a great gig, with the best sound I’ve ever heard, in beautiful surroundings, and the price even included a drink. All I can say is that I’m an incredibly satisfied customer (mad props to the Government!), I think it really is a world-class venue we should all be proud of, and I’m going to be throwing my money at it fairly regularly from now on.