Loving love on the up.

Also guest blogging at Backseat Radio: Coldplay live in Singapore @ 23 March 2009 and Love is like an African Safari.

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When you have two friends performing a set in a gig another friend of yours is organising, it is a two-hit shot saying you have to be there. I was back at my second On The Up event last Wednesday after being M.I.A for say, four months.

All was full of love coming from the bands that performed that night. One last attempt to prevail this February’s red hearts and chubby cupids as guests were treated to songs from all sides of the strongest muscle in us.

First up was the singer/songwriter Rina S flown in all the way from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. She was soft-spoken as she said hey to the crowd, her voice tainted with a tad bit of childishness and shyness. But when she strummed her guitar and opened her mouth to sing, I was caught off guard to hear how enriched her voice is. There was nothing embarrassed or kiddish when she closed her eyes and gave the crowd her all. It was like there were two Rina S’es on stage that night: the giggly girl that introduces her songs, and the more matured lady performing the songs.

In the name of love, she kicked off her set with a Malay number Hanya Kau di Hati with her catchy tap on the heart of her guitar that guided her strong voice to soar higher. She also sang easygoing love songs like One of a Kind – dedicated to all couples out there fresh in a relationship, and still unsure if it is real or just another bout of play around, and Falling in Love – about well, falling in love.

I have known Ray and Ash for quite some time now, and I would have to admit that I have spent more time listening to them singing ass wipe songs when they were high, than seeing them perform seriously on stage. But I will also have to admit that they have a strong passion for music. At any given free time, Ray would grab for his guitar and strum up a crazy tune from the top of his head, and often Ash has entertained me banging on my dashboard while driving him to work in the mornings.

For musicians who seek influences from guitar heroes like John Mayer and Ray LaMontagne, you can expect to get from them elaborate guitar solos that make you wonder how a guy like Ray, who has no musical background of sorts, to just pick up a guitar one day and play a melody like that. His fingers zoomed across the neck like creepy crawlies out for an attack, and his vocals are the starting point of a feel good funk and blues success.

They can be crazy and a little cuckoo in the head most of the time – well, OK, all the time, but when they are up there performing, you can see that they mean business.

However, so much energy put into fancy string plays, lyrically they are quite limited and repetitive. They have yet to grasp the profound words of Mayer’s New Deep and St Patrick’s Day, or LaMontagne’s Till the Sun Turns Black and Winter Birds. But I guess all art needs time. Not everyone can get an overnight epiphany like LaMontagne, let alone penning down lyrics that shape the heart.

The atmosphere in No Black Tie after that seemed to be taken over by a mysterious wind bringing in a larger crowd to fill the empty spaces, along with a couple of dreadlocked fellows with a full band in tow.

Judging from the exciting comments I have read on this instalment’s On The Up, Rivernation already has quite a firm fanbase here in the heart of the city. Till then, the event has been laid back with performers giving their best with nothing more but their perfect voices and well-strung guitars.

When Rivernation came on, they brought on everything a peaceful community of green, yellow and red stands for. The ever elongated shadow of the late Bob Marley gracing the catchy beats of the keyboard, guitars and drums of reggae and ska. Yet for tweaking things to go their way, they fitted their loved genre with Malay lyrics, giving their songs a Malaysian heritage that any local could relate to. It was like strolling down a beachy shore in Malaysia, instead of Jamaica.

Like the caffeinated drink that is ever so addictive, Coffee has been around since 2007 with such adorable songs that are hard to resist – much like the drink – and which come in so many flavours of  pop, rock, jazz and soul (latte, decaf, expresso…).

Akhtar – Suria FM’s own night time DJ – is the sensual lead with a captivating voice that has the rest of her band co-existing with her voice like planets orbiting around the sun. The runny chords of Amir’s guitar for Mana were like cascading waterfalls hidden in the depths of a no man’s island; Ahmadz’s compromising backup for Akhtar as she capped the bridge for Sentiasa: “Kau buatku tersenyum / Kau buatku ketawa / Kau buatku tersedih / Kau juga buatku menangis”.

The way she moves, the way she serenades, the way she flows… what is not to like about the band? Just makes you want to have another one of those must-have cuppa before you start the day. Only, they are not bad for your health.

Truth be told, 2009 has not really been smooth sailing since the ball dropped. I have been wandering around trying to find the better light of life, and often I am flipping a lightswitch that does not work. And I am kind of afraid of the dark. But every now and then, a car would pass by outside, beaming in one ray of sunlight to hold in  my hands, making me see the faces around me to smile again. I am glad this car passed by last night, blasting from its backseat radio easy tunes to love, and lovely tunes to be at ease with.

* Sorry the pictures are crap. The camera I was using was acting up.

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On the Up is a monthly music event organised by Time Out KL at No Black Tie.
The next On the Up gig will be held on March 18.
For more information, check out their website.

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