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Monday, December 29, 2003

Merry Belated Christmas

Just like last year, singing "I'll Be Home For Christmas" would technically make me a fibber.

Unlike last year though, I didn't join in any carolling activities.

Hell (and so be it), I didn't go to church either. Not that I was lazy; just that the bus from MidValley MegaMall incidentally took too damn long for me to be on time for anything that Christmas Eve. (And as for Morning Mass on Christmas Day... well, I never liked Mass on mornings.) I was glad, at least, that I didn't have to put up with the inconveniences of a jam-packed church this time around.

And really, Christmas shouldn't be such a big deal. See, I'm one of those long-sobered, happily-grown-out-of-innocence kids who can now be smug about the realities of Christmas: it started as a really cool holiday meant to replace an ancient pagan one. Winter Solstice Day or something. Doesn't sound very interesting, does it? Go figure. (Point: it's not truly Jesus' birthday.)

Plopped on top of that is the heavy commercialism capitalizing on the essential gift-giving tradition.

And on top of that are the accumulated superficial traditions, which include decorated pine trees (of Scandinavian kampong origins) and the Santa bullshit (said to have been twisted out of the legend of a saint called Nick by some toy store long ago... or not). Ironically, Santa is a menace to what Christmas is really about.

This is all, of course, coming from someone who wasn't home for the holidays nor got any presents.

| 12/29/2003 05:24:00 AM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Christmas Calling

What's Christmas without the Christmas decor? I was already resigned to a non-festive holiday when I delightfully found bells-and-holly on the room door, courtesy of my roommate. He even has a bonsai-sized faux Christmas tree on his table, baubles and all. Great for the mood, even if a little bit.

And what's Christmas without Christmas songs? Unfortunately the roomie provided that too. Now I don't mean to be snide about his taste in music (he's mostly into Brintey Spears and Mariah Carey, by the way), but really. Slow country music plus mediocre vocals. Where in hell did he find that? But I'm not one to question other people's tastes; especially a roommate's. Let it be, even if he — sigh — sleeps with that music on.

So bothered was I with the lack of solid good holiday tunes that I went out to shell out money for some CDs. Two, in fact. I must be mad, splurging like that with a wallet as fat as a hair follicle.

The first one is Michael Buble's self-titled Christmas Limited Edition. You can't go wrong with jazz when it comes to Christmas tunes. I was only after the supplementary CD which contained just five Christmas covers. How's that for bothered? I'm satisfied with the done deal, nonetheless. My favorite song on it is My Grown-up Christmas List. It's one of those Christmas songs that you hardly ever hear. (The first and last time I heard it was when I sang it in a Christmas concert thingy choir three years ago.)

The other one is Christmas Calling, a compilation listing names like Travis, Macy Gray, Tenacious D and Sum 41. Some of the songs are covers, such as Fuel's (remember Hemorrhage?) weirdly angsty-sounding We Three Kings. My favorite track is the unlikely Frosty The Snowman, given fresh breath by Fiona Apple.

| 12/23/2003 11:21:00 PM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!

Rock The World IV: reporting from the front lines

Last Saturday still feels like yesterday. Attended a RTW concert for the first time since I started making a bed in KL.

I provided the info, Don arranged our outing, and his friend/drummer-in-his-punk-band Pat had a car. Pat also roped in Chung, his friend's kid brother, who was to be under his watch that day. For the four of us this was our first RTW jaunt, and happily, things went smoothly. Everything we had planned was accomplished: found the car park, bought tickets early on d-day, be the first ones in, got our free t-shirts, and be right up front (doing perfect justice for our cameras at the ready). Everything, and then some...

Photographer's fortune blew us a kiss, long before the show began. We managed a fairly close-up shot of guitarist Sarah of The Official backstage, right after the band soundchecked. Best yet, after Butterfingers had their turn (a cool spoiler of what they were going to perform later), we caught up with Loque in the car park — alone! — and, being shameless starstruck groupies, snapped pictures of him paired with each of us. Just us! No other civilians in sight! Loque and I, side by side... Now this "village champion" has something to show the guys back home!

Back to the mosh pit. I'd just like to note that while we were waiting for the show to start, I caught a fine looking girl, about ten paces away, checking me out. And she kept on, with pretend apathy. (Her appearing to have a date with her is an aside.) I played along, trading quick glances. Was it my cool shirt, or the giant invisible zit on my eye?

Okay. Back to business, I swear.

Well, RTW4's line-up of acts wasn't as great as last year's. And was the clowny emcee Harun a necessary evil? (I remember him from the RTW3 video-CD. Just as brain-damaging to watch then.) The afro — apparently part of his standup act — just didn't belong.

Things got to a good start at about 4PM with a few new bands; most memorably One Buck Short, which I ticked on my like-list. The expressive frontman was a fabulous live-performer and proved to be a charismatically superior fat-fun-guy to Harun.

Then Qings And Kueens kame came up. Didn't make a too good impression for some: bumping into mikestands, geekiness that would make Blur and Weezer cringe, frontman taking pictures of the crowd like a tourist. At least their hit We're Gonna Rock You was an awesome crowd pleaser.

Meanwhile, the usual squashing and bodybanging got wilder. Conforming to the laws of fluid mechanics, we in the front were naturally getting a lot of it from the bulk behind us. It was becoming really, really infuriating; mark my words. The front barricades (chicken-coop fence, more like) were bending dangerously forward. Security helped to force them back up, and we did our part by ferociously pushing back the imbeciles behind us, like good citizens.

Everything up till then was just a warm up for what was to come next: the hugely popular OAG, which started off with their hit classic, 60's TV. Would you believe the energy being generated.

By then — before OAG could ever finish the song — something happened, as most of you who were there not fondly remember. Thanks to the insane pushing (those kids were practically hurling themselves) and the hopeless excuse of a barricade, the fence in centre front yielded and toppled, along with a ton of human beings. Idiots. We were just a little left to the burst point; a close call. I didn't get flattened, thank goodness for that. Managed to break my near-falls with my hands, as well as the bodies of the already fallen. Poor souls.

Ah well. Once in a while, eh?

Alerts sounded. RTW4 was halted (for an hour). Barricades were to be replaced. Jason Lo was furious. Harun was frantic for control. Radhi was secretly grinning with pride. The evening sky decided to rub some drizzle in. The crowd was let out, to snack, piss, pray, whatever. To wait. Everyone was everywhere, loitering. Tired and frustrated and beaten up.

We settled under a tree somewhere in a (where else but the ubiquitous) car park(s). A while later, a cool chick with her guy companion passed by, and as she did, taking advantage of my lethargic obliviousness as I moped like The Thinker Statue, she made one last not-discreet-enough eyeball at me. I saw that. Yup, the same girl. She was so flippin' obvious.

(Don suggested she was ready to hump someone. An encouraging thought.)

By the time night fell, there was some sign which I wasn't aware of, that had the masses creeping back into the pit. I wondered why, when... Good grief, the old fence had not even been removed! Hell, the substitute hadn't even arrived yet!

You could hear more angry, jaded complaining all around. Once again, it was the task of the emcee to conjure some crowd control.

Let me just say that perhaps flashy Harun wasn't the right man for the job. He likes to call attention to himself — something that doesn't seem to go well with some of the most cynical urban youth on this side of the planet. The emcee should connect with the minds of folks who would pay for this sort of thing; it's a rock show, not the MTV Asia Awards. Know what? I'd prefer the plainest, straightest-talking, no-frills guy they have up there in the comic-wannabe's place. No, wait — a female emcee; now that would definitely help. Have me work for you, Lo, you need ideas like these.

Now that I recall it... Throughout the show, Harun was making the crowd do all sorts of shit for him; like whenever he announces a band we go "Are they any good?"; doing the Scouts' clap-cheer (no kidding); and for the love of butter, sing "If you're happy and you know it shout ROCK THE WORLD!" Right. Treat us like kindergarteners. No wonder we're rebellious. The worst thing you could deny rock concertgoers — even if you may not think it's deserved — is respect. (Well, some concertgoers didn't have the heart to deny the emcee some undeserved respect, therefore they went along anyway. So we're not that bad...)

Lo probably also figured Harun was pretty shitty when he took matters into his own hands by grabbing the mike. With an I-mean-business tone, he managed the kind of crowd control needed: "Everyone take ten steps back and no one dare move an ass while we replace the damn barricades. Y'all are wonderful."

Close to an additional hour later, the new barricades (with right-angle floors, and can't fall over, and were we too cheap to have this in the first place?) were installed, the break was finally over, and the show resumed.

OAG went straight to improving tempers, performing the anthem that led the not-too-recent Malay urban music revolution, Slumber, and a couple of new songs off their latest album. Leaping, kicking Radhi displayed showmanship worthy of the trademark brand of rock he can call his own.

Subculture appeared, to punks' delight. Funny how when Harun teased: "Sub...?" only Pat yelled the answer after seeing how everyone else around appeared clueless (or indifferent). They're underground old-timers in the scene, after all. Their set included a Blink-182 cover (naturally well responded to), and an old radio hit of theirs, Turn Around. It's been an age since I last heard that one. I recall it as the only song I truly pogo-ed to that day, along with the entire pit.

I'll have you know that a lot of bodysurfing has been going on since the afternoon. If they hovered just over where they were, it'd be fine. But no, these folks, initially from the back, had to surf all the way to the front and drop over the barricades, after which security would routinely send them off back into the pit with a slap on the butt. (Alright, there were no slaps on the butts.) It's irritating when bodies brush, no, drag over your head over and over again; but then there's the mini satisfaction of watching them gracelessly crumple to the ground...

Love Me Butch was the nu-metal act with a wow factor in the form of the frontman's incredible scream-pipes. That voice is golden, swinging effortlessly from expertly melodic to utter thunder and back; Chester of Linkin Park is a safe equivalent (not the closest, but one that most people can acknowledge). Pat was impressed for the first time, he says. New songs, but no hit-that-made-them-big The Protector despite requests.

The new sound of Prana is funk with a surprise splash of reggae. Plus, on stage for a change was a fire-twirler, the frontman's twitchy dance and an authentic looking Jamaican guest rapper. This band is cool. Not in consideration is the notion that they're so good-looking, they model. Well uh, I know that at least one of them did a junk food commercial.

SingleTrackMind had me wondering what's so great about this one-man-band. I mean, there's a TV ad for the debut album running; music videos as well, I presume. But I don't think I've heard or noticed anything from him before; somehow STM has escaped my radar. Well, here was my chance to take a listen. From looks alone, he seems established, surrounded by professional players and with the black glam rock garb going on. As for substance... sounds uninspired. Nothing even slightly catchy. Looks can be deceiving; I thought the music was rather andante for a getup like that. To be fair, I was listening very closely. Man, even the lyrics were bland.

The great J-Lo himself started up with a new(!) song (a punky one at that), and then a past hit Driving. Again? Didn't he perform that last year? Whatever. He also treated the masses to his old hit debut single, Evening News. Singalong heaven.

The Official is a veteran oi punk act that's pretty obscure to most people, but clearly, this was Chung's special, favorite band. He was jumping with joy to every riff, conveniently right up front. (Lucky guy always had Pat making sure he got to stand at the barricades.) Others around him — seeing this kid so blissfully into this unfamiliar band — jumped right along too, not to be outdone. What a funny sight. Anyway we were happy for Chung.

Okay I've nothing against bodysurfing, but the surfers by this time were getting repetitive, continuously riding forward and falling off the front (and making victory signs). Like a fricking conveyor belt. I suppose those at the back were doing it for thrills. Well, like Linelanders, those one-dimensional creatures just couldn't see what was past the second dimension — what lay ahead. Police officers. Now the police had been very cool, but the "conveyor belt" was understandably becoming an irksome natural cycle. So they started detaining the "drop-offs," one after another. Second-offenders, even. It was a welcome distraction for those in front: doomed morons to stare at. Even when Harun warned the crowd about it, the oblivious just didn't get that they were surfing into a frying pan. (And that's how bodysurfing got banned at RTW. Tsk tsk.)

We retired for awhile in the middle of Pop Shuvit. Meeting arse to the ground (we never once gave up our spots), I then saw many other groggy burnouts sitting it out as well, hidden under the musty canopy of standers. I could also see some at the back who were still hard at work, headbanging dilligently.

It may be the lack of nutrition the entire day that got me feeling a little dizzy — I began to ache and drown in the sheer might of the sound system, by virtue of extreme proximity to the humongous front speakers. My ears were ringing.

Harun was getting annoying, telling everyone to wake up and stuff. Well whadyawant us to do, mosh more? The great emergency break earlier had zapped the spirits out of many. And not everyone's really impressed that we were live on TV, as he often reminded. (Especially since he had joked to psych kids out about their parents catching them being somewhere they weren't supposed to, holding hands with someone they shouldn't. Et cetera.)

Nu-metal band Estranged came and passed. I only remember it because the frontman was calling out for fellow Sabahans at the end of their set. (No known response. We didn't stand up either.) Oh? A band from KK? At RTW? I had no idea. I may have heard of them once, but... nope, don't know them. Neither does Don, who would know the Sabahan West Coast underground scene even better than I. They must've played at proms and hotels or something. An estranged mystery.

We got up for the next band. Disagree, the resident Pearl Jam, changed the pace with some mellower rock, giving moshers a chance to relax awhile. There was that song, Crumbs — presently making its rounds on radio — with the saxophone solo. A shiny tube made the gig. Nice.

Exists got booed as soon as they were introduced. Of course a few other bands got some occasionally, but this time the pit was downright repulsive. I can understand why: RTW celebrates the local urban music scene; Exists is the odd one out in the line-up, the only act without "urban" roots. They were in the local mainstream, of dinosaur Malay rock/pop from birth. While urban acts usually had characteristic indie beginnings, Exists was borne of a major record label, with professionals supplying material and enjoying easy media access. While they may be the one Malay band that wisely caught on to the local alternative/urban wave of the late-90s, they seem to remain ill-known, for one, their uber-sappy hit rock ballad of yesteryear, Ibu. Perhaps even the fact that they don't do or didn't start out in English (unlike virtually all bona-fide urban acts) makes them less received by the diverse "urban" crowd.

Exists performed some songs. Some of the crowd threw stuff at them. A particularly large, empty plastic bottle flew onto the stage, missing a band member by a few. Question: how would you have responded as the frontman? Me, I'd keep my cool and not let shit like that bother me. Other bands had taken their own share of hecklers' missiles pretty nonchalantly. Now let me tell you what he did: He picked the bottle up disapprovingly and said something to the effect of "This... unacceptable!" He was obviously peeved; you could think the guy, so used to the pampering and acclaim from the Malay pop industry, could not handle rejection. He then solemnly blurted (to roughly translate): "We'll show you that we too can entertain you!" after which the band churned out some really hard riffs for their following song. Please, don't try to prove yourselves, it's embarrassing. The dramaqueeny display was immature; besides, how can one enjoy the music, no matter how good, with such resentment in the air?

For what it's worth, Exists makes for good pop-rock in league with OAG and Flop Poppy, the two pioneer crossover Malay urban bands. Besides, they show sophistication in their lyrics; why, I think they're better lyricists than SingleTrackMind (in English). They seem to be among the few Malay acts who can deftly use words like "ironi" and "konklusi" and "frustrasi" and such. Fine, sounds urban enough to me.

Finally! the band everyone was waiting for: Butterfingers, minus frontman Emmett (he was abroad) and with guitarist Loque taking over the vocals. The urban scene's most esteemed heavyweights served us large course meals — long, extended renditions of some tracks off Malayneum, helping them clock in over half an hour onstage. Some may have cried boredom, but for me... delicious, just short of mesmerizing (oh how I hung in there). Not to let us down, they also performed some of their best known rock tunes, Vio Pipe and the last jumpalong of the night, The Chemistry (Between Us). One memorable part of the set was their rehash of an old Malay folk song (which I think will be on the new album), with clever lyrics that had people paying full, silent attention (that, or they were zombified from fatigue). Eerily, part of it seemed to have a message for the crowd itself — I don't recall the words but I'll rephrase in English anyway:

Together, you are daring
Alone, you are a coward
Just like everyone else

Whoah. No one was expecting mindjobs. The appreciative and smitten applauded.

RTW4 ended at around 1AM when Butterfingers stepped down and the emcee stepped up to deliver a little epilogue. The mere sight of Harun prompted the crowd to disperse.

Looking at how everyone was plain quick to leave the flailing fat guy high and dry, you could sense the atmosphere of disappointment. The main and immediate gripe was that for an act appointed to grandly close a RTW concert, Butterfingers this time had been too mellow. There might have even been some who felt cheated by Emmett's absence. Well for me, I think I got my RM20's worth (but also still think I would've got more bang for buck at RTW3).

Thank heavens for Pat's car. We whisked off away from the venue and the masses of rideless teens lingering all over it. We dropped Chung off at his home, and the remaining three of us settled at a 24-hour mamak stall, to break our all-day-and-night fast and discuss the recent event, till 3AM.

Final verdict: Um, the free "[INSERT EVENT SPONSOR] ROCKS!" t-shirt sucks. We were hoping for something like the organizing staff were wearing.

| 12/23/2003 12:24:00 AM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!

Monday, December 01, 2003

Quick Hari Raya break

Holiday breaks will be quite common this semester (Hari Raya, Christmas, Chinese New Year) which will undoubtedly make it a little more hectic getting through.

Had the first one. Strangely, I was moping all week. I know it showed. My first Hari Raya here in KL was, frankly, depressing.

Why? you naturally wonder, because technically I don't celebtrate Raya. Didn't fast for a month, did I? Well, I've figured out the reasons: First of all, I do celebrate Raya; having Muslim extended family members makes that quite possible. If I were back home for Raya, I'd be fishing for duit Raya and hunting for kuih batik (my hands-down favorite), and not to mention the merriment of a host of cousins, a fabulous congregation possible only on special occasions, such as this, Christmas and baby showers. I miss all that.

Second of all, it reminded me so much of my first Christmas in KL. Depressing, just the same. I only have to look at a Muslim Sabahan friend of mine who's spending his first Raya holiday away from home. Outwardly he showed a cheerful resignation to his predicament, but he could have been crying alone in his room; you never know. Heheh.

Raya being contiguous with a weekend had the campus library closed for a whole week. Ergo no free Internet all through the break, making it all the more dismal. Email to check, spam to delete, perhaps blog comments to respond to, and tons of blogsurfing to do. Top of the list is Jeff Ooi's Screenshots, where fiery debates go on all the time; at the moment, with the PAS Islamic State Document as the current hot topic, I can't stand not keeping up. Particularly since one interesting participant called chez1978 is someone I usually find in the (teen community site) XFresh forums, too.

The things I want to google, wiki and just generally look up on the net are accumulating on my todo.txt file. (FYI, it's a text file where I store urls and other tidbits and a list of things to do online, which I carry around with me in a diskette, deployed and updated wherever opportune. It's like an ultra bare PIM, sure beats Favorites/Bookmarks, and portable as hell.)

Hey I'm not a net addict. I actually had no intention of looking for a cybercafe to gratify my longings. If I can have free, high-speed net access from my campus library, I absolutely refuse to go anywhere else and pay by the hour. Net access, to me, should be like air — ubiquitous and free of charge.

Okay, so I am one.

| 12/01/2003 12:09:00 AM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!