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Album Review: Pharrell Williams - G I R L
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Album Review: 5 Seconds of Summer - She Looks So Perfect EP
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Album Review: Various Artists - Vampire Academy OST
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Few have managed to truly maintain constant prominence amongst the populated genre of pop rock and despite going at it for nearly a decade, the future still seems to hold endless promise for Mayday Parade whose recent return to Singapore was devoutly lapped up.

Up until the doors of *SCAPE The Ground Theatre were finally open, scores of fans hovered around with the hope that they might just be granted entrance to the sold-out gig thanks to last minute no-shows.

Local pop punk act, Aspectrum (previously seen alongside Man Overboard last December) was the perfect appetiser for the night, unleashing their bountiful youth through a blur of posi jumps and even the eventual stage dive spearheaded by a rabid Tejo D’Cruz. While their set felt as if it was a few songs too long, their knack for all-out showmanship and insistent interaction with the crowd shone through automatically. Hiccups whilst debuting new tracks were carelessly laughed off and mobile phones managed to be raised as (a portion of) the audience indulged the group by parroting lackluster lyrics.

Fresh from other overseas ventures including Australia’s Soundwave Festival and a Batu Caves trek, it took some time for the Tallahassee darlings to step onto stage – quite literally for lead vocalist Derek Sanders who opted to lead the 16-song set completely barefoot. A personal favourite of Sanders himself, the evening was brought to life by the tempo-defying Ghosts.

“Sing it with me one more time, nice and loud, let’s go!”Assisted by the honeyed vocals of bassist Jeremy Lenzo, Sanders’ plea to conclude the band’s hit single was met with ringing fervour before 2007’s Jamie All Over prompted an equally spirited response of sprightly nostalgia.

As part of a handful of songs that was written about “a complicated relationship”, When You See My Friends resembles an impassioned dialogue which sees Mayday Parade’s lyrical prowess at its finest. Sanders’ carefully controlled tones make up the ideal medium which convincingly deals with acceptance and self-harm and it was this tenderness that made heart-wrenching offerings like Miserable At Best all the more memorable.

Seeking the rhetorical permission of those present to take things down a notch, the wiry frontman’s mesmerising presence and sombre keyboard notes only hastened to add to the sing-along vibe that had been progressively bubbling throughout the night. His skyrocketing vocals in Stay abetted by drummer Jake Bundrick’s incessant poundings proved to be utterly breathtaking in addition to older favourites including Your Song and You Be The Anchor That Keeps My Feet On The Ground which undoubtedly thrilled the core of MP fans.

Riding on the wave of Monsters in the Closet’s success, tracks from the quintet’s latest record were naturally weaved in - be it the slow burning 12 Through 15 or the wistful ballad, Hold Onto Me that sounded as if guitarist Alex Garcia was tapping into the roots of their Southern brethren given its unassuming blues riffs. Sanders may be married with a daughter but judging from his laments of “Boys understand, girls will never listen or learn,” in Girls, the singer is still very much plagued by and wary of the opposite sex just like the rest of us.

When Garcia wasn’t brandishing unruly chords, he could be seen zipping around and spurring the crowd on next to fellow guitar hero, Brooks Betts without whom the smashing renditions of Black Cat and Oh Well, Oh Well might not have been pulled off with such aplomb.

Staying true to the traditional fake encore format, A Lesson in Romantics’ obligatory Jersey was shortly followed by I'd Hate to Be You When People Find Out What This Song Is About, igniting final albeit bittersweet cries of “And then we both go down together,” in full force.  Inching away from the reliance on melodramatic verses that threaten the label of the dreaded E word, it’s gratifying to see how Mayday Parade continues to thrive by refining what they do best (i.e. being glaringly competent on stage) while simultaneously daring to take small but beneficial steps in expanding their sound.

Set-list:

1. Ghosts
2. Jamie All Over
3. When You See My Friends
4. Your Song
5. 12 Through 15
6. You Be The Anchor That Keeps My Feet On The Ground
7. Girls
8. Black Cat
9. Miserable at Best
10. Stay
11. Hold Onto Me
12. Kids in Love
13. Three Cheers for Five Years
14. Oh Well, Oh Well
15. Jersey

Encore:
16. I'd Hate to Be You When People Find Out What This Song Is About

Photo credit: Alvin Ho, Dawn Chua, Randy Tan, Syazwan Kamsani / Upsurge Productions

Almost 15 years after their formation in 1999, pop punk band Taking Back Sunday finally took the stage in Singapore for the very first time. It may have seemed a little late, but late is always better than never.

Held at The Ground Theatre in SCAPE, the opening band for the night was The Cave. Although frontman Harry Darling looked stiff on stage, The Cave was one of the best opening bands I have ever seen. I was thoroughly impressed by their short set of old-school rock-and-roll vibes, catchy tunes and guitar riffs. It was a pity that their effort was only reciprocated with head-bobbings and occasional screaming.

At 9pm sharp, the boys of TBS took the stage with A Decade Under The Influence. Needless to say, the crowd went berserk as soon as the band entered the stage and even grew increasingly in energy as they started playing the next song, Liar (It Takes One To Know One).

Throughout the entire set, frontman Adam Lazzara showed true showmanship with his consistent energy levels. Although his stage presence was a little too eccentric for my liking, his microphone swinging and liquid movements seemed to excite the crowd a lot. As the man himself said, no one else can swing their microphone as good as he does.

The likeable performer would also make small talk between songs, telling us how awesome it felt like performing on the other side of the world from where he was from. That feeling was proven to be mutual as audience members moshed and crowd-surfed through crowd-pleasers such as Twenty-Twenty Surgery and Error: Operator.

As the band played two new songs from their upcoming album, Flicker, Fade and Beat Up Car, you could see how pleasantly surprised they were that the audience already knew the lyrics to the songs. It was pretty awesome.

Altogether, the show was very enjoyable and entertaining, with a spot-on setlist. My favourite part of the night was when everyone sang the last performance of the night, Make Damn Sure, in unison. There's nothing like feeling the power in numbers as everyone screamed their lungs out: "I JUST WANNA BREAK YOU DOWN SO BADLY!!!"

Setlist: 

1. A Decade Under the Influence
2. Liar (It Takes One to Know One)
3. Faith (When I Let You Down)
4. Timberwolves at New Jersey
5. Flicker, Fade
6. Bonus Mosh Pt. II
7. What's It Feel Like to Be a Ghost?
8. Number Five with a Bullet
9. Error: Operator
10. You're So Last Summer
11. Twenty-Twenty Surgery
12. Set Phasers to Stun
13. My Blue Heaven
14. Best Places to Be a Mom
15. One-Eighty by Summer
16. Beat Up Car
17. Cute Without The 'E' (Cut From The Team)

Encore:

1. Call Me in the Morning
2. You Know How I Do
3. Make Damn Sure

All photos by Aloysius Lim, Nor Asyraf, Alvin Ho/ Upsurge Productions

Seems to me that ushering or working on crowd control for a Jamie Cullum gig would be a downright nightmare. As soon as the curtains lifted to announce Cullum's arrival, he denounced the organiser's call for the audience to switch their mobile phones to silent mode and refrain from flash photography and videography, saying, "Do what you want with your phones, take photos, use your flash, I don't care!" It's then that you know, this ain't no ordinary concert where you #stayclassy. 

Swaggering in with The Same Things off his latest album Momentum, the British jazz-pop pianist was in fine form as he started getting into the rhythm with a sole drum centrestage, á la Ellie Goulding. His immaculate vocals and rhythmic precision never did wane throughout the 90-minute set that saw him flitting through roughly about 18 songs consisting of classic hits and a medley of covers. 

If there was one thing that slightly marred the beginning of the show, it was whilst playing Get Your Way, where the piano was out of tune and he stopped mid-song to tune it, with not much luck. But the buzz never died down, because it was more amusing than anything, which is actually the fun of such gigs with no strict timeline to abide to. A technician later rectified the mistake whilst he was adlibbing and talking about his too-fitting skinny jeans, and how "unsexy" it would be for us to watch him try to peel them off when one member of the audience shouted for him to.

Amazingly, from his previous performance here, he surprised me with a more synth-heavy set, and whilst I felt it was a good direction to move towards, it overwhelmed his voice and piano-playing at times, which really was the highlight of the show. His pure vocals shone through in songs that had him primarily playing the piano with the backing band taking a backseat, particularly in Pure Imagination, Save Your Soul and All At Sea.

His showmanship was very much apparent in his cover medley, as he agilely moved past stanzas of Beyoncé's XO ("You love me like XO/ Baby love me lights out"), Lorde's Royals and Daft Punk's Get Lucky, all interspersed into his classic cover of I Could've Danced All Night

Rhythmically, he was beating his chest and banging the sides and insides of the piano to create beats, which of course got the loudest cheers. Engaging the crowd with his British wit, he assured us saying, "Don't worry, it's insured", before diving back into the song without missing a beat.

All decorum is thrown out the window at his gig, and closer to the end of the night, he jumped down the stage and stunned some audience members, all whilst singing note for note his reinvention of Cole Porter's Love for $aleTwentySomething (or rather, ThirtySomething) had him giving kudos to his bandmates by giving them their chance to shine as they did their own solos, and it was just so heartwarming to see them all in sync.

Lastly, he closed the night with the crowd rousing Mixtape, with his whoa-a-a chorus ringing throughout the Marina Bay Sands Theatres, as the audience rushed forward to join him in song. Even after the gig, lots of people were humming the song, so it was clear how cleverly he worked the crowd, and how memorable of an artiste he really is. 

All images sourced from Instagram.

I’m Lavigne it. Now after a decade of waiting to catch the reigning Princess of Punk live, I can finally say that.

(Dear 10 year-old Joey, your childhood dream has been fulfilled.)

It was a show that felt exactly like hanging out with your best friend in the parking lot blasting pop punk at the world. (But this time only much louder and you have to share this best friend with thousands others).

Avril Lavigne delivered the essence of short and sweet, physically and figuratively, at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on a Saturday night. The venue wasn’t packed to the rafters, but no problem about that – the Little Black Stars made damn sure they were heard.

Before breezing through an 18-song set, Avril bounced in on stage with a k-k-k-kawaii red bow as if she hasn’t aged a day since 2002. Honestly, is there some black magic in that eyeliner?

And what a way to say Hello to us, Kitty. Right pick of song to kick off the punk party, and the sugar high got spilled over into an all-time favourite, Girlfriend.

Pretty apt for a post Valentine’s Day, don’t you think? Yelling HEY HEY, YOU YOU, I don’t like your girlfriend! along with Avril never felt so good.

Yet, the fun was just about to begin – Avril & Co. jumped straight into Rock N Roll, and the anthemic Here’s to Never Growing Up next.I could have sworn every cell in my body sang along too. Ugh, the pains of growing up.

Driven by the piano, Avril gave out a haunting Hush Hush and nailed Let Me Go with rising power, but it was a shame hubby Chad Kroeger didn’t make a guest appearance.

We didn’t have time to mull over that disappointment, because we got transported back to the early 2000s – My Happy Ending, Don’t Tell Me, Complicated. Holy hell, these classics charmed us all. 

And then Marilyn Manson’s partner in crime made an entrance. Avril returned a Bad Girl, complete with devil horns and a gothic black cape. Dayum! It was a highlight of the night, although I’d say the snazzy track of two rock icons deserves more worship in her latest self-titled album.

Keeping the rock rolling next was He Wasn’t, and of course we had to be teased. The atmosphere was electric with screams; you could feel it running through your veins. The effort was well worth it, ‘cuz we got treated to a craaaazy guitar solo at the end!

Losing Grip is where Avril lost her grip a bit. Trust her to catapult back with a tight Sk8er Boi, and double that high octane performance with What The Hell. Raising a middle finger and screaming WTH?! Fun, fun, fun.

Smile did put one on our faces and Avril reciprocated with a sweet “Singapore, you’re the reason why I smile tonight!” Awww.

Before we know it, the Goodbye Lullaby felt too soon – I’m With You wrapped up the grunge affair neatly, but not remarkably. Us Little Black Stars got a moment of the song to ourselves and I think we did good. yes

So I spin my verdict: Jamming out with Avril on your speakers will always be nothing compared to watching her live. Hitching your wagon to a star like her means you’d never feel left out or old. She goes under your skin and infects it with everything she is. That’s why Avril Lavigne is the best damn thing who has happened to the pop punk scene.

Avril saiko, arigato!

Dig the setlist below:

1. Intro
2. Hello Kitty
3. Girlfriend
4. Rock N Roll
5. Here’s to Never Growing Up
6. Always Get
7. Hush Hush
8. Let Me Go
9. My Happy Ending
10. Don’t Tell Me
11. Complicated
12. Bad Girl
13. He Wasn’t
14. Losing Grip
15. Sk8er Boi
16. What The Hell (Encore)
17. Smile (Encore)
18. I’m With You (Encore)

Photo credits: Dan Walsh Studios

As a festival greenhorn, the thought of up to three stages being made available at this year's St. Jerome's Laneway Festival sounded both terribly exciting and a tad intimidating.

With the addition of the Cloud Stage, indie music lovers had more than enough on their plates to plot their respective routes through the throngs that turned up amongst the greenery of Garden by the Bay. Despite the numerous grievances of sunburn last year, the neurotic Singaporean weather took a turn for the better, allowing for the occasional breeze in the face of a suspiciously overcast cloud cover.

One of the things that immediately struck me was how well-oiled Singapore's "best boutique music festival" seemed, to the point that it was kicked off at barely 12.50pm, the scheduled start of Vance Joy's opening set of the day. As latecomers trickled their way into The Meadow past the traditionally overpriced merch, James Keogh serenaded an appropriately enthusiastic audience to some of Melbourne's fine folk tunes. The singer-songwriter best known for his 3x platinum single, Riptide, turned out to be a multi-instrumentalist - whipping out a ukulele at times, providing the acoustic nuances needed for tracks such as Red Eye and Snaggletooth.

Located strategically side-by-side, the adjacent Derrick Stage allowed for last minute simultaneous soundchecks, minimising any unwanted waiting time that might've been endured. Trevor Powers, AKA Youth Lagoon then offered otherworldly sounds that accommodated his ethereal vocals but with the sun just over its zenith, Powers’ nasally tones might’ve come off as a headache waiting to happen. The creeping heat however, didn’t prevent some from adorning flower headbands and swaying to the lo-fi songs like Mute and 17.

Returning to Singapore for the fourth time were Aussie favourites, The Jezabels who wasted no time in getting the crowd going with familiar anthems including 2011’s Catch Me and Endless Summer. The smashing presence of drummer Nik Kaloper paired with the relentless riffs courtesy of Sam Lockwood served only to amplify leading lady Hayley Mary's piercing vocals, making the debut of tracks from their forthcoming sophomore LP even more memorable.

As the afternoon waned, the welcomed winds did wonders to a majestic mane belonging to one stoner rocker by the name of Kurt Vile. Together with The Violators (spot the cleverly crafted band name), the Philadelphia-based musician lazily plucked his way into my heart with his shimmering brand of folk rock. Peeping Tomboy’s juxtaposes in particular, boded well with me – no doubt attributing to Vile’s charming drawl of “I was a peeping Tom, you know what I mean.”

It was Frightened Rabbit’s blatant zest and willingness to engage the audience that let them stand out amongst their previous peers, proving yet again that the Scots know to party. With sweat and spit shining amongst the foliage of his impressive beard, frontman Scott Hutchison led his guitar heavy group through a blistering set that saw an equally earnest crowd response. As for those idling about on the hill, Hutchison was quick to throw in some light-hearted shade with a jest of, “Thanks for nothing!”

While local outfit The Observatory managed to be sandwiched in between the Roscoe Stage acts, the lacklustre turnout was hardly encouraging as serpentine lines were formed to queue up for kebabs instead. With an unorthodox and bleakly mechanical sound, the four-piece viciously ploughed on nevertheless.

Hailing from the United Kingdom, Savages - the other all-female band had festival-goers transfixed by their aggressive post-punk tones and frankly harsh lyrical themes found in the likes of Silence Yourself’s Husbands and I Am Here. With Ayse Hassan’s ridiculously thick bass lines and Gemma Thompson’s no holds barred fretwork, I was half expecting some form of moshing to take place, only to be greeted by hesitant headbangs. Vocalist Jenny Beth was ever the unwavering figurehead, surveying the festival sharply before wailing out verse after verse in true Shut Up fashion.

Elena Tonra and the members of Daughter may make up a band of few words but if anything, their 50 minute set was easily one where emotions ran the highest. A teary Tonra managed to repeatedly choke out her muffled but heartfelt thanks to the crowd who readily chanted the lyrics to their breakout hit, Youth. The trio was deft at belting out both delicate acoustic numbers and slow burners with Candles and Tomorrow being paramount examples respectively.

Later dubbed as the “the craziest show (they’ve) ever played” the Haim sisters lived up to their reputation and more. Days Are Gone might’ve been described as “one of the best pop albums” of 2013 but the difference between their polished studio effort and electric live performances is staggeringly significant.

Be it their biting cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well or the irresistible hooks found in The Wire, there is little doubt where a strong musical background is concerned for the tight-knit family unit. Without fail, head honcho Este Haim’s now viral “bass-face” made recurring appearances alongside her daring premiere of “getting low” to some impromptu Jay-Z and the band’s thundering drum solo climax.

The masses’ rabid response probably had something to do with Alana Haim who in between a wide range of instruments was constantly egging their fans on to sing along to tunes like Forever and Let Me Go. Personally, My Song 5 was the epitome of all things Haim. It incorporated the best mainstream elements their debut album had to offer before slamming in a fat, rock ’n’ roll riff coolly shredded by one Danielle Haim and all of this cushioned by the sisters’ haltingly haughty harmonies which just dripped with acid.

Entertaining stage banter was one thing Chvrches had in common with Haim aside from being one of the bill’s most anticipated acts. Held in check by the occasionally prim buttercup that is Lauren Mayberry, the petite frontwoman proudly pointed out how she succeeded yet again in censoring herself from spewing out an expletive after bringing to life the trio’s FIFA 14 entry, We Sink. As if she was channelling her inner football player, Mayberry also accomplished the feat of finally kicking a stray plastic ball into the pit without hitting someone directly in the face.

Flanked by Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, the Glaswegian lads were a formidable electronic presence, punching out penetrative synths that were required for the rather aggressive anthems of Science/Vision and Gun. The band’s solidarity and ease in performing to large crowds was prominent as Doherty comfortably completed Lung’s call-and-response dynamic in addition to filling in for Mayberry on Under the Tide. Even from the media tent, Tether’s sensual synth solo was an audible aural pleasure as I rushed out for a deafening finale of The Mother We Share, complete with a ringing chorus of staccato “oh”s.

Prior to Laneway, the work of the Mercury Prize-winning James Blake was rather hard to swallow and even downright peculiar. But as the satisfying evening ebbed away, the slick experimental production and Blake’s matching smooth modulation unravelled itself to be quite a novel experience. It felt like a calmly engineered assault to one’s senses that slowly peeled away the incredulity with profoundly ameliorating intonations, providing everyone in attendance an opportunity to unwind to the sounds of CMYK and The Wilhelm Scream.

Given the exclusive inclusion of an extra stage this year, it was a shame that the genre gap proved to be a barrier - for most chose to remain at the two main stages, missing out the chance to catch the likes of Singapore’s very own Vandetta or the solo work of The xx’s Jamie XX. Perhaps with more widespread heterogeneous acts lumped together across all stages, attendees would be able to gain more exposure and develop a sense of appreciation for musicians that they might have never heard of before. Still, Laneway has risen to the challenge by continuing to be an excellent platform that features the best of the indie realm. It is my hope that as a result of Laneway, we might just be able to look forward to headlining shows held by the same stellar artistes in the near future. 

Photos: Spin or Bin Music/ Jeanelle Tan