Photos: Hostess Asia / Dominic Phua & Marcus Lin
It’s yet another month, with yet another festival. But while Hostess Club Weekender, originally a festival from Japan, comes at the tail-end of a packed first quarter of gigs, it proved that it was very much welcome.
Despite being barely a month after the much-feted Laneway Festival, with its stable of fine indie acts, the Weekender held at Fort Canning last Saturday had quite a bit to live up to- and it did.
While lesser known acts Brooklyn-based duo Buke & Gase and Icelandic singer-songwriter Asgeir (who both went on earlier in the day) were competent, and South Londoner King Krule was charming, it was clear that the crowd was there for co-headliners Mogwai and The National.
While both have played in shows in Singapore before, they were welcomed back with open arms by the 3000-strong audience.
From Brooklyn, by way of Ohio, indie and critics’ darlings, The National were exceptional live performers and the stars of the night. Over almost two hours, their 14-year-career was expertly distilled and celebrated with flawless musicianship.
The professorial-looking front man Matt Berninger paced the stage in an all-black ensemble, flanked by guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner as they opened their set with ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’.
Armed with a set list of many more beloved tracks such as ‘Sea of Love’ and ‘I Need My Girl’, Berninger constantly took swigs from his bottle of white wine, almost as if to distract himself of the pain of his own lyrics.
With all the showmanship, one tends to forget how painfully bleak and poignant Berninger’s lyrics are, such as his chants of “I don’t have the drugs to sort it out” on ‘Afraid of Everyone’.
Berninger revealed at a press conference earlier that he "never found it hard to find things to write about. In fact, I think i write about three things over and over again. It feels like i’m often writing about the same things in different ways."
Having children however, has had a larger impact on his songwriting and touring. He added that it has "changed the way we stress out about music, meaning we don’t stress out as much as we used to. I think it’s (down to) perspective. Having kids for me, has made me have more fun. It’s made touring harder but its made the songwriting process more fun for all of us".
But credit to the band, Bryan Devendorf on drums, Kyle Resnick and Benjamin Lanz on the horns, and Logan Cole (filling in for bassist Scott Devendorf) on bass, for keeping the sound tight and enveloping the audience in the live experience that is The National.
In true rock star fashion, Berninger thrilled the crowd when he climbed into the audience, sparking a flurry of photo-taking and high fives from audience members as he made it all the way to the front-of-house and was escorted back to the stage by security.
The most magical moment of the night however, was an acoustic rendition of the haunting melody of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’ where stage lights went up and flooded the entire crowd, who dutifully swayed and sang along.
The soundscapes of Glaswegian post-rockers Mogwai were a definite crowd-puller, with the crowd substantially filling up in time for their set.
Mogwai sounded absolutely massive, with their trademark, foundation-shaking loudness. Other than a graphic backdrop with all-seeing eyes, there were no distractions from their instrumental music that built to terrorising, yet beautiful crescendos.
Driven by complex melodies with introspective melancholy, the quiet bits were quiet while the loud bits were like a jet-plane taking off.
Songs transitioned from one to another with minimal banter, where all band leader Stuart Braithwaite said was a polite “thank you, thank you very much”.
The intensity of their performance was discordant against their bright, cheery personalities which were apparent from a press conference earlier in the day.
The band began their set with ‘Heard about you last night’, which guiatrist Barry Burns revealed was his personal favourite off their most recent album, ‘Rave Tapes’.
“It’s quite a good thing to say to someone if they’ve had a very embarrassing night out. That’s what you say to them if you’re Scottish”, he said, explaining the cheeky origins of the phrase.
With songs soaked in feedback and reverb, it is sometimes hard to forget that their grandiose tracks have irreverent names such as ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’. One song title that didn’t quite make it to the much-lauded ‘Rave Tapes’ was ‘Gravity Don’. Burns said, “Oh god, they were pretty bad. There’s a good reason they don’t make it to the record”.
As for their loudness, Braithwaite admitted, “we figured we could give people a scare. That’s fun too”.
Archy ‘King Krule’ Marshall, the 19-year-old wunderkind was a polarizing performer, drawing a steadily growing crowd as his set progressed. But that could have been down to the fact that Mogwai was due to play after him, and not so much his music.
Backed by a basic band- a guitarist, bassist and an exceptional drummer – the reed-thin Archy sauntered onto stage in a an oversized chequed shirt and dinky puffer fish hat for the third set of the day that began at 6.20pm.
It was an unrefined, almost disinterested performance from Archy. Perhaps it was his gravelly, cigarette and whiskey-soaked vocals, reminiscent of old school performers. Or perhaps it was the elements of spoken word poetry and trip hop that creeped into tracks such as ‘Rock Bottom’. But it was strangely charming at the same time.
Even then, it was his more recognisable and accessible tracks like ‘Baby Blue’ and ‘Easy Easy’ that elicited applause from the small crowd gathered at the front of the stage.
A WELCOME ADDITION TO THE CONCERT CALENDAR
Though food and beverage options were extremely limited, The Weekender, despite being the first of its kind in Singapore, was a success on many counts. For many of the bands in the lineup, it was their last show of their respective tours. So it felt like they were playing an extra special gig with all the trimmings just for the Singapore crowd. With a 3000-strong crowd by the end of the night, it felt far more intimate, like a boutique festival, than the juggernaut festival that Laneway has become.
We can't wait for the next round.