Monday, July 26, 2010

Belgium 1, Russia 2: 21 - 24 July 2010

This weekend began, as they occasionally do, with the celebrations for Belgian National Day. It was a rainy Wednesday, and at the top of Street 5, outside La Patate, a large wedding style tent was erected, with a large wedding style stage and an extraordinary number of large, larger and indeed largest speakers scattered around at mostly appropriate intervals.

The musical treat was the Phnom Penh Hot Strings Jazz Club, an outfit with as many line-ups as it has performances, who took the sheltering crowds through a Belgian-influences trip around the musical world, double-fronted by the violinical and harmonicatrical pyrotechnics of Mat and the laidback chatty Doc Speck on the 8-string ukelele and vocals, backed by a work hard/play hard rhythm section that leapt over crack and chasm alike in their pursuit of the perfect groove. It was blues and it was jazz and it was funky … all those things that really say "Belgium" to the man in the street. Apparently Doc Speck has been to Brussels quite a number of times … and in the end, despite the wires in the puddles, nobody was electrocuted.

We then leapfrog into Friday, when the newest place in town, Dream Up restaurant and bar, hosted three bands. The trio Shangri-La played an energetic and enthusiastic opening set of covers and originals with a Russian flavour, followed by Expresso Thmei doing that thing that they do, and finally Bayon Blues (yes, they're back in town) -- only I had to leave early and will have to wait to catch up on their bluesiness on a weekend to come.

I was back at Dream Up on Saturday night, late, and encountered Sergey and Tree sitting outside with acoustic guitars, surrounded by a generous handful of customers. In a move reminiscent of the well-remembered and now long-departed Revolution Bar I joined for a half dozen of my party pieces, and then settled in to listen to some strumming tunes. Very pleasant. I'll go ahead and recommend Dream Up as a place to drop into and check out.

This weekend: Cambodian Space Project's last concert before September -- Equinox, Saturday night -- Khmer-friendly start time: 7.30 pm.

Monday, July 19, 2010

On and on and on: 16 July 2010

I can't add much more to Andy's take on Cambodian Space Project at Meta House on Friday night - with some nice pictures too. 

Except that the band decamped to Fun Planet on St 19 and held an impromptu jam session until 2 am - not sure what the quality was like, but it only ended after I got down to 4 strings. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Photo update: Los Poporks and CSP at Lotus Blanc, 9 July 2010

Big thanks to photographic contributors Blou Durand and GaĆ«tan Crespel. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mekong Space Poporks and more: 9 - 11 July 2010

It was as bit of a weekend for mixing it up and making it up. What with half the expat musical population out of town it was a matter of dragging together what we could. Friday night at Lotus Blanc featured two bands, in addition to the traditional Khmer music that played downstairs. The night kicked off with a stripped down jazz-heavy Los Poporks performing as a quartet, including Mr Dom on cornet. Very tasty. They then took off up to Chinese House to back harmonica player Doc Spann - any reports? Then followed the Cambodian Space Project featuring a special appearance from Davis Zunk on drums - he was there at the beginning of the CSP, and it was great to have his funky Nawlins thing rumbling away underneath. We were lucky to have a strongly Khmer audience, who got the dancing going, and kept it up enthusiastically.

Saturday night gave us one of those special happy events that happen from time to time just through wishing them up. A farewell party with some music at Equinox collided a birthday party at the same location, beginning with Phnom Penh newcomer TJ taking us through some propulsive Americana, followed by a set by Expresso Thmei, and then some unrehearsed but keen tunes sung and strummed by farewellee Adam with Mr Pink on the drums and TJ on harp. A few calls during the week had drawn together a collection of musicians from the for a jam, a band that during the afternoon was dubbed Los Cambodian Space Pirates (but was probably more accurately the Mekong Space Poporks) laying down some very cool grooves, a bit of funk here, a bit of fusion there, some blues and a couple of vocals. The only train wreck of the night was my overconfident leading of the band through The Long Division, which they had never heard, after a request from the floor. Still, we overcame that and played on until the inevitable noise reduction requests. A most successful experiment and a great crowd to watch it.

The Cambodian Space Project - sans accordion this time - was the pre-game entertainment for the World Cup final on Sunday night at La Croisette. We may or may not have delighted a group of Korean businessmen with our 60s Khmer pop, along with a collection of tourists, expats, interns and regular fans. The 10 pm start caused a bit of a hiccup, what with it being past bedtime for the Khmer band members, but before long we were bounding along at our usual gait playing songs about looking or not looking, talking or not talking, monkeys, whiskey and dancing. And another late, late night.

See you near a stage somewhere.

p.s. what was Doc Spann like? Anyone?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Guest report: Independence Day supergroup at Sharky - 4 July 2010

There was disappointment all around last week when the news filtered through that the Curtis King Band would not be able to make their annual trek across from Vietnam to play for Sharky’s 4th of July party. This annual gig normally attracts a packed house that is thoroughly entertained by some great exponents of Americana music. Customarily it includes the famous Curtis and his band of core professional musicians, together with a long line of guests that is capped by the cavorting, writhing, and pasty form of the irrepressible Lee Roi Jones - whose dance across the bar resembles something akin to an albino python looking for love.

So when the news came that they would not be here, a great lull descended across the spectrum of the Sharky patronage.

Little did the patrons know they were about to be introduced to something new and special……. . This night will go down as yet another great step forward for the local, live music scene.

On stage was Chris (Mispent Yooth – guitar, vocals), Kenny (Lost Highway – guitar, vocals), Tommy (Lost Highway, drums, vocals), and Dave (Mispent Yooth – bass, vocals) and coming out from the stage was the epitome of great American music from the 60s and 70s. Kenny and Chris’s interpretation of the great American rock & roll guitar compositions from this period was a total pleasure for all patrons. Their trade in riffs and leads complemented each other like a track complements a train, like a great singer complements a great song. You could feel the years of passion these accomplished musicians had been through – the years of love and practice they had put into the songs.

Tommy’s rock & roll drumming brought the songs up to crescendos of impunity and back to a subtle nuanced satisfaction. Dave on bass bounced between jazz/blues-style bass riffs that carried the songs seamlessly from country dance to rock & roll fervour to classic blues. The gig was also punctuated with Ian from the Lazy Jazz Drunks punching out a totally professional vocals job and Ken (The Hellhounds) getting up on harmonica.

All in all it was a great night that meant the patrons had all but forgotten their feelings of misfortune in the days before.

Satisfied! - 3 July 2010

When I first arrived in Cambodia nearly two years ago, I expected to find Phnom Penh full of young Khmers with guitars playing cool rock music. Needless to say, it wasn't like that; where there are young Khmer playing non-traditional music it's usually double-handed microphone grabbing, push-button synthesizers, and perhaps a little miming. But there was a taste of the real thing on Saturday night at Chinese House.

Sai (and friends) was a 6 piece combo of two singing guitarists, bass, drums/percussion, roneat (the zylophone looking one) and tro (the upright skinny one with the two strings and a bow) - a young band that didn't look like there was anyone over 22. While the general expat audience might have been turned off by the early start (7.30 pm on a Saturday?) and the repertoire a little top-heavy with similar-sounding radio-friendly ballads, it was great to be hearing Khmer voices over acoustic guitars and traditional sounds weaving in and out around the melodies. The crowd was about 90 per cent Khmer, and showed no sign of being unhappy with the absence of keyboard and drum machine: this has got to be a good thing in itself.

Once the star left the stage, the parts of the audience invited themselves onto the mic, and it quickly turned into an hour-long jam, and the old songs came out - everything from Arrapia to Dop Pram Moi (I'm 16), and at the very close some members of the Cambodian Space Project joined the ensemble for Knyom Mon Sok Jet Te (I'm unsatisfied) and Au-go-go. It was particularly great to see the traditional instrumentatlists jamming hard and tight to the rock'n'roll.

A glimpse of the future? Maybe someday the riverside will be full of Khmer bands playing Khmer music … without synthesizers or drum machines … to mixed audiences … full credit to Chinese House for hosting. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Talbot Report: Are Friends Electric... and Eclectic? - 25 June 2010

...and the answer is a resounding ‘yes!’ if last Fridays Friends-International bash was anything to go by. To celebrate 15 years of supporting street kids in Cambodia and around the world to get off the streets and back into stable lives the folks at Friends held a special event at Romdeng, a poolside celebration with book launch and cocktails and live music from Los Poporks, the intriguingly monikered Mayors of Simpleton and some digitally delivered dancefloor distractions between live stuff from DJ Frankie.

The book is fab (features artwork done by the Friends kids over the years), the cocktails were ace (apple and lime daiquiris have to be up there with the nectar of the gods...) and the music was... well, I have to paraphrase the late great Eddie Cochrane and say it was... ‘somethin’ else!’

Los Poporks opened and closed the live music segments, and they seemed to these ears to inhabit a parallel universe to the mighty Mekong Pirates, a bit funky/reggae/world-y but with more of a jazz slant, a mighty fine live act concocting a sticky stew of  feral funk out of its myriad influences with a fluid flux of performers passing through as they did so. Good stuff.

In complete contrast, Mayors of Simpleton might as well have been from Venus as from Phnom Penh. They rocked a thousand times harder than Norman Bates’ dead mother, and were probably ten thousand times more terrifying... during what was introduced as ‘our fourth rehearsal’, I detected some T.Rex, Stooges, Psychedelic Furs and I absolutely swear Rolf Harris (Sunarise, but more the Alice Cooper take on Rolf’s classic...) and possibly some early Adam and the Ants... I just don’t know .. and to be honest I don’t really care, as long as this three piece (sax, guitar and drums) stick around longer to inflict their particular brand of mayhem on the good people of  Phnom Penh, I will be deliriously happy, and judging by the audience reaction I won’t be the only one.

Excuse me folks, I’m off now to howl at the moon....

Laurence W. Talbot

(Thanks to our friends at Friends for the photos)