March 11, 2007

Young, Hip and Important

It is easy to feel young, hip, and important in New York City. Simply buy some used jeans, wear a scarf over a thick corduroy jacket, don hi-top skater Vans, and ride the subway with the latest copy of the Village Voice on your lap. You may want to teach inner-city kids to rage against the machine, go to an Ivy League school, and spend your Thursday nights at a meeting of the International Socialist Organization debating the merits of State and Revolution by V. Lenin. You should go see Ani Difranco at Carnegie Hall one week then in Central Park the next. See Ben Harper at the Bowery Ballroom and maybe even catch a Hayden show at the Knitting Factory. Try to stay twenty-eight forever, have a girlfriend who you will propose to the night before you go to Paris. The same day you were almost arrested at an anti-war demonstration with 500,000 other people. You almost charged the barrier. Spend your weekends drinking scotch at bars in Williamsburg and smoking joints in the East Village. Go see documentaries about Nick Drake by yourself on Sunday afternoons on Valium, then stop off at a flea market in Chelsea. Spend Sunday morning skating to Central Park with your shirt off and iPod blasting Tupac to play Frisbee with friends. Go to an exhibit at the new MoMa in Queens and listen to Guided by Voices all the way back home. It is easy to feel young, hip, and important in New York City.

It is another thing to feel this way three years later: married, with a child, living in a suburb (although it is in Malaysia) teaching at a private school, your weekends spent at Kindermusic classes and the pool. You have few friends, and the one you do have, don’t really know anything about who you really are. You don’t drink or smoke or take any drugs, so Bukowski seems not to make much sense anymore. Some things, you are not sure what, are slipping you by. So what, do you do? You find art in your surroundings and you don’t make excuses. You go to shows on Wednesday nights in malls, even though you have eight hours of parent teacher conferences the next day. You listen to Broken Social Scene and make CD covers for music you barley know how to play.

This has been a long intro for what this post was really meant to be about: My love with a Malaysian band called Laila’s Lounge and my second experience hearing them play music. When I used to smoke pot, I used to think that there was nothing better than getting high and listening to live music, now that I have been sober for well over a year, I am finding that the main ingredient in that formula is the music. Live music is the closest I will ever get to god. People are wasting their time in temples and churches looking for god in gospels. The act of five people on a small stage producing music is the reason why we are here. Period.

Kuala Lumpur has a dynamic mall culture. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but when it is 99 degrees with 100% humidity outside, you prefer to be in a mall than strolling some strip of restaurants and bars. So this means that you may occasionally find yourself at a mall catching a show you would probably find at some hole-in-the-wall bar in NYC. The mall, that is exactly where I was last Wednesday night. I was at The Laundry Bar at The Curve. I had sent an email to some co-workers asking them to meet me at the show, but no one had responded, so I figured I would be alone. I guess feeling young, hip, and important is not that important to other people. I brought my camera, a journal, and the sense of adventure I have carried since I was seven. I figured I would find a comfortable seat, order a sparkling water, jot down some poems, snap a few shots, and enjoy a night of music.

The place was packed with young trendy Malay’s with faux-hawks and studded leather bracelets. Why don’t I have one of these? They were sitting on couches, smoking cigarettes, and being young and carefree.

The old voice was coming on strong, “Come on one smoke. It’s been twenty months.” I ordered my water and ignored it, while I saw that Alan, a friend from another school in town, was at the bar. He shares the same need to pray at the altar of live music as I do, but he goes to shows every week. We try to meet up when we can. I bought him a beer and we found a couch and watched the first act- A sugary singer-song writer, who sang about god and her dad. Not my cup of tea, and keep in mind I love single woman singers: Regina Spektor, Tori Amos. Ani Difranco…you name it. This girl needed to be hurt a few more time to be real.

Then came the KLG Squad- A Malaysian hip-hop band complete with there own fifty-person entourage.

They got the crowd jumpin’! They tore through a six-song set of hip-hop you don’t stop anthems that the crowd, myself included, ate up. They got me thinking about the positive attributes of globalization and cultural jumbles. Here was this Chinese guy, and two Malays so heavily influenced by early Beastie Boys that again I felt we might as well been in Brooklyn. There was something evolutionary and progressive about hip-hop in Asia. It felt right.

As quickly as they had come they were gone, and it was time- The reason I had braved breaking my routine of lying in bed and reading by eight pm. I had seen Laia’s Lounge open for Jens Lekman a few weeks earlier, and they had so amazed me that I swore I would see them every time they played in Kl until I left. I had pulled the lead singer, a small short Laotian looking man, aside after the Lekman show and begged him to direct me to anyplace I could buy, download or simply listen to their music. He said they don’t have a CD, and that they only had a few songs on their MySpace site.

Most of the crowd had left after the KLG Squad, but despite the exodus the members of Laila’s Lounge quietly set up their gear and got ready to play. The first time I had seen them, I was surprised by the dense and complicated sound they were able to produce with such a simple set-up: a keyboard, drums, bass, two guitar, a platter of petals, and a few Marshall stacks, and these guys sound like Radiohead meets The Strokes. They are a feel good, melodic, psychedelic, Malaysian rock band, and if that isn’t enough to make you want to change your lifestyle than I cannot help you.
They started with Stargazer, the same song they started with last time, and forty-five minutes later they were done.

The lead singer sang in English and Malay; he never smiled or said a word to the spellbound crowd; he played a tambourine as he danced barefoot on the stage, and when it was over they put their guitars in the cases and walked out the front door. Apparently they had to be at work the next day in Johor, which is five hours south of KL.

It is a shame that most people will never hear this band. They will never be on a world tour or have videos. I will be lucky if I can get a few songs on CD before I leave KL. I will talk to the singer again on the 7th of April, when I will see them again and ask for some kind of promise to keep playing music and somehow get it into my hands. In the mean time, I will hold onto the memory of seeing them the few times that I have, and I will remember that live music when it is played honestly, simply for the sake of being played, is the best gig in town. Because of nights like this, I always feel young, hip and important, whether in NYC or KL. Whether 28, 32 or …


  1. I wonder what it means about how young and hip I am that when I saw the concert pictures my first thought was "Wow, what lovely carpets".

    There is something unique about live music. I could be perfectly happy at a concert of polka music or whatever, as long as it was live and loud enough. I think the near-complete lack of live musical instruments is why I've never been to a rap concert I really liked, even though I really like hip hop. Same with Broadway musicals -- I think they usually just play the pre-recorded music over speakers. Boo.

  2. hey intrepid, we're bringing laila again this april 6th - little havana 8 pm. spread the love ^_^

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  4. hello mate..
    thanks for support laila's lounge..
    visit us:
    and our next gig is in 6.4.2007..
    see u there bro.