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From Great to Better: Rockin’ the rockaFellas bar in Kuala Lumpur

March 25, 2012

The third night in Kuala Lumpur became in several ways a reflection of the night before – and just as amazing. I started off with a gig at the Frontera Mexican restaurant in the suburb. I had learned the night before that this was only five minutes or so drive away from rockaFellas, where I had played the night before after wending my way there via the failed gig and then the Backyard pub. So what happens Friday?

Russell Curtis, the owner of, and musician at, rockaFellas bar in Kuala Lumpur talks with Brad Spurgeon:

Remember that on Thursday I was invited to do a gig and the person who invited me called up and said she could not make it? And there was no one present at the gig venue? And I played anyway? Well, bizarrely, on Friday night I found myself a few hours before the gig at the Frontera learning that the guy who booked me could not show up. His excuse was very serious and I thanked him and wished him the best, and prepared myself for the gig – also knowing that if it was a disaster like the night before, I could make my way over to rockaFellas.

So I showed up at the Frontera and found the place bubbling with energy, customers, a kind staff and a nice sound system. And soon I was joined by a few people who had come last year when I played in the open mic at Frontera – which no longer exists. So I played for nearly an hour and a half in two sets, and had a great time. The neat thing about Frontera is that it is located in a shopping mall called Jaya One and so the restaurant opens up into the mall and you can see when people at nearby stores step out in the hall to listen to you singing, or others stop by out front and listen, and you know the whole time you play that you are not ONLY playing for the clients in the restaurant you are also playing to reach people down the halls and in the stores and drag them in to Frontera – where you can just sit and drink beer or other alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks too, if you want.

So I finished the gig and spoke for a while with my friends from last year – some music students and their teacher – and then they offered to take me over to rockaFellas.

There, I found the place moving with the full band of Russell Curtis, the singer, guitar player I mentioned the night before and who had brought me there from the Backyard. Russell had invited me to come around on the Friday to see the full band, and I did not regret it. They were great: Bass, two guitar players sharing lead and rhythm, and the drum player.

Then much to my surprise and delight, after I ate an excellent meal of Cantonese noodles – copious – Russell invited me to play a couple of songs again. So after their next set, I went up and started playing “Mad World” again, at his request. Halfway through the song, the bass player and Russell took to the stage and joined me. This time Russell played drums.

So we just cruised through that one and I headed directly into “Wicked Game,” which I thought would be simple enough for us to make our way through it adequately. The audience – much bigger and more party-minded than the day before – was really responsive, but especially on the next song.

It was like magic, Russell asked me to play “Cat’s in the Cradle,” although I have no idea whether he knew if I knew how to play it. So I proceeded to play the most upbeat version of “Cat’s in the Cradle” I’ve ever played, as I have never done it with a drummer and bass player.

There was only one thing that burned me, and that was how the jam was the most delightful, fun and cool thing I’d done so far on the visit, and because I was not prepared for it, I did not record it on my Roland R-26 as part of my project to record myself playing with the local musicians in every country I visit this year. Fortunately I did get that on a song the night before, but this was a golden opportunity lost.

Still, the purpose of this journey above all is those moments of delight on stage, and so that was more than fulfilled. I would not be the only “other” person joining the stage to jam with Russell and the band, as they called up another drummer and another singer after that.

As you will hear in the podcast interview I did with Russell, he opens his stage into not an “open mic,” but a jam session for friends and like-minded musicians. It’s part of the spirit I love and seek out in this open mic, open jam adventure.

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