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4 Nights in Kuala Lumpur, 3 Performances, Lots of Heat, Humidity and Jet Lag – But One of the Most Interesting Places Musically on Earth

October 2, 2016

Kuala Lumpur Skyline

Kuala Lumpur Skyline

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – I am never let down by my trips to Malaysia, and despite being hit from every which side from the jet lag on this trip so far, and despite very little planning in advance, KL has again proven to be one of my favorite destinations on my worldwide musical journey. I decided to pass up on any idea of a musical joint on Wednesday night, but I then ended up playing in three completely different venues on the following three nights, and hung out at a fourth – one of the most interesting – without playing.
Shaneil and band at Timbre open mic in KL

I have always been amazed at the level of talent of the musicians in this country, and what’s really freaky too is that while I am so used to travelling the world and hearing people for whom English is not their native language singing and composing in English, here you might THINK it is not their native language, but English IS one of the main languages spoken in Malaysia. This comes, no doubt, from something like colonization, but despite the presence of so many other languages – notably Malay – I hear almost exclusively English being spoken in KL, the capital city.
first at Timbre

And that means that when people sing and compose in English here, it is not just in order to try to achieve some illusion of worldwide success – it is to express themselves. So it works. Furthermore, this is a country full of fantastic, velvety singing voices. I have no idea why. But who cares.
second at Timbre

Heading out to Shah Alam for the Lorong BlackBox

My first stop was at the new venue of Atraz Ismail in Shah Alam, which is about 45 minutes drive from downtown. This is a combination of a street food vending operation along with a small back of the room, tastefully decorated dining and music playing area called, “Lorong BlackBox.” Atraz is the man behind that place where I had such an amazing time five years ago, called SENYAP – which means “silence” – and which burned down a few years ago, causing Atraz to forget about such ventures for a while.
third at timbre

Thursday was not an official musical evening at Lorong BlackBox, but I had my guitar with me, so I was invited to sign few songs for Atraz and his cooks and whoever else happened to be there. I ate a magnificent rice meal and played my heart out. I wish him great luck in the future with this place, and its location in a back alley in this interesting conglomeration of restaurants and boutiques – reminiscent somehow of images I’ve seen of New Orleans (I’ve never been there!) – promises some cool stuff, like a kind of music festival Atraz plans for the back alley and is currently seeking permission for.
sixth at timbre

Another Open Mic at the Merdekarya Hang Out Venue

Friday it was off to the open mic night of the venue that I have not missed for several years now, where I attended one of the best open mic nights I have ever attended anywhere, a few years ago. That is Merdekarya, which is also located fairly far outside KL – although only around 20 minutes’ drive this time – and is also located in a funky food stall kind of area, on the floor over a neat Asian semi-outdoor restaurant. They hold an open mic several times a week and you can sign up on the Merdekarya web site for an open mic slot well in advance.
Merdekarya panorama

The open mic this time was not quite the dream it was on that first dream-like evening I spent there, but I enjoyed visiting Merdekarya again, of course, as it has such a feeling of a “scene” surrounding it, and indeed, it DOES have a scene. It’s not only the favorite open mic venue of many young musicians in KL, it is also their favorite hangout. One of those people is Sheneil Devaser, who was there on Friday night and who runs several open mics around KL. He invited me to attend his new Saturday night open mic at Timbre, in the center of KL, despite his list already being full.
trombone at merdekarya

Finally, it was on to the Open Mic at the Timbre

But before I turn to Timbre, I have to mention that I met up with Andy Peterson, who is one of the world’s greatest bass guitar players – in my, and many other peoples’ opinions – at Merdekarya. Andy is Malaysian, but he travels the world playing bass in both the studio and live performances, for a wide variety of musicians and bands, and he has also released his own absolutely fabulous CD of compositions.
second at merdekarya

Andy said he was going off to the Backyard Pub after Merdekarya and asked if I wanted to join him. So I gladly and thankfully agreed, since Backyard is also one of my all-time favorite music destinations in KL. The musical director, Edmund Anthony, has impeccable taste in music, and always has a list of fabulous bands at the venue. Backyard is known as one of the top music venues in the city, and when you hear the level and variety of the music, it’s no surprise. Edmund has lately been staging his own band on Tuesday nights, by the way, and it sounds very original…. We caught up on news, as it had been a few years since I was last there, having spent most of my time in KL attending open mics, rather than listening to other bands – although I did do a set once at the Backyard.

Saturday is was off to Shaneil’s open mic at the Timbre bar and restaurant, which is located in downtown KL, not far from my hotel near the twin towers. It is located on a street that has begun to be a magnet of new bars and restaurants, and Shaneil has started up this open mic that features several musicians playing their singer songwriter stuff before the feature band plays for the rest of the night. Last night, Shaneil’s band also did a nice long set, and that was really rich, and nice to hear a full-fledged rock band with some nice melodies and cool guitar, featuring Shaneil’s strong vocals.

I had a fabulous time singing on that huge stage with a great sound system and a sound man permanently there to adjust the levels. Rich in reverb, I didn’t even need more than a single pint of beer to feel relaxed and safe behind the mic.

A great three nights so rich in experiences that I realize once again how much I like KL and its musicians and its music. Oh yes, and music is so prevalent, I have seen buskers all over, and I even saw some kind of impromptu outdoor music and dance moment just before the open mic at the Timbre – which I made a little video of….

Dancers in the street in KL

PS, I just realized I said nothing about the heat and humidity that I mention in the headline – and little about the jet lag. That just shows that despite this horrendous heat and humidity and jet lag, if you have enough amazing musician moments to distract you, then you don’t notice those things so much….

Brad’s Morning Exercises Music Rundown – Bowie, Depeche Mode, Foo Fighters, Bernhauser, Dick & Devaser (Bonus: Savage)

April 7, 2013

Sit Ups

Sit Ups

For most of my life I avoided classic daily physical exercise because I felt I was able to avoid it and it bored me to death. In recent years, I had a kind of flash of aged inspiration and realized that I might bore myself to death if I DON’T do exercises. That did not, however, alleviate the boredom. So it is that when not doing my nightly exercise of riding my unicycle around the neighborhood – which does NOT bore me – I do my exercises in the morning (sit ups, push ups, etc.) in the living room while listening to new and old CDs that I acquire from compilations of magazines like Rock & Folk, Mojo and Uncut. I also occasionally buy or get handed CDs of budding musicians at open mics. And while attending my first two races of the Formula One season a few weeks ago, I had a new source of CD acquisition in the Lotus Formula One team, which has this year signed a deal with Columbia Records, and they were handing out CDs to journalists in the F1 paddock.

So it was that I had a very fine collection of CDs from amateur and professional musicians when I returned from that trip, and I have been listening to new music for days during my morning exercises since then. I decided that I should occasionally share my morning exercise listening experiences with readers of this blog when I have no open mic news or videos to exploit.

Please keep in mind that I am ill-educated, and ill-equipped to be a music critic, with a terrible memory for who played what when, for an atrocious lack of care about who actually plays the songs I love and maybe even sing to myself in the shower – after the morning exercises – and that I have no music critic pretensions at all. In fact, I tend to agree with Hemingway that you cannot hunt with the hounds and run with the hares, or whatever it was he said about literary critics.

Still, I have music I like, love and hate. I have my personal impressions, and so like any listener in the world, I can say something about what I listen to, and share my point of view with other non-critics, many readers of this blog. And that is what I’ve decided to do occasionally when there are enough CDs to talk about. Keep in mind also that my impressions and opinions will have been formed while straining to reach a record number of push ups, sit ups, couch ups, stretch downs and simply catching my breath. So maybe my opinion will be warped.

Bowie Album

Bowie Album

Let me start with the three CDs handed out by the Lotus team: Foo Fighters’ Greatest Hits, Depeche Mode Delta Machine and Bowie’s latest album, The Next Day. This was a really interesting listening exercise (no pun intended), as it set off bands from three decades against each other: The 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Of course they all span all decades since then, but for me the clear, clear, clear winner was Bowie. In a word, the Foo Fighters album just sounded like background music to me. Sorry, but I really like original melodies and vocals, and … well, this was just the same rhythmic rumble from beginning to end. Nothing more to say on that one. I listened to it once, and may listen again in some faraway future. But I just don’t see the point.

Right, so between the Depeche Mode and the Bowie? I was really excited about the double CD of Depeche Mode, and when I started listening to it I could clearly hear sharp, strident, cutting beats and… then it all sounded like elevator music. There was nothing on this album that told me this band was still capable of making hits like some of the ones it did in the 1980s. Weirdly, very weirdly, it all sounded exactly like the Depeche Mode of the 1980s, but without anything that stands out. Horribly, in fact, I felt like the album could have been made in the 1980s. What was the point? How had they grown??? What had they done all those years? The vocals remain as fresh as 30 years ago. No loss of voice here. But this was cookie-cutter 1980s Depeche Mode without the originality. I listened once, then started listening a second time on another day, and said, “Nope.”

Jeez. I’m really being scathing here, and I’m wondering how intelligent this exercise really is. After all, I’m sounding as nasty as a critic! But since my words count for nothing, and as a musician I have a following of about 10, rather than 10 million, what the hell! Morning exercises criticism, right?

OK. So on to the Bowie. The first time I listened, I was pleased to hear it sounded like Bowie. I had actually read another critic saying in one of the aforementioned magazines, however, that Bowie had not developed anything new on this, and we were hearing something that might have been done in the late 1970s. In a way, I agreed. But the production of the album, and again, the quality of the vocals – Bowie’s voice is still there, mostly – were pleasing. So although I was not overly impressed, I was adequately impressed.

I also remembered that historically, whenever a new Bowie would come out, I’d usually write it off…. only to love it with time. So I decided to put it on again another day. Especially as a way of comparing to the Depeche Mode. I then started listening more closely to the lyrics, and also noticing the differentiation between the melodies and rhythms, and I said, “No, this is not ‘all the same’, and no, he could not have done these lyrics in the 1970s. This is now. This is new. This is Bowie.” I listened to it a third time, another day. And it brought more to me, and grew on me, and I have to say that the oldest musician amongst these three bands, the dinosaur amongst them, he’s the one who produced the most interesting album. And a really nice album. I will listen to it again. Oh, I’m not completely without my criticisms. What is it, I asked myself, about these geriatric giants that they are writing songs about, in Bowie’s case, Valentine’s Day, and in Paul Simon’s case on his album a couple of years ago, Christmas Day…? Both must be the worst tracks. But that Simon album was magnificent – for me, better than the Bowie. But in both cases, it warmed my morning exercise muscles, to say nothing of my soul, and made me feel as if there was hope in aging rockers….

A Formula One journalist friend of mine from Canada passed on a CD from a friend of his while I was in Malaysia. The musician is Peter Dick, and he is a pianist, and a fan of Formula One. His CD, based on some sessions he did in Hart House at the University of Toronto, is called “String Theory,” and it is a mixture of some kind of contemporary music and jazz, including one song by Bill Evans. I really love this kind of piano, which reminded me slightly of Keith Jarrett. One of the songs, bizarrely, or rather, fittingly, is called “Ayrton,” after Ayrton Senna, the deceased Formula One driver. I really liked the CD, but unfortunately, there are two tracks that I will have to program OUT of my playlist. These are the two tracks where Dick decides to “sing.” Sorry, but the singing style and lyrics just didn’t do it for me, and completely killed their respective tracks. The rest of Dick’s compositions were very cool, laid back, intricate listening.

When I did that fabulous open mic in Malaysia in the middle of the suburbs at a place I had a hard time getting a cab driver to find for me, there was a musician named Shaneil Devaser, who I quite liked during the evening. He had original compositions, a varied style, nice guitar playing and singing range. Clever lyrics, clever songs. So as I left the open mic, I gladly bought a copy of his CD EP, simply named after himself. It was fun to listen to it and hear how some of the songs sounded in a recording environment and sometimes with other instruments rather than just his vocals and guitar as he did live.

Anthony Bernhauser

Anthony Bernhauser

Finally, upon my return to Paris while I attended the Tennessee Bar open mic the very day I had left Malaysia that morning, I had just arrived at the open mic and found a guy taking to the stage who came from Nashville. I was involved in conversations with friends who greeted me after my two week absence, but I had to stop talking and record the guy. His voice was very strong, and he had nice guitar work, and some catchy sounding country-like tunes. His name was Anthony Bernhauser, and afterwards he came up to me and introduced himself as someone who had read this blog and who had sent me an email asking me about places to play in Paris. I remembered him instantly, and he gave me his CD. Beautifully produced, you can really hear the strength and richness of his guitar, and it’s a real feel of Nashville, and current Americana singer songwriter stuff – I think, anyway….

Well, that’s it. Strange, I’ve been vicious with a couple of the most successful bands – although not with THE most successful. So maybe that means something. Personally, it was just the way I truly felt about this crop of CDs. But I never did like exercising….

Bonus track: While I’m at this, I might as well mention another CD that I received before my two week trip to Australia and Malaysia, even if it is out of synch time wise with these in terms of when I got it…. This is one from a guy I have seen play recently in Paris open mics, but who I first saw playing at Earle Holmes’s open mic at the Truskell when the guy was maybe 15 years old. This the EP of Josh Savage, called Mountains in Hurricanes. There are some very catchy lyrics here, and Josh could always sing. Nice move.

Merdekarya, Malaysia: Was It a Waking Dream, or An Incredible Open Mic? The Taxi Part Provided the Answer

March 21, 2013



Around the mid-way point of the evening at the Merdekarya open mic in the Jalan Gasing part of Kuala Lumpur, I had flashes of strange feelings and images: Was I really sitting in this cool loft-like artsy café and bar space on the first floor above a food stall restaurant called Sunny Raj, and sipping a Guinness and listening to and watching some of the most beautiful-voiced and talented musicians I have seen in one spot in a long long time? Or was my mind playing games with me and saying, you are dreaming, you’ve come to some foreign outpost in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and you have signed up to play your music – but all the local talent sound like the pop stars of tomorrow on the global stage?

I knew, really, that it had all happened. I did not have to pinch myself, because I had arrived at this open mic in absolute extremes. It was a combination of persistence and luck and frustration and good common sense that had led me there. I had discovered the place on the amazing Kuala Lumpur open mic page of a guy named Shaneil Devaser, a site called, which is my own Thumbnail Guide’s Malaysian counterpart.

I had taken a taxi from next to the twin Petronas Towers in downtown KL, and spent the better part of an hour turning around in circles in the suburb Jalan Gasing, where the open mic takes place, in what was definitely a hallucination. The ride should have lasted 15 or 20 minutes. But the driver not only did not know where the venue was, but he knew NOTHING about the suburb, or about the names of the roads or how to ask strangers in the area where to find the place.

I kept persisting with him, and my fare doubled in the process. Finally, I decided to give up and asked if he could take me to the Hilton Hotel in the same neighborhood, where I had intended to spend the second part of the evening at the Rockafellas venue that I wrote about last year. But even there, he ended up taking me to the wrong hotel!!!

So once I found myself at this hotel in the middle of nowhere in the suburb of KL, and they told me they had never heard of Rockafellas, I decided to ask if they knew the address where the Merdekarya open mic took place. The guy hesitated at first, consulted with a colleague, then said he knew exactly where it was. I was still ready to return to my hotel in the city, but I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt.

So I get in a second cab, and it turns out HE does not know where we are going. But he, at least, had a GPS, and within five minutes, we were at the Merdekarya. In fact, I saw that we were about 100 meters away from one of the spots where we had stopped in the first cab to ask instructions of locals – and they knew not where to find the Sunny Raj, the Merdekarya, or the address where they sat.

So I entered the building, taking the stairs up to the first floor, and I walked into this very cool and laid back venue with its makeshift wooden stage and makeshift bar and makeshift backroom reading room. But there was beer and wine and there was food to be ordered from the Sunny Raj via the venue, and there were musicians on the stage, and many musicians and spectators at the tables listening, and there were CDs for sale, a novel for sale and written by the open mic organizer, Brian Gomez, and there were only Malaysian people present.

And I felt suddenly that I might have found an open-mic goldmine through my persistence and fluke of circumstances. And later in the evening, the organizers would say, “Thanks for persisting to find the place. A lot of people don’t persist, and don’t find us.” Got it!!!

As the evening progressed, then, and I sat there listening to one amazing voice and guitarist after another – all singing and composing in English, which is a local predominant language – I began having that feeling of hallucinating. I have noticed in the past in my visits to Malaysia that there are a lot, a very vast number of excellent vocalists. Last night really got me thinking about why this might be. It was clear again that I was attending an open mic with so many wonderful qualities of vocalist that there is clearly something in the air in Malaysia that lends itself to great singing.

One of the organizers of the evening suggested to me that it was the spicy food, and I can attest to the fact that my noodles meal that was quite hot and spicy certainly did not negatively affect my own voice when it was my turn to sing. I felt good. Actually, I felt horrendously nervous at one point because I was faced with so many great musicians that I wondered how I might appear – or rather, sound – to these people.

Ultimately, I asked myself why, why oh why we do not have Malaysian pop stars across the globe. There is so much talent here. And this open mic was clearly the most interesting, hip and cool that I have ever attended in Malaysia. And it turned out that I found myself in a similar position to what others are in Paris because of my list, when I met Shaneil Devaser at the open mic and told him I had found the place thanks to his list!

I have made a huge number of videos to show off and prove that point. Check ’em out!!!

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