▲ This is just part of the band Alchemist's musical selection for the evening. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
Last Saturday, the intimate Miyerang Theatre on the edge of Tapdong, Jeju City, hosted a night of intimate music from a band called Alchemist. During their two-hour performance, the nine-piece group offered strong musicianship and an array of sounds to a small, appreciative audience.
Perhaps Alchemist derives their name from the constantly revolving musicians on the stage. In between each song, onstage personnel shifted and a different member stepped up to the microphone or sat down at the drum kit – the piano player picked up a violin, or an ocarina player appeared from the wings. The group was keen on trying different combinations of musicians and in doing so was able to explore a variety of sounds.
The shift in musicians, however, proved to be somewhat time consuming and required a lot of banter to fill the space between songs. This light-hearted and quirky banter was not only lost on non-Korean speakers, but dragged on at times. It often took just as long to prepare for a song as it did to play it. However, the audience remained patient and respectful and was happy to humor the band’s indulgences.
The music itself held true to the venue’s eclectic reputation. The band boasted a hand drum, piano, violin, bass, shaker, vocals, ocarina, penny whistle, electric and acoustic guitars, and drum kit. The music jumped between genres – one song channeling the low-key shaker-driven attitude of Brazilian music, the next a stadium power ballad. There was even a Celtic song thrown in complete with penny whistle.
For all of the diversity in instruments and sounds, Alchemist sometimes became stuck on a genre. In the middle of the set, there was a stretch of five power ballads that were incongruent with the softer songs that began the set. The sprawling drums were out of place and too loud for the small venue, and the dramatic melodies became repetitive and would have been more at home in a large stadium. In this regard, the set seemed poorly planned and somewhat thrown together. Often it appeared that the next song was selected on the spot – a method that was detrimental to the band’s presentation of their diverse skills. They would have benefited from a more succinct and better executed set to keep the audience more involved.
Alchemist’s strengths lay in the musicians themselves. Both singers who shared the microphone showcased dynamic voices, and the casualness with which the drummers were able to take on difficult songs was impressive. The piano player was easily able to pick up a violin and break into a furious Irish melody without missing a step.
Near the end of the set, almost all of the members took to the stage for a fast-paced song in which the drum kit and hand drum traded solos as the rest of the group crescendoed into a wall of energy. This was the band at its most talented – using all of its members to venture into new and perhaps uncomfortable realms. It is apparent that Alchemist is still an experiment in progress, but they have much potential to grow and create.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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