Archive for November, 2003


Tuesday, November 25th, 2003

By Zack Yusof, The Star

THE popular theory goes that there is really only six degrees of separation between anyone and everyone else in the world. Well, if that is really the case, local singer/songwriter Pete Teo is seemingly closer to the likes of veteran storytelling troubadours like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan than most, given the man’s inclination to walk down the same musical road as the two aforementioned leading lights.

While Teo may not (yet) have the expansive poetry, the worldly experience or indeed the distinctive, weather-beaten croon of either a Cohen or Dylan, what he has in common with them is a strong desire to share poignant stories of love, life, despair and loss in a distinctively non-commercial musical context. While Cohen and Dylan dressed up their urban tales in folk sophistication, Teo has chosen a mellower, jazzier template to present his work.

Pete Teo is making ambitious music that requires his audiences to use their brain. Performing a three night residency at The Actors Studio Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, as part of the on-going Heineken Green Room Sessions last week, the shows represented a golden opportunity for Teo to road test some material from his recently released debut solo album ‘Rustic Living For Urbanites’.

Abandoning his usual solo acoustic act for a fuller musical experience, Teo was backed up at the shows by a host of session musicians, namely Charles Wong on drums, Singaporean Joshua Wang on bass, Justin Lim on keyboards, Chan Kum Loong on erhu and zhonghu, and musical director Greg Lyons on the saxophone and clarinet.

Last Thursday’s opening night show in the comfy and intimate surrounds of the Actors Studio theatre at the Bangsar Shopping Complex saw Teo reaffirm the notion that he was indeed one of the local scene’s most promising acts, in terms of sheer professionalism and musical dexterity anyway. Unlike most debut solo acts, Teo arrived on stage and performed like a fully formed act, devoid of the jitters or teething problems.

The thing is, a slick and mature performance it may well have been but in terms of edge-of-the seat, high-octane musical thrills, Teo’s ever-so-polite gig just seemed to be lacking that ‘oomph’ factor somewhat. While a Pete Teo concert was probably never, ever going to be a wild, rockin night out for the hedonists and thrill seekers out there, some authentic musical kicks to complement the lovely frothy beverages on sale certainly would not have gone amiss.

But minor quibbles aside, Teo quickly established the fact that he was indeed something of maverick (in local industry terms anyway) within minutes of coming on stage. Slinking on a dark stage with the minimum of fuss, distinctively dressed down in a crumpled powder blue shirt and jeans, Teo plonked himself down on a stool and picked and crooned his way through a sparse but emotional version of the Leonard Cohen classic Famous Blue Raincoat. Wearing his influences proudly on his sleeve, Teo’s brave decision to unleash a downbeat Cohen cover as his opening salvo set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Looking like a young Willem Dafoe with his craggy, intense features, Teo certainly looked the part of a world weary troubadour with the weight of the world on his shoulders and for the best part of the night, he even managed to sound suitably messed up. Lyrically, Teo doesn’t stray too far away from the usual introspective troubadour staples (innocence and loss, death, nostalgia, death remorse) as well. Within the confines of simplistic, strummed chord structures, Teo ran the rule over the minutiae of every day urban life in introspective, intensely personal songs like Rhapsody In Blue (‘about a woman that I met in a bar who turned out to be a man’), Red House (the sad story of a man left by his wife and child after he was released from prison) and Where Have The Years Gone? (a mellow, wistful tune that Teo penned in New Orleans years ago). To infuse his passionate songs with some authenticity, Teo delivered his bittersweet vignettes like his life depended on it.

After a short interval, Teo returned on stage and concentrated on upping the tempo of his set, performing the trio of Marianne songs from his album, namely ‘Rustic Living For Urbanites’ opener Arms Of Marianne, Marianne Called and Hush Marianne as well as popular album tracks Budapest and Alive N’ Free with the anthemic single Jesselton Tonight saved until the encore to round of the night in epic fashion. Teo also threw in Tom, a new song written in September during a trip to Japan, and a Neil Finn (ex-Crowded House) cover.

Mellow, mature and with more than a hint of studied cool to his repertoire, Pete Teo is making ambitious music that requires his audiences to use their brain. While that’s not always the recipe for success, it’s certainly a career move that has to be applauded if only for its commitment to making timeless, intelligent music. There’s no mistaking Teo’s strength and conviction for his craft. Whether the kids take to it is another matter. But one suspects that the man really couldn’t care less. He’s just happy doing his thang.