Wait, who? You may be thinking…that is if you don’t happen to be up on Alternative Rock or Taiwanese Pop Rock. But you are, of course. Well maybe not if you’re reading this column. So let me tell you: I went to see two concerts this past week, by the aforementioned bands, and while my personal taste has nothing to do with this piece, please let me attempt to explain the difference of the two bands, and then a bit about promoters and venues in Hong Kong generally.

First of all, Twenty Two Pilots. Back in the pre-Napster days when labels (major or otherwise) actually developed bands, these guys would have been an A&R guys dream pet project. No they’ll never make all the label’s money like a Madonna or Robbie Williams (I’m dating myself a bit I know) did. But then again the band has bags of personality, talent and originality – plus they put on a unique and thoroughly entertaining show. Two twenty somethings from Ohio, and they did it the old fashioned way – sweating it out in small bars, playing for half-drunk people who were largely watching the ball game instead. So much so that they started wearing ski masks and gorilla suits onstage. Anything to get a reaction. Eventually they knew they were getting through when the fans started showing up to the (by now bigger) gigs wearing ski masks too.

The duo are original. The front man is an artist in the truest sense, i.e. a freak. And the drummer (who also triggers all the other sounds with his other foot) is a beast. Hits hard and keeps Swiss time. The writing is original, full of influences that you recognize and then when it all comes together you feel like you’re hearing something fresh. The front man sits at a baby grand piano and sings in an edgy tenor. He bangs minor chords. Suddenly the drummer stands up and smashes his cymbals and the singer is on top of the piano and then windmilling through the air, landing ten feet away – and his expression changes and now he’s rhyming in a cadence that is reminiscent of Eminem…and yet it’s not. His microphone is a red light swinging from above the stage. He throws it to one side and it swings back and forth like a brothel pendulum as he stalks the stage and the fans scream.

So why were there only 400 people at the 1,500 seater KITEC Rotunda Three? Well…KITEC for one. Only in Hong Kong would you have music venues in a shopping mall. Surely there’s an old theater somewhere we can turn into a proper 500 seater, no? Really, must it be in a mall-like structure with all the warmth of Macy’s? And don’t get me started on Asia World Expo…a place designed for trunk shows. But I digress…

OK, so the other show I went to was a Taiwanese band called Soda Green, who have quietly sold a ton of records throughout the Chinese speaking diaspora over the past decade. I didn’t know much about them I admit, but my friend is friends with their manager and so we had front row seats. This show was at the HK Coliseum, which for my money at least feels like you’re going to a rock concert – it’s actually a pretty nice venue. There was no standing area – Soda Green being a Chinese band with ninety percent of the songs in an easy ballad-y tempo. Suffice to say there was no mosh pit. But it was sold out. And trust me, Soda Green is a big band, it was sold out for three nights in a row! The singer is super charismatic and super gay. He had on a bright red suit that was Vegas with a capital V. The other front man (green suit) is the straight guy – laughs at everything. There’s a cute, mop headed girl on bass. They were very tight and sang big choruses that everyone but us knew the words to in a tempo to wave glow sticks, what more do you want?

The concerts were promoted by local outfit IMC Live, and it was immediately clear that they understand their market. On the way in we received a green (get it?) glow stick each with our tickets. I would find out later – when I saw 12,500 fans waving them in unison – what that was about. Vendors came by hawking Haagen Dazs ice cream. Everyone had their phones out, filming and clicking away. At KITEC we were offered beer and a few other after thoughts. I think it really must be an uphill battle promoting Western acts in Hong Kong, unless its Taylor Swift or The Rolling Stones (would they even sell out?) Western promoters look at it like it’s Rock n Roll baby! Party time! But at the Soda Green show it felt more like the Mickey Mouse Club, despite the all-ages demographic. There was a bored eight year old in the chair next to me, eyeing my glow stick (I gave it to him, now he had two). His mom was the Soda Green fan. I think Western promoters could learn a lot about how to promote shows over here if they went to more local gigs. I’m all for bringing over great new bands like Twenty One Pilots, but give the kids (they were mostly Chinese teens anyway) a toy to wave so they feel at home. Give ‘em a place to sit down. Break out the ice cream.

Twenty Two Pilots 1
Twenty One Pilots

Twenty Two Pilots 2
Soda Green

Twenty Two Pilots 3
Sea of Neon Green

Slip Mahoney