After the biting cold that had me worried that the full horror of a Seoul winter was finally here, the day of the concert was mercifully warm and allowed me to go to the venue dressed relatively lightly. After a small meal, we went to the V-Hall in the Hong-Ik University area which was three floors below ground, the kind of place that would have experts lamenting the lack of appropriate fire exits were a fatal incident to occur. It was very small and extremely narrow – the stage shown in the pictures below is basically the whole width of the hall. I would have thought that Quruli, being not an unknown band in Korea, would have commanded a bigger venue (Spitz played at AX-Korea, a proper arena), but perhaps they themselves demanded a more intimate setting, who knows.
We arrived half an hour before the scheduled 6pm start as instructed, but the place was already crowded, and a sign posted up at the entrance said that the door had been open since 4pm! But then as we made our way to the pit I realized that, actually, there weren’t 90 minutes’ worth of rabid early arrivers jostling for position in front of the stage, and that there were lots of empty pockets of space that allowed us to be positioned excellently. So we waited, and waited, and then the curtains went up amid great excitement to reveal…
…this guy. He’s a celebrity architect who appeared a few years ago on one of those TV shows that do renovations for hard-up families. He claims he loves music (don’t we all), that he’s a big Quruli fan (is that so) and that he was invited by the band to open for them (sure, and I was Robert Johnson‘s guitar teacher). He dared claim that he is inspired by Quruli’s lovely lyrics to do good music, and then proceeded to warble the most turgid, middle-of-the-road stuff you can imagine. His songs were perfectly serviceable lounge ditties, and his singing voice wasn’t intolerable, but he’s not even a full-time musician and wasted 20 minutes of everyone’s time with pure muzak. As early as the second song people were looking down on the ground, flicking on their smartphones, although they did reward him with polite, muted applause that probably encouraged him, unfortunately.
After that ordeal was over, we waited for about 15 minutes more, and then Quruli came on stage to whoops of delight. They are the most unassuming looking bunch of people, and the lead singer, Shigeru Kishida, has the appearance of your quintessential convenience store clerk. Appearances can be deceiving, though, and the whole set was at times very powerful, others playful, and always full of energy. They mostly concentrated on the harder songs, opening with LV30 and continuing with the grunge riffs of Tokyo and Wangervogel‘s relentless drive. Although I’m still mad at Quruli for their colossal waste of time and talent with the Tanz Walzer and Philharmonic or Die catastrophes (there’s KRW 30,000 I will never see again), Bremen sounded excellent here and I was surprised to find myself really taking to it. In between they mixed in the beloved classic Bara no Hana, and rather unexpectedly played Highway as their fourth song; needless to say that got everyone singing along and was the predictably – wonderfully – poignant highlight. Birthday and Thank You My Girl from Nikki were always fine songs and the band’s rendition on the night was exciting and full-blooded.
Quruli also squeezed in a new song called Nozomi Ichigo which was a four-chorder of few distinguishing moments, and as encore did what seemed like a ten-minute version of River that was raucous, mischievous, deceptively skillful. During the interval, Masashi Sato (bassist) and Shonen Yoshida (guitar) put on a little skit to advertise some memorabilia, and they wore these white t-shirts with Quruli written in Korean that had everyone wondering if they could buy them (they couldn’t). Disappointingly, Quruli didn’t play any of the songs from what I consider to be the third act of their career, the post-orchestra crap era of the past two years that saw them flourish with the musicality of more mature, mellower songs like Yukai na Peanuts, Sayonara Regret and Magic Carpet (Mahouno Juutan). Worse still, they didn’t do Kotoba wa Sankaku, Kokoro wa Shikaku that was featured in A Gentle Breeze in the Village and which I think is possibly the most subtle and beautiful song they’ve ever done. In some ways, Quruli’s onstage manner was too playful and high-spirited to sit well with the nature of these songs, but it would have been a real privilege to have heard at least one of the three live, and judging by the way they handled Highway it’s not like they can’t do quiet songs either. Just to prove my point, they finished off the encore with Tabi no Tochuu (In the Middle of the Journey), a lovely, reflective acoustic number that was a fitting end to a memorable and highly enjoyable evening.
Wish they sold the t-shirt, mind.