Thursday, 21 November 2013

The acoustic ninja in Penang

I can't remember when exactly I got to know of this acoustic guitarist named Trace Bundy, but it could possibly be after the concert of Tommy Emmanuel at the end of last year. Immediately after that concert, I was searching through YouTube for Emmanuel's videos and I came across one of him playing with an impressionable, young South Korean guitarist named Jung Sungha. And as one video led to another, there was this video of young Jung playing Pachelbel's Canon in D with an American guitarist, Trace Bundy.

Though I was intrigued with Bundy's playing style, it did not exactly imprint itself in my mind. In fact after a while, I had totally forgotten about Emmanuel, Jung and Bundy.

Then came June or July (or it could even be later.) Brian Gan, with whom I had struck up a brief acquaintanceship after the Emmanuel concert happened to tell me that Trace Bundy would be coming to Penang. Okay, I told him, I shall see about buying the tickets when the time comes. And again, the name soon left my mind.

Can't blame me for this though, because Trace Bundy is not exactly a mainstream or familiar name in this part of the world. Only avid guitar fans would probably be more familiar with him. Not me; I only appreciate music and I don't know how to play any musical instrument unless you count the ability to blow my own trumpet or play second fiddle or harp on issues as playing music!

In October when my wife was telling me that she wanted to watch the Richard Clayderman concert in Penang, I remembered the impending Trace Bundy concert. So this November itself, we had treated ourselves to two music performances in Penang.

The contrast in the two shows couldn't have been more apparent: one was a big commercial sell-out at the Straits Quay convention centre because the pianist was so mainstream and thus catered to the tastes of middle-aged and senior uncles and aunties that made up perhaps half the audience (estimated 2,000 pax) while the other was a small intimate performance by a guitarist at the Wawasan Open University auditorium in front of a mixed audience of about 140 people comprising largely of youngsters, yuppies and Gen Yers. That was my impression.

It was very weird but right until the 16th of November, I had resisted re-visiting YouTube to look again at Trace Bundy's works. I really wanted to be surprised and thrilled with his virtuosity. But before we left the house, I decided to prep up my wife for the evening's entertainment. So out popped my iPad and before long, we watched two or three snippets of his songs. Of course, that Pachelbel song was one of them.

Elephant King kicked off Trace Bundy in Penang.

The audience warmed up to three local guitarists - Victor, Daniel and Shiela - before Bundy took the stage. Incredible stage presence, this guy, as he held everyone enthralled with his finger-picking technique. He could make his guitar sound very much like a piano, bell, violin, drum as well as, well, a guitar. Of course, there was also technical wizardry as Bundy demonstrated how some of his songs were played with the help of looping and echoing effects. But above all these technical effects, the show was all about Bundy as he extracted every bit of note from his acoustic guitar.

Pachelbel's Canon was a typical showcase for Bundy's technique

I've already mentioned in an earlier post about the autograph-signing session at the end of the show and so, I won't repeat it here. However, I just want to add that Bundy interacted so well with his audience. We were captivated by his stories as much as we enjoyed listening and watching him play. There was warmth when he opened up so much. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Hope he comes this way again.

Postscript: Only about half the auditorium was filled. Perhaps it had something to do with the show coinciding with the Penang Bridge Marathon. Whatever the reason, the response could have been better. I mentioned on facebook that anyone who had missed this show would not have known what they had missed. And in my opinion, they missed a lot! Trace Bundy can always be watched on YouTube but it is never the same as watching him live and up close on stage.

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