Joking and endearingly awkward, Chris Jones addressed the crowd that turned up at the Thunder Rock School on Upper Thomson Road. It was the second night of the Acoustic Adventure and nerves and kinks have been ironed out after the first night at Books Actually on Yong Siak Street, and with complimentary ambient lighting, both These Brittle Bones and Esther Lowless seem calm and at ease before their showcase.
Two equally talented piano players with a penchant for moody aesthetics in their music have paired up for a limited blink-and-you-might-miss-it three-show series. Their DIY ethos when it comes to their music making have led them to this adventure of sorts, a collaboration between two of Singapore's prominent independent singer-songwriters and a kickass string ensemble to boot.
Indeed it was a case of choose your own adventure as we saw these two (and their troupe) played at a variety of different venues and settings. There was the warm and rustic backdrop of Books Actually, the intimate and reposeful ambience at Thunder Rock School and, the inarguably hip Artistry.
Talking to them in the dimly lit alleyways of Tiong Bahru, they expressed a little anxiety over performing inside Books Actually - a venue actually for books, and not really for acoustics. Despite their pre-show jitters though, their warm demeanour and affable disposition betrayed their inclination towards the dark, gloomy originals and covers that they showcased a few minutes later.
The overarching theme was a sense of intimacy rarely found in their usual strings of gigs; stages at The Esplanade and Home Club don't allow a type of warmth and amity that you'd find in small gigs. It was as much as an adventure for them as it was with them.
The format for each show was as such: each musician would introduce themselves and their music with a selection of four songs each before performing together three cover songs and an original called 'Static' which they wrote collaboratively for the project.
If the audience weren't familiar with either artistes, they were definitely introduced to the best songs from each of their discography, enhanced by grand string sections provided by sessionists Josh Wei, Nigel Png, Karen Lee and Lisa Enharyono - all accomplished independent musicians in their own right. On other days, Karen and Lisa would have relished the spotlight in Tricks & Cider and Enec.e respectively, but for those nights, they gladly let the attention fall on the two singer-songwriters. Josh was in his element, killing it on violins as usual, no different from his live sessions with other musicians including The Sam Willows and Tall Mountains. In fact, another talent of his was bashfully unravelled in Thunder Rock School when he nonchalantly beatboxed alongside Esther singing a rendition of Ella Fitzgerald's 'Summertime'.
Chris on the other hand was a little nervous on the first night at Books Actually, but all that was alleviated in the second night when he performed with more confidence and comedy - he was definitely more assured as the series of shows progressed. Esther exhibited her usual chatty and expressive self onstage and offstage, and was willing to share the stories behind each of her songs.
But the showpiece of the series was the collaborative set between These Brittle Bones and Esther Lowless, where all the musicians involved had equal parts in arranging and interpretation of the covers. The three songs they showcased together were 'Set Fire To The Third Bar' (popularised by Snow Patrol and Martha Wainwright), 'Roslyn' (done by Bon Iver and St Vincent) and 'Volcano' (by Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan). The interpretative covers sounded great and fresh, with a sense of grandness supplied by the string section, and they were visibly well-received by the audience. Their collaborative original 'Static' starts out sombre, but quickly leads to a delightful and effervescent chorus - a surprisingly rousing track that worked effectively as an exceptional ender to a sublime hour-long set.
Words by Ilyas Sholihyn & Delfina Utomo