14 January, 2011
Outside the window a Vietnamese woman in a worn conical hat and oversized windbreaker stoops on the side of narrow Xuan Dieu street, next to the giant Sheraton hotel sign, sorting piles of miscellaneous recyclables oblivious to the inconvenience she is causing taxis that rush impatiently by.
The chatter never stops, its busy. Miniature lamps emitting red light are at every table. Red paper lanterns, the perfume of cigarette smoke, and Western pop music create a warm atmosphere. This is Le Pub. Small, nothing particularly exceptional, save for one fact that cannot be overlooked; when you are here, you are no longer in Hanoi.
Although the TV plays badmitton or soccer instead of American football and the servers are Vietnamese, Le Pub is distinctly western, an English speaking world. I look around and see hipsters and young professionals, some unshaven, some with thick rimmed glasses, or hand stitched scarves.
Stereo cuts off, sound controls are tested, and heads turn toward the empty chair and mic. stand, conversation gradually dies out. Its 8:15. For some reason the cigarette smoke seems to get stronger, as if people are taking longer drags in anticipation of what's to come. Then,..nothing happens. Conversation resumes while technicians work a few feet behind me. The stereo starts back up again and things return to normal. I set my camera down, gaze out the window, wait some more.
He’s been sitting here amongst the crowd all along. Matt takes a sip of beer and walks the two meter trip up to his window perch, framed by the glow of streetlights from outside. Stereo off. Badmitton off. He takes some casual strums, tests the mic. in a distinctly kiwi accent and begins.
He starts off slow and unimpressive but he’s got the crowd’s attention. It was his next song that had my foot discreetly tapping, the one I’d consider his potential single, an upbeat indie hook that showcases his natural tenor voice and euro pop accent. This turned out to be the exception of his repertoire as the remainder of the night he held fast to dissonant chords and fatalist lyrics. The song diary he compiled was not one of happy memories by any stretch of the imagination and included lines like “tonight’s the night we’re going to die”, “we’re doomed to fail” and imagery such as “shadows” and a “watery grave”.
As the set progressed, the room began to feel a little colder, the red lanterns a little more haunting, and my insides a little more tense. I would have preferred something more uplifting for a Friday night. Still, I have to commend him for his honesty and openness; truly in the coffee house spirit.
Despite the fast and passionate strums of the chords, Matt falls into the background as the conversation starts up again. I was lulled into a melancholy half dream, staring out the window into the grey street. By 9:00 I decided it was about time to head out. “two more songs” he says, so I stay.
I talked a bit with Matt and his mom after the show. He’s a really nice guy, approachable and outgoing. He stopped by Hanoi in his travels to visit his family and sightsee for a few days. I’m not sure what he’s planning to do with his music, but there’s some potential. He’s got the frail indie look, he’s got the accent, what he’s lacking at the moment is universal appeal in his songs. That is, connection between his music and the audience.
His next performance in Hanoi?
“I’ll see you in two years”