The Acoustica Malam Edan Search concert at the state-of-the-art The Star Auditorium in Singapore started almost an hour late. Search, the five-piece multi platinum Malaysian Muslim rock band who had stayed together through thick and thin for 32 years, was accompanied by another guitarist, a cellist, three violinists, a pianist, a keyboardist and three back-up singers. This would have been a dream come true for a band who performed their first gigs in the early 1980s at dusty small town fun fairs in Johore with sound systems rented from Taoist undertakers.
The on and off again lead guitarist, Kid, stumbled onto the stage a few minutes after the band had taken their positions. He was the youngest of the group, all of 45 years old – which some may consider the peak of a man’s life – but he was looking visibly haggard and dishevelled, a far cry from his days as the band’s skilled lead and favourite heart throb. Perhaps he had entered the high and fast life too young; he was only 22 when he was initiated into the band, replacing incumbent lead guitarist Hillary Ang who had gone on to a solo career. This was in 1989, just as the band was catapulted to fame and sold close to a million records for the Fenomena album in Malaysia and Indonesia alone, considered a feat by denizens of the Malaysian music scene even today. Members of the band, namely Kid and his older rhythm guitarist brother, Din, had been fraught with drug allegations in the band’s heyday, something most would dismiss as typical of the hedonistic rock star lifestyle of the 1980s. But when Kid’s stumbling through trademark solos and defining riffs became once too often and my online research revealed several other allegations that he was high at several of their more recent gigs, including one in Singapore, I wondered if he had indeed had one toke too many.
Amy, the lead singer and Yazit the drummer seemed to still enjoy being celebrated rock musicians. Amy had gone to Mecca, married four times – most recently to a woman 20 years his junior- and fathered half a dozen children with his second grandchild on the way, and he was one surprisingly fresh-faced, swaggering and slick 55-year-old rock star who hit all the high notes like it was still 1981. Yazit was the understated yet impeccable time-keeper behind the massive fortress that was his drum set, complete with the rides and splashes rigged up according to his preference, but whispers soon bubbled among the audience that he was not a well man when he hobbled out from behind the drum kit on a cane to bow before the audience, flanked by his band.
It was a dry gig. Perhaps more sobering than old age was the audience that they played to, mostly middle-aged tudung-wearing aunties and their spouses who had put on the pounds and had children and grandchildren of their own since they last pounded their fists in the air to the rhythm of Search’s rock and roll. These were the aunties who once wore miniskirts and grew up in a time where albums ruled and cost $8 a cassette, aunties who had forgotten most of the songs they had once played ad nauseum on their Walkmen except for the handful of radio-friendly ballads; there was this noticeable silence whenever the tempo picked up.
Amy tried to rouse the audience into clapping along through the unfamiliar songs, and for a while they did, and the effort finally paid off when they played a 1987 hit, Fantasia Bulan Madu, which had everyone swaying their arms in the air and belting out the impossibly high-pitched chorus. At the end of the show, Amy thanked the audience, the sessionists, the back-up singers -one of them was wearing a tudung- and his band mates – Yazit, Nasir, Din – and finally put his arm around Kid who he described as “the naughty little brother of the band that I love dearly”.