A lot has happened since the last time Mongolian band The HU was in the country. Their first visit to Australia coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to some very uncertain times (to put it mildly) with a lot of restrictions suddenly popping up which had huge implications for the music industry. The HU was first in Australia as part of the 2020 Download Music Festival, which was canceled due to COVID at the very last minute, leaving them in the country to only perform a couple of their sideshow gigs. I attended one of these gigs at The Gov in Adelaide and little did I know at the time, that it would be the last proper gig I would see for quite some time. The venue capacity was reduced due to restrictions on the very day of the gig, leaving many ticketholders unable to attend the sold-out show, and one of the few phrases we heard the band speak in English that night was ‘fuck coronavirus!’
Two and a half years later, The HU is finally back in Australia, and under much less uneasy conditions.
For those not familiar with The HU, they certainly are a unique band. The band itself calls its genre 'Hunnu Rock', which is a mix of traditional Mongolian music and western metal. The band uses a combination of their traditional instruments including the morin khuur (or horsehead fiddle) and more typical rock instruments like the electric guitar, giving them a very distinctive sound.
This Adelaide gig was originally booked for the new Hindley Street Music Hall but with construction still underway, the show was moved to The Bridgeway Hotel.
Opening up the show was Brisbane’s The Blackwater Fever. I can’t imagine how you might find a suitable band to open up for The HU in Australia, given their unique genre, however, The Blackwater Fever supplied some tight bluesy garage rock which sat well with the packed venue’s crowd. Their set served as a fairly laid-back warm-up for the main act to come.
As the headliner’s set start time was approaching, I found my way down to the front of the stage. Despite the room being at capacity, there was a very relaxed vibe in the room. There didn’t seem to be the usual push and shove down at the front of the stage and it was quite easy to get a good spot without getting in anyone’s way. Looking around at the punters before the lights went down, there didn’t seem to be any clear demographic in attendance either. There wasn’t a ‘crowd type’ to be seen at all and it had me wondering how this large crowd had discovered The HU.
Right on schedule, the lights dimmed, and the band entered the stage to rapturous applause, kicking off with a track called Shihi Hutu from their forthcoming new album Rumble of Thunder. This song showcased everything that the band is known for, sounding like an epic battle-cry anthem. Their traditional throat singing and morin khuur’s were used to great effect. In contrast, the second song of the set Shoog Shoog would have to be The HU’s most upbeat-sounding song with its almost danceable beat. Next up was the title track from the band’s debut The Gereg album, which showcased some of vocalist Jaya’s playing of the tumur hhuur (jaw harp).
As the band worked their way through their set of songs mostly from their debut and also from their album coming next month, I noticed how transfixed the crowd was by the band, despite the lyrics being in Mongolian and not being easy songs to sing along to. A lot of The HU’s songs have a hypnotic rhythm to them, and the appearance of the band is visually striking. On stage, the core members of the band are at the front of the stage. Gala, Enkush, Jaya and Temka all dressed in intricate leather, with their beautiful traditional Mongolian instruments are the focal point of the show. Seeing such different instruments being played is part of the appeal of The HU for me, and I’m sure for many others who have seen the band perform.
Behind the core members of the band are the members of the band who play the more typical western instruments and are considered the touring members of the band. Ono, Jamba, Davaa and Odko are all set back from the front of stage, playing guitar, bass, drums and percussion in the semi-darkness for a lot of the performance. With eight band members on stage, it’s this combined mix of traditions that gives The HU such a rich and distinctive sound.
Later in the set came the two songs that introduced the world to the band. Both Yuve Yuve Yu and Wolf Totem, when released, garnered millions of views on YouTube. It was the later re-recording of the latter song with Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix that was my introduction to the band. These two songs got a huge response from the crowd.
Rounding out the set were a couple of new songs, Black Thunder and This is Mongol both of which were released this year, preceding the rest of the new album.
After almost ninety minutes, the band took a bow and exited the stage. The crowd most certainly still wanted more so the band returned for the obligatory but well-deserved encore.
As the band arrived back on the stage, the now familiar sounds of the morin khuurs rang out before the electric guitar kicked in with the instantly recognisable riff of Metallica’s Sad But True. The Hu’s version of this song has got to be the perfect blend of western metal and traditional Mongolian folk instruments for sure and was a brilliant way for the band to bring the set to a close.
Although I was initially disappointed that this gig had been moved from a new city venue to an older suburban hotel, The Bridgeway did turn out to be a great place to relocate to. With the big stage and impressive light set-up, the sound and visuals of The HU were well showcased, and when it was all over and the house lights came on, there was a definite buzz in the room and there were a lot of smiling faces from punters who looked really happy to be back at big gigs once again.