Review of CJs at the Mulia hotel, 2011

Rating: 53%

CJ’s bar at the Mulia Hotel in Jakarta has been the no.2 cover band bar in Jakarta for many years. But it breaks some of the rules the others follow.

Firstly the band (which seems to drop or add members once in a while, but never actually changes completely), is by no means a six or seven piece band. Sometimes you lose count of how many there are up on stage. OK, the stage is big (the whole length of the bar – maybe 20 metres), but I’ve counted at least 10 in the band, of which at least half are singers.

Secondly, the Mulia hotel is a 5* hotel but not part of one of the international chains, it is locally owned. So it is not on the same circuit that other bands are on, and they cut costs quite a lot in terms of the quality of musicianship (I believe the benefits package the band members get is lower also, for example, not including accommodation).

Prospective band members are shipped off to a kind of training centre where they are taught to play in the CJs style (playing songs at faster than usual tempo, jumping up and down alot, focus on audience participation such as a bit of grinding on stage). I don’t think they do voice training though.

Thirdly, some band members are “local” i.e. Indonesian, and others from cheaper countries like Colombia. This is not necessarily a bad thing but the band as a whole quite often comes across as amateurish, perhaps a lack of practice. Once the female singer missed the start of the set by about 10 minutes as she had gone to a room with one of the guests! Also, it looks like there is quite a bit of competition as to who sings which songs, as there are so many singers.

The drinks payment system is rather arcane (it takes a long time to get change back) and the lack of international systems means the risk of being ripped off or having your credit card defrauded is higher (I have heard of several cases of this). So this is really a place where you want to be paying cash only. However waiters are friendly and to be fair it has improved over the last few years.

The band plays until around 2.45am, longer than the other bars, but otherwise follows the model of 3 sets interspersed with DJ sets. For some reason the DJ has some kind of fire thing going on around his decks, but it looks a bit half-arsed.

However, CJs can be truly proud of one thing. It has the most expensive drinks in Jakarta, no mean feat. For example a simple vodka and tonic will cost 140,000Rp, an eye-watering £10.21 or 11.66 Euros.

While it is difficult to review the CJs band as such (does it even have a name or is it just called CJs band?), as of June 2011 I have come up with an overall rating of 53%.

1. Musicianship (12/20)
Rhythm section is tight, minimal (if any) use of backing tracks. Some of the singing is not so good. The Indonesian-looking singer who sings “Joanna” is generally flat and he would be better as a backing singer only. Current female singer is pretty good with a strong voice. The black male singer prowls around stage like a lioness who has lost its cubs but neither his singing nor his rapping are very polished (in fact I’d describe his rapping as disappointing), the one with glasses is probably the best of the singers and is also a good dancer. Nick (ex-Solidaz) is a good addition with his legendary voice although I wish he didn’t sing “Insomnia” so often (it’s not a good song). Also the Colombian guy sings the Spanish language songs, his voice is average but the Spanish is naturally excellent. See what I mean about too many singers?
2. Atmosphere (11/20)
The atmosphere is often quite flat in CJs, it might be because the layout of the bar doesn’t give it a focus in the way that BATS does for instance. There are long periods when the band plays, the crowd watches and claps a bit, but it feels a bit underwhelming. However, when it’s full and everyone’s drunk, the atmosphere is excellent, especially on Wednesdays – ladies’ night.
3. Communication (11/20)
The CJs band focusses on audience participation at certain parts of the evening, trying to get people to sing along or inviting women on stage for a bit of a grind. These work pretty well, especially the drunker people get. On the other hand they don’t seem to make much effort in between sets in mixing with the guests. Also they don’t generally invite other musicians to sing or play with them onstage (that is usually a sign of lack of confidence).
4. Songs (11/20)
The choice of songs doesn’t vary much night by night, but it is pretty up-to-date. Despite the fact that the guitarist is very good there isn’t often a chance to see him do big solos, which is what many want to see in a live band. It’s focussed more on current top 40 than the classic anthems.
5. Value for money (8/20)
CJs is overpriced, and that’s not the band’s fault. But there’s no escaping the fact that their prices are higher than places which have better bands, so unfortunately the score in this category is low.