So in just a matter of a few weeks, Yee Kuang will be performing in his last After Hours show. As we've seen and learned in After Hours, someone's last show isn't always their final performance but this time it's different. It's different because Yee Kuang has been a staple in the group for 20 years.
As I've experienced first hand, it's actually his face that people picture when you mention the name "After Hours". Literally while sitting in an audience at a friend's concert, with all of After Hours sitting together in attendance, a woman turned around in her seat and said, directly to him, "aren't you from that a cappella group, are you singing tonight?" with eyes full of hope. She had no idea who the rest of us were.
As the story goes, I called Yee Kuang in March of 1999, long distance to Lakehead University in Thunder Bay where he was finishing up the year. We had just formed a new group after a break up in 1998 but only after a couple months, our current bass Jon Pong had a change of heart and said he was leaving again and he needed to be replaced. Being very broke and with long distance calls at that time costing lots of money, the call went like this: "Hey man, do you want to sing in our group when you get back to Toronto?" "Yeah, sure..." "Cool!". *click*
By April of 1999, he was singing along side myself, Ian Corby, George Scott and Michelle Scrimgeour-Brown. We weren't "After Hours" yet, that name came nearly one year later in March, 2000. And that's definitely part of the point. He was there from the beginning, before After Hours was After Hours. While we weren't quite like Lennon/McCartney, we did call ourselves DJ & Chinaman. We even had t-shirts made - you may even have one.
We met in high school, Riverdale Collegiate Institute. We became fast friends playing baseball, eating a lot of Greek food and throwing great house parties and listening to terribly wonderful techno/dance music. After we finally left Riverdale because the school made us leave, we sang together. Then we lived together for nearly 9 years. Then we started working together in online advertising for several years. But even though we stopped living together after we met our wives and even though we stopped working together because the company went under, we still had the singing. And now, that's also coming to an end.
I've seen Yee Kuang on a daily/weekly basis for the last 20 years. We were each other's best man at our weddings. I was there when his mom passed away and he was there when my dad passed away one year later, pretty much from the same illness. We both sang the same song, for both of them. I was there when his song "He Lives In You" became the reason people came to our shows and I was there when he decided to step back out of the limelight to sing those difficult baritone lines when we became a quartet after being a quintet for many years. He has sung in front of literally thousands of people and I bet there are some songs we sing, that he has sung a thousand times as well. He has sung with ten different members of After Hours that have come and gone and I'm pretty sure all of them would say Yee Kuang was easy and a pleasure to work and sing with.
I am simply the captain of this big ship we call After Hours. After Hours seems to have a mind of its own and even though we have hit icebergs along the way, it continues to move forward regardless. It's possible one day I won't be the captain but that doesn't necessarily mean that the big ship will cease moving forward. However, every captain has a first mate and I, along with everyone else, assumed the two of us would go down with the ship together if it ever sank. However, it seems Yee Kuang's port is just around the bend and for the first time in 20 years, he's stepping foot off of the good ship After Hours.
When two people's paths are right next to each other for that long, you never look for the fork in the road when suddenly your paths begin to drift apart. You just assume your two paths will always be there, side by side. However, when Yee Kuang gave me the news he was leaving, I didn't panic. To be honest I wasn't even that surprised. I had noticed in the last little while he was struggling to maintain the demands of work and give After Hours his all. And I know he's leaving not because he's tired of After Hours but because he loves the group so much, he doesn't want to be there if he can't give it his all. And I have no doubt in my mind that he will be keeping an eye on us from a distance, making sure everything is good and still helping however he can. That's who he is.
Yee Kuang has always been there for me and the group and I know he will continue to do so. However, I know at the upcoming December show, it will be emotional. Not because he's saying good-bye as I don't think he is. But it is a massive chapter coming to an end. A very happy chapter full of adventure and successes, lots of hard work, applause, standing ovations, hugs, farts (and one time, worse), inside jokes, good friends, tears of joy and sorrow, lots of good food, lots of laughter, lots of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Stand By Me, Up On The Roof and He Lives In You and lots and lots of other great songs.
After Hours has always been about the music, the shows and especially, the encore.
This is Yee Kuang's encore.
But the nice thing about encore's...
Is you can always have more than one...