Rocking Kunshan: A Night with The Eagle Bar Band

I know them as the Eagle Bar band. While some of the band members have come and gone, they have remained fairly stable. Marvin has always been the band leader and lead guitarist. Ama is the singer, though the others also take turns singing. Jerlon, another guitarist and a great singer himself, joined in the past two years since I moved to Kunshan and became a habitué of this bar. Carlos has always been on drums. Kenneth was the bassist, then left for a while, and recently returned. It's a fabulous band. I blogged about them in my previous blog on Kunshan bars and clubs. 

Eagle Bar Band on May 4 2017. L-R: Marvin, Ama (in back), Carlos, Jerlon, and Kenneth

Eagle Bar Band on May 4 2017. L-R: Marvin, Ama (in back), Carlos, Jerlon, and Kenneth

One thing I appreciate about this band, other than the sheer talent of its musicians, is the wide range of their music. They cover everything from 60s classics to contemporary pop songs, and also throw in some jazz and blues tunes now and then. It seems they are very disciplined and constantly adding to their repertoire.

The band performs nightly at the Eagle Bar, an American-style bar just a few hundred meters east of the Swissotel in an alley off of Qianjin Road. Every night they do four half-hour sets, with a half-hour break in between each one. During the break, they hang out with customers and play pool. Pretty much every time I go there, I have a conversation with Marvin, and also with some of the other members who drift in and out of our table. 

Marvin during one of his solos for the song "War Pigs"

Marvin during one of his solos for the song "War Pigs"

There are other cover bands in town, and other Filipino bands. I haven't yet met a band that rocks as hard as this one. Marvin is a superstar, and he can cover any classic guitar rock tune you ask him to. Jerlon is also an amazing talent, both on guitar and on vocals. Ama has a soulful voice and she can rock hard too--ask her to do a Blondie song! She also does great versions of Pat Benatar and other female rockers. Carlos is solid on drums, and Kenneth never misses a beat. 

Over the past two years as I've gotten to know them, I have asked them many times if they might try to compose songs of their own. They have demurred. I did offer to write one for them, and ended up writing a blues song, "Talking Kunshan Blues." If I ever find the time, I'd like to work more with this band.

In my talks on Shanghai nightlife in the Jazz Age, I always claim that the Filipinos were the 'jazz proletariat.' They were the hardest working bands, and they did an amazing job of covering jazz hits from America, but they didn't earn nearly as much as the Americans, Russians, and other musicians. I think this is still largely true today, except that rock and pop have replaced jazz as the idiom of cover bands all over China and Asia.

The other night, May 4 2017 to be exact, I filmed the band during one set. I put the videos of their individual songs up on Youtube. For this set they chose music that reflects their roots in rock and roll. In order, they covered: "Mas Que Nada" by Sergio Mendes, "Come Together" from The Beatles, Santana's "Corazon Espinado," and "Jingo Ba", and finally, the rock classic "War Pigs" by Black Sabbath. The last song was an extended nearly 10-minute version with plenty of solo work by Marvin. A real tour de force.

Here are the clips: