Jazzing Chinese Folk: The Solitary Bird CD Release Party @ TwoCities Gallery

On Friday night I attended the release party of the Solitary Bird CD, recorded earlier this year by three musicians in Shanghai, Steve Sweeting, Jeremy Moyer, and Coco Zhao.  I've known Coco since the late 1990s when he emerged as one of Shanghai's first Chinese jazz singers.  In fact, Coco and his band played at my wedding here in 1999.  Since then he has dedicated himself to jazz singing and lyrical composition and has greatly expanded both his repertoire and his skill set as a singer.  Jeremy Moyer plays several percussion instruments as well as bowed instruments such as the erhu, and he plays them all very well.  In this concert he was playing a coconut fiddle from Taiwan.  Steve Sweeting is an American jazz pianist who has been living here in Shanghai for the past five years or so along with his family.  

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Shanghai’s Nighttime Phantasmagoria: Haunting Nightlife Spaces Old and New

The other night (Thursday March 17) I took my Global Nightlife students and a few of their friends from the NYU Shanghai program on their second tour of Shanghai’s nightscapes.  This time we started at the famed Paramount Ballroom, the finest and most celebrated ballroom of the Golden Age of Shanghai nightlife, the 1930s.  The ballroom is the only one from the 1930s that today is still operating as a commercial dance establishment.

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Windows Underground: A New Bastion for the Rock Scene in Shanghai

Last night Mency and I met my friend Mo Jin, who is back in town for the weekend, and together headed over to the new Windows Underground.  We arrived at 11 pm in the middle of the Secondhand Roses (ershou meigui) concert.  This Beijing-based band delivers a powerful mix of northern-style folk rock enhanced with traditional Chinese instruments.  The male lead singer has a campy singing and operatic performance style, and is known to dress up in women’s costumes.  They looked like regular rockers last night though, and like my friend Dan Shapiro (Handlebar Dan, though he shaved his whiskers for the summer) said, these guys don’t need a gimmick—they’re solid.

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China's Jimi Hendrix? The Guitar Work of Zhou Chao 周朝

A couple of months ago I became acquainted with the guitarist Zhou Chao, who plays every Monday night with his band at the Melting Pot at 288 Taikang Lu in Shanghai.  Zhou Chao's guitar work is deeply rooted in folk and blues styles.  Lately he's been experimenting with a more free-form blues with a lot of wah-wah thrown in.

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Beijing Punk Band Snapline


Above:  Snapline lead singer Cheng Xi at Mao Livehouse Oct 6 2007

If you like the Talking Heads and the Cure, and enjoy the industrial noise issuing from a distorted electric guitar, you'll like Snapline.  In the words of my mate Jimbo, this is "the ultimate geek band."  The lead singer is a thin, gawky, sharp-featured and oddly handsome dude named Cheng Xi.  He dresses like a hip schoolboy, with baggy pants and a white collared shirt with semi-long sleeves.  He sports a pair of glasses with thick black frames, common to the hip punkster scene.  When he sings, his face contorts into a weird grimace, as if he were laughing at his own secret joke.  He does a gawky David Byrne-like dance as he holds the mic.  As Jimbo my swing dancing pal said, he ought to be wearing a zoot suit a few sizes too large for him. 

The music is jumpy, punchy, catchy.  It isn't angry punk stuff.  Not quite happy either, but somewhere in between. Bizarre stuff. It's fed by the industrial sounds of female guitarist Li Qing, who is similarly dressed in a white shirt and dark pants.  The bassist Li Weisi keeps the rhythm going.  He also wears a thick pair of black framed glasses, dark pants, white shirt.  In other words there's some coordination in couture going on here.  The band is tight and polished.

Like a kid playing with a new toy--a dangerous toy at that--Li Qing keeps bending down to adjust the knobs on her distortion controls.  I like it better when she's at the synth backing up Cheng Xi's vocals--you can hear him better that way, and he really is the show.

I've seen them twice now, the first time at D22 on Thurs night, second time on Sat night (Oct 6) at the Mao Livehouse.  Spoke briefly with Cheng Xi at the Mao bar, where I enjoy hanging out owing largely to the cute bartender (the gal not the guy, but he's pretty cute too), who knows her shit when it comes to music.  She used to manage a band.  Anyhow, Cheng Xi comes across as a pretty humble guy.  I asked him how many albums they've sold so far.  He said somewhere in the hundreds, and that he was surprised they were doing so well.  I told him I'd talked to an Aussie bloke at D22 who organized tours for rock bands, and that he wanted to take Snapline to Australia.  He said he knew about this and would be happy to go.  I told him he was most welcome in Sydney and that his band would definitely have a following.

So far they've put out one album, "Party is Over, Pornstar" (2007).  It's more polished and less industrial-noise oriented than their live act.  Good music for Halloween.  Haunting.  And unlike many other Chinese punk singers who sing in English, you can actually understand the lyrics.

Will be paying more attention to this band in the future.

Hang the Police, We're Here to Rock! The Beijing Pop Festival, Sept 10 and 11 2007

When the capital city of the world’s largest authoritarian police state hosts a rock concert with headliners Public Enemy and Nine Inch Nails, how does it prevent mayhem from breaking out?  Answer:  police.  Lots of em.  The Beijing Pop Festival was an impressive contradiction of rock-fueled mayhem that brought performers and audience together, and rigid military discipline that kept them apart.

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Chinese Punks and The Ramones Tribute Concert @ Mao Livehouse in Beijing

Are the Ramones really a “punk” band?  Personally I don’t associate them with the punk movement of the 1970s [I do now--AF, 2017] but people here in Beijing seem to think they are the quintessential punks.  At least judging from the tribute concert held last night at Mao Livehouse near the drum tower.

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Project Dementia Goes to Shanghai: An Interview with Wu Jun and a Night @ 4Live

While in Shanghai I was able to kill two birds with one stone, or as they say in Chinese, 一举两得 .  Three birds really, since I also reuned with my family, but that’s another matter.  While Sat and Sun were reserved for the CET fieldtrip (see my previous blog), Friday July 20 was a chance to reengage with Shanghai’s live music scene

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Freedom, Beijing Style

One of my projects while in Beijing is to research and experience the city’s notorious “underground” live music scene.  The scene is not that underground really--for several years now clubs have been operating in the open, featuring gritty Chinese rock bands.  One such club is 2Kolegas, which opened up two years ago.  Run by veteran rocker Liu Miao 刘淼 and his partner , the club is located beyond the Third Ring Road on Liangmaqiao Street.  It’s in a Drive-in Movie Theater Park.  The area of its location is parkland--meaning field and forest.  The club itself is small, and patrons can sit outside on a dirt-grass field and drink their beers while enjoying the (cough, splutter) clear Beijing night air.

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