Prepare to be inundated with a whole week of year-end listicle action. Here’s my picks for the best live shows in Shanghai in 2009. I, of course, did not get to as many live shows as I would have liked to (we are all humbled by kungfuology.com’s fervid dedication to the cause), but I went to a bunch. Here’s the best that I went to and why, in no particular order. This list reflects my own musical tastes, and I pride myself on being snobby and close-minded.
There’s something rocking in the state of Denmark.
(Fuck. Sorry). Reptile and Retard are two Danish guys that came to Shanghai as part of some graphic designer intern exchange deal or something like that. They quickly put together a set of 7 or 8 funk soul electro bangers and proceeded to play everywhere, all over China, all the time. Then -- just like that -- they disappeared into smoke and were never heard from again.
Actually, they just moved back to Denmark. But apparently they’re returning to China to do a big tour in April 2010. I managed to see RandR several times in their short run -- they pretty much managed to play daily -- but the best time was at the Antidote Music Festival in Zhujiajiao, because the singer, I believe he was “Retard”, dislocated his shoulder being a spazz. When you’re channeling that much Scandinavian soul serious injury is in the mail. But he still finished the set all the same, and then got on a plane to play the same night in Beijing.
The sheer break-neck energy that Reptile and Retard put into every single show is something that is lacking in live music in China, as well as the willingness to play anywhere for anyone at anytime. It seemed like every time they got on stage they were greeted with a “who the fuck are these guys” kind of attitude, but they always won everyone over in the end. For their all-too-brief run in 2009, Reptile and Retard were one of the best live acts around.
Image by Tim Franco.
November 27: MONO @ MAO Livehouse
You can’t really go wrong with one of the best bands in the world at one of the best live venues in China. MONO is a sonically rich and diverse band, veterans of world tours and international festivals, and the only way to get the full experience is through a billion-gazillion-dollar sound system in a packed concert hall. That’s just the kind of music it is. They play with symphonies… you need a big production for something like that.
Despite the erratic run MAO Livehouse has had since opening late this year, the MONO show was an indicator of the potential the venue has to represent Shanghai as a viable tour destination for behemoth international bands. The turnout at the MONO show, the quality of the headliners themselves, and the overall feeling from the crowd was a best case scenario for a concert in that venue, and so far sets the benchmark for future events there. It was as good as it could have possibly been.
Image by Kyle Fong.
September 5: Handsome Furs @ Yuyintang
Again, you can’t really go wrong with one of the best bands in the world at one of the best venues in China. As the only consistent venue putting on quality shows week after week, 2009 was a huge year for Yuyintang, and the live house played a crucial role in increasing the exposure and fan base of local talent (Mushrooms of course come to mind) but also in serving as a proper, professional venue for smaller national and international touring bands. The Handsome Furs show was an indicator that despite the increase in competition, the future of the club will always be safe if they keep doing what they did in 2009, and provide an intimate but professional stage. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, and the fact that the Handsome Furs were on a small stage, playing right into the faces of 350 or so sweaty people was what made it one of the best shows of the year.
When thinking back on the Shanghai stops for big name bands of 2009 (there were a lot of them… Battles… Ratatat… ), the Handsome Furs concert was the best one because it was the only one out of those in which you felt the band made a real and singular connection with this city and that crowd in that venue on that one night, as apposed to delivering the hundredth show that year while on a world tour.
Image from Jenn Wong's flickr page.
July 18: PK14 @ Zhijiang Dream Factory
This concert was billed as a These Are Powers headlining show, but the Brooklyn band conceded the top slot honor to PK14. It seems like it’s been a long ride for China’s most respected indie band, and it’s only just in recent years that they’re getting much-deserved praise in international press as the face of China’s indie rock. When PK14 took the stage after These Are Powers, they really just exploded, and played the best show I’d seen them do in years. All the opening bands were huddled around the door watching them. You sort of get the impression that PK14 is finally getting the respect and encouragement they deserve, and it’s translating into a new-found passion to go for the throat every time they play, rather than rest on previous accomplishments. They’re on the front line of new music as apposed to being regarded as its hallowed progenitors. At that concert, PK14 was a band fully achieving what they’re attempting creatively. They delivered a powerful and emotionally diverse performance, showing themselves to be arguably the best live band in China.
Image from Gregory Perez' flickr page.
August 15: Terrorists Meeting @ Yuyintang
Frothing demonically beneath the surface in Shanghai -- and China as a whole -- is the metal scene. It’s always been there in some form or another, and will always be there -- the metal will never die. They can’t; they’re on Satan’s team. From an outsiders perspective, 2009 was a huge year for metal in Shanghai because it was the year Shanghai’s myriad metal bands actually got organized, got active with promoting themselves, and consistently put on properly executed metal showcases. When Sam Dust isn’t getting all bummed out being the sound guy for some band he hates, he puts on great metal shows. The “Terrorists Meeting” at Yuyintang featured most of the city’s metal bands on one stage, opening up for brutal death band from Hefei, Ling Chi. Although they were all pretty dissimilar, you could really get the sense of a community of these bands respecting and helping each other out. The turnout was great. The bands played interesting stuff (Screaming Savior is awesome), and everyone was all smiles and meeting each other and exchanging phone numbers. With that kind of community ethic, you get the impression that next year is going to be even bigger for Shanghai’s developing metal scene.
Which is good because you gotta keep it fuckin’ evil.
Image is from Chaos Mind's MySpace, and I think they're actually at Dream Factory in that picture. Alas.
Main image by Tim Franco.