Aggression, thy name is Mushroom.
Please tell me when China grew a pair. I was not aware. I did not receive the memorandum. There is something to be said for the sensitive, introspective music you can unearth in these Chinese gem mines. But here, Yuyintang, was not the place for the softer side. This shit could cut glass. And yes, I know this is often the venue for the non-faint at heart, but indulge me please, because I need to write a review of a hard-rocking show and I need a hook.
The reason for my hyperbole is that I just caught a set from the Mushrooms. I thought their name was Crazy Mushroom, but I must have been mistaken. Let me tell you, there are not many better places for angst to express itself through musical aggression than China, where the history indubitably lends itself to misery, so it is not necessarily surprising to me that these bands exist, but I am a neophyte to most of this Sino-Grindcore. Let me set the scene.
Yuyintang was not at full capacity tonight, but close. There was the usual cast of characters: the Chinese version of hipster/harajuku girls, the roughnecks off duty from the construction site, the pretty boys, the whities, the leather pants, the bubble-makers, etc. Naturally, it was as hot as Hades, and the AC/lazy fans were doing nothing to ameliorate this situation. In other words, everything was perfect. The first band that I caught was Angry Jerks. They were pretty good pop-punk stylers. I remarked to my friend Adam that a couple songs sounded like System of a Down because he likes them. Also, they kind of did (PS: I don’t like to use that whole “They sound like this band crossed with this band” thing, but it might happen in this column, mostly because many Chinese bands have yet to develop their own style so they sound vaguely like something Westerners have heard before. I call it Dime Store <insert band name here>. It’s not nice to say, but it’s true.).
When the Mushrooms went on, I actually didn’t know it was them because I was expecting, and looking forward to, a purported Rockabilly group from Nanjing. This would have been something to see, alas, it was not to be. Either they went on before 10 or they did not come at all (That’s my research style, y’all. Either I hear it by chance or I don’t know. Get used to that shit.).
[UPDATE: Guess I should read my own website because Mike of Editor's Picks just informed me that the Angry Jerks actually are the rockabilly group I wanted to see. And also that they were actually psychobilly. Oh. Didn't know psychobilly groups played ska. I will get this down eventually.]
Anyway, they (The Mushrooms) did go on, breaking forth with a load of guitars, drums, bass, and (most visibly) primal screams (not the band Primal Scream, but you knew that.). Let me tell you something about my musical tastes: you could be the most virtuosic musician alive and I still might not dig you (I’m looking at you, Coldplay. OK, I do like a couple of their songs, but that’s, like, the exception that proves the rule.). What I’m looking for is emotion, that ephemeral chemical that is let off during the most exuberant music sets. A case in point would be the Blood Brothers (or the Locust before them), one of the more distasteful-sounding bands you will ever hear. All screams, three chords, and 140 BPM of them. Listen to “March on Electric Children” and tell me you don’t like it. I dare you. I just thought of an even better example, which is the Boredoms. Anyway, the point is that sometimes the ugliest music can be pretty damn beautiful. It’s the proverbial obese girl with the great personality protocol.
The Mushrooms fit into this category. When I first saw them, I thought the rhythm and lead guitarists were twins because they were both short, playing guitar, and had reddish hair. I didn’t know any of their songs, but the first one was the perfect choice for an opener. It was high-energy and loud. But afterward, they changed things up. That’s one thing I have noticed with Chinese bands. You cannot easily pigeonhole them. A lot of bands, you can hear the first song and go, “Oh, that’s what it’s going to be like,” but that is not always true here. This was also true of the Mushrooms, who did a good job of mixing things up while incorporating elements of their bread and butter, which is rocking…hard. There were pieces of ballads, hip hop, pop, and punk interspersed here, there, and everywhere. This was mainly due to the lead singer and guitarist, who were both excellent. I enjoyed the singer’s range- he was rocking the crazy high-pitched screams, rapped verses, singing not terribly, whispering, gesturing- just about everything. The lead guitarist was on point with his riffs, picking, and soloing. He was the extra layer, on top of a solid rhythm section, who really pulled it all together.
The band itself has a firm grasp on the Pixies/Nirvana, soft/hard format. I like this style. It lends itself naturally towards tension and resolution. There’s something about that point in the verse, when everyone knows the chorus is coming up and even the band itself takes it up a notch, which is just so cathartic. I also like it when bands advertently die down at that point, like tantric yoga.
Unfortunately, the closest comparison I could think of for this band (although I actually like the Mushrooms) was Linkin Park (who I don’t.). Something about it, the power cords, the alternating rapping and singing, the tones, reminded me of Linkin Park and that insufferable Chester Benningfuck. Linkin Park is probably not a horrible band, but I will never like them because something about their singer’s voice just turns me off. It’s like Rush for me: Can’t. Stand. It. This is not a slight toward the Mushrooms, but it may qualify as a backhanded compliment. It’s not really nice to compare someone to a popular, irredeemable group, but that is what I was thinking at the time. Don’t blame me. I just go off them drunken text messages I send to myself during the show.
I think what I like best about the evening was not the originality, but the familiarity. The whole thing felt like I was back at home, listening to alternative radio in the mid-90s. It was that kind of jam. The show even came complete with a 4 Non Blondes cover with a twist. That was spot-on. Trust me, I am not usually looking for nostalgia in my shows, but it seems like in China I will just settle for a reasonable facsimile. That is not what I am striving for, but the scene is so young here, what else can you ask for? I feel like someone with a good record collection should just take these dudes aside and be like, “Yo, check THIS.” Then again, maybe that’s not such a good idea. Maybe these Chinese rockers should just have a go at it, like that boy who grew up in the woods, Rousseau’s noble savage.
Whatever the impetus is to transcend, I look forward to seeing the Mushrooms, and other Chinese bands, change and grow. It’s sure to be interesting. If you want to know what’s going to happen tomorrow, you should be here today.