This is article is the awesome entry of Layabozi into what we hope is a new season for this pink zine. Here we debut our official flow of Chinese and English featured articles. This one, the first of them, was written after the last show of The Gar in Shanghai last year. We release it now, short before their next appearance in YuyinTang this Saturday. And so we rock.
十月初，一个的兴奋和帅气的摇滚评论家踏上了育音堂的台阶，准备面见一个来自北京、近两年从未在上海表演过的乐队。那是The Rabbit’s Foot小型音乐节的第一个夜晚，一个曾经引以为傲的庞然大物遇到了可怕的错误。有疑问的乐队在调教一个新的贝斯手，他也是所有心爱的北京乐队中的全明星。他们还带着一张全新的EP，也是努力了三年的第一张专辑。
In early October, an excited and dashingly handsome rock critic ascended the steps of Yuyintang, ready to see a band from Beijing that hadn’t played Shanghai in nearly two years. It was the first night of The Rabbit’s Foot mini-festival, a remnant of a once proud behemoth gone horribly wrong. The band in question was toting a new bassist, an all star who played in some of the most beloved Beijing bands of all time. They also came with a brilliant new EP in tow, which was their first recorded effort in three years.
Despite some disturbing rumors that the rock critic chose to blithely ignore, he felt hopeful for a great performance from the band that evening. He even brought along a photographer to document the experience.
What happened next was…a surprise.
But surprises aren’t very surprising for this band anymore.
The band in question is The Gar, a three-piece who came to prominence after releasing their self-titled debut in 2009 and unleashing a series of frenetic performances around China. Zhan Pan (guitar and vocals), Wen Jie (bass), and Wang Xu (drums) toured with label mates Carsick Cars and made a name for themselves in the underground rock scene, especially on the strength of their song “圈” which is on par with CSC’s “中南海” in terms of significance.
However, one of their founding members, Wen Jie, went to prison around this time. Although this is a well-known fact, it is something no one likes to talk about. When I interviewed ZO, Hedgehog’s guitarist, last spring, he acted as though it was something I shouldn’t know, so I didn’t press the issue. Even in interviews with The Gar, it is a guarded subject, so out of respect I have not really dug to the root of Wen Jie’s detainment. Suffice it to say that his absence affected the band profoundly, but they muddled through.
“We experienced a great blow from life and were so emotional about it. We just thought ‘Fuck! We’re finished!’ After searching out a lot of ways, and with the help of a lot of friends, the situation gradually improved,” says Zhan Pan.
ZO played bass with them for a while, but the key development came when Zhu Bo Xuan, Hedgehog’s original bassist, left the group. He took on a number of projects, including The Gar’s vacancy, and made the band whole again. They were in the studio for five months recording and emerged with the EP City of Burning Identities. It is quite a remarkable recording and is, inevitably, a more mature offering since their last. The songs speak both gently and forcefully about youth and love lost.
They warble on about movement and change, as well as loss and despair. It all culminates in the song called “六月” or “June”. One wonders if they are talking about the month of the year when the flowering of plants and trees occurs or the month when so much sadness was heaped upon Chinese shoulders almost 25 years ago, when the band members were young kids. At any rate, these are the stories of the city, from people who live in the city, who experience a range of emotions. The band has channeled these disparate stories into a sonic omelet that is extremely palatable, all the more so for Zhan Pan’s potent guitar and sensitive vocal work, Zhu Bo Xuan’s dexterous bass lines, and Wang Xu’s steadying influence on the drum kit.
Everything seemed to be looking up for the bedraggled band. They had a great new record, they were touring again, but then Bo Xuan began to cough…
A hard-touring life caught up with the bassist and it was soon found out that he had contracted the now-rare disease tuberculosis or, at least, a bad case of pneumonia (translations differ) and he was bed-ridden, even after he had traveled down to Shanghai for the Rabbit’s Foot show during October holiday.
So that’s why the intrepid reporter, along with many other fans, was disappointed on that night, but the disaster was salvaged by an acoustic performance by Zhan Pan mainly, with some help from Wang Xu. It was not an easy experience for the guitarist.
“On the day of the show I was really nervous. The band could not play and I was on the spot. I didn’t sleep the whole night before and didn’t feel right until rehearsal the next day. I want to thank Yuyintang’s boss for loaning me the guitar, as well as the sound guys. They really helped me out.”
Those of us who stayed to see the practically solo performance found out the scope of Zhan Pan’s talent. His performance was amazing, highlighted by the power and range of his voice. He turned a disaster into a demonstration, one that will not soon be forgotten by those in attendance. He played most of the songs from the EP, as well as some old favorites, and glided off into the night.
Hopefully, The Gar’s current lineup will be stable and they will be able to realize the potential that flowed from Zhan Pan’s fingers and mouth that fall evening. However, it is certain that the band is resilient, invulnerable to surprises. That kind of strength only comes from struggle and lord knows The Gar has had their share.
Don’t feel sorry for these survivors, though. They are more optimistic than anyone. They will be back. Just ask Wang Xu.
“It’s getting better and better now. I can tell you a secret that (Wen Jie) is about to return. In the future we will add a guitarist. I’m looking forward to The Gar’s future music.”
So with a great EP in the can, a reunion with an old friend to add to the sound mélee in sight (Wen Jie played harmonica with them briefly at a recent Beijing show), and a top-flight bassist at home and on the mend — aren’t we all looking forward to The Gar’s future?