I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Bigger Bang knows how to move a crowd. This was evidenced by their overwhelmingly enjoyable set at Yuyintang on Saturday. I believe (if my Chinese is on the 3 year-old level) this was their second time in town only. Amazing. I am also going to stride the ledge and say that they know how to draw a crowd. I say this because, one, their flyer was cool and noirish, but also because when I tried to enter the premises I could barely make it across the threshold before being assaulted by a phalanx of bodies. Also, outside, I saw a large group of Germans negotiate a package price. I think they were on a group tour from the Alsace-Lorraine area, but I can’t be sure. Again, notice the Sherlocking skills.
The theme of the night from the outset was the crowd; immense, forbidding, everywhere. If you know the geography of Yuyintang, I tell you I could not even dream of getting to the main area by going past the bar. That was an impossibility. I could go to the little seating area to the left of the stage and stand in the doorway of the vestibule that leads to the main area. Not the one that is right next to the stage, but the one behind that. Thanks to a distinct height advantage, I could see the guitarist and, occasionally, the lead singer. This was for the opening band, Sonnet, of whom I saw precious little.
Tell me if I am overstating things here, but it seems that Yuyintang could use a bigger venue. I know, it sounds like sacrilege to suggest, but let’s not forget that this is not the first Yuyintang incarnation. The old one used to be on Changshu Lu, I believe. I was set to go there once, but the plans fell through, so I cannot comment on the relative merits of that place. I just know they ran into some permit problems, but then they moved to their current location on Kaixuan Lu and they have been rocking ever since, getting good bands, keeping prices reasonable, and upgrading the space. However, the space is still ridiculously small for the type of shows they are putting on. I was debating during the Bigger Bang show, as I slowly fought my way through the vestibule and toward the front of the stage: Would a bigger space ruin the Yuyintang ambiance?
On the one hand, you could have space to accommodate the throngs who descend when there is a big name show. On the other hand, it kinda ruins the atmosphere of the smaller shows. If you have ever watched a quarter- or half-full show at the Dream Factory you know what I am saying. Not every band is as big as Bigger Bang or Carsick Cars. Also, it would probably be a strain for the management to maintain a bigger space, or even obtain permits for such. We should probably leave well enough alone, but this is just the gripe of a claustrophobic observer. I love people. Don’t get me wrong. I just hate touching them.
But back to the music: Bigger Bang is fucking cool as hell (inner groupie emerging). I could talk about the guitarist/keyboardist with the one-arm sleeve tattoo who carried the show. I could also talk about the drummer who acquitted himself very nicely. I could further talk about the bassist who held his own. But you know I’m going to talk about the lead singer, a little bundle of energy encased in a polka-dotted bathing costume, pink tights, and black Converses. You know, the one with the “Endure” tattoo across her throat(!) The one with the sneaky voice and sex appeal, who writhed, nay, oozed on the stage, squirming to the beat like a boa constrictor belting out battle hymns while escaping a pair of pantyhose. That one. She has great presence, a la Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a band with which Bigger Bang drew a lot of parallels. She is also the founding member of the group and from Guangzhou. Her name is Pupi, although her performance was anything but.
The music was high-energy, heartfelt, poppy as anything you could ask for on a Saturday night in the city. It was perfect. The guitar was ringing, the drums were pulsing, the attitude was humble but knowing. All of the on-stage banter was in Chinese, but the lyrics were in English. I truly believe this band could release singles or albums in the US, if they wanted to.
When listening to the bassist (AZ) and guitarist (Abe) banter on-stage I heard the Beijing tones to their speech, like someone gargling marbles, and I wondered what’s in the water (or ice, as it were) up there in Beijing. All of the best Chinese bands I have seen have been from Beijing—Bigger Bang, Joyside, the Gar. Actually, Bigger Bang has not been together very long, but they are killing it. What’s going on up there? Shanghai is not producing indie rock at such a clip. It’s interesting.
All of that did not matter during the moment I finally made it into the main room, though. The only thing that mattered at that point was the music, the moment, the camaraderie of being sandwiched between eight complete strangers moving in time to the beat, our eyes transfixed on the spectacle unfolding three feet above and seven feet in front of us.
BTW: They have a cool video, too.
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