“I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe Ratatat is playing!” said one concertgoer last Thursday night at the Zhijiang Dream Factory. Believe it, sister. We were packed in on the floor so tight I am still picking her DNA out of my elbow as I transmit this dispatch. Me? I was trying to believe that someone else was as cuckoo for this Brooklyn band as I was. In retaliation, I tried to convince her that my shades were actually 3D glasses that were necessary to view the show properly (she seemed incredulous, but I had her going for awhile). I have to agree with her, though. It was pretty unbelievable. If you have been in Shanghai for a few years you aren’t used to this, but Shanghai is now a viable destination for the bands that were previously only available via download in the past.
I speculated in my preview of the show that we would see seven laptops. We did not even see one. The featured instruments were good old guitar and bass, but there was obviously some sort of sampler rocking out their beats and backing accoutrements. In addition to this we were treated to electronic and acoustic drums, keyboards, mouth organs (sounds dirtier than it is), and a cast of other gadgets that defy my powers of comprehension. The most intriguing gizmo to me was what seemed to be a portable, electronic harp, but I couldn’t exactly see the ghost inside the machinations (thanks, plaid-clad tree in front of me).
The highlights of the night included everyone’s favorite feline jam, “Wildcat”; the set-closer, “Seventeen Years”; and a near studio-pristine version of “Falcon Jab”, the single off of their latest album. I was consistently impressed by Ratatat’s ability to reproduce their studio songs faithfully, just like the last New York band to play Dream Factory, Battles. However, I guess it is a matter of taste to say that this is a good thing. Some people might prefer to hear interpretations of the old songs that add new wrinkles, or new material. Personally, I like to see a measure of boundary-pushing experimentation in my live music. Here I felt like I was at the Hongqiao zoo, throwing water bottles at the golden bears.
I have realized that that was what my attendance at this concert became, and why I was disappointed. I was just watching the bears, rather than sticking my head in their mouths. This seemed like an exhibition, rather than a show. Right now, it is enough for people in Shanghai that bands are simply showing up, but I want to see the bear attack. One wonders about the difference between a Ratatat set in New York and Shanghai. Would it be different?
In the first paragraph I referenced the relative newness of this good band phenomenon to Shanghai. This lead me to the revelation that the concert-going public is relatively green and, therefore, non-discerning. My theory is that bands believe audiences here are unknowledgeable, but enthusiastic for anything, which makes this stop a lay-up on any grueling tour schedule. It is hard to stab at elusive symphonic nirvana nightly, easier to crank out the hits.
As a music-going public, how can we change this perception? It is a two-part harmony, consisting of equal parts support and indifference. First, go crazy for the penultimate moments. Support what is true and real with dedication and wild abandon. Secondly, don’t support what is not in key simply because it is the only game in town. Because it’s not anymore. Perfect pitch is supporting and elevating your homegrown talent, which leads us to our last observation.
We were treated to AV Okubo as an opener (I know they’re not from Shanghai, but they should move here, so I’m counting it). This band has knocked me out like no other on two occasions now. Their H1N1 gag with the surgical masks seemed a bit comical, especially when the lead singer was trying to emote through the mask, a megaphone, and the microphone (talk about disconnection) unsuccessfully, a struggle that he eventually abandoned. Their danceable cohesion (combined with a commendable level of melodious noise) brought to mind a more dexterous Blood Brothers. I got to chat a bit with their drummer and he said that their new album was recorded and could be out soon. I’m not promising anything, but let’s hope so. He also told me the name of their genre (I was wondering)—Breakwave.
Fresh, catchy, noisy, cool: Now this is something we could latch onto.
PS: If you missed the show and are short on time, check out this time-lapse video, complete with road beers, after-parties, and Shanghai noodles to cap it off (but minus AV Okubo, for some reason). Hat tip to Mary.