Last weekend continued the lots-of-shows trend we’ve been blessed with since the Olympics. I am heavily bummed that I somehow didn’t hear about the Preservation Hall Jazz Band opening the brand-new but CJW-esque Brown Sugar. I also missed Babu, DJ to Dilated Peoples, and whose solo show I saw once before and liked more than the Dilated Peoples themselves. Instead I went to Anar and happened upon a really awesome dub-ish group called Magnetic (磁) who are apparently playing more or less every day there. I will get more on them soon, but for now I will say that the bass-drums hookup was very solid, and everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun and putting a lot of energy into it, despite the fact that I was one of three people listening to them play (the front room of the club, which is called Pomegranate and seems to be a separate entity, was packed). So it’s recommended. Saturday was the night I knew would be rocking since all my friends, none of whom are really rock-scenesters, were going to hear the Beijing band called Hedgehog at YuyinTang. DJ-some-numbers-or-something would have been on my list had this not been the situation, but it was, and so to YuyinTang I went.
It is with some reluctance that I write this post, because I had decided to try to minimize my writing about “rock” music (please excuse my ignorance of genres). While there are a good few rock bands that I absolutely love, I just can’t get that excited about a rock band that does everything well except have its own strong identity. For many people, going to a good, solid, rocking show is like pizza. Even if it doesn’t change the way they understand their role in the universe, it’s something that they need to have once in a while–or more often in some cases. In my case, if the pizza is not really really good, I’d just as soon not eat pizza. Hamburgers—ie jazz, stick with me people!—I’m not so picky about. If the band is really swinging and the soloist plays with conviction and energy, I can listen to clichés all night. Sure I’d rather be hearing someone’s totally realized unique self, but it’s a hamburger. Melrose Pizza I can definitely take or leave, emphasis on leave.
But Hedgehog ain’t Melrose Pizza, if you know what I’m saying. No, it’s not my beloved Armando’s of Huron Ave, Cambridge MA, USA, either. It’s more like one of the other ones I’ve been eating more and more recently. When the set began, I was skeptical, and worried that I had once again been hoodwinked into seeing a band who had become a big deal in China by dint of being merely capable. They clearly had the “look cool” imperative of rock music under control, with the bass player in sunglasses, vest, and a handmade rainbow guitar strap, the singer/guitar player more or less matched, and they had brought out the big guns in a demonstrative tiny female drummer. This all seemed a little calculated. It would be impossible not to like a band with a super sharp-dressed, sunglassed, faintly smirking bass player, and an irrepressible mini she-drummer. What kind of evil asshole would do that? Well, I was that asshole at the beginning of the show. The crowd started jumping around and mini-moshing to pretty innocuous poppy-fare, and I was staying more out of a sense of obligation (and stinginess–I was going to get my 40 kuai worth, dammit!) than because I was enjoying myself. But I had underestimated Hedgehog’s Machiavellian streak. After a little while, the bass player was lurching all over the stage, turning his back to the audience, and wailing away. The crowd’s energy started to register as more contagious than obnoxious, and even I—I will admit it!—started to bob my head and grin idiotically at my friend from out of town who had followed the same trajectory, though the combination of a smoky, packed room and his fastidiousness meant that the fun rocking wasn’t enough to hold him through the end of the set. There’s still something generic about Hedgehog, and there were some minor (for a rock band) technical/shop-talk issues. They were tight enough for it not to be a problem, but not so tight that the music popped out of the seams: Atom’s bass drum was sluggish at times; bass player Box was much better keeping the groove with a pick than with his fingers; and the texture was a little thin at points, without seeming deliberately so, when guitar player Zo was playing lines rather than chords. But the point is I’m eating pizza again, and I’m not sorry.
I must also quickly mention the opening band Boys Climbing who did a lot to erase the bad impression I had the first time I heard them, at Zhijiang Dream Factory. The vocals were still not pretty, but you could tell that they weren’t shooting for pretty anyway, and they were pretty close to the harsh-confessional style. That is to say, it was a harsh-confessional style and it was pretty close to sounding good. The drummer also sounded better. You don’t need to return the metronome you bought him for Christmas, but there were some times when the sloppy drumming seemed to add to the yearning tension of the music. All of this should be at least partially forgiven as their aim of beautiful ugliness is much trickier than what Hedgehog does. There were pleasantly surprising textures, sounds, and guitar lines in there as well, and besides that they came to play, which is sort of the key in music.