Most people have already commented on the Maybe Mars Showcase at MAO Livehouse last Saturday night and moved on, but I was busy this weekend and didn’t have time to collect my thoughts and put fingertips to keyboard until now.
To recap, the lineup was Birdstriking, a three-piece, kind of screamy, rock-type thingy; Guai Li (Strange Power), spacey, garage-y sourpusses; Carsick Cars, the old reliable station wagon; and AV Okubo, the souped-up sports car parked outside a pawn shop.
Birdstriking never really got a chance to show off their stuff. At least two songs were ruined due to a busted bass drum partway through their set, which also resulted in a ten-minute delay. They pulled out a below-average cover of Blur’s “Song 2,” also. However, I can’t really judge them on this performance, due to the break in momentum. Maybe they would have gone on to great heights, but, as things stood, they didn’t quite make it on this night. Too bad for them. I really felt bad for them and this is chance to scold MAO a little bit. Look, I don’t know what happened to the bass drum, but when was the last time you ever saw that happen? What else can go wrong with this place? More on MAO qualms in a bit.
Guai Li was on next and the bass drum came around. Their music is kind of hard to describe. It went in and out of little punky numbers into longer, sweeping rock epics. With an attractive (if skinny) female lead singer, this band should have been a slam dunk for me, but I never really entered the Guai Li fortress of solitude during their set. Something was off-putting about the singer. First of all, either she’s not a very forceful singer or her vocals were not loud enough, or both. I could barely hear her at regular intervals. Second, she just didn’t look like she was having very much fun. Obviously, she doesn’t owe me or the rest of the audience anything, but that didn’t help to endear me to a band I was seeing for the first time. Some people have It (see: Pupi and Feng, Helen), some people don’t.
Carsick Cars pulled the old switcheroo with AV Okubo for some reason. I’m guessing it was because it was the first time people there could buy the new AV Okubo record Greed of Man, and they wanted to make it like a CD release event, but I think they screwed themselves over. The show got off to a late start, the two openers played really long sets (for openers), and people immediately began streaming out after Carsick Cars. It was kind of ridiculous. At one point I was standing near the door to the backstage area, waiting for AV Okubo to start. Then their bassist came out and we started to chat. As I was asking him questions, I realized he was supposed to be playing music! I told him he should probably start and he ducked back into the “dressing room.” They started pretty quick after that, but I found it funny.
So AV Okubo began and they were a little sluggish at the start, but they came around. I thought “Breakwave” came off nicely. I’m going to have to give their change of drummers a great big thumbs-down, not just because I like Lucky personally. The new (old) drummer does not have Lucky’s percussive and rhythmic force. Whatever spurred them to make the change, it has not improved the band.
I really enjoy the darkness of AV Okubo, but it also kind of unsettles me. Lots of bands have an anger to them, but you kind of don’t take it seriously. AV Okubo makes me feel like they are dealing with some real, industrial wasteland depression. At least they’ve got music, but if I ever see a story about a dude in a captain’s hat on a murderous rampage in Wuhan, I can’t say I will be terribly surprised.
I didn’t say much about Carsick Cars, but what’s to say? They are damn good. There’s a reason why they and P.K. 14 are considered the best bands in China right now. They are damn good. The difference between the two shows is that P.K. 14 took their headlining mantle seriously at the last showcase and gave a great performance in the right slot. It was like a heavyweight champion defending his title against the best possible challenger, whereas Carsick Cars ducked him and went against the glass-jawed journeyman. And why? Because Zhang Shouwang wanted to DJ a really short and not very interesting set at LOgO? I wish I did, but I just don’t understand it.
Finally, on to the continuing problems with MAO. I think they are suffering from an expectation problem, for which they are at least partially responsible. However, it must be said that we, as in Shanghai underground music fans, are also to blame. I for one know that I expected a lot from this venue when it was getting off the ground. We wanted it to be like Yuyintang with better sound and more capacity. Well, we got those things. We really did. There are a great many kinks to be ironed out (Is it true they don’t actually have a music license? Eegads.) However, as Kerouac said, “Walking on water wasn’t built in a day.” I had a good time on Saturday night. It was better than a poke in the eye (with a broken beer bottle.)