Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Missing Harry

Harry Connick, Jnr. is in town, playing a big gig tonight over at the Beijing Exhibition Centre (I think I know which one, but I'm not entirely sure - there are these days several Something-or-other Exhibition Centres dotted around the city).

It has been reasonably heavily promoted over the past couple of weeks, with billboards, flyers, magazine articles. There's even an online ticketing facility. But it's all in Chinese! And, I think, not very easy to navigate even for a Chinese speaker. There was also supposed to be an English phone line for ticket reservations, but..... nobody was answering that.

And two or three weeks isn't exactly a lot of lead-in time for such a big concert as this. HC has, I gather, been to China once before - but that was the mid-90s, and it was Shanghai. Shanghai is a whole other world. And 10 years ago in China was a whole different geological era. And, let's face it, most Chinese people haven't heard of Elvis, so I very much doubt if Mr Connick has much of a local following. If he were going to sell out that venue, he'd probably have to rely on a BIG turnout of laowai - who will probably have been finding it difficult or impossible to buy tickets. And the show was, I'm quite sure, "officially" sold out long since.

Not to worry, though. 'Sold out' in China usually means nothing of the kind. Most theatres and concert halls still maintain the old school Communist practice of maintaining the appearance of perfect sales/attendance by allocating a huge proportion of their tickets to various party cadres...... who are mostly indolent philistines who wouldn't be caught dead at a 'cultural' event. This tends to mean that huge numbers of tickets get handed on to drivers, ayis, and so on, eventually finding their way into the hands of piao fanzi ('ticket touts', or 'scalpers', as my American friends would have it). These guys are usually so numerous - and, I suspect, mostly 'amateurs' rather than the hard-bitten crooks we're used to having to deal with in the West - that it's never much of a problem to pick up tickets outside a venue just a quarter of an hour or so before the performance starts. Indeed, supply frequently outstrips demand; and the fanzi are so grateful to offload tickets (which they themselves have probably acquired for free, or very, very cheaply) that their prices can usually be beaten down to rock bottom. I almost always buy from piao fanzi, and I generally pay much less than the face value of the ticket that I would have had to pay at the Box Office. This I find to be one of the more charming and useful quirks of Chinese ineptitude; but it is, I fear, one that is being progressively stamped out as the country gets richer, more modern, more Olympics-ready........ (I haven't yet had the chance to go down the recently opened National Concert Hall - "The Egg" - to see if this eccentric system of ticket distribution holds true there as well: must do that some time soon!)

However, I think I'd be prepared to make a small wager that it would be relatively easy to pick up tickets for Mr Connick's show tonight on the street.

Of course, that's assuming I would want to go. I am open to most kinds of music. I particularly love the jaunty jazz traditions of Connick's native New Orleans (and I hear he's been doing some very commendable charity work there post-Katrina). It's a big band sound, which is good. And I gather that he has been forging a more individual musical style in recent years (I confess I found the Sinatra-lite persona of his early career a bit uninspiring). So...... yes, I would have been curious to have gone.

However, I couldn't find anyone else who was up for it.

And a couple of my lovely lady friends happen to be throwing a small party tonight. So, I have forsaken my cultural leanings for a promise of free pizza.

I am mildly ashamed of myself. Forgive me, Harry. I hope it's a great show.

Update: My blog-pal Jeremiah (who managed to score a pair of tickets in a prize draw - the lucky dog!) reports that the concert was vexingly attenuated and compromised by the last-minute interference of the Ministry of Culture. The control-freakery of the powers-that-be here can be so damned petty and stupid sometimes - I find it incredibly depressing.


The British Cowboy said...

I keep missing Harry Connick Jr. too. Next time I am going to use the laser sighting device and get him right between the eyes.

Jeremiah said...

Actually went to the show courtesy of That's Beijing...good time, he went the jazz route rather than doing the crooner thing and it was a better show for it.

As for tickets: there were A LOT of empty seats, more as the concert progressed as some Chinese audience members realized that HC wasn't Celine Dion in drag.

Froog said...

And were there hordes of piao fanzi outside, giving away 500rmb tickets for 100?

I am very regretful that I didn't go now - particularly as the rival party was a bit of a letdown.

Cowboy, we shouldn't joke about such things in an Olympic year. I am probably on a special PSB 'watch list' as a potential assassin now.

I do sympathise, though. The bastard is about my age but roughly 10 times as good-looking. However, as I glance enviously at the mugshot simpering smugly off the ticketline business card I have beside, it does occur to me that he looks, well, decidedly unnatural - rather like a Thunderbirds mannequin. And I'm pretty sure that's a wig.