My negativity yesterday morning proved to be sadly prescient: White - as my buddy The British Cowboy would have it - sucked donkey balls. No percussion, precious little guitar; instead, the two members of the group have both discovered the dubious delights of making bloopy-bleepy noises with synthesisers (that's one of the hazards of being in a 'developing' country: people don't have the opportunity to get this shit out of their system when they're 14.... and may thus mistakenly think it's 'cool' when they're 26 and really ought to know better). Nothing like the stuff they were playing two years ago (which was actually, you know, music). Very, very disappointing.
And, as is fairly standard at D-22, nobody showed up on stage at all until at least an hour after the advertised start time; and we then had to suffer 4 or 5 very mediocre warm-up acts before the main event. And this 'main event' was definitely not worth waiting up until after 1am for.
The one saving grace of the evening was the presence of a 'band' dubbed Beijing Oprah - I really do like that as a band name! However, I rather fear that that isn't really their name, just a joke the bookers at the club came up with. They're just a trio of students - a male and female vocalist and a traditional percussionist - who do straight renditions of Beijing Opera songs. Very well done, and quite a pleasant change of pace from the rest of the programme - although I fear people weren't paying them very much attention.
My fears about a possible relapse into crapness by the bar, though, proved mercifully unfounded. The drinks prices have come down quite dramatically from when they first opened. The draft beer is still cold and - amazingly - clean-tasting. The pair of barmen who so impressed me back in May appear to have moved on, but the three new young guys behind the bar are equally good (well, maybe they are the same guys..... I mean, I only met them once, briefly, 6 months or more ago. I thought I recalled them both as being a bit older and stouter than these skinny youngsters, but..... a change of hairstyle can render a Chinese kid completely unrecognisable!). The sound system still isn't great, but it's a lot better than it was in the bad old days (they seem to have got a new bloke on the mixing desk - who's actually able to make something happen when he tweaks the knobs; the previous sound guy was, for some reason, utterly ineffectual) ; and, once again, no equipment failures. Even the levels of smugness that the place tends to exude were a little more muted last night.
So far, so good. Unfortunately, it's never going to be a great space for live music - too narrow and cramped: if you're more than a few yards back from the stage, you can't see a bloody thing (most of the Chinese go upstairs on the balcony, where you get a better view.... and don't feel under any pressure to buy drinks; I think they're on to something!). And the acoustics of the room are pretty muddy.
Moreover, I don't like the fact that the place is so dominated by laowai. Last night, at least 95% of the people in there - at least, downstairs - were foreigners. Worse, I'd bet that almost all of them were language students - not a demographic that I warm to. I could probably vent in several long posts about why I hate language students so much.... but, in a nutshell: most of them are insufferably smug about merely making the effort to try to learn Chinese; many of them in fact make only a very ineffectual effort to do so, and leave after 6 months or a year with no worthwhile language skills at all; and a very high proportion of them are wasters and dropouts who have no job back home and no idea what to do with their lives but are naively optimistic that learning a little bit of Chinese will somehow open up all sorts of new opportunities for them. That's right, you know the type: never had a proper job 3 years after finishing college, or perpetual mature student on the run from study loan repayments*, or tried and failed to run a one-man IT consultancy, or..... Yes, the kind of loser you try to avoid in the pub back home; and often a self-important twat along with it. Imagine a whole community of these people. This is why I don't go to Wudaokou very often.
D-22 looks as though it has managed to transform itself into a very good bar. My congratulations - this is no mean achievement, especially after such inauspicious beginnings.
Unfortunately, it's too far away, in the wrong part of town.... and really not much of a music club.
* Yes, yes, I know - pot & kettle. But at least I'm not dumb enough to believe that learning Chinese will be a panacea for my fecklessness.