Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hot or not?

Call it The Curse of Yugong....

I've just about never enjoyed a gig at the new Yugong Yishan. Last year's Dirty Deeds reunion (rumour has it another is in the offing soon) and the New Year's concert a couple of years back with SUBS headlining stand out as rare exceptions. In general, even if the bands are rocking, the venue disappoints - its unwelcome clutter of lounge seating, its tinny acoustics, its excessive background noise from the bar area, its expensive and mostly fake drinks all conspire to produce a shitty night out. With all these things working against it, I find the place struggles to generate much of an atmosphere, even when there's a big crowd.

And on Friday, for the Marnie Stern show I'd been so looking forward to, it was one of the thinnest turnouts I've ever seen there: far fewer than a hundred in total, I would estimate. OK, it was quite an expensive ticket; but almost all of Yugong's shows are expensive these days, and most of them still draw pretty fair crowds. And it's not as if there was much else going on that night.

No, I began to fear that people knew something I didn't; that perhaps Ms Stern really wasn't much of a draw. I hadn't been all that impressed by the few things of hers I'd listened to on YouTube (although this video for her song Ruler, spoofing Stallone's Rocky, is quite fun); but all of the reviews I could find seemed to be raves, comparing her sound to the awesome Eddie Van Halen, and suggesting that her technical accomplishment placed her among the handful of best female guitarists ever.

Hmm, well, maybe 'best female guitarist' is damning with faint praise (I hadn't heard of any of the other players mentioned in that list, except Nancy Wilson of Heart - who was a sexy gal, but hardly in the guitar god[dess] pantheon). Or perhaps Ms Stern was disheartened by the paltry turnout at the club, and just couldn't be bothered to put forth much effort on this occasion. Or maybe she was off-her-face drunk (she did appear to be chugging the Tsingtaos back fairly briskly). Then again, maybe her recordings rely heavily on multi-tracking (and uncredited session musicians?) and she just can't play like that live. The technique on display on Friday was, well, fairly pedestrian. She has quite a nice tone, but she was mostly playing rhythm rather than lead stuff. And her vaunted finger tapping was most of the time confined to only one or two fingers of the left hand and ONE of the right hand; occasionally it got a little more intricate than that, but most of the time, really, it was just three-finger stuff - diddly dum diddly (a very far cry indeed from EVH letting fly with his breathtaking runs up and down the fretboard, often employing all eight fingers at once, and sometimes too making use of delays to build up live 'multi-tracking' of Bach-like complexity). Add to that an awful squeaky voice, equally irritating whether talking or singing, and it was a severely unappealing act. Her drummer was good, very good indeed; but that wasn't enough to entice me to stick it out to the end of her set.

The evening peaked with the warm-up set by SUBS - fantastic as ever, although struggling to generate much of a vibe with the thin crowd (but at least they managed to draw the few dozens who were present down to the front of the stage). Quite a few punters quit after that, without even waiting for Marnie Stern to come on. I only lasted half a dozen or so songs of hers myself, but I'd say that at least half the crowd had had even less patience than me. I fear she probably emptied the room out completely before the end of her set. Sad. (Look, if you can really rip up a fretboard like all those magazines say, we'll give you another chance. But play a decent venue, like Kolegas or Mao or Mako - or even, god help me, D-22 - next time. And don't talk between songs.)

Anyway, to compensate for that musical disappointment, here's Eddie and the boys in their Hair Metal heyday - Hot For Teacher, from their album 1984 (one of those records that, back in 1984, everyone had); amazing drum and guitar work, and a fun video too.

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