Sunday, May 30, 2010

A little bit of a letdown....

I decided against heading out to Kolegas on Friday evening for the first leg of their staggered 5th Anniversary Party. The only big name amongst the main roster of bands that night was Black Cat Bone, who I've heard a gazillion times before (well, and Buyi and Skarving; I like them too, but have heard them a couple of times recently). The weather was a bit discouraging, cool-ish and occasionally threatening to spot with rain again; I didn't fancy being stuck way over on the east side of town if the heavens should open once more. And I was suffering with a sore throat, knew that I had to be cautious about exposing myself to too loud or smoky an atmosphere. (Ah, and then I got side-tracked into having a birthday drink with The Weeble. And then I remembered that Sand [one of my favourite Beijing bands - the only purely Chinese band I know to play blues - although I thought they'd broken up, since I haven't seen a gig advertised for them in three or four years] were playing at Jianghu, so I decided to check that out.)

However, it seems that Friday may have been a rather more satisfying show than Saturday - with a number of bands turning up unannounced to pad out the roster, and the night evolving into an extended jam session which carried on well past sunrise. That sounds rather like the great 1st Year Party I mentioned the other day - perhaps the best party/music event I have ever been to.

I'd always worried that trying to spread the party over two (or three? are they really trying to keep going today as well?) days would result in an unwelcome diffusion of focus, that neither of the main gig nights would be quite as impressive as a single music marathon might have been (and that punters might choose to go to just one night, reducing the crowd size; or might be uncertain as to which night was the 'real' birthday, and perhaps boycott the event out of confusion). However, I had thought that Friday night would be more likely to suffer as a result of this. In fact, it seems, Friday night was so good that everyone was a bit burned out by Saturday.

And two of the headliners cancelled at short notice - SUBS ("tour commitments"?) and Ziyo/Free The Birds (Helen still crocked after falling off stage at the Strawberry Festival three weeks ago? Or a band split-up???). And no replacements were found. That left only two bands, DH & The Chinese Hellcats and Wu & The Side Effects; both excellent outfits, but not much of a bill considering the high expectations generated for this event and the high door fee being asked. (Well, OK, three bands: but it would be kinder not to dwell too much on warm-up act Larry's Pizza. They attempt to sing in English without, apparently, knowing any. Their lyrics - which they seem to be trying to learn and reproduce phonetically, but they're doing it very badly - come across as a burble of barely distinguishable nonsense words. And their gimmick is that they take mellow reggae classics like Wild World and Could You Be Loved, and give them a thrash treatment with bawling vocals and sawing guitars. And they can't even play very well. It evokes the same sort of horrified fascination as watching a car crash. The best that can be said about them is that they only played for just over 20 minutes.)

And that was it. Rumours of a clandestine appearance by Xie Tianxiao proved to be, well, just rumours. (Given that his mid-life self-reinvention seems to have involved abandoning the throbbing grunge of his seminal '90s band Cold Blooded Animal in favour of an anodyne mish-mash of reggae and Chinese folk, this is perhaps not such a big disappointment.) Rumours of various other bands possibly showing up later also, I'm told, came to naught.

Many people, perhaps having heard how late things ran on the previous night, were only turning up at 1am: they missed all the live music.

Other gripes:
Well, although they had more people behind the bar than in previous years, they were still a bit chaotic as to who should be working which bar, and they got overwhelmed by the number of punters for long periods: it could be tough to get a drink.

Those new speaker stacks - just STUPID! Way TOO LOUD for such a compact space. Lots of people were complaining about it last night; and lots of people - even seasoned gig-goers, even some of the rock musicians, even self-destructive young Chinese headbangers - were wearing earplugs. And the eardrum damage isn't even the worst of it. They completely destroy the sightlines. The stacks are so tall now (the old ones barely projected above the level of the stage, so didn't get in anyone's way) that - unless you're right in the middle of the room, and fairly close to the front - you get a severely restricted view of the edges of the stage; from the bar area, you can hardly see a thing any more (well, the whole right half of the stage has disappeared; which usually includes the drummer and the lead guitarist).

The air-conditioning?? Oh my god, are they taking a leaf out of Mako's book and trying to save money by doing without? Or do they need all their electricity outlets to power those outsize speaker stacks now?? The one or two AC units that used to be on stage have been removed. And the ones by the bar and in the main gig area were not in use. It got to be like an oven in there. In fact, rather sadly, both the DH and Wu sets started to empty out well before the end because people just couldn't take the heat any more.

And what was with that excruciating electro-bleep they kept pumping out of the laptop after the bands had finished? I don't think that could be classed as even the most 'minimal' of techno. Was it just a ploy to keep everybody outside?? (It worked!) Painful.

Despite all these disappointments, it was a very large turnout. A very large turnout with a very low average age (well, sub-thirty, anyway; I'm getting very intolerant of young people in my middle age) and a very high incidence of American citizenship. And I suspect a rather high percentage of them haven't been to 2K more than once or twice in their lives. The place really ought to introduce some sort of 'frequent flyer' programme to ensure that us regulars can get served ahead of these interlopers (I know, there are a lot of people who are probably much more regular visitors there than me; but I do make it out there 15 or 20 times a year; and I have been doing so since a few weeks after they first opened..... so, I think I've earned priority status).

Well, I'm glad the lads made themselves a lot of money this weekend. And I'm glad the crowds of young folk hopping around to the DJ on the lawn had a good time. But I have to say, compared to the previous birthday events, this Saturday was a little bit shit.

And I hope to god they'll spend some of their new wealth on dismantling that ridiculous sound system and purchasing something that works better for this size of venue. I don't want to have to be stuffing my ears with cotton wool every time I go there from now on.


Ruby said...

I have to disagree with you here - I was at 2K both nights until the sun came up and I think it was a GREAT party!
Yes, there were annoying newbies, the speakers are loud, Tofu was very busy behind the bar and a few big names didn't show.
But a party is what you make of it. I loved the acts I saw, was able to hang out with a lot of friends, some I don't see often enough. And where else can you watch a great band, then share beer and chuan'r with the musicians when the get of stage? (Or hotpot if you're game to follow one to Guijie at 5am!)
Can't wait for next year!

Froog said...

Well, I did say "compared to previous years", which were a different level of awesome.

It's supposed to be primarily a 'live music' show, so only being able to muster two bands on the 'main night' is a very big disappointment.