Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween? Bah, humbug!

We don't go in for Halloween much where I come from.  We have no truck with all of this jack'o'lantern nonsense.  Well, we don't have the pumpkins!  And, as I observed to Ruby the other day, "Halloween costume parties are an affectation of The Great Satan, a cultural pollution to be resisted!"  Don't even get me started on trick-or-treating.

The trouble with having the 'holiday' fall on a Sunday this year is that we get three straight days of this nonsense, three straight days of the streets and the bars (and the taxis - no goddamn taxis to be had!!) being clogged with raucous young Americans in ghoulish garb - a plague of zombie frat boys.

I hate going out on the weekends at the best of times, but during the current party marathon I am especially inclined to hunker in my bunker.

I may venture out tonight for the Kolegas Halloween show - over the past two or three years, that has been one of the best gigs of the year.  And credit to them for holding it on the day, rather than shifting it to Saturday (they probably made that choice to avoid clashing with other big parties like the Yen event at 798, rather than as a matter of principle, but still...).  As it's a 'school night', there's a slight chance that the crowd won't be too excessive, and the frat boy quotient tolerable.

Enough with the curmudging.  For those of you who enjoy this All Hallows' Eve malarkey, here's a little bit of seasonal fun.  [Find it here, courtesy of art-widget king Ze Frank, via blogger extraordinaire JES.]

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Great Drinking Songs (23)

Time for a quick end-of-the-month headbang, I think.  How about some Ramones?  Here we go with I wanna be sedated, another key component of the soundtrack on Monday Nights With Nigel.

There, doesn't that feel better?

[There's a live version here - with Joey looking particularly "sedated"!  And here's 'The Boss', Bruce Springsteen covering it at a gig in Boston (unusual view from the rear of the stage).]

Au revoir

This seems to have been a particularly bad year for departures amongst my friends.

Is it some kind of seven-year itch (or eight-year...) phenomenon, I wonder?  Or are there more specific causes starting to drive people away: a mounting sense of oppression, the ludicrous difficulty of obtaining visas, the horrendous traffic and pollution, the steepening cost of living, or the general Shanghai-ification of the once charmingly shabby and downmarket city we used to love?

It's not just the Anglophone expat community that's being decimated, either; some of my favourite Frenchies have been quitting too.  Just last week, I learned that the lovely Cecile - a regular among the Salud/Ginkgo/Café de la Poste crowd, and a rather fine singer on the rare occasions when she could be enticed behind a microphone - was about to leave us.  Then, only a couple of days later, the devastating double-whammy: Clément, the ineffably laidback barman from Salud, was off too.  He's been the main draw at that bar for two years now, and will be sorely missed.  His Chinese sidekick Justin is a top man too... but I'm not sure if he'll be quite so amenable in modifying the music playlist according to my preferences, or quite so dangerously over-generous in his free pours of whisky.

Bon voyage, Clément and Cecile.  Best of luck with whatever you're up to next.  And I hope we'll see you back for a visit some day.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Music puns

I have for a little while now been doing an occasional 'Friday Frivolity' series over on Froogville, to indulge my blog-friend JES's (and my own!) fondness for puns - mostly of the visual variety, culled from Viz Comic's excellent online thesaurus of 'Crap Jokes'.

Since I mostly talk about music over here on The Barstool, I thought these two might be more at home here.

If I'd been born twenty years earlier, I like to think I might have got a job as a bodyguard for Jim Morrison.  You know, just so that I could ward off his over-eager fans with the words:  "Mind The Doors, please.  Stand well clear of The Doors."  [I believe I've used this line somewhere before on one or other of my blogs, but I couldn't find it with a site search just now.]

HBH 206

Sitting at the front -
Foolish, when they play this loud.
The ears whoosh for days.

Most excellent Hendrix tribute band Purple Smog returned to VA Bar last night (where I'd seen them last month, around the anniversary of Jimi's passing).  They again played for slightly over an hour, and made quite a few changes to the set list.  (Though still no Red House?  We want Red House!  And Hoochie Coochie Man!  And Sunshine Of Your Love!  And Wild Thing!  And... well, you know... )  Unfortunately, they had cranked the amp up to 11 this time (possibly to 12...); rather LOUDER than is really necessary or healthy in such a small space.  I'm beginning to wonder if my hearing will ever recover.

Looking forward to more shows from these boys, though.  Their bassist says there should be a December gig at VA... and maybe an oft-postponed date at Kolegas as well before too long.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bas cuisine

Stephen down at MaoMaoChong was tonight doing a special deal, an Aussie pub grub favourite known as "a parma".

'Chicken Parma', I learn, is a slab of chicken breast slathered in parmigiana-style sauce (basically a pizza topping of cheese and tomato; though slightly more elaborate variations adding slices of eggplant or pancetta were also available).

Sophisticated it is not, but it is quite irresistible - and the portions were enormous (even without the addition of chunky potato wedges with a thick aioli dip, and a small side salad too): a bargain for 40 kuai.

The experiment was so well-received (mostly by non-Aussies on this occasion) that Stephen is planning to introduce a Parma Night once or twice a month.  I shall be back.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Has it come to this??

God, have we only just reached the middle of the week?  Seems like years...  

Only another 48 hours to go until the weekend - hang in there, Froog.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Naming and shaming

Last week I cited three examples of shockingly bad service I'd encountered recently in trying to get a pint (well, a half-litre it usually is over here) of draught beer in Beijing.  And I challenged my readers to hazard a guess as to where each of these horror stories might have taken place (a number of friends responded in person, mostly correctly; but the comments have been deafeningly quiet around here for a while...).

Here are the answers.

1)  Where were my companion and I repeatedly presented (well, twice - over the space of about 40 minutes!) with an old glass of Stella that we had previously returned unwanted?

That was in Tim's Texas Barbecue.

I hope it's not 'official policy' there.  I rather doubt it.  But this illustrates how essential it is to maintain close supervision of your staff - otherwise they will start doing daft, reputation-harming stuff like this on their own initiative.  Many Chinese serving staff seem to live in terror of having to pay themselves for any mis-orders etc.  (I imagine it's quite common practice in Chinese-run establishments.)  It takes a lot of training to persuade them that mistakes are OK, that they're not going to have to pay for returned drinks themselves, that they're not going to lose their job over it.  Even if you can get this point across, there's still a danger of 'Chinese thinking' taking over at times: the typical Chinese business mindset seems to be one of maximising profit by cutting as many corners as possible, penny-pinching all the way.  Most Chinese people seem to find it inconceivable that it might actually be better business to just pour a drink away sometimes.  [Tim, your staff - or some of them, anyway - are attempting to re-sell stale beer by putting a bit of a fresh head on it.  Please put a stop to this!]

2)  Where did I struggle to get the Chinese staff to replace a pint of beer that had gone bad (and then get charged for a replacement which I had been promised would be 'complimentary')?

That was in the (new) Stumble Inn.

Oh god.  I think it was the fatuous (and almost certainly just outright dishonest) excuse for the overcharge - "not being able to work the computerised till" - that was the camel-back-breaker for me here.  I've only been to this place 4 or 5 times, and I don't think I'll be going back again.  It SUCKS in just about every way imaginable... but the service is some of the worst I've ever encountered here.

3)  Where are they still trying to sell a keg of Stella that is now at least a month (possibly two or three months) old?

That - of course - was Ginkgo.

Good grief!  The place was comically disorganised and unreliable under the old, foreign management - but now.....  AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The birthday that almost wasn't

Last week was my birthday.

I never used to 'celebrate' them much, or even acknowledge their passing, back in the UK; but since I've been living in China, I have fairly regularly enjoyed using them as an excuse to try to bring all my friends together for a bit of a blow-out.

This year, however, was a much more low-key affair than the last three or four...

Just about everyone I know was AWAY.  Nate the Pate was (as usual) occupied with business in Shanghai; The Choirboy (who doesn't travel much for work) was also away in Shanghai for the week; Leather Britches was in Xiamen; even The Suave Bengali (who seldom has to travel much beyond the end of his bed for work purposes) claimed to be "away on business" for a few days;  The Weeble was on a visa run;  The Film Guy had lost his phone and was uncontactable for most of the week; Mr Sex was to have been away on a trip to Siberia, put that off for a few days, got tempted by a rival party instead, finally agreed to come out with me... but then had "something urgent" come up at the last minute (such is the mad whirl of life as a freelance journalist);  The Man In Black is perennially incommunicado; even The Artist was away back to the UK for a while (not that she talks to me much any more); and The Chairman... well, The Chairman, bless him, is just utterly f***ing useless.  Shanghai Michael had been promising to come up, but got seduced by the rival prospect of a trip to Paris and New York (fair enough).  Sister Surly - most diverting of the 12 Square Metres 'regulars' through the middle of this year - has, alas, returned to America now; as has Dr Manhattan, my principal partner-in-drink last year.  Sexy Sarah, Glamorous Vicky, Animator Ben and Nick O'Pix have also quit Beijing this year. JK, of course, was unable to leave the bar.  And Big Nige was 20,000 ft up a sacred mountain in Tibet with his tour group (definitely the most hardcore excuse for absence!!).

I found myself pretty near friendless.... and so, glumly, I abandoned my sketchy plans for arranging a big get-together on the significant date.

However, luckily THE BAR is always there: thank heavens for 12 Square Metres!  My two closest gal pals, Ruby and Dishy Debs, turned out for me, as did Ron Not Ron (one of my oldest Beijing friends, but a chap I don't see for six months at a time these days); and a few other fortuitous drop-ins (we even roped a holidaying US Marine into the party for a while).  I really can't think of any way I would rather have passed another milestone on the road to death than in my favourite little bar, with my favourite bar owners, JK and Limei (and Mafan, their effusively affectionate puppy!).

It's just a pity that so few of my friends were able to join me this year.  Although in general I strongly disapprove of celebrating anniversaries on days other than the actual date, I may for once make an exception and try to have some sort of after-the-event party when everyone has returned from wherever....

(Actually, I found I was enjoying my "birthday" in 12 Square Metres so much that I spun it out for three days.  I happened to be in there late on the day before, so hung around till midnight to see in the 'Big Day' with a whisky; then I was back that night to share some cake with the handful of chums who hadn't quit the city; and then, since I was an afternoon baby and thus, thanks to the miracle of timezone difference, was not actually turning [indistinct] until towards midnight, and since it seems entirely reasonable to celebrate for a period of a full 24 hours after the moment of one's birth... well, I spun out my revelries through the whole of the next evening as well.  Three successive nights of liver battery!  I'm not sure that I'll be doing that again next year - I am getting too old for this shit!)

Bon mot of the week

"Quiet nights in are for old ladies and new lovers.  Which are you?"

Daniel B  (a musician friend, taunting me for trying to pass up one of his gigs)

My rueful reply:  "I fear probably the former.  I am starting to feel my age!"

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A song for Ruby

A few days ago I went with Ruby and a few other friends to see the phenomenal Aussie guitarist Tommy Emmanuel playing at the Centennial Theatre in Peking University.  (Regular readers may remember that I was bummed that I missed his show there this time last year because I'd only found out about it a few hours before it was due to start.)

This was one of the highlights of the evening, one of the prettiest of his own compositions, an instrumental number he calls Ruby's Eyes. Our Ruby, of course, likes to imagine that it was written for her (though Tommy claims he wrote it on the spur of the moment for a little girl he once met in an airport).

[Now, I hate to be a curmudgeon again, but... well, yes, it was a fine show and Tommy is certainly a remarkable talent... However, I wasn't always convinced by the musicality of the performance.  There was a tendency to overindulge the pyrotechnics, to throw in eccentric techniques or very fast passages just to show off - at the cost, I felt, of some smoothness or accuracy in the phrasing, or, at times, of the logic of the musical development.  Tommy loves to entertain, and I suspect he was deliberately playing up to the somewhat unsophisticated tastes of the predominantly Chinese audience (the Chinese like showing off; and they like short, flashy - or quirky - moments that can prompt them to applaud in the middle of a song; and they love any strong rhythmic figure that can get them clapping along or stamping their feet!).  Ruby (who's seen quite a lot of Tommy on TV when she was living in Australia, and much preferred those performances) and another of my companions (himself an extremely fine guitarist) both shared some of my scepticism; they suggested that the 'cheese factor' - both in some of the song choices and in the style of performance - was being ramped up to please the Chinese punters.  'Entertaining' and 'artistry' ought not to be mutually exclusive or incompatible; but on this occasion I found these two strands of musicianship disentwining rather.  And, while it may have been more of a problem when playing for a Chinese crowd, I suspect it is always likely to be a vice of Tommy's; when you have developed such an extraordinary technique, it must often get tempting to demonstrate how good you are.... rather than just play music, rather than rely on simplicity of melody and the subtle tonality of the guitar to engage your audience.  I found this over-elaboration especially irritating on some of the covers he did, particularly Over The Rainbow: a tune that beautiful doesn't need a lot of trills and flourishes poured all over it!  Curiously enough, he tended to give his own compositions a much more straightforward treatment, and so I much preferred these.  And he's a pretty damned good songwriter.

If this Beijing gig is going to become a regular October fixture in his schedule, I'll definitely give him a go again next year.  But I rather think I'd enjoy him even more if I could see him play in Europe, or Australia or America.]

I hope I don't enrage Tommy's legions of fans with these observations!  I'm sure that a lot of people would put him on their "Mt Rushmore of music".  Would you???

Friday, October 22, 2010

I wish I always got paid like this

A few weeks ago, I helped an acquaintance edit a paper she was to present shortly at an academic conference in Korea.  Since I had nothing but time on my hands around then, and since I knew she was a bit strapped for cash, and since I thought the topic would be interesting and the work not so very demanding (she's European: near native-speaker English level in spoken fluency, but still a little flaky in her writing), I waived my 'usual fee'.

However, she was so pleased with my contribution that when she came back from the conference she brought me the above bottle of duty-free Japanese malt whisky as a thank-you present.

I fret that this is probably of rather higher value than my 'usual fee'.  It's certainly a very pleasant change.

HBH 205

I'd planned to stay in...
Or come home early, not drink;
The best plans are changed.

I really felt I needed a quiet night, an early night yesterday - after a week of stress and poor sleeping (and hitting the sauce way too much!).  But my musical pals The No Name Trio were playing one of their (these days, rare) Jianghu gigs, and the discovery of this goaded me into venturing out.  But I never made it to JH; stopping in on the way at 12 Square Metres, I ran into a few 'regulars' I'd missed on earlier visits this week and... one thing led to another, as they say.  Being lent an i-Phone to take charge of the music playlist was the crucial turning point: once I'd cued up an hour or more of great songs, I couldn't really leave, could I?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The difficulty of getting a good draught beer in Beijing

Three warning tales

1)  My friend and I are drinking Stella, but we're out of sync: I finish well before him and order one more beer for myself.  The waiter brings one for both of us.  We politely point out that we only ordered one this time, and decline to accept the second one.  Twenty minutes later, when my friend finally orders another, they bring him what is fairly obviously the same glass of beer we saw earlier: the head's been freshened up, but there's almost no carbonation left in the drink itself, and - to a discerning beer drinker (it's my friend Leather Britches: he's Austrian, and thus a complete beer queen) - it's already starting to taste noticeably 'off'; not bad, but just slightly stale.  He again sends it back, and the waiter scarcely protests; a fresh beer is brought promptly.  Another 10 or 15 minutes later, when I am ready to order another Stella, they bring me the same beer again.

Where do you think this happened?

2)  I order a Carlsberg.  I rarely do this - don't like the beer at the best of times, and it's often appallingly badly kept in Beijing.  But in this particular bar everything else is too goddamned expensive (and, although we've gone there to watch a sporting event starting at 2pm, the just-about-affordable 'happy hour' doesn't kick in until mid-afternoon).  They bring me a glass of undrinkable skank, one of those that's so tainted you can tell it's off by the smell, without even having to taste it.  I point out that the beer has gone bad, expecting to be offered a replacement or an alternative; I am disappointed - the staff just nod and smile and get on with something else.  After 10 minutes or so, I go up to the bar and demand an alternative drink - a bottle of Tiger.  Some time later, the foreign manager finally appears, confirms that the beer is off and that I should get a replacement for free.  When we settle up our bill, the Chinese manager tells me that I won't be charged for my first drink... but then charges me for it anyway.  I suspect that she's thinking that the drink I've been promised "for free" is the undrinkable pint of draught that I sent back untouched.  I query her on the point and - reluctantly - she agrees to give me the Tiger for free.... except that, apparently, she doesn't know how to 'cancel' items on the computerised till.  (What?!  So, you can't remedy overcharges or incorrect orders or changed orders??  How about just writing a note for the foreign manager and letting him sort it out?  In fact, I think this was purest BS, since she had already changed the bill once [having initially charged my friend and me for something we hadn't even ordered], and then managed to adjust my supposedly complimentary Tiger to 'happy hour' price - an extremely token 'concession' that did more to irritate than console me!)  For the sake of a quiet life, I paid and left.  But I don't think I'll ever be going back there again...

Where do you think this happened?

3)  There's a bar I find myself walking past quite often.  It has long been just about the only bar in my neighbourhood that has Stella - a particular weakness of mine.  The place changed ownership a few months ago, is now, I think, entirely Chinese-run.  They still advertise Stella, and have a big sign in the window touting a two-for-one promotion on draught beer.  However, since the changeover, they have had ZERO CUSTOMERS.... so I am a tad wary about the condition of their beer.  Eventually, curiosity - a thirst for knowledge as much as for beer - impels me to step inside one afternoon.  I ask if the Stella is on; they say yes.  I ask if it is covered by the two-for-one deal; they say yes.  I ask them how long they've had this particular barrel; they are unable or unwilling to tell me.  I decide to try a beer anyway, though there's a very strong chance that this keg is now three months old.  I persuade them - with great difficulty - to discard the first glass out of the tap (since I am quite obviously the first person to order a glass of Stella on this day.... week.... month; and they quite obviously never clear the lines).  The second glass they pour is - surprise, surprise - undrinkable skank.  They are surprised and querulous when I decline to drink it or pay for it.  Another place I'm unlikely ever to be going back to...

Where do you think this happened?

Monday, October 18, 2010

On the mountainside


My occasional partner-in-crime (and in gig-going) Ruby did a post on Beijing Daze the weekend before last noting the occasion of John Lennon's birthday (it would have been his 70th, had he lived).  And she used that as an opportunity to float an idea we've been kicking around down at the bar for a while - who would be on your personal "Mount Rushmore" of rock music, the four (or so) figures you have found more inspiring than anyone else?

Now, Ruby wanted to make this strictly a 'personal impact' selection - hence her somewhat embarrassed nomination of The Smashing Pumpkins.  I've got two quibbles with that (without getting into a critique of The Smashing Pumpkins, a band of whom I have heard, but never - knowingly - heard). The first is that, if you picture transposing your selections on to the real Mount Rushmore monument, there's only enough space for 4 faces there (maybe 5 or 6, at a push; we've all seen Photoshop gags where there are one or two interlopers alongside the familiar US Presidents).  There really isn't room for a whole band.  Although, of course, it has been done....
(And I'd forgotten that there was this jokey variation on the back cover of the album.  But hang about - there are only 4 bums here; whose rear is missing??)

Well, perhaps there is just about room for one whole band (The Beatles, of course, have a strong claim), but... that wouldn't really leave space for anyone else.

My greater objection is that if you're talking about such a one-off and very public - and, well, yes, monumental - celebration of favourite musicians... that does rather lead you towards wanting to come up with choices that you can justify to, and that will find acceptance with, most other reasonable music-lovers out there... rather than the guilty pleasures of your teenage years (I love Blondie and Abba but I would never in a million years suggest carving them on Mount Rushmore!).  I mean, if Rolling Stone magazine, say, was conducting a worldwide poll on this topic, and was going to draw one selection at random to actually be immortalized by being carved in a cliff-face somewhere... I think you'd want to try to identify the artists or bands who'd indisputably had an impact on everyone, not just on you; the people who'd left an indelible influence on the development of the music.

But even that gets pretty tough.  As I commented on Ruby's original post, after more than 50 years of rock’n'roll, it’s becoming difficult to choose between the different eras. If you’re limited to just four choices, I feel I’d have to approach it decade by decade.

I think real rock as we know it – more underground and iconoclastic, more experimental, but cleaving closer to its roots in the blues – didn’t really get going until the 1960s; its '50s precursors were fun, some of them great, but a bit too poppy.

If you just look at the '60s, I think the 'Top 4' are pretty damned obvious: Hendrix, Joplin, Lennon, and Jagger. I suppose some might argue for McCartney (or Morrison?!) to sneak in there instead of Jagger, but that’s it for me.

It you go back to the '50s, it’s got to be Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash (I've noted on here before that Kid Rock has said Cash should be added to the actual Mount Rushmore).

I would have loved to have found a place in there for Freddie Mercury, but I feel that (as with Michael Jackson and a few others) he was a remarkable solo talent, unique, unrepeatable – but he hasn’t really been that influential on anyone else following. Most female vocalists at some point in their careers have a stab at emoting like Janis (or at least wish that they could); all guitarists try to play like Jimi; all great stage performers get compared to Jagger; and all songwriters wish they could write songs like Lennon.

And I realise that I have probably enraged a sizeable proportion of the classic rock-loving populace by omitting Dylan from that quartet - but it's quite deliberate, and I'll stand by it.  Put 'em up, put 'em up.  I'll fight you with one arm tied behind my back.

Ah, and then of course you could have separate 'Top 4s' for guitarists... and drummers....  The challenge is neverending!!!

[If I were going for Ruby's approach of "never mind their place in rock'n'roll history, just choose the ones that got closest to your heart, for whatever reason", I'd say Tom Waits way ahead of anyone else; and then maybe Freddie Mercury.... and Dave Gilmour.... and possibly Brian May as well as Freddie (huge Queen fan in my youth!).... and perhaps Joe Jackson too (much the best British singer-songwriter of my generation, I feel).  If we can somehow find a way to cram a set of whole bands on the mountain - Queen, The Boomtown Rats, Pink Floyd, and The Pogues.]

I have spoken.  Do your worst.

Top Five Signs of Winter

Gosh, is it really that time of year already?  It seems it is.  The temperature has been in a nosedive over the past few days, and on Sunday night it was getting down close to freezing.

Top Five Signs of the approach of winter in Beijing

5)  I start taking a fleece out with me in the evenings.
(I'm a hardy soul, and will usually persevere in shirtsleeves until the temperature gets near to zero; but one has to be prepared.)

4)  I start having to wear my fleece (at least when walking home, 'round midnight).

3)  We have to close the door at 12 Square Metres.

2)  We have to close the window at 12 Square Metres.

1)  We have to turn on the heater at 12 Square Metres.
(Hmm - burning dust!!)

It seems El Nino & The Climate Changes (possible band name??) have a punishing gig schedule lined up for this year; it's predicted to be an exceptionally harsh winter across the northern hemisphere.  If it's getting started in the middle of October, it certainly looks like it!

Bon mot for the week

"I am an idealist. I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on the way."

Carl Sandburg  (1878-1967)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Missing the diva...

About 10 days ago I discovered by chance that Cesária Évora was to be performing in Beijing last Sunday (along with a rising young star called Mayra Andrade, of whom I had never heard, but definitely need to check out now).

It seems Ms Evora is not as universally known and admired as I had supposed.  The people I usually depend upon for exchange of important tidbits of music news were just shrugging and saying things along the lines, "Oh, yeah, this African woman's coming to town soon.  Apparently, she's quite good."

Quite good??  Ye gods!  I view it more like this: Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nina Simone are, sadly, no longer with us; Cesária is in the same - exclusive - class, and she's still going strong (although she's now approaching seventy years of age).  It is a moral duty to see her perform in person while we can.  She is the queen of morna, a ravishing musical genre that has developed in her native Cape Verde Islands.

300 tickets were supposedly being given away free by the Cape Verde Embassy (which is, I imagine, a small apartment shared with the diplomatic representatives of The Maldives and The Seychelles).  I applied by e-mail, but - after a 36-hour silence - received a disappointing answer.  However, the show was to be in the PLA Theatre, which is right on my back doorstep.... so, I thought I'd go along on Sunday evening and hope to be able to buy a ticket on the door.  A strange experience, that was: the theatre appeared to be completely closed - the gates barred, most of the lights off, and only a skeleton staff in evidence; no sign of an audience, nor any piao fanzi (ticket touts).  Admittedly, it was pouring with rain, and there was still nearly an hour to go before curtain up, but you would have expected there to be some signs of life if such an important concert was imminent (and Cesária is, I would say, the biggest non-classical musical star to appear in China in the last 5 years).  There were no signs or posters advertising the concert (although there were some for a festival of African music, of which I assume this concert was intended to be a part; these however, had only very small photographs, and were entirely written in Chinese - not much help to me).  There were a couple of people in the ticket booth, but they were resolutely ignoring me and refusing to open their window.  When my persistent tapping on the glass eventually got too much for them and they tetchily opened up, they gave me just a blunt meiyou, "not have" - I have no idea whether they meant that the concert was sold out, or cancelled, or whether they simply didn't want to sell a ticket to a foreigner.  All the same to me.  Sadly I gave up and trudged home through the rain.  [My guess would be that the concert was a 'private' affair, for cadres and diplomats only.  I get the impression that the PLA Theatre is that kind of place: it runs a full programme of events throughout the year, but they are seldom if ever advertised anywhere!]

I haven't heard from anyone else who managed to go.  The moribund condition of the theatre did rather suggest that the show had been called off.  I hope that's the case.  I would hate to have missed out on what would almost certainly have been the one-and-only chance in my life to see Cesária sing in person.

By way of consolation to myself and other thwarted Cesária fans (or, by way of introduction for those who don't yet know her music), here's her song Sentimento.

Friday, October 15, 2010

In a nutshell

Certain of my lady friends have been lobbying me to join them for the Hanggai show at 2 Kolegas tonight, but... well, I have fallen rather out of love with Kolegas lately... and I hate trying to get across town on a Friday evening.

Then I discovered that the ravishable Marie-Claude (the 'Minx from Montreal', as Badr dubs her) is playing in my 'hood tonight, at Jianghu.

The Froog decision-making template is really very simple.  As I succinctly summarised for Ruby:

"Sex, no taxis!"

HBH 204

First work in a month
Late drinking with a dearest friend
Sleep at last returns

Ah, so that's the secret!  I've been dogged by insomnia - or, at any rate, poor sleeping, and waking up way too early - for the past few weeks, and have been feeling utterly exhausted.  It seems that working my arse off all day and then getting completely wrecked with The Choirboy will sort that out for me.

Or perhaps it's just the semi-effective blackout curtain I improvised the other day...

Either way, I enjoyed a long lie-in this morning... for the first time in.....

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Weird China moment....

The guzheng player downstairs is practising Oh, Give Me A Home (Where The Buffalo Roam).  This is SURREAL.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Music at last week's Haidian Park Festival

The promised follow-up to Monday's post on the organization of the Modern Sky Records October holiday music festival last week, this time focusing on... the MUSIC.

Well, a bit of a mixed bag.  Most of the time, I didn't know who I was listening to, because Modern Sky's promo materials all seemed to be in Chinese only.  One of the first bands on the amphitheatre stage was fronted by a guy who played an electric guqin (not a traditional guqin with a mike on it, but - for the first time that I've ever seen - a purpose-built electric guqin, with electric guitar-style built-in pick-ups): that rocked.  The other big highlight of the day for me was Omnipotent Youth Society, almost justifying the price of admission on their own (if it had been less than 100 rmb, they would have done!): they remind me a bit of Wu & The Side Effects (same Santana-esque bluesiness in the guitar sound sometimes), but with the considerable advantages of a decent singer (sorry, Wu - love the guitar, man, hate the vocals) and the lush aural texture added by those soaring trumpet lines.

It was also quite nice to see Hedgehog again (after a long lapse, and rumours of a split-up).  I know I named them as one of my '5 bands to avoid' some time ago, but that was mainly because they tend to be tiresomely overpraised in the laowai press here.  They're a very decent band, but still lacking in any really good material.  And I do wish they'd let their little drummer Atom take on more of the vocals; she can sing, the guitarist can't.

New Pants were as wilfully eccentric as ever.  Not really my cup of tea at the best of times, and this time doing more of the electro stuff than the guitar-pop stuff I prefer (they're a bizarrely schizophrenic duo: one of them, it seems, would like to be Oasis, while the other would like to be Blancmange or the Pet Shop Boys; so, most of the time they end up sounding like Pulp on an off day).  However, they have that exuberance and self-belief about them that most Chinese bands tend to lack: they can - just about - hold a stage.

The rest of the day I found a bit disappointing, I'm afraid.  Latvian pop-rockers Brainstorm started off promisingly, but - as so often with Eastern European music - relapsed into polka after a while.   Oxygen Can (or Liquid Oxygen Container, as they are sometimes even more literally translated) are, I think, one of the city's better death metal outfits, and I like their gimmick of having a second drummer playing on empty oil drums (it used to be just one, vigorously bashed about with big billets of wood; but now he's developed it into a full kit [in yellow-and-green camo paint], including a beer keg for a high-hat, and plays it a bit more conventionally).  However, it's just not a style of music that I dig, and I tired of them after only two or three songs.  With SUBS, I'm afraid I'm just not getting the new material; I've heard it three times now, and it seems more experimental, more 'thinky', and is perhaps quite clever musically in some ways, but it's also a bit dull - it lacks the infectious RAGE that was their hallmark.  I can't help wondering if the band are a bit unconvinced about it too; Kang Mao, in particular, seems a bit subdued lately, compared to the pogo-ing hellcat we know and love.  Maybe they're all just getting a bit older....  Unhappy thought!

That's certainly a worry with the last act up, Xie Tianxiao (or XTX, as he's now somewhat portentously billed).  He went through a 'folky' phase at the start of the year, putting out a whole album (or an EP, anyway?) of reggae-infused songs, which looked dangerously like evidence of a mid-life crisis.  He's quickly retreated from that - no doubt partly due to the almost universal derision it provoked.  One of the songs I heard him do last Monday started out in that style, but then quickly switched into something more like the nasty, punky grunge for which he made his name.  A couple of the things later in the set sounded more like outright metal (perhaps a calculated attempt to woo a younger generation of fans; metal is HUGE here), which tended to put me off - although I'd been oscillating between him and the main stage headliners Blonde Redhead anyway (WHY have your two biggest acts on at exactly the same time??  That didn't make a lot of sense, Modern Sky!).  Again, it seemed to me a rather subdued performance.  The man still plays a mean guitar (and a guzheng??), but the old caged-tiger sense of imminent threat he used to emanate seems to have died.   
[I wonder, in fact, if he was ever much of a big stage performer.  I commented a week or two ago that I think most Chinese bands aren't.  Up-close-and-personal, Xie Tianxiao  can be absolutely awesome.  But he's not able to - or doesn't choose to try to -  project that amount of energy to a bigger audience. I saw a reunion gig he did with his original band Cold Blooded Animal at the old Nameless Highland music bar about 5 or 6 years ago, and that was one of the best shows I've ever seen - in China or anywhere else.  Last Monday, I'm afraid, it felt a bit like he was just going through the motions for old times' sake.]

Blonde Redhead were a big letdown too.  It's a bad sign if your main stage crowd is thinning out that quickly during the headline act (even though that might have been largely because XTX is a way bigger draw for most of the local fans).  Their dreamy pop-rock doesn't really play well to a festival crowd, and they don't know how to hold a stage.  The Pace brothers are rather elderly-looking chaps now, and very low-key, uncharismatic.  So, it really falls to their principal vocalist Kazu Makino to connect with the crowd; and - at least on this occasion - she was determinedly declining to do so.  I wonder if she's too self-conscious to play in front of large crowds, or perhaps more purposefully trying to avoid using her attractiveness as one of the band's USPs.  Her hair and her peaked cap almost completely concealed her face; and she spent most of her time looking at her band mates rather than out front, anyway - total lack of audience engagement.  If they had been the main reason for shelling out my 150 kuai, I would have demanded my money back.

But that's festivals for you.  You see a dozen or more different acts in a day, and there are going to be some good, some bad, some somewhere in the middle.  I think the good - or the at least adequate - just about outweighed the bad overall.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The run continues...

I just can't seem to lose the 12 Square Metres Individual Quiz.

It's becoming something of a curse.

Last time out, I was tied for the lead with Ruby (formidable on geography and sport, two of my weaker areas), but still nicked it on the tiebreaker.

Last night, Ruby and The Weeble (and the Amilal crew, and The Chairman, and The Man In Black, and...Uncle Tom Cobley et al) were otherwise engaged, so JK was going to postpone the competition to a later date.  However, since my old journo buddy Mr Sex had dropped in for the first time in ages, we determined that the two of us were de facto joint winners on a walkover, and JK consented to run his intended 'tiebreak questions' by us.  I prevailed by being able to name all the provinces and territories of Canada - although I perhaps have somewhat of an unfair advantage on that because I've lived there.

However, an hour later, one or two other people then showed up, and JK quixotically decided to run the quiz anyway - the quiz which I'd already "pre-WON".  And things were looking bleak for me.  Journalists, in general, have a pretty broad sweep of knowledge; and Mr Sex, quite an experienced quizzer, is a travel writer and a former film critic, so can be expected to perform especially well in the Geography and Entertainment categories.  Moreover, he'd been piqued by my "tiebreak victory", and fierce competitive urges had been unleashed in him.  He was so far ahead after the first round that the rest of us had just about given up hope.  But we toughed it out, hung on, and he dropped a point carelessly here and there.... but I was still 4 or 5 points adrift going into the last round.  However... well, a remarkable thing happened: the last round is usually China & General Trivia, but... this week it turned out to be a round entirely composed of Science questions.  Even more unexpectedly, they turned out to be science questions that I knew all the answers to.  Usually science is one of my poorest subjects, but on this night I could do no wrong.  Mr Sex, on the other hand, clearly bunked off Science classes at school to smoke and make out with girls behind the bike sheds, because he knows absolutely nothing about this topic.  It was one of the most bizarre - and, I have to say, undeserved - comebacks in quizzing history!!  Mr Sex felt abused by Fate.

Whereas I am feeling cruelly taunted by Fate.  I'd be quite happy to rediscover some quiz fallibility if only I could start catching a break in some other areas of my life!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Notes on the Haidian Festival

A week late, but so it goes.

I spent the whole of last Monday at the October Modern Sky Music Festival in Haidian Park.  I'd had considerable misgivings about it beforehand, after the widespread panning that their May event out in Tongzhou received from just about everyone who went to it - even the normally affable and forgiving Badr.

However, Zhang Fan's MIDI Music School has been running events in Haidian Park for so long now that I imagine this has become pretty much 'Festival In A Box'; other promoters can get together with the park authorities and just try to copy everything that MIDI did this May (and in several previous years).  And so it seemed to be.  The festival area fenced off from the rest of the park was similar, though  just a bit smaller (and lacking the funky 'Folk' and MAO Live stages that we had this May).  The fence was made of flimsy-looking plywood rather than the usual corrugated metal construction-site stuff, and there were no bao'an in evidence around the perimeter - so it was probably relatively easy to get in for free, but I had no wish to try.  The food court was somewhat abbreviated too, though it covered most of the usual choices (no Pizza Hut-ripoff pizza or Subway-ripoff sandwiches?  maybe it was a token 'China respects IPR' thing??); and everyone was displaying their prices this time, which is A HUGE PLUS.  The ticket-selling booths were set up at the entry to the ticket-check lines (rather than in a separate - and, at Midi, somewhat hidden! - area), which actually worked rather better, so long as traffic was light; I imagine it might have caused a few logjams at peak times, especially on Day 1.  The portaloos were far too few, and not very conspicuously signposted (hidden away at the back of the festival area, behind the Converse shoes tent); on the other hand, the proper toilets at the side of the Changchunyuan Club amphitheatre were highlighted by such a huge sign that unpleasant queues (and blockages) occurred, especially for the ladies (at Midi this May - the first time I can remember this part of the park being in use - this facility was signposted inconspicuously or not at all, and thus remained a pleasantly underused 'secret' for the benefit of small numbers of the more sharp-eyed or exploratory festival-goers such as myself).  And the booze..... well, there was a Jager tent pushing shooters and an Absolut tent selling 'cocktails' of unspecified content, but neither, mercifully, was attracting very much business.  The ban on draught beer - inexplicably introduced this May - continued, so only lukewarm canned Tsingtao was available (served in paper cups, with the option of ice cubes added - at least until the ice ran out after a couple of hours): canned Tsingtao is at least preferable to the bottled crap, and the asking price of 15 rmb perhaps isn't so unreasonable at a festival... but we're still goaded by the memories (the very pleasantly blurred memories) of the 'good old days' of LARGE cups of draught being on offer for just 10 kuai.

In general, prices - for booze, soft drinks, snacks, merchandise - all seem pretty reasonable... perhaps even a little bit down on a couple of years ago.  But, my god, the entry fee is getting expensive: 150 rmb for ONE DAY??!!  I can't remember how much this year's Midi was, but I don't remember paying more than 100 rmb for an event like this before, and even that seems kind of steep compared to the 60 or 80 rmb we were paying just a few years ago.  And I'm pretty sure that the first Midi I went to (back in '04, I think that was) was only charging around 150 rmb for four days.  The times, they are a-changing, indeed.  And not for the better.

Blanket vendors seemed to have been outlawed (or just couldn't be bothered to come?) this time around... and I'm not convinced that that's a bad thing.  Most of the stuff they're usually pushing is the most godawful, pointless tack; and they do get in the way of foot traffic between the various stages quite badly at times.  However, as at Midi this year (especially on the first day!), the pitching of tents seemed to be entirely unregulated, which led to much of the rear of the main stage area becoming hopelessly cluttered, impeding access to the sponsor's tents, refreshment stalls, and toilets.  I have some sympathy (not much, but some) with people bringing tents at the start of summer, as occasional shelter from the strong sunshine.  At this time of year, that's not an issue.  If people are worried about rain - well, if it rains, you get wet: deal with it.  If you're going to retreat inside a tent at the first sign of a shower, you're not really at the festival any more, are you?

Main criticisms I'd heard from Days 1 and 2 were about the technical set-up, with numerous sound breakdowns said to have seriously compromised a number of sets.  They seemed to have got that - mostly - sorted out by the last day, although some of the changeovers and soundchecks were still a bit laborious.  Sound pollution from stages too close together was still a bit of a problem at times; although there was no folk stage to worry about this time, and the (I still say, irksomely UNNECESSARY) DJ stage was much less noisy than in May, and at the back of the festival area and facing away from the main stages (the one really welcome innovation of the Modern Sky setup).  Having a third main stage, though, was perhaps a case of overkill: the crowds just weren't big enough to support it.  That was a shame, because a few of the bands playing there sounded really quite good, but none of them seemed to be drawing an audience of more than a few dozens.

So, overall, congratulations, Modern Sky - I'd been fearing you'd f*ck it up big time, but you managed not to.  Quite the reverse: a very decent festival - though not quite matching the turnout of the Midi events (mainly because of the cooler weather at this time of year).

More on the music... a little later in the week....

The weekly bon mot

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

Oscar Wilde  (1854-1900)

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Great Love Songs (22)

During this week's Monday Night With Nige, our resident music aficionado Ruby pointed out that Monday 4th was the 40th anniversary of the death of Janis Joplin.  Naturally, we had to commemorate this unhappy landmark by digging out what little of her stuff we have on the 12 Square Metres playlist (Note to JK: we need more!).

Although a few days late, here's a further tribute now: her classic Piece Of My Heart, from a late-60s TV show, with Big Brother and The Holding Company (an exception to my usual rule: an awful band name, but still a GREAT band!!).

And here's a live version from Woodstock, accompanied by a montage of still photographs.

[Some additional treats for you: three more storming TV performances, of Cry, Baby!, To Love Somebody, and Try (Just A Little Bit Harder).]

Friday, October 08, 2010


I've known the amiable French musician Jean-Sebastien Héry - or Zhang Si'an, as he's known in Chinese style - for some years now, but he keeps on surprising me with the variety of his work.

His '60s-style psychedelic blues-rock outfit, The Amazing Insurance Salesmen, romped to victory in the Beijing instalment of this year's World Battle Of The Bands competition a few weeks ago, but he's almost always got a number of other bands and projects on the go as well.  Last night he was debuting a new formation of his Zhang Si'an group (extended from a duo to a full four-piece, with a lot of new or re-worked material) for a small but appreciative audience at Jiangjinjiu (one of my favourite music  bars, because it's right on my doorstep).  And it was an absolutely awesome show, one of the best I've seen this year.  The only disappointment was that they only played one set - although it was a pretty long one, around 70 minutes.

Now, I liked the original version of Zhang Si'an, where it was just Jean-Seb on his guitar and Ubuul on his hand drum, mostly very free-form and folksy.  I hope we'll see more of that.  And I wonder if this new group might not have a tendency to converge with The Insurance Salesmen - very different songs at the moment, but similar in sound in many ways.  But damn, J-S, you can have as many bands as you like if they're all this good!

As 'happy' as you like

The other day, Li Mei, the charming lady boss down at 12 Square Metres, asked me if I'd like to pay 'happy hour' prices.

Since it was in fact 'happy hour', I readily agreed.  But it's nice to be given the choice!

HBH 203

The kitchen nurtures
All the best conversations;
Or standing outside.

Why is that so often the case? It was true again last night...

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Festival overload??

How many rock/pop music festivals can one city (region, country...) take?

When it's a country such as China, where the music scene is still in an embryonic phase and the number of really good bands is probably to be measured - at best - in the dozens rather than the hundreds, I'd say... not that many.  In Beijing, although we probably have the best of the country's music scene, I really don't think we can support more than 3 or 4 festivals a year.  Yep, 3 or 4 - in total.  This year we've had that many going on at one time - twice.  And a whole bunch of others, in between those two 'Golden Week' peaks bookending the summer.

Perhaps it's partly an outpouring of optimism as the scene does start to take off, and even draw some overseas recognition.  Perhaps it's a release of energy pent up by the two-year ban on outdoor music we've just endured through the Olympics and the PRC's 60th Anniversary celebrations.  Perhaps it's mainly a bandwagon phenomenon, as would-be promoters see how successful the Midi Festival is becoming and greedily seek to emulate or surpass it.  Whatever it is, this year it's just got CRAZY.

We have reached festival satiety, festival ennui.  Enough, already.  This past weekend's Modern Sky and Pilot Records events were OK, but... they were a pale shadow of the best of the May Midi events (which have been getting progressively bigger and better through the Noughties) or the 2007 Chaoyang Pop Festival (which, for the first time ever that I can think of, actually had some big name foreign acts on the bill [who didn't get cancelled at the last minute by a paranoid/national chauvinist Ministry of Culture]); they were basically a slightly smaller re-run of this year's May festivals, with thinner crowds and chillier weather.  Why bother?

Even without this festival overkill, we are in danger of our favourite bands going a little stale on us through over-familiarity.  We do get lots of opportunities to see them in the city's small-to-medium-sized music bars throughout the year.  And Chinese bands tend not to develop new material very fast.  Most acts you saw at these October festivals were probably playing near-identical sets to the ones they performed in May (and at all the other festivals since).  Whereas a show in a music bar - even with exactly the same material - tends to take on a unique character from the distinctive ambience of the venue and the energy of the crowd on a particular night, I find that most outdoor shows by Chinese bands end up feeling pretty much the same.  And therefore we don't really need to see them play outdoors more than once or twice a year.  
[There may be a problem here that not many Chinese bands really know how to work a stadium or a festival.  There are one or two who might possibly be better with a big crowd than in a smaller venue (Brain Failure and Omnipotent Youth Society come to mind; and, strangely, Shan Ren); and a few who do a good job on the big stage, but are really even better in a club (SUBS, Ziyo, Perdel); but the majority of bands here are short of stage presence even in an intimate setting, and almost lapse into invisibility on a festival stage.]

Organisers are probably starting to run into price resistance as well as boredom: this latest Modern Sky event was charging 150 rmb per day.  That's what we were paying for a four-day pass to Midi five years ago!  A lot of the Chinese fans simply do not have that kind of money to spend.

I love me a good music festival, I really do.  But this year we've had FAR TOO MANY of them for anybody's good.  With the size of the music industry in this country, we really can't support - really don't need - more than ONE big four-day festival during the May and October National Holidays, and two or three smaller events dotted through the summer.

Let's hope that's what we'll see next year.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Brain the size of a planet

It's official:  I am unbeatable at quizzes.

It's a curse, really.

I'm thinking I may have to retire from the monthly Individual Quiz at 12 Square Metres because it's getting to be a bit of a bore - for me and everyone else - that I win it every time.

Footnote 1:  The Theory of Optimum Team Size - I think that large teams are actually a disadvantage rather than an advantage: they generate too much distraction and disputation.  My experience suggests that - for me, at any rate - one team mate is usually worth, at best, only 3 or 4 more points than I would have got on my own.  And that's only the first team mate; a second team mate rarely contributes more than 1 or 2 points on top of that.  A third team mate is often completely superfluous.  Playing with more than four people in a team is usually counter-productive (unless you have a carefully chosen 'super team' with exceptionally strong but largely non-overlapping fields of specialist knowledge).

Footnote 2:  The Mekon, the huge-craniumed, super-intelligent alien above was the recurring adversary of British comic book hero Dan Dare.  It was also the favoured slang term of disparagement for academic over-achievers at my school (the school, that is, where I taught some 20 years ago; not the one I attended myself nearly 30 years ago).

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

New Picks of the Month

Time to update that sidebar feature again with a couple of recommendations of favourite posts from October 2007.

On Froogville I nominate Hush, a reverie on enjoying the soothing sounds of a rainy day in Beijing.

And from Barstool Blues I choose a pair of anecdotes set in one of my favourite Oxford pubs of yesteryear, The Bullingdon Arms on Cowley Road.

Traffic Report - the blog stats for September

Maybe I am finally slowing down in my output just a little.  A little.

Last month, there were 38 posts and around 15,000 words on Froogville.

There were 35 posts and nearly 13,000 words on Barstool Blues.

The Barstool has recently seen visits from Thailand (I suspect that's The Choirboy on his hols), Cambodia, Bahrain, Jamaica, and Poland; and on Froogville we've had people drop in from Romania, Colombia, Vietnam, Israel, Greenland and.... Guernsey.  Gosh, yes, I really have an international reach now.  The responsibility is quite daunting.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Saturday in the Park (sans Frenchmen)

I went to Chaoyang Park on Saturday to check out Pilot Records' Inter City Music Festival there.

Of course, it took me 30 or 40 minutes to locate the venue.  The park is absolutely friggin' HUGE.  The paths are all rather serpentine, which tends to throw off one's sense of direction.  There's such a profusion of trees now (they planted thousands of extra ones back in '08, when the Olympic Beach Volleyball venue was set up there) that you can rarely see more than 50 metres in any direction.  And there is, of course, no worthwhile signage anywhere.  Trying to get to the festival before it started would be next to impossible (unless, like me, you've been to previous such events in the park, and can remember fairly accurately where to go): you have to home in on the noise of the music.

Ah yes, and the venue is right in the middle of the park at the north end: the most inaccessible spot, at least a kilometre from any of the entrances.

I don't think there's an entrance on the north side of the park at all.  The entrance on the east side might be a tad closer to the venue, but it's much further away from where I live, and awkward of access off the 4th Ringroad.  The entrance on the south side is not to be recommended, since you have to make your way through the amphitheatre and the labyrinth of tacky sideshow stalls beside the amusement park area (crowds of dithering Chinese promenaders, too much hubbub to locate the source of the music beyond).  And most of the entrances on the west side seem to be out of action (well, one is closed - probably permanently - as a new building is put up; and one serves only the Chaoyang Olympic Club, which is now completely fenced off from the rest of the park [a new development, that, I think; and not something warned of on any signs anywhere that I could see]).  So, finding a suitable way into the park is challenge enough; and then you have to walk 10 or 15 minutes - completely blind - to find the venue itself.

And for what?  Pilot Records, I'm sure, will do a much better job of organisation than the concussed bees of Modern Sky over in Haidian Park, but... the lineup of bands is really pretty thin; and the tickets are expensive.  The only band I'd really been intrigued about was the Nitwits - who I had thought would be this rather fun Californian ska-punk band, but were described in some of the promo material as a French group, so perhaps they were someone else entirely.  Or maybe the promo stuff was just wrong??  Anyway, they got cancelled[Ah, apparently it was these guys, and they are French, and they describe their music as 'Rock Ambolesque' - which I think means something like 'eclectic'.  And they did play after all, though not till around 6pm.  Nice of them to drop by and say hi in the comments below.  I'll make sure to catch them if they come here again.] The Chinese bands slated for that day were all pretty ho-hum (and too familiar).  I listened from outside for 40 or 50 minutes and was not inspired to shell out my entrance fee.  The day's headliners were to be an American outfit called Rooney - who seem to be rather bland popsters (What good can come of naming yourself after an English footballer??  Well, OK, they claim they name themselves after the vengeful high school principal played by Jeffrey Jones in Ferris Bueller's Day Off - but who now gets that reference?  Bad band naming any way you look at it!).  They would have been a pretty lame incentive to stick around in any circumstances - but given that it was arse-freezing cold and the sky was threatening rain (which did materialise, albeit not very heavily, by mid-afternoon), I decided to cut my losses and get the hell out of there.

I'm hoping that today's show in Haidian Park will be more worthwhile.  The weather's looking fine, they have very nearly every Chinese band I like slated to play (SUBS, Oxygen Can, Omnipotent Youth Society [dreadful name but a good band!], XTX) and the foreign headliners are the interesting sounding Blonde Redhead.  Here we go.....