Friday, November 12, 2010

HBH 208

Music fills the room,
The small spaces of the heart
Are filled with music.

I was bitching a few days ago about the somewhat unsatisfactory state of Beijing's music bars this past year or so.  I've even had a few gripes about my long-time favourite neighbourhood hangout, Jianghu - the Tuesday jazz jams seem to have faltered, the programming has been very erratic, there was a big problem for several weeks with the sound system being cranked up way too loud for their tiny space, it feels a tad expensive these days (compared to the 'good old days' when it first opened, when it was more of a dive bar for students from the nearby Central Academy of Drama: enormous gin & tonics for 25 kuai, and FREE Yanjing draft beer [well, for a little while, when Tianxiao was sorting out how the tap worked]), especially with a minimum 30 kuai cover charge for almost every event.  Worst of all, they've been getting too darned popular for their own good, often drawing crowds that have the little space completely heaved out (it's not really a good idea to book acts that have a large following - The Redbucks, with their rapidly growing frat boy fan club, had become 'too big' for this venue this year; and well-known Chinese acts.... inappropriate for this sort of space, I'm afraid); many times I've been tempted by one of their weekend shows, but then discouraged by the realisation that it would almost certainly be way too crowded.  I'm very happy for the folks there, it's good to see they're finally making some decent money off the place.  I suppose it's now become a 'proper' music bar, whereas in its early days it was more of a hobby bar that happened to be run by a pair of musicians and thus featured occasional music events.  It's just that I can't help feeling nostalgic for those simpler times.

Thursdays, though, are still one of the best nights of the week there.  In the bar's first year or so, my friends the No Name jazz trio had a regular residency there on Thursdays, and that was how I first started going there regularly.  This year, just about all of my most fondly remembered gigs have been Jianghu Thursdays: a superb unplugged set by The Verve in April, two or three rollicking good-time shows by Des McGarry's Irish folk band Blackwater (at one of which I was honoured to have the lovely Daisy Sweetgrass steal my seat),  Jean-Sebastien and Ubuul doing their dazzling experimental folk stuff, and the mesmerizing free-form improvisations of Li Tieqiao, Mamer, and Tato last week.  And last night.... Mongolian metalhead-turned-folkie Gangzi.  I'd caught this guy a couple of times before, late last year or early this, but I hadn't remembered quite how good he was.  Really - superb voice, superb guitar playing, superb songs: jaw-on-the-floor stuff, spellbinding.

After putting out a home-produced demo album a couple of years ago, and then a live recording, he's finally produced his first studio album, Sunrise, this year (more of a long EP, really: only six tracks, but never mind).  Go and buy it.  I did.

[Ah, on checking the sleeve-notes I discover that Sunrise too is a "homemade" production.  Oh well - none the worse for that.]


Froog said...

Hmm, The Verve might have been a Sunday. Fridays and Saturdays are best avoided there, but any other night of the week is usually still good.

Froog said...

I had a chat with Gangzi - or Tulegur, as his Mongolian name seems to be - the last time he played at Jianghu a few weeks ago. Very nice, unassuming chap. And, to my surprise, he speaks perfect English - with a hint of an American accent. I suppose he must have spent some time overseas.