Saturday, November 20, 2010

Weird and wonderful

The Beijinger magazine was giving away scads of free tickets to last night's performance by oddball Finnish choir Semmarit.  So many, in fact, that it wasn't even clear how many they were giving away.  Ruby was under the impression she'd won a couple in a random draw, but the list appeared to have her down as "Ruby + 2".  And it was a long list, with many of the freebies apparently still unclaimed as the show was starting; the girl doling out the tickets didn't ask for any ID, and only even asked our names as an afterthought - it looked like she would hand out tickets to anyone who came by at that stage, so that she could get inside and watch the show herself.

I'd been sufficiently intrigued by advance write-ups to consider paying to go and see them on their second Beijing date tonight (GO!!), but the offer of a FREE GIG was definitely too good to pass up.

It's essentially a choral act - fine close harmony singing, but transcending the conventional genre to encompass rock, disco, and pretty much every other musical style at some point.  There's also some drumming, and some occasional very pleasant accompaniment on flute or oboe (oh, and accordion at one point); and kazoos made to sound like trumpets and racing car engines.  It's a wild mix.

Although the lads - 21 of them, apparently; although I wasn't counting - are very talented musically, it's more of an all-around theatrical experience, with lots of intricately choreographed movement and zany bits of stage business (a wrestling match morphs into a bizarre tango; a trio of flash womanizers mime racing their sports cars against each other; the whole choir capers around the stage like monkeys).  And they'd made a sterling effort to customize their show for the local audience, singing a few of their songs in very decent Chinese, and hiring a cute Chinese actress to film amusing 'Semmarit News' video links introducing some of the numbers.  Most of the songs were in English, but I think I liked the ones in their native Finnish best of all: it's a strangely evocative-sounding language, redolent of thwarted lust and aching loneliness, murderous hangovers and Arctic melancholy.

Alas, the fairly bijou stage at The One did not allow them to perform this, one of their most celebrated routines, which had been heavily featured in the promotional articles.  There was barely room for all of them in their regular clothes, let alone sumo suits!! It was the one disappointment of an otherwise superb evening. [Below, the video for the song Bonsai; and here they are performing it on stage.  They've got tons of stuff on YouTube: go and check it out.]

My first time to make it out to The One, and I was pleasantly surprised: it's really quite a decent venue - although more of a night club than a music bar, better suited to cabaret or vaudeville type shows like this than regular rock gigs.  Also, I couldn't help thinking that it appeared to have been set up to film events rather than to provide a good experience for the audience: the amount of cafe table seating was rather limited (the entire space is pretty small, really) and late-comers had to sit on the (hellishly slippery!!) faux marble staircase leading up to the mezzanine balcony.  The space at first seems a bit unpromising for music - an odd shape, very high and irregular ceiling, lots of bare concrete - but they've done a surprisingly thorough job of damping the echoes to create a decent acoustic (take note, Yugong Yishan!), and the sound system is superb.  It's a pity the place is in THE ARSE-END OF NOWHERE. (And I am not going to pay 35 rmb for a Tsingtao anywhere!  However, most of the other drinks are very reasonably priced; and, as at Yugong, the 45 rmb Long Island Iced Tea is surprisingly well made, and much the best value on the menu.)


Little Anthony said...

The Finns... possibly the strangest nation on Earth!

Froog said...

Indeed, Anthony, indeed.

Line of the night: "Shouldn't that be Suomi suits??"