Thursday, March 29, 2012


Last night's experimental appearance by the wildly popular tribute band The Beijing Beatles in the cosy environs of 12 Square Metres (the cramped space and bare brick walls nicely evocative of Liverpool's famous Cavern Club where The Beatles first made their name) was a slow-building success. At first, we'd feared that the band might decide to cancel it, since almost nobody had turned up to watch them by the originally advertised start time, and even when they finally made a start nearly an hour-and-a-half later, the audience was rather thin. However, boisterous frontman Don Lemon made a sterling effort to entice passers-by in from street, frequently wandering off mid-song to perform at the top of the stairs outside. Ultimately, it was the music spilling out into the street through the open door and window more than these spirited busking forays that started attracting more and more interest (although for a long time it looked as though people might be satisfied with listening to a song or two from outside, before continuing on their way); within an hour, we had decent numbers in the bar, and the musicians were really starting to have fun, and trying out a bunch of stuff they don't usually include in their regular sets. They ended up playing for more than an hour-and-a-half without a break... and then coming back to do Hey Jude and a couple more as encores.... and then getting sucked into a raucous jam session with a couple of the punters.

The band made a late decision that they would bring amps for their electric guitar and bass rather rely just on acoustic instruments as they'd originally planned. Percussion, though, was restricted to tambourine and hand drum, which made an interesting change. They didn't have microphones, so Don struggled occasionally to impose his voice over the electric guitar, but in general the sound balance was pretty good. 12 SqM actually has a really nice acoustic (bizarrely, there's a real sweet spot in the far corner of the room, through the other side of the bar - god knows how that works!), and makes a great venue for intimate shows like this (The Randy Abel Stable did a great show there a few months ago as well). I think our Fake Four will be back to do this again.

Odd that the early turnout was so weak, though. MB and LJ at the bar had got the word out early, and had prominent notices in the listings sections of all the expat magazines for this month. And the band themselves usually advertise to their fanbase and bring along their own entourage of friends and regulars. Perhaps people were discouraged by the would-be early start (8pm is a bit early for most people to get out of work, cross town, and have dinner) or the threatened door charge (a very modest 25rmb cover was originally proposed, soon abandoned; but some people just HATE door fees on principle [I'm one of them, actually!]). Perhaps there was too much else going on ('Hump Day' is always pretty busy; although last night was in fact relatively uncrowded in the gig schedule). Or perhaps it was just the vicious drop in temperature; after a blissfully warm - forget about spring, this almost feels like summer! - kind of day, it plunged to near freezing yesterday evening; foot traffic on Nanluoguxiang was accordingly rather light.

Who knows?! That's Beijing for you - it's tough to run a bar here because the behaviour patterns of the clientele are so goddamned variable.

I'm relieved it all turned out OK in the end. Better than OK: it was a really magical little show - an early contender for the year's best.


Mike said...

Was gutted I couldn't make it, would love to have seen to have them in such a cosy place and doubly so because I'm a big fan of 12SQM too. Oh well, maybe next time (assuming there's a next time...)

Froog said...

The band, who had been a bit despondent at the outset, were very chirpy by the end, and saying they were keen to do a repeat.

Attention - Another instalment of Basslines coming out tomorrow!