Xiao He and Zhi Wang, Yuyintang

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Xiao He live.jpgIt was a decent-sized, if far from packed crowd at Yuyintang last night. It'll be interesting to see how many The Mushrooms and Angry Jerks pull in tonight. There's some good shows coming up next month (Bigger Bang, Glamourous Pharmacy, Wang Wen) but it might be a bit early to say that this weekend marks the beginning of the end of the summer malaise. We'll see.

Anyway, Xiao He's old friend Lu Chen opened the night with his Zhi Wang side project - minus Ba Fang again who I guess is still on her travels. The set consisted of a mixture of sounds, though most tracks had a clearly discernible rhythm and plenty of instrumentation helped by having a bassist and drum loops from the Macbook. With Lu Chen performing with his back to the audience, the band wove their way through a number of songs that I'd describe as offbeat more than experimental - including probably one of the most original covers of Billie Jean you're ever likely to hear. The best moment came when they ditched the Macbook drums for the real thing and everyone went all out on their instruments.

It'll be interesting to see how they develop, particularly when they have a full complement of members, and Lu Chen has talked about how he wants to take this group in a "more experimental" direction. For the moment, it seems as if they're still finding their way a bit.

Last time I saw Xiao He perform, I wrote that the highlight of the set for me had been when he'd recorded himself, looped the sample back and then accompanied himself on the drums. This time round, for the release of his latest album 身份的表演 (The Performance of Identity), the self-sampling and experimentation was there from the start. Instead of just a straight-forward semi-acoustic, he also had what I believe is technically known as "this cool little box thing" on the base of his guitar which enabled him to switch the sound produced by it. Sorry, I'm not really down with the technical lingo on these things. What I mean is, by pushing a certain button on the keypad of said box, he could make his guitar sound like a piano for example. It was cool. Added to his looping and building of vocal layers and guitar tracks, it made for a fascinating show with incredible depth given that he was performing solo.

The thing about Xiao He's performances is that they appear to be mostly improvised. They're not the sort of shows you go to hoping to hear your favourite song or to have some hits to sing along to (although at one point he did burst into a bit of Hallelujah as well as a classic Chinese ballads medley). His improvisations are long, meandering songs rather than three minute bursts of catchy pop and you therefore need a bit of stamina to get through them. Not that his shows aren't captivating, but the crowd did thin a little as the gig went on. Those who stuck with it witnessed a memorable performance however, with Xiao He demonstrating his full vocal range, a sharp wit and an incredible creativity in his use of self-sampling and the layering of his music.

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This page contains a single entry by Jake published on August 22, 2009 1:20 PM.

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