The “Goodbye Shanghai” show at Yuyintang was a good one: an all-day love affair with Shanghai music and the people who make it (and those who will be missed). There were just too many bands for me to cover them all here, but I can tell you about some of my favorites.
The first act I caught was Threshold of Forest, the solo project of cellist Todd St. Amand, who plays in a few outfits around town (most notably Rainbow Danger Club). I wasn’t sure what to expect from his solo stuff, because he’s a cellist, right? So some nice Bach or Vivaldi something? I was wrong. What he did was…very cool. Some hip-hip, some electro, some rap and a lot of cello. He has his laptop and pedals out and with a soundboard, along with his electric cello on stage, so he was able to mix up all sorts of beats and loop his riffs (is it a riff if it’s on a cello?) so what came out was a very full, very interesting mix of stuff. I hope this guy sticks around Shanghai, because he’s been producing some neat stuff around town.
This day was a day for musicians to kind of dink around and play their favorite stuff and guest with each other, so another cool act was The Violent Phlegms, obviously a Violent Femmes cover group that Adam Gaensler (one of the departing musicians the day was organized around) and Fabi from The Fever Machine put together. They’ve actually gigged around town for years now but I’d never had a chance to see them. And out of the three Violent Femmes cover bands I have seen in my life, this one was definitely in the top two. Ha! No, actually they were quite good. I’d forgotten how much I liked the Violent Femmes, and hearing their music live reminded me. Songs are open to interpretation, after all. It was a good act and really fun to watch.
Friend or Foe played later in the day, and this is a band that I’ve grown to really love over the last couple of years. Their transformation — from silly, messy jam band to proper professional level mix between-punk-dance-and-rock’n’roll band — has been fantastic. And what was best about this show, and most of the shows all day, was that the bands were really just playing their best stuff. Nothing really new or experimental, just the awesome jams we’d heard before and wanted to hear again. Friend or Foe did that and it was great. Also, in one of the sweeter moves of the day, they rewrote the lyrics to the Rainbow Danger Club’s song “The Human Cannonball,” passed out the new words to audience members, and then completely surprised Gaensler and Jesse Munson (the other departing musician) with a personal tribute. I maaaaaaybe got a wee bit teary eyed. Haha, no. I have a dead, black heart with ice water for blood. But I heard from other people it was a very sweet gesture.
Stegosaurus? was another standout band of the day. Again, playing all their popular songs, people singing along, all that good stuff. They’re also another band that has really developed over the last year or so, coming out with their own kind of…oh, let’s say…Jurassic rock. Their music was fun and sort of a funky rock; they’re somewhat silly onstage but they still have solid musical ability to back it up.
Local band Death to Giants renamed themselves Death to Quitters for the day, in honor of the two quitters leaving Shanghai. Munson and Gaensler joined them onstage for a somewhat improvised jam. Death to Giants normally plays heavier, death-pop, but with the quitters they sort of played all over the place. I actually wish Death to Giants had played a solo show as well, because I love what they do, but you know, there’s only so much time in the day.
And then there were lots of other bands. Really good bands. Mostly from Shanghai; maybe one from Guangzhou. A huge mix of music, a lot of beer and some sausages and art thrown in there. Coloring books, body painting, all sorts of stuff. But even with the park out back it’s hard to stay in Yuyintang for twelve hours straight, so I was in and out and didn’t get to see everyone.
Really, the two biggest draws of the night were clearly Hellhounds, the band Gaensler fronts, and Rainbow Danger Club, the band behind Munson. Hellhounds played second to last, and they tore it up. They’re a blues rock cover (mostly) band, and people were really feeling it by the time they went on, which I think was around 11ish. And they played for at least an hour, just one rocking blues song after the next. Gaensler is a superb musician on the guitar, and he’s got a voice that works well in a number of styles. I’ve only see Hellhounds play maybe three or four times my entire time in Shanghai, but this was definitely their best, and why shouldn’t it be? Gaensler is one of these musicians in town who has his hand in nearly everything, both on stage and behind the scenes, whether it be writing, mastering, recording or producing. Shanghai really will feel his loss, because who will all the new musicians in town go to when they’re recording their first EP? It was the perfect show for him to go out on.
Rainbow Danger Club finished up the night with a great acoustic show. Really, I don’t know what else I can say about them that I haven’t said before.
I do think that the departure of RDC might leave the biggest gap in the Shanghai music scene that we’ve seen in a while. There are always good bands around, playing good music, but it’s so much rarer to find a band that excites you, that takes you somewhere with their music, that almost builds a different world when you’re listening to them.
Rainbow Danger Club did that. And I, along with many others in Shanghai, will miss them.
I’ll leave you with three RDC departs.
First, a goodbye letter from bassist Dennis Ming Nichols about what it’s like being in a band in Shanghai. Check it out here.
Second, the Swan Songs of RDC, where guitarist and songwriter Jesse Munson explains the inception and creation of some of RDC’s most popular songs. You can listen while you read here.
And last, one final track from RDC called “Ironic T-shirt,” a rather sweet goodbye song about being a musician. Listen and download it here.