Benefit concerts are always love-ins; the crowds are friendlier, the music just sounds better, and you’re racking up good karma by simply being there. Saturday night was no exception as both rock veterans and new recruits filed in to Yugong Yishan on Saturday to help raise nearly 134,000 yuan in support for jazz pianist, composer and rock producer Liang Heping, who was partially paralyzed in an off-roading accident in Inner Mongolia last June.
Photo: Caroline Killmer
As mentioned before, Liang was crucial in the germination of Chinese rock, notably producing the debut of 90s rocker and the night’s organizer He Yong, his second Yugong benefit in a little over a year.
Hosted by fellow rock producer Wang Di, Liang’s legacy brought in a comfortably packed house (tickets 150 yuan, competing shows at XP, Mako) for an all-embracing lineup that swung from metal to folk to funk to flamenco, dispersed with auctions donated by rock celebs such as Xie Tianxiao, Miserable Faith and Zuoxiao Zuzhou.
Arriving during an uneasily executed acoustic set by metal quartet Liquid Oxygen Can, the first veteran performance of note was Tomahawk. They’ve been playing for 20 years, and frankly it doesn’t show. Besides guitarist Guo Zhi’s lightning tremolo picking on a seven-string (the discerning guitar nerd’s choice), Tomahawk’s songs (死城，往世) impressed more than their stage performance.
Judging from the amount of loud talking and comments muttered within earshot, Zhang Qianqian was a low point. But for those actually listening Zhang delivered outstanding melodies with shimmery vocals and crafted songs – our local Joni Mitchell.
Agreed, Zhang’s hired guitar and keyboard had their heads buried in charts, but blessed is a singer that can chin a violin, gilding each song with nostalgic alt-Americana.
Unfortunately for us she didn’t sing her most beautiful of melodies, Daotanghe, because Zhang is contractually restricted from playing it after selling the rights to this person – who made a music video that documents how she gutted it of all its soul.
Second Hand Rose sticks out anywhere; it’s not just the visual shock of frontman Liang Long (seen above as a pimped band major) and gangly guitarist Yao Lan, but their funky jam rock is so Chinese in timbre that they’re rare even for Beijing.
Though they only banged out four songs, ending with live-tailored versions of “Fate 命运” and “The Train’s Leaving 火车快开”, all transitioned smoothly and creatively, complete with funky breakdowns. It became evident the crowd was there to see their set when half the bodies cleared out afterward.
Their loss really, because they missed this guy:
Askar (aka Grey Wolf, 艾斯卡尔) looks the way he sounds:
Dresses like Neil Young (note the t-shirt), shreds like Slash (note the hair) and plays Xinjiang-infused flamenco with stage moves gleaned from years of watching arena rock on VHS. He also can play with his teeth.
Not only his seven-piece band boast an amazing dombra player, Askar delivered a short, uplifting speech about how he found rock in Xinjiang, followed it to Beijing in the 1980s, and the merits of being a Yaogun Laopao (old rock veteran).
“I saw on Weibo people talking about this show and saying “were just a bunch of old veterans. But all these new guys wouldn’t even have a place to play if us ‘old veterans’ didn’t keep it going.”
“And as [Liang] Heping once told me, you’ve got to keep going; that is the spirit of rock and roll.”
High on the gushy love vibes, the auction had already racked up thousands, but judging from the short gasps, nobody expected an unassuming painting by artist Li Xinghui to fetch 50,000 in a single bid, purchased on behalf of hosts Yugong Yishan.
But awkwardness followed when initial bidding started at 5000 yuan for a Les Paul guitar smashed by Xie Tianxiao at a 2007 show at Starlive (complete with concert DVD), and there were no takers.
Auctioneer Wang stalled for a good 10 minutes while shouts were heard for a cheaper starting price until Ren Yuqing, the director of the Shanghai Jazz Festival, stumbled in late with his coat still on and already a little drunk to throw down the cash.
It might have been fatigue setting in (on the 5th hour), but musically things started to head south starting with folk rocker Ma Tiao. Despite his solid material, Ma has never really impressed live. Even he looked bored on stage. Plus, a bad taste still lingers from the last benefit concert I saw him, where he got too drunk to play.
After Liang’s wife Zhao Li expressed her gratitude and updated Liang’s progress (he has recovered only very minimal use of his hands), Wang announced that the event had raised nearly 134,000 Yuan, topped off with organizer He Yong auctioning off his guitar strap for an even grand before ripping into “Garbage Dump”.
He hasn’t released anything significant since his album by the same name, which made up the majority of his set. Though He put on an unenthusiastic performance, thankfully the audience stole the show, still feeding off the good vibes and lighting up for Beijing ode “Bell and Drum Tower” and an encore of the famously sarcastic “Beautiful Girl”
Other auctioned items that night included:
Decent crash cymbal from Liquid Oxygen Can: 1500 Yuan
Dinner with Hao Yun, a signed CD and free access to his concerts for a year: 1100 Yuan
Signed book of original art by Ding Wu (Tang Dynasty): 300 Yuan
A rare carved stone donated by The Face (Ou Yang): 1500 Yuan
An acoustic guitar signed by the night’s lineup (donated by Music China): 3500 Yuan
Twisted Machine T-shirts: 500 Yuan
Ziyue Qiuye CD, Chinese fan with original calligraphy: 500 Yuan
Entire 21-Cd catalog of Zuoxiao Zuzhou: 2000 Yuan
Stratocaster donated by Midi School (signed by Escape Plan): 3500 Yuan
Set of Reflector merch, CDs and signed poster: 800 Yuan
And limited-edition carved skateboard signed by Miserable Faith for 1200 Yuan, bought by this guy：
For more photos of the show, check Caroline’s blog.