Concrete Blonde, Lost Madison and Crippled Black Phoenix Lights it up for mud & Rain soaked Hangzhou West Lake Festival

This is the first of a series of posts about music in other Chinese cities, stemming from recent adventures either on my own or along with the bands… This one is special folks, it covers my little trip to Hangzhou on june 11 to catch Concrete Blonde, one of my favorite bands in the whole world, headline day 1 of West Lake Music Festival. I hope you enjoy it.

This trip was a long time coming with rumors of Concrete Blonde headlining day 1 swirling around for a few months. Considering i had not seen the band play live in almost 10 years, I just had to circle the date on the calendar. I’m a huge fan of the band in general and Johnette Napolitano’s voice in particular. There is so much passion and power in there that i find it hard to resist. The rest of the lineup for day 1 of the westlake music festival was pretty much an unknown to me so it made things more exciting.

Upon landing in Hangzhou on June 11th, the welcoming committee consisted of rain, with a side serving of rain and a dash of extra rain for good measure. I was a bit afraid that the whole thing might be cancelled, much like hat tends to happen in Beijing. Thankfully, I kept an eye on the West Lake Festival hashtag on weibo when people kept posting pictures of the bands playing and the audience under umbrellas and ponchos.

Hangzhou is almost even worse than Beijing when it comes to finding taxis under the rain and traffic can be nasty. We walked into the beautifully muddy Prince Bay Park around 5:00 pm to enjoy the festivities. From an organizational point of view, I gotta give West Lake festival an A: They were on top of things!

– Tickets were easy to get at the gate without hassle for 100rmb
– The stage was nicely covered and rain proof to make sure that the music would go on
– The security was nothing like you get in Beijing: everything chilled and relaxed
– The local coffee in the park was the sole provider of booze/food mostly because the other stalls were rained out
– They kept things simple with festival T-shirts for each day. These babies were priced at a reasonable rmb25 for a good quality T-shirt
– The sound system and the stage were flawless despite the rain. All at the right levels

When we entered the park, Lost Madison, hailing from Finland had just gotten started. I’d never seen of heard the band before, probably like most of the concert goers, but they managed to win me over with their brand of music. It was quite heavy but more on the hard rock side than the metal side. Lead singer Toni was quite good and ran around the stage, communicating in simple but effective English with the 3 to 4 thousand soaked fans. I was pleasantly impressed by them. They played a bunch of songs from their new album and the crowd was digging them.

Next was British collective supergroup, The Crippled Black Phoenix. I’d never heard of them before and didn’t really care much for them during the first part of their set to be honest. It was good melodic pop rock or as I tend to refer to it: music to slit your wrists by. To be fair, the band, or collective, does refer to those songs as “endtime ballads”. Joe Volk is a good singer and was cool with the crowd encouraging them and thanking them for sticking around under those weather conditions. The band got interesting during the second part of their set when Daisy Chapman took over on vocals and the intensity went up 20 notches! They became a whole new entity that was almost hypnotic to listen to…. impressive turn around if you ask me.

Next was Taiwan’s Kimbo, or Hu Defu (胡德夫), who is a bit of a legend. Granted, I’ve never heard of the guy and while the crowd went wild for him, I couldn’t care less. he reminded me of a bad version of Elton John. I could see him entertaining the concert goers, playing crowd favorites and even talking to them in the local lingo which set them in a frenzy… just not my thing.

Finally, at 9:30, it was time for Concrete Blonde! The band came out just as the rain was calming down a bit and launched into their new title, a cover of Midnight Oil’s Beds are Burning. It was the first time I heard the song live and it sounded better than the recording they have on their myspace page. A really cool and fierce bass line to get things started! I was hoping they would do “Still in Hollywood” but alas, can’t get everything.

The band then proceeded to rip through a number of songs from Bloodletting and much to my surprise, quite a few people in the audience were able to sing along. They were loudest on Everybody Know, Joey, Days and Days and Wendy.. I expected to be the only one singing along, hell no! The Hangzhou ren were right up there enjoying the performance!

I’ve seen the Blonde perform countless times by now and this might have been one of the finest shows I’ve attended. Johnette’s voice her powerful passionate self. Nick’s (I really need an editor) Jim’s guitar playing has not lost that surgical precision and Gabriel has completely fit in the band. He’s no longer the substitute drummer form Maria Fatale, he is a full blown Blonde! Johnette was surprisingly humble throughout the performance saying all the right things to the crowd.

I really have to give it up for the organizers and the fans.. those crazy rock n roll fuckers in Hangzhou were mind blowing. Rolling in the mud, soaking wet, cold and yet, they rocked on like there was no tomorrow! Even when the cops shut down the show, they screamed so loud for an encore that the organizers relented and allowed concrete blonde back in for one last song, a cover of Hendrix’s Little Wing, that was a beautiful ending note to a great day.

You can relive some of it on Youku and Tudou:
20 mn video clip on Youku from a weird angle but great sound:
A clip of Tomorrow Wendy on Tudou:

it was fun!!

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