In honor of the Superband (縱貫線) performance in Singapore this weekend, I thought I’d finally post my thoughts on their concert in Chengdu last May. Yes, this is horribly delinquent, though not nearly as delinquent as my half-finished “Cheer Chen in Shanghai” post from March. Or, for that matter, my “favorite albums of 2008” post from January. What on earth is going on with me? Well, in the last year I transitioned from perpetual student to gainfully employed adult, and that has been very hard on my free time. I mean, I never felt like I had free time as a student, but as it turned out, there was still plenty of time to avoid working on my dissertation. Once I was writing four lectures a week and plotting exams and grading papers and keeping up my own research, that old free time dwindled to next to nothing. (*sigh*)
I’ve managed to maintain my Mandopop devotion, however, and I state with some pride (and a touch of embarrassment) that I actually made it to six concerts last year in China (three in Shanghai, two in Nanjing and one in Chengdu). I have a ticket for Mayday in Nanjing in September, too, so we’re already off to the races for next year. Moreover, I still have so much I want to write about, so even though I’ve been slowed down on my posting, the project goes on. New Mayday translations should also be posted in the next few days.
Now, the Superband. Before I get too far into this, I should note that why yes, actually, I do completely have a crush on Chang Chen-yue. Do not expect unbiased reporting when he’s involved. ☺ Even without that motivation, though, I think I still would have made an effort to go see the Superband in concert. But why Chengdu? Well, Shanghai was last week (i.e. when I was already back in the U.S. for the summer), and I’ve been to Hangzhou before… Chengdu was a place I’ve wanted to visit for a while, so I took the Superband concert as a sort of excuse to go.
Now, about the concert itself. If anyone ever has a chance to see a show in the Chengdu stadium, I highly recommend it; it is an open-air venue right in the middle of downtown, so sitting there relaxing into the music and glancing up at the night sky was heavenly.
I had wondered when the whole Superband concept was launched last year about what exactly A-yue’s role in the whole thing would be. Was he an afterthought? Necessary for drumming skills? A convenient solo artist also at Rock Records? An attempt to cash in on the younger audience? Seeing and hearing the band perform, however, I rather got the impression that far from being the odd-man-out, he’s really the crux of the whole thing. When the band played as a foursome, they played more of A-yue’s songs than any other; their signature single is still the A-yue written, “Runaway (亡命之徒).”Not to mention the fact that there were more light up signs with his name on them than there were for any other member. That’s not to say that the rest of the band (Jonathan Lee, Wakin Chau and Lo Da-yu) didn’t have their own fair share of fans. I sat next to a mother and daughter who had clearly come to the concert together. The mother looked to be in her late 40s; the daughter in her 20s. The daughter had a giant poster of A-yue, and the mother, a giant poster of Jonathan Lee. (I ran this by my own mom later, wondering who she would be cheering for at a concert. Given pictures of all four men, she picked Wakin Chau, which I sort of predicted. He is pretty good-looking.)
The format of the concert was divided between sections where the four acted like a real band, and sections where they were doing a sort of superstar variety show. There was a full band section first, in which they divided up instruments like a “real” band with Jonathan on rhythm guitar, Wakin on electric, A-yue on drums, and Lo Da-yu alternating between guitar (bass?) and keyboards. They sang a number of A-yue’s songs here, along with a little preview version of “Runaway.” One cute note: when they were introducing themselves, first you had a “My name is Lo Ta-yu,” then “…and I’m Wakin Chau,” followed by, “I’m Superband’s drummer, A-yue,” which lead a playful Jonathan Lee to answer, “well in that case, I’m the guitarist, ‘Little Lee (小李).’” This led to a whole string of jokes, some of which I couldn’t follow and some of which I just couldn’t hear; for an outdoor rock concert, the sound was really not cranked up all that high.
We learned later from Wakin that sometime in the course of taking the stage for this section A-yue fell, scaring the rest of the band into wondering whether they needed to cancel the rest of the show; “Dr. Lo” took a look at him and determined he’d be alright, though.
The opening band act was followed by solo sections with each of the four singing some of their own songs, which I’m sure gave the rest of the band a chance to rest (and A-yue a chance to nurse his wounds from his fall). I confess, I didn’t know most of the songs that they sang, though all four have great talent for songwriting, so it was fun to listen to each of them. A-yue’s section was my favorite, of course, but that is not just because he is (frankly) pretty hot; it’s that I knew his songs better. Now, of course, I’ve waited too long and cant’t remember which songs he sang solo and which of his songs the group did together, but he did a good mix of rapping, singing and guitar playing. Everyone in the stadium seemed to know every word he sang, which made me wonder if he wasn’t more than a little vital to the success of the project. I do remember that Jonathan Lee did a really bluesy version of “I’m Just a Small Bird (我是一隻小小鳥)” that I loved. I’d never really heard Wakin sing before, but he has this fantastic voice. What I remember most, though, is that he sang one song more than the others, but I guess someone forgot to warn the lighting crew; after his third song he was plunged in darkness (cover for leaving the stage, I assume), and suddenly out into the night you hear his voice chuckling, “or maybe I won’t be singing one more….” Heh. Lo Ta-yu might have been the biggest surprise for me, though. I’d never seen so much as a video of him performing before, so I was a bit taken aback by the Mick Jagger like stage antics. He did a lot of spinning and while solo dancing – what he lacked in skill, he more than made up for in energy level. At one point I could swear he was doing the Funky Chicken. He was wild and fun. He also sang a new song that night – world premiere at Chengdu – that interestingly enough featured A-yue on the harmonies. I was actually surprised and impressed all night by how well the guys’ voices blended.
Beyond the solos, then, they came back together to sing as a foursome again, doing a lot of classics that essentially turned the stadium into a huge karaoke lounge. I was probably the only person there that didn’t know almost every word of every song, but even when I could not sing along I really enjoyed the atmosphere. By the end, after about two hours of music, I was a bit worried, though. They still hadn’t done the full version of “Runaway,” and I was going to feel a bit ripped off without it. I should have known better, though – it came out in the encore. That was especially fun, because it featured A-yue rapping the opening, then making a beeline for his drums while the rest of the guys traded off the rapping.
Without making old age jokes, I would say that one thing that stands out about the concert was the energy of the performers – but also just how much fun they were having. There was a lot of on-stage banter, lots of which I just didn’t catch, but you could tell that they like to tease each other and thus far, at least, were having a blast with the tour. Lo Ta-yu made a lot of jokes about being “Forever Young” and having the band to keep him young, though I suspect his funky dance routines contribute to that as well. The end verdict on the show is that it is highly, highly recommended, even if you (like me) don’t know the songs all that well.
On my way out of China at the end of last month I picked up the Superband album, which so far, at least, is just a concert recording. It’s three discs worth of music, but it is not a new self-composed album yet with more songs created by the four of them (like “Runaway”). I’m still hoping, though.