Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hunan updates

This has been such an eventful few days, it’s hard to capture, or know where to begin. I will do a full catchup when I am back in Beijing starting to explore some of the emotional intensity of the week, but first let me do some quick basic catching up.

I am about to leave my hotel room to head over to the club and do our third of three performances in Changsha, Hunan.

Suffice it to say we are being treated like kings in Changsha, Hunan and really enjoying it.

We were bought here by a chain of three clubs, all called coco, and are playing at one of them each night. We have finished two of three. Last night’s was in the smallest, a nice little place where we had a good crowd and it was fun, but probably the least memorable of the three.

Tonight’s is a pretty big place. It holds about 300 people and they sold out tickets at 40 RMB, which is a lot here, since almost all shows are free.

The first night we played at their fanciest venue, a "private club for successful people." You have to pay a membership fee to go there. It was a wild, trippy place, some weird cross between a Seventies fondue restaurant and a brothel. Lots of burnished wood and red banquettes, a cigar room and lots of guys drinking cognac.

We played on a stage that was series of circular wood platforms. It reminded me of the set of Hullabaloo or one of those other Sixties rock shows I have seen so many clips from.

We have now played five gigs in six nights. Tonight will be six in seven, and we are really chugging along. I cant’ describe how much bettery ou get from all these consecutive gigs, except to say -- You get a lot better. We are so locked in now, we are gaining confidence. We are becoming so much tighter in what we play and really locked into each other so that performances are like conversations. Everyone is really listening to one another and we can veer off on cool little tangents. I feel liberated to take chances on a cool rhythm pattern for instance because I no longer fear getting lost – I know I will hear Zhong Yang’s abss and fall back into the groove if I stumble. We are all operating like that and it creates music that is at once more intimate and more exciting, more cohesive and less predictable.

The first night at Coco, the successful people all went wild and by the end we had them all dancing and singing along. One guy ran up and shoved a Cubano in my mouth during our next to last song, then lit for me. When we were done, he pulled me down into his banquetter and he and his friends poured me abig snifter of cognac.

The only foreigners in the pace were three Russians and they all wanted us to drink vodka with them. I had a taste but have avoided drinking too much – a must when you’re doing so many gigs.

Yesterday, we also did three radio interviews, each time playing a song or two as well as being interviewed. The last one was right before the gig at the biggest station in town. The studio was a glass enclosed on a high floor with the biggest intersection in the city stretching out behind us.T he DJs were a team of women and they were really professional.

They had apparently been promoing our appearance all week and had a cool little promo clip featuring some of our music and a loud classic radio voice saying, in Chinese “The Woodie Alan Band – Beijing’s finest blues band. Live in Changsha. Right here on the Live Show!” We did an interview and played a song and then they opened the lines for phone calls and a couple of people called in anad asked us questions.

Then we played one more song. During a commercial break, bassist Zhong Yang finally acknowledged the elephant in the room. “It’s too bad, you’re leaving Alan,” he said, “Look at us.”

Indeed, look at us. As Dave Loevinger said to me as we boarded the plane in Beijing to fly to Xiamen, “File this under ‘never expected to happen.’”

Tomorrow morning I fly back alone. The other guys are staying an extra day and taking the train. I’ll return to being a dad and husband and dealing with the reality that we have to keep planning our return. But in the meantime, I have a gig to go to and I am going to savor this.

Radio interview number one.

Zhong Yang on air.

This picture captures a bit of the weird vibe of the first bar.

They have these signs all over.

After setting up with the bar manager.

My benefactor.

Russian friends.