Beijing Pop Festival day two

I had hoped to see Hedgehog, but once again I was slow getting started, so I missed all of their 11am set except the last tune. When they vacated the main stage, I went over to the second stage. When I got there, something called “Play the Hits” was going on. As far as I could make out, it was a contest between bands. Each act played two songs, one of which always seemed to be Green Day’s “Wake Me up When September Ends.” The winner was Happy Monkey, and I also saw a bit of The Reason. As I was walking up, I’m pretty sure I heard a female singer, but I don’t know what band that might have been.
I hung around the second stage for Milk@Coffee, who were really good, in spite of a little technical difficulty. They play a kind of bouncy, lush, pop-rock style, and started out their set as a two-piece: the female singer and a keyboard player with a laptop, which handled the programmed bass, drums and backing vocals, plus some guitar. In the middle of one song, the keyboard player got so animated in his playing that he knocked the laptop over and the backing music cut out. While they were straightening that out, a real drummer and bass player came out. They finished their set as a full band. I particularly remember a great tune called “Wo bushi rock ‘n’ roll.”
Next I headed over to the main stage for Brain Failure.
They were surprisingly good, reminded me of the Clash with a bit of Green Day thrown in.
Thin Man was up next, and didn’t really do much for me. They were loud and jumped around a lot, but nothing grabbed me.
Ra:IN was a huge disappointment. This all-instrumental Japanese band started out their set with a big pounding-riff tune that had the climactic feel of a closing song, including the big cliché rock ending and much dramatic posing. Then they played another song that was essentially the same with a slightly different riff. It’s as if you took all the stock moves of rock showmanship and strung them together without bothering about the tedious music part of it. They could just as well have been an air band.
Marky Ramone started the big evening portion of the program with what was basically a Ramones tribute band. I knew this was what to expect, but it was still kind of lame. The lead singer, whom I called Wolfgang Ramone because of his heavy accent, had the look of a real Ramone, but his voice just wasn’t right for the songs. But it’s hard to avoid being sucked in by these catchy, stupid songs. The crowd was loving it for the most part, with much jumping around and singing along. I saw a slight altercation between some fans climbing up on the security fence and the uniformed security guards. The fans in question were not Chinese. Things over on that side of the stage apparently kept escalating, and we saw a couple of fans carried away by the guards. These fans were Chinese.
Cui Jian was up next. I’ve got several of his albums, and generally like them. it seems that although he hasn’t had any hit albums in China in a long time, he still stands as the only real icon of Chinese rock (he’s often called the Springsteen of China, but I wouldn’t press that comparison too far). During the setup, I was encouraged to see both a drum kit and a large percussion platform that included a large traditional drum and a big gong. Once the show started, I definitely was not disappointed. The percussion really made the show, with the big drum providing impressive thunderous beats. I recognized several of the songs, and the larger part of the 10,000+ in attendance were singing along.

And for the festival’s big finale, we had Nine Inch Nails. The change of stage took quite a while – we had heard that NIN brought something like 15 tons of equipment, and we could see that they brought their entire road crew. (Incidentally, this means that almost certainly the band chose to spend their own money to appear here, since the festival could not possibly have paid for them to bring all that.) Those of us who have seen big production, high-tech rock shows could tell we were in for a treat; I expect a lot of the local attendees, while they seemed to be familiar with the band’s music (I saw lots of T-shirts), probably had no idea what they were in for. I’m not a huge fan of the band, but I’ve seen them before (when they toured with David Bowie), and knew that they can be entertaining. I was not disappointed. First of all, it was incredibly loud, but very clean sound with noticeable stereo separation, which is amazing for an outdoor setting. The light show started out all stark white lights flashing more or less randomly in rapid succession, not at all following the movements of the musicians, just a barrage of flashes and shadows. Eventually, there were blues and greens added in, and finally the reds and oranges showed up a little later.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the show came a little past halfway. The stage went dark for a long time, and there were strange electronic noises from the stage. I could see that parts of the light rigging had moved. Then suddenly at stage level there were three green pillars like some kind of electronic display, and Trent Reznor, the guitarist, and the keyboardist stood in front of them with laptop computers on stands. Pardon me for not remembering what song it was, but the effect was pretty darn cool. There was a curtain of LED lights behind them. For the next song, the LEDs suddenly burst into blinding white light, with the musicians silhouetted against them. Nice!

They played for an hour and a half or so, and by the end I was pretty much numb and exhausted. And in desperate need of a restroom! It was impossible to get a taxi outside the park, so I ended up walking almost halfway home before finding one. All in all, quite a weekend, and I still haven’t caught up on my sleep four days later.

And again, I finish with some random shots from throughout the day.

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