|Heaven bassist He Chenggong rocks a PM2.5 mask, proving Beijing's still a gas, gas, gas. (GT/Liu Jingjing) |
For the first time in Spring Festival history, Chinese rock will be televised; Chinese mainland rock's alpha and omega Cui Jian will perform tonight on Hunan Satellite's New Year Gala, joined by Hong Kong super group Beyond guitarist Paul Wong.
A monumental achievement for Chinese rock, considering that Cui was barred from major Beijing venues for most of the '90s, and rock's only chance for a coveted gala slot was to simply put on its own.
"You know, every Spring Festival, all pop music is busy with TV specials while the holiday is the slowest for rock players, so we wanted to do something on our own," said Lei Gang, frontman for Beijing band Heaven, who also organized and headlined the fourth annual Rock Spring Festival Gala. "But the whole point is to make people realize rock is not just for a small minority, and, like Cui Jian, bring it to a larger audience."
That was the case at Beijing Olympic Sports Gymnasium on Saturday, when around 3,000 people witnessed the gala cram over 20 acts into four hours of spitfire sets of what vibed an aggressively-lit talent show.
"I love rock'n'roll, and I hate spring festival galas, so naturally I was curious," said 34-year-old rock fan Luo Xiang. "But I'm just thinking, shouldn't everyone be standing up and rocking?"
As with any good talent show, there were uncomfortable moments; skits that didn't get laughs, flatulent smoke machines and polite applause from an entirely seated audience. The few sleeping in their seats sat as drooling testaments to the battle Chinese rock has faced over the past three decades for a wider audience and greater acceptance.
"Even now, rock hasn't been able to find the right guanxi," said Jiang Wen, a promoter with Guitar China at the show. "You've got Wang Feng, but you know, he's pop now."
Precisely why Wang is going to make history - the ex-rocker gone crooner will be the first of his clan to appear on CCTV's Spring Festival Gala on February 9, sharing the stage with the very un-rock Celine Dion.
After singing wimp and hitting with power ballads "Flying higher" and "In Spring," Wang is seen as rock's latest commercial hope, and his formula for success seems to have inspired the night's billing. Unknowns such as Lilypad, Huazi and Li Shi (who covered Michael Jackson's "Beat it," badly) all were seen mashing pop and rock into mush for a mildly interested audience, all wearily reaching for that mainstream dream.
Of course, there were surprises as singer Li Mo impressed with both song and stage presence, while Cheng Chen of hard-rock quartet OOC showboated hefty rock pipes.
A rock history highlight came in the form of guitarist Wen Bo, who in 1983 started one of China's first rock bands, Qiheban (Seven-layer Plywood), came out on stage and shredded on a traditional Chinese pipa through a distortion pedal.
The headliners provided the night's muscle, with 20-year veterans Qiuye Ziyue (Confucius Says) and Ruins lead singer Zhou Yunshan both offering moving odes titled "Beijing," and a congress of Beijing's axe wielding masters Wen Lin, Yao Lin and Yang Li.
Hosts Heaven ripped into song "Haunted" all wearing PM2.5 masks, giving a promise of a second wind, but by the closing number, a "We Are The World"-style sing-a-long called "Farewell to 2012," half the audience had already bid farewell.
"It didn't compare to when Cui Jian was singing the things people wanted to say," said Li Bin, a 46-year-old black cab driver and long-time rock fan who left after 40 minutes.
"You know, ever since they've actually allowed rock and roll to be played, it just hasn't been the same," he added.
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