I’ve been in Shanghai for nearly three days now and I wish I had some interesting things to tell you about this city but I haven’t really been able to explore it and I’m a bit ashamed of the things I have seen. The first few days have consisted of rehearsals, battling jet lag, rehearsals, recovering from New Years Eve, rehearsals and The World’s Longest and Worst Souncheck Ever. There is some new material for the band, including my songs, and this is the first time everyone has been able to sit down and rehearse together which means I’ve spent a lot of q.t. in conference room 6 of the Grand Metro Park Jiayou Hotel. These guys are pros so the rehearsals have gone really smoothly. The same can not be said for yesterday’s soundcheck.
I believe this is the only show of its kind that’s completely live with no tracks underneath the dancers and musicians. Now, I don’t see much wrong with tracking the dancers, though the singing is a different story (I’m talking to you, ‘Celtic Women’). It can be difficult to make dozens of step dancers sound really clean and not like a pack of elephants. Plus, you can’t fake dancing. They’re obviously doing it right in front of your eyes. But because these dancers are individually miced, a good soundcheck crucial.
I had heard a few horror stories of working with Chinese crews and those did not prepare me for the absolute shit-show that was this soundcheck. Let me say that I have found all of the Chinese people that I have encountered to be perfectly lovely and gracious, if it’s not too ridiculous for me to make a blanket statement like that. The problem is not necessarily with them personally. We’re dealing with communism, or communism light, or communism with a splash of capitalism or whatever is going on here. The bottom line is that it seems a lot of the people working at the theater never really wanted to be sound technicians and were never really trained, they were just given the job. And there are a lot of them doing a lot of nothing. When we wanted to have something as simple as a stage door unlocked it took about an hour.It had nothing to do with the language barrier either, we had translators on hand for the whole thing. When any problem arose, it took about 6 guys to stand around and talk about it, well, presumably, they could have been talking about what they were having for dinner for all I know. I’m not sure why someone didn’t just go get the key. When they finally did it was so easy. But it took our French stage director, who is very good at his job, threatening death before anything happened (“I want zee got damn door open now or I am killink zomebody!!!!).
When it came to something being seriously wrong, like a faulty cable into a monitor, forget about it. Our soundman, Stouv, who is himself a colorful Frenchman and is also excellent at his job, just took matters into his own hands. He ran down onto the stage, cutting through the 13 Chinese men talking about the faulty cord, unplugged it, found another and voila! problem solved, momentarily at least. Stouv had patched all the monitors himself while the theater staff were busy talking about patching monitors. While he was fixing the chord situation, we noticed someone in the sound booth. It turns out that person was repatching the monitors for some mysterious reason. Perhaps he actually wanted something to do. When Stouv got back in the booth to continue the check, a screech emitted from the monitors that left our ears ringing for the rest of the night. But that’s ok, because I don’t need to hear to sing, do I? What was that?
So that’s how the soundcheck went for the most part. Something would go wrong, there would be a lot of talking in Mandarin and waiting, Stouv would run down to the stage, there would be a lot of yelling and explatives in French and a lot of sitting around and waiting by the band. This went on for hours. I’m not kidding. HOURS. And this was a nice theater. New and state of the art. I mean, look:
Eventually things got sorted out, for the most part. I’m just hoping every theater isn’t like this because it eats up a lot of time.
Besides the inside of this hotel and the theater, there are a few things I’ve seen. But they are embarrassing. Truly. The first two nights were spent in Irish pubs. I know, I know, I know. Having travelled with Irish musicians and dancers before, I have found that they love to hang out in the local Irish bar. Luckily for them, they are everywhere. For such a small country, Ireland’s Celticy tentacles reach far and wide. I had a friend from Riverdance, who lives in New Zealand, take a vacation with her boyfriend to this really remote island in Indonesia named Gili Trawangen. They were going to get away from civilization for a week, get away from everthing they knew. Except, when they got there, there was an Irish bar on the island. You just can’t get away from them.
There’s an Irish bar only a few blocks from our hotel. The first night we were in town a bunch of us just wanted to stay awake till a reasonable hour to try to adjust to the time. So the quickest and dirtiest way to do that was the nearest Irish bar. We ended up at yet another Irish bar for New Years Eve but in fairnness, we were aiming for another club but it happened to be under construction when we got there. Solution? Flee to the nearest Irish bar. I rang in New Year’s in a cab, on the way there, watching fireworks from the rear window and watching the lanterns they light on the New Year’s ascend.
After the Irish bar, we made our way across the street to a 4am bar. And this one gets even more embarrassing. It was called “The American Bar”. Oh god. I know. Next thing you know I’ll be eating at McDonald’s yelling “Why does no one speak English in this country??!!”
Now let’s be honest, 4am bars are never, ever a good idea. Ever. That is a fact. When you layer that on top of being there with a group of Irish dancers, who are all for the most part in their early 20s and have the livers to prove it, then top that off with some Australians who are handing out free butterscotch Schnapps, well, then you have a real fiasco on your hands.
Actually, it was a lot of fun. The real fiasco was the next day when we had to put on a show with 3 hours sleep. But I’ll only spend New Year’s in Shanghai once, right? Even though I spent it in the most American way possible. I promise from here on out, more China, less America.
Happy New Year!