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Lame (and Expensive) Time at the House of Blues & Jazz in Shanghai

April 15, 2012

I do not see myself as a music critic, I wouldn’t be qualified enough to do that, and this blog is meant only as a kind of web diary of my experiences wandering the earth and playing music or listening to it in unique and unusual places and situations. But if I only wrote glowing, fantastic stories about everywhere I went, that would be pretty lame and unreadable. So I might as well say that I was terribly disappointed by my visit to the House of Blues & Jazz in Shanghai last night.

I just stumbled across this venue next to my hotel and after my wonderful meal at the Shanghai Grand Ma restaurant in the Bund. With a name like House of Blues & Jazz and a facade worthy of the name, and a newspaper spread recounting the greatness of this legendary local venue, I knew that I had to go in and check it out, even though there would be no chance of playing there myself.

I had had two sensational evenings before that, as I reported on the blog, so I was content to finally make an early night of it and take in a scene at the local legendary blues and jazz club. The first disappointment was the 50 yuan cover charge, but that’s only around eight or so euros, so I thought it was not exactly going to break the bank.

I paid the cover, went into the place just as the band began its set, and saw a nice comfortable stage, high ceilings, photos of jazz musicians in black and white all over the place, tables high and low, a long bar, ornate wooden finishings, a cool and comfortable place. And it was so packed there was no place to sit. The fact that it was the cocktail drinking afterwork crowd with some suits and ties and a few other monied-class signature ornaments did not entirely put me off, even if it was a huge contrast say, to Bee Dee’s, where things felt much less posh and much more comfortable.

But when I found my old friend, Kilkenny beer on tap at the counter, I thought, “Great, I’ll take a pint of Kilkenny, as I do in Paris or all over the world.” When they then charged me 80 yuan for the beer, or just over 10 euros, I thought, wait a minute, what is this? I’m in Shanghai where a pint of regular beer should cost a fraction of that, where I did not have to pay a cover charge the previous night for a first class show of Chinese music, and where I got beer for an expensive half that price and absolutely superb and real music the night before that at Bee Dee’s, and here…

Suddenly I started comparing things in my mind already with Bee Dee’s, and inevitably, looking around at the crowd in this joint that pays 80 yuan for a Kilkenny… then I moved over to a pillar and stood there to listen to the band. It was the Greg Luttrell band from Boston, and I am very sorry, because Greg can play a mean electric guitar, and from what I read on his web site, he must have a mean singing voice too. But my perception was hugely colored by the fabulous guitar playing of local boy Joe Chou at Bee Dee’s, and I thought that personally, in terms of value for money, I’d take Joe Chou and Bee Dee’s any day, over this venue that in my opinion goes right against the grain of the jazz and blues tradition. It was also a real pain to wonder what Greg’s voice really sounds like, because from where I stood the mic on his voice, or the amp or PA it came out of, did not make it possible to pick up any understanding of the grain of that voice, or what it really sounds like.

I thought of staying around long enough to tell Greg that he would do well to see if someone could do a better job on the mic, but I got too bored, and returned back to my hotel and made an early night of it. Fortunately, my Zoom Q3 HD is a good filtering recorder and you can actually hear his voice much better in the videos than I could live. In the end, the other thing that perturbed me was that this was not even jazz or blues, really. Oh, I was amused and interested that he performed Pink Floyd’s “Time,” just a week after I learned that song myself! I hadn’t heard anyone doing it until then….

It’s one thing to feel you’re robbed by attending an expat’s Blues and Jazz room, but I realized it only made me appreciate even more stuff like Bee Dee’s and Dreams of old Shanghai. There is a true difference between a bona fide, music-loving, grass-roots joint and a successful business catering to the monied classes. I’ll go for the former any day.

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