Sunday, December 21, 2003

Rock Show
Turns out that a Chinese stadium rock concert is pretty much like its Western counterpart, minus the chaos. And I must admit I kind of missed the chaos. I also found myself in the rather odd position of steering Keyman through the basics of a stadium show and explaining the hard realities of cheap seats and limited views.
We arrived at Shenzhen Sports Stadium at 7 p.m., with Beyond scheduled to begin at 8:15 p.m. The stadium, used primarily for soccer and track and field, has an open air dome and probably seats about 50,000. Businesses, including the infamous Chicago bar, ring the outside.
Like a U.S. there were a lot of people milling around outside, though unlike the U.S. none of them were tailgating, blasting the headlining band's music, drinking, blowing chunks or smoking dope. Most of them, in fact, seemed to be vendors selling glow sticks and cheap binoculars. I'd say that vendors outnumbered fans nearly 2:1 at this point.
I spotted only a tiny Beyond T-shirt booth, which looked more like a child's lemonade stand and featured only one design and size. It also featured no business. When Keyman inquired about the price, we found out why. He was outraged.
"One hundred!!" ($12.00-U.S.) "No way! We will wait until after the show!" he sputtered. "How can Beyond charge so much? They sing about social justice!"
I didn't have the heart to tell him that concert T-shirts in the Land Where Rock 'n' Roll Began sell for at least four times as much and often more.
He had no clue as to how to enter the stadium and began by happily waltzing toward what was obvious to me was a floor VIP seating entrance.
"No, no," I said. "We have cheap seats. We aren't down here, believe me. We are probably up there" I pointed to the stadium heights.
He didn't mind and I urged him to read the ticket, something I was unable to do since, except for world "Beyond" and a few numbers, the rest was all Chinese to me.
"There's a number for a section," I said. "That's where we go in."
"OH!," he replied. "Yes, you have done this many times before, I think."
"A few."
We found section 10 and gathered with a small knot of other early fans until the security guards - which weren't scruffy, obese goons in yellow STAFF T-shirts or windbreakers, but very young willowy men in green uniforms and high crested military hats that looked like Bavarian army surplus wear - decided we could go in. Another difference: no one was frisked and backpacks and purses were untouched.
We arrived inside and soon found that our assigned seats made any view of the stage impossible. We were so far to the side that even the stage lip was invisible.
Keyman was both crestfallen and indignant. First the T-shirt ripoff and now this.
"I will complain tomorrow!" he said. "There is a telephone number. Here! See?" He pointed to a number on the ticket.
"I will call them and tell them that it is not right."
His faith in the system was touching, but I also felt like I was watching a child who has just been told that not only is there no Santa Claus, but also that his real father deserted the family years ago after trying to trade him for a 12 pack.
I suggested something radical. There were huge blocks of empty sections with better views. Let's just go sit there, I said, and if someone claims the seats, we'll act like we made a mistake and move to another empty area.
"Oh, I like this idea. It is not, perhaps, how do you say it...ethical. But yes."
We settled into a better view and no one claimed our new seats. In fact, just as the show began, dozens in our "new" section vaulted over a divider into still-better vacant territory.
Beyond gave the fans - perhaps 5,000-8.000 in all - a decent show, though, for me it was a bit like watching a video. Glow lights flickered throughout, the band - a trio of bass, guitar, drums - used backing tapes and only a lone, unidentified keyboardist to augment the songs. They even may have been lip synching for all I could tell, except for the between song patter that, as Keyman translated, sounded just like the "Hello (Fill in name of city), are you ready to rock?" palaver of their western counterparts.
Two huge video screens flanked the stage and three smaller ones were above it. No flashy effects, no pyro explosions, and precious little real stage action though the fans didn't seem to notice or mind. They cheerfully just waved the glow sticks and sang along to every word. I could see a few weeping, too, when archival video footage of the dead singer and guitarist appeared. And they went bonkers for the false finale when the band was lofted out, still playing, above the first three VIP rows on an enormous cherry picker.
"It is like they are flying!" shouted Keyman. "This is wonderful. What is your analysis?"
I smiled and gave him a thumb's up. Afterwards, as we left he mused wistfully: "Does no one go up and send them flowers? I wonder why"

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