Pop music can be a funny thing. As much as we resist, as much as we pretend we’re ‘better’ than all those teeny-boopers, heart-churners, and packaged looks – there is a part of us that wants to be easily manipulated, be glamoured, and underneath it all, be young and stupid all over again. Ignorance is bliss they say, and if the crowd of young faces, some in tow with their dates, others looking, on Valentine’s Day at Mao Livehouse was any sign, this was it. I tried to stand strong, make smug comments, roll my eyes, but by the time Billow’s Fairy Tale was halfway through their set, I threw in the towel. And found myself actually enjoying myself.
I arrived in time to catch the end of Summer Tribe’s set, a five-piece, all female group, who play no-nonsense pop punk that brings immediately to mind a lot of the power-girl groups of the nineties like L7, Ace of Base, and No Doubt. Completely harmless, and for that matter, forgettable, Summer Tribe had a few things going for them -a lead singer with a cute strong feminine voice, a polished sound. Yet the band lacked a certain oomph, to make me want to see them again. Nevertheless, the crowd, full of bright-eyed fans (and a shockingly large female crowd) ate it up, singing word for word alongside them.
Next, was the young, bright, and cheery punk band Neighbors, who at once I loathed because, well, they were young, bright, and cheery. At times sounding like a bad recap of so many of the late 90s packaged pop punk bands like Simple Plan and Taking Back Sunday; at others times sounding like the high tempo skatepunk bands of that decade, most notably Pennywise and NOFX (“It’s like listening to Tony Hawk 2’s soundtrack all over again”).
Yet, once again it’s all played too safe, coming off as too bland to leave a lasting impression. As my friend noted they sounded too polished, too clean-cut, and we kept looking for the puppets strings behind the members, but to no avail.
So when Billow’s Fairy Tale followed, I was ready to call it a night – power ballads, a love-crooning singer with the scarf to match, glossy electro-piano backing – certainly a recipe for disaster. But I stuck it out, and then a song later I found myself swaying back and forth, and humming along. Guess we all have our weak spots, and Billow’s Fairy Tale zoned right in on it.
This is shameless Britpop, with a large anthemic sound, not too far off from Coldplay, with lush melodies and a singer, Yang Yue, whose voice could easily take over the radio waves here in China. He puts it all out there, musically – his face drenched in sweat already by the fourth song. It might not have been a clean fight, but Billow’s Fairy Tale won me over in the end.
With my hard shell broken I was ready to take on the next band with no reservations. New Perfume, led by the charismatic Wang Bin (wearing a Billie Armstrong getup) is clearly pop. But this was pop done right. Maybe it’s because I haven’t updated my pop catalogue since leaving the States, but it was relieving to not immediately attach their sound to something previous (as was the case for the earlier bands).
Not entirely complex, or weighed down by over production, their songs breeze by with confidence and a ‘clap along’ energy that’s hard to shake. And with some incredibly catchy hooks and melodies, New Perfume came out as the band of the night by far. It didn’t hurt that the headliner band Perdel (the definition of how to do pop right in Beijing) didn’t come until way past twelve due to traffic, as it gave New Perfume some ample overtime duty. Guilty pleasure perhaps, but these boys had character, and it came through in their music.
Not quite the Valentine’s I was expecting, but hey (lame metaphor coming up in three, two, one) love never is. Bam!