By Ivan Belcic
Shanghai hurtles through time as a constant maelstrom of change. In the midst of it all, some traditions yet persist. For the city’s live bands and those who embrace them, there is the Annual Halloween Tribute. It began in 2007 with live music leaders Dan Shapiro (The Fever Machine) and Morgan Short (Boys Climbing Ropes), and since then has blossomed – or mutated – into the beast it is today.
Each year, local musicians join forces to breathe new life into their favorite bands at live music haven Yuyintang. With tributes to Marilyn Manson, Cannibal Corpse, The Offspring and Andrew W.K. on offer, the 2015 Halloween Tribute is sure to be as energetic as it will be eclectic.
The show’s lineup often takes on a nostalgic bent. “Cannibal Corpse has been the most popular death metal band for the last twenty years. Everyone knows [their song] Hammer Smashed Face. We love Cannibal Corpse,” enthuses Xander Cheng (The Arcbane). “The Offspring were so huge when I started high school,” recalls OJ Ryan (Jackanapes). “They make me remember all the teenage nights spent with my best mates listening to them on full volume.”
For some, a more philosophical approach is key. Jason Schaller and Clive Parkinson of Hitobashira muse on Marilyn Manson’s influence. “After the mighty grunge revolution, rock was stripped of its theatre, and lyrics became more inwardly focused. Manson revived the spirit of audience engagement, and lyrically, he juxtaposes found elements in culture in such a way as to impel the audience to their own conclusions.” Tyler Bowa (Spill Your Guts) also conveys an ideological connection. “The lifestyle we lead and many of the philosophies we hold true as people are brought forwards in Andrew W.K.'s personal views and music.”
The process of preparing such meaningful tribute sets can be a rewarding one. “Trying to interpret the lyrics and how they would have been received at the time has helped us build common ground as a band and think about what kind of direction we want to take,” relate Schaller and Parkinson. “It's the right time to show people our capabilities [as a band],” Cheng adds.
One challenge facing bands is the selection of only a handful of songs from what often are substantial careers of music, and care is often given to ensure concertgoers are treated to sets full of tracks they know and love. “We’re bringing several famous songs that we’re sure the audience will enjoy,” says Cheng. Bowa shares similar sentiments. “We've selected the best, most popular songs that epitomize the AWK discography, and then we've tried to give them a bit of our own flair. If we can get people moving and dancing, then we've done AWK justice.”
However, recreating these songs is not without its own set of problems, at times requiring a fair degree of creativity and ingenuity from performers. “The biggest challenge for us was finding the right key to play the songs in, as Dexter [Holland, of The Offspring] has an incredibly high singing voice, far above the vocal range of any normal human being,” says Ryan, himself a robust baritone. “We’ve solved this with a few cheeky key changes, and I’m sure the crowd will enjoy the sound.”
Of course, no Halloween would be complete without the most important element of all – costumes. “AWK is such an iconic figure that we're all going to be dressed like him,” says Bowa. “We'll all have white jeans, white T-shirts, long hair – and of course punch each other in the mouth.” Ryan describes his take on The Offspring’s Dexter Holland. “I'll wear a costume appropriate for his style back in the old days, the crown being a wig with the long blonde braids he was famous for back then.”
“Everyone knows this is a Shanghai institution and one of the highlights of the live music year in this crazy city,” said Ryan, and Bowa agrees. “The vibes are great, and it's hands-down one of the best shows in Shanghai every year.” This year’s installation of the Annual Halloween Tribute promises to be one of its most stunning spectacles yet. Shanghai, we’ll see you there.
> Photo by Rachel Gouk