Three Steps Closer Tour
18 months on from the “Southern Delta Tour” and over a year in the planning, PlanB’s most adventurous outing to date, the “3 Steps Closer” tour of China, incorporating the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, has come and gone far too quickly.
Following two x nine hour days of rehearsals in Sky Studios central Beijing, the band pulled together a strong repertoire of some 30 songs to be performed over 16 days at 11 very assorted venues ranging from an appearance at the INMusic Zhangbei Grasslands 3-Day Music Festival to the minuscule dimensions of the “What Bar” adjacent to Beijing’s Forbidden City.
An initial double-bill with the “Beijing Beatles” to celebrate Belgium’s National Day at an appropriate venue “Beer Mania”, saw the band playing to an enthusiastic mainly expatriate crowd on a warm summer evening with beer flowing generously. The two free kegs of beer that were strategically opened during the course of the evening mixed well with the wall of sound produced by PlanB.
The following night was supposed to be a performance at V.A. Bar. PlanB arrived at the venue, braving the torrential rain and the increasing flooding of the surrounding hutongs. Unfortunately the incessant rain and the ever increasing flow of water dripping onto the stage from the flooded room above the venue meant that there was a serious likelihood of electrocution occurring if the performance went ahead. The show was reluctantly cancelled amidst the rising flood waters.
Beijing went on to record its heaviest rain for more than 60 years with over 30 deaths in the city.
The manager of V.A.Bar accepted the band’s offer to return the following evening when the rain had hopefully subsided to a large extent. Despite a limited audience (given the short notice for the deferred gig and the ever looming rain clouds), the band played two tight and very entertaining sets.
Monday and Tuesday gave various band members a chance to undertake tourist-like activities while others commenced some serious filming under the guidance of trombone player, Patrick Stapleton, for the first of three music videos that the band were to shoot throughout the duration of the “3 Steps Closer” Tour.
MAO’s live house was the next venue for the band for a mid-week performance, where the band also took the opportunity to film some ‘live’ footage for the clip to accompany the Rowland/ Paterson number “Plan B”. Despite the band participating in some extremely athletic jumping around on stage for an hour or so of filming prior to actually taking the stage for the official performance, the three 45 minute sets passed all too quickly and we were all very reluctant to leave both the stage and the best sound system the band had experienced to date. Despite a modest crowd for the Wednesday gig, the band received an enthusiastic and genuine response after each number and the brass section produced some truly inspired solos during the course of the evening.
The following night saw PlanB perform at the 2 Kolegas, (an interesting venue located in the entrance to a drive-in theatre). China’s ‘Bruce Springsteen’, Cui Jian made an unexpected appearance and caught the band’s first 3 songs. Our tour manager ensured that he was provided with a copy of the band’s Tour Sampler CD prior to his departure.
Friday night proved a memorable event with the Beijing weather again ensuring that there were very few punters going out to see live music. The band arrived rather uneventfully at our venue for the evening, the minuscule but reputable “What Bar” where many new Chinese up and coming bands first perform. The stage was marginally larger than a generously proportioned toilet. The bar itself oozed character but 20 patrons would have ensured that the bar was virtually fully packed. The heaven’s opened some 45 minutes before we hit the stage and again we assumed ‘look-out’ mode to spot and indicators that the outside elements were seeping through the precarious roof. Minor drips were not sufficient to delay the performance and the arrival of a small group of fans seeking shelter from the storm ensured that the show must go on.
Two 45 minute sets later with the rain gathering momentum and not a taxi in sight, the band dispatched all instruments, one keyboard player, an injured flugelhorn player and the tour manager via an over-charging so called “private taxi”, to our lodgings in the Sanlitun area. A lone taxi eventually inadvertently ventured down our street and another four lucky persons were dispatched “home”. The final four band members finally commenced an expedition into the night rain to try and locate a ride back to our home base. Thoroughly drenched after some 20 minutes in the deluge that was falling on Beijing at 1am on Saturday morning, a kindly “private taxi” driver stopped to ferry the bedraggled foursome home charging only a little over half the actual taxi fare.
The band were picked up early on Saturday morning in an 18 seater bus for the five hour journey to the Zhangbei Grasslands and the INMusic Festival where we were due to perform a 40 minute set in the late afternoon. A police escort met us some 90kms north of Beijing and accompanied the band for the balance of the trip. It was true rock’n’roll and the journey appeared to be over far sooner than the actual five hours plus that it lasted. We were dined and then taken to our personal PlanB tent behind the stage where we were to perform. Official performances were only scheduled to commence after 3 pm and PlanB were preceded by a number of young Chinese bands that really had us concerned that our brand of rock’n’soul may not be what they wanted to hear in this country. Thankfully we were completely wrong and after a spontaneous applause to ‘Sandpaper Sally’ (which was used to sound check), the band launched into an enthusiastically received set of original tracks largely from the soon-to-be-released CD “Too Late The Hero”. PlanB closed their performance with their version of the Dexys Midnight Runners track of the same name, Plan B. The incredible response from the predominantly Chinese audience made the total of almost 10 hours on a bus more than worthwhile.
Sunday night had PlanB finish off the Beijing leg of their “3 Steps Closer Tour” of China with a performance at another ‘kick-arse’ rock venue called ‘The Temple’. With the expert assistance of in-house sound man Cedric, the band delivered a confident and polished performance, clearly inspired by their previous day’s festival appearance at the INMusic Festival. The band’s final Beijing performance finished on a high and everyone hit the hay that night setting alarm clocks for an early rising to catch the bullet train to Shanghai for Stage 2 of the tour.
Tianjin wasn't as Sneaky Pete had expected it to be. Sure his recollections from the 2 or 3 times he had visited some 10 years earlier were that it was a large, ugly, mainly industrial based city still held true to a degree but the ugly no longer remained. Tianjin turned out to be very vibrant with much evidence of new additions to the landscape of the city during the past 10 years.
Upon arrival, the band decided to utilise taxis this time to make our way to our accommodation which, (according to plans) should have been within walking distance of at least one, if not both, of the final two gigs for the tour. Our hotel overlooked the river (which was in flood) and whilst not within walking distance from the first night’s gig at GIA, was only 10 minutes walk from the final gig the following night at 13 club.
Jose was our congenial host at the GIA late night Lounge Bar where we played 3 sets to a very receptive audience. The venue was run by Italians in the middle of Little Italy in downtown Tianjin. A great venue with copious amounts of Vodka which our host chose to share with the band towards the end of the evening. Our performance was the venues initial venture into ‘live’ music and given the incredible reaction to PlanB’s performance, it was to be the start of regular performances by bands.
Another day of exploration and gathering footage for the band’s 3rd video clip being filmed on the tour, saw the band partake of the traditional ‘end-of-tour’ dinner in the basement of a ‘recommended’ Chinese restaurant, following the late afternoon’s sound check. Basement prices, we were reliably informed by the staff at 13 Club, were usually only available to locals and one paid about half of what foreigners paid for the same food on the ground floor of the same restaurant. Do the maths....we were able to drink and eat a lot more for the same price as upstairs.
The venue wasn't large, but the 13 Club had character, it had atmosphere, and maybe because it was the last night of the tour, the band played with extra energy putting on 2 x power charged 45 minute sets of largely original songs for an incredibly appreciative audience consisting of locals and punters from as far away as Sweden.
Beers flowed generously as the band packed up from the final performance and headed out into the Tianjin night to wander back to our accommodation for some very early starters the following morning in order to catch mid day flights from Beijing back to Australia.
Another incredible tour with life time memories of China, its people, its traditions, its music, its food and not to forget its incredibly cheap local beer.
PlanB will return.