Twelve Hours in Shanghai with Jets Overhead

 

When I found out Canadian band Jets Overhead would be perfoming in China last July, I decided that flying from Busan to Shanghai to see them, catch their show, and write an article on the experience was a necessary mission to undertake.  Korea’s next door, and the flight’s just over 90 minutes long–it would be like skipping from Victoria to Vancouver for the night to watch one of your favourite bands play, right?  (Minus the visa.  And the flight.  And customs…) 

Timing and logistics meant I arrived at Jets’ hotel at 11 a.m. on a Saturday and departed Shanghai at 2 p.m. Sunday–a whirlwind brush with a highly skilled group who describe their sound as “road trip” music.  I’d like to expand the genre to include “Asian country jet-setting…”

(View article below.)

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Twelve Hours in Shanghai with Jets Overhead 

By Courtney Tait

Published in Eloquence Magazine, September 2010

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11:30 – Somewhere Around 2 p.m.

Behind a dark wooden table in a teahouse called Huxington, a young Chinese woman pours water into a clear glass pot.  The tincture is called Double Dragon, named after two white flowers that shoot up in elegant swirls from the bottom of the pot.  The man who ordered it—Adam Kittredge, lead vocalist of Canadian indie five-piece Jets Overhead—is sweating through his t-shirt; it’s July, and Shanghai is hot.

Two nights earlier, Jets kicked off an 11-day China tour on Expo 2010’s Great Hall stage.  The gig was an expenses-paid invite from Canada’s circus-art veterans Cirque-du-Soleil, who designed the Canadian Pavilion, and who were charged with hiring innovative Canadian talent to represent the country.  The show—a brew of textured, harmony-rich songs from the band’s Juno-nominated debut album Bridges and 2009 release No Nations—got the 2000-strong crowd fired up, Kittredge says, though performing for a politician-heavy audience that included Canada’s Governor General felt “like playing for the starship federation on the starship enterprise.” 

Outside, fists of rain plunge into the lake from which the teahouse rises. We’re in Old Town, and monsoon has arrived.  Beside Kittredge, Jets’ drummer Luke Renshaw leans his head into his left palm; the band’s jet lag has only started to burn off.  Number 10 on the tea menu: an energy boost, agreed to by the long-haired, sultry-voiced Antonia Freybe-Smith—keyboardist, co-vocalist and Kittredge’s wife; the pair were married in Mexico in February of ’09. 

“I’m oozing,” she says, fanning herself with a red and yellow hand fan that spells Sophie MX.  Thunder booms. 

“Dudes,” says Kittredge, “we’re in a full-blown typhoon here.”  

Twenty minutes later, the rain eases. 

“Power moves!” Kittredge says, hustling us inside a cab.  It’s an expression he shouts often throughout the day, inspiring rapid, assertive movement in an effort to accomplish something.  We’ve got under an hour to find lunch and get back to the Sofitel, a luxury hotel where the band is being hosted by Cirque, and has been requested by the manager to give an afternoon photo shoot.  The driver honks, threading his way through the throbbing streets, quick and jerky on the pedal, jostling every other Shanghai man behind a wheel.

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7:30 p.m. – Showtime

During the second round of Tsingtao beer at Shanghai’s Charmant restaurant, conversation turns to good, inexpensive wine.  And Knoxville, Tennessee.  And transvestites.  (As the story goes, guitarist Piers Henwood was hit on one, at a bar, on the band’s first night in Shanghai.)  Jets has been joined—post sound-check for the night’s scheduled gig at Yuyintang Bar—by an eclectic crew of 10, including British promoter Archie Hamilton, the founder of Shanghai-based company Split Works, who organized the remaining eight shows of their China tour.

Heaping plates of spicy tofu, beans, and broccoli are passed along the tables from hand to hand, and another round of Tsingtaos appears.  Midway down the seats, American folk singer and banjoist Abigail Washburn and her band the Sparrow Quartet take part; they, like Jets, are headed to the city of Hangzhou following performances in Shanghai.

At the other end of the table, Kittredge and Freybe-Smith listen intently to a man in a black button-down shirt.  His name is Ashley Capps, and he’s the founder of U.S. promotion company AC Entertainment, which puts on annual 4-day festival Bonnaroo, a sold-out gathering catering to 80,000-odd music lovers each year in Manchester, Tennessee.  Jets performed at Bonnaroo in June of 2009, shortly following their first China tour—where No Nations was debuted live on Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen stages. 

When asked how this trip feels in comparison to the band’s ’09 China visit, Freybe-Smith says, “That tour was our first time playing the songs off of No Nations.  It was hard.  It’s so different rehearsing a song to suddenly playing it in front of people.  It’s a whole different world.” 

Since then, the band has performed the album—described by American industry guru Bob Lefsetz as a “throwback” to an era when songs were “mind-expanding”—at not only Bonnaroo, but U.S. festivals South by Southwest,    Coachella, and Sasquatch, as well as at Neil Young’s Bridge School Concert and the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Live at Yuyintang: 10:30 to Midnight

Beside the blue-trimmed doorway to Yuyintang’s stage, Jets’ bassist Jocelyn Greenwood glances out to the park spreading beyond the bar’s back patio.   Mistaken directions from Charmant have waylaid drummer Renshaw and two sound technicians, delaying start time.  Despite night replacing day, the heat is relentless; if anything Shanghai just feels hotter.  Karl and Max, Californian expats, wander in from outside to check the room; a crowd has gathered, and Greenwood assures them the show will begin soon.  Yuyintang, Karl explains, is one of about four Shanghai clubs that feature international alternative music, a scene which, in China, is “just starting to open up.”

Minutes later all five band members take their places on the small, spot-lit stage.  Each is dressed in black, the only exception a red pair of sneakers on Kittredge’s feet.  They open with ‘Sun, Sun, Sun’—a soaring rock anthem that permeates the room with lilting chorus vocals.  The audience—a mix of Chinese and foreigners, stands in concentration, heads tilted to the stage, absorbing thick layers of guitar, drums, keyboards, bass.  Sweat pours off of Kittredge’s face. 

“It’s so good to be back here,” he says.  “It’s just how I remember it—sweaty, with a lot of friendly faces.”

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3 thoughts on “Twelve Hours in Shanghai with Jets Overhead

  1. Great article for Eloquence and Jet’s Overhead, you did them a great service as an international band. I am sure they appreciated your
    words tremendously.

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