Tributes of Terror: Halloween Rock Show

Halloween. It’s the one night of the year when you can pretend to be your favourite superhero or a flesh eating zombie without people questioning your sanity. And every year for bands in Shanghai’s rock and roll music community, it’s also a time to resurrect favourite acts from the past. Talk caught up with some those responsible for Shanghai’s yearly rock tribute show.

It all began five years ago in 2007, when Dan Shapiro (The Fever Machine) and Morgan Short (formerly of Boys Climbing Ropes) talked about performing as the Misfits for Halloween, donning the trademark make-up of the legendary American punk rock band. “When I lived in San Francisco, there would be Halloween tribute shows all the time,” says Shapiro. “It was a way for bands to do something different from what they would do normally, as well as give the crowds something different as well.”

To hear both of them describe it, the show was a very modest effort, miles away from the annual, all night extravaganza that it has become today. “I think we were one of the few regularly performing Shanghai bands at the time so Shapiro didn't have many options when looking for people to play with,” says Short. “Everyone was crude on their instruments back then, but it still turned out to be a huge show at [its former, now defunct live music venue] 4Live,” says Shapiro.

Nevertheless the show was a hit with both the locals and expats amd since has become a full on local phenomenon. “It really started off as a joke and has gained steam. Now people contact me eight to ten months in advance to be part of it,” says Shapiro.

Over the years, members from different bands have joined in the fun with shocking, wild and, at times, surprisingly fruitful effects. Much of the fun comes from the fact that bands attempt to mimic the bands that they tribute as closely as possible. “[In past performances] we tried to be a serious tribute band, which means you sort of set aside your own personality and musical sense and recreate the sound and look of the band as much as you can,” says Short, noting that the effect is more than just playing covers. “When you do a cover of a song, that's you doing your interpretation of the song. A tribute act is saying, ‘f*** interpreting the music, this band got it right the first time. Let’s do exactly that.’”  

However, some bands take a more sardonic approach to the process. In 2010, local noise rockers Pairs brought their polarising stage antics to bear on the classic 80s band Wham! “I don’t know what inspired them to do Wham!,” says Shapiro. “Generally, it went over well, but one person thought it was a serious band tribute, and she was really upset that she didn’t hear a proper version of ‘Careless Whisper’.”

Most, however, push themselves to take on as much of the mannerisms of their bands as possible. However, this can be a difficult dynamic. Ivan Belcic (Death to Giants, formerly of Moon Tyrant) describes channelling former UK band Joy Division’s lead singer Ian Curtis for the 2010 Halloween show. “I felt a little self-conscious doing the whole flailing-epileptic dance. I tried to make up for that by keeping the vocals as close as possible to the recorded versions. I was wary of crossing that line between imitation and mockery.”

Still, some of Shanghai’s performers have completely thrown caution to the wind, taking their tribute band to the limits. According to all those interviewed, the 2010 appearance of Kiss as led by Shapiro and The Fever Machine is the standard to go by. “The response to The Fever Machine's Kiss act was ridiculous. They were in-character the whole time. People were singing along, really suspending disbelief. I was pretty convinced that I was watching the real Kiss that night,” says Belcic.

“[Shapiro] was even spouting off Paul Stanley's between-song banter, doing an impression of [his] voice saying silly stuff like "We love you, Shanghai!" says Short. Shapiro even went so far as to pull a stunt with the local press, “I created a fake email address and wrote the same PR letter that everyone writes, but wrote it as Bill AuCoin, Kiss’s one-time manager (now deceased). For some reason, the editor of [a rival Talk publication] actually believed it for some reason. It’s crazy to think that someone could believe that Kiss would be playing at Yuyintang.”

They might not be the real thing, but you can bet that the resurrection of Weezer, Queens of the Stone Age, Black Sabbath and System of a Down at Yuyintang this year will be a spectacle that many will get caught up in. And so get ready to get ghoulish and rock out, Shanghai. Here they come.

Halloween Tribute Night. 9pm. RMB 40. Yuyintang. 851 Kaixuan Lu, near Yan’an Xi Lu. Tel: 5237 8662. Web:

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