A couple of months ago I became acquainted with the guitarist Zhou Chao, who plays every Monday night with his band at the Melting Pot at 288 Taikang Lu in Shanghai. Zhou Chao's guitar work is deeply rooted in folk and blues styles. Lately he's been experimenting with a more free-form blues with a lot of wah-wah thrown in. He looks the part of a rocker: long, greasy hair, whispy mustache, grass-smoking laid-back air. Then again, he also looks like a modern-day Confucian literatus. When he's performing onstage, you feel that the guitar is a natural extension of his body, so comfortable is he in wielding his instrument of choice. I am reminded of a traditional Chinese painter, master of his tools and completely absorbed in his art. There's definitely a "Zen and the Guitar" feel to this dude. And echoes of Jimi Hendrix.
Zhou Chao has made one album, 爬上来，喊两嗓子 ("climb on and yell a couple times"). It's a folksy mix, steel-string at base, which my friend Jud likens to old Bob Dylan or Woody Guthrie. It's also got a strong early Cui Jian-Xibeifeng influence. I could definitely see this music being the soundtrack to a road film about China. Some of the tunes celebrate the working man, others are about sexual frustration (or release). One is about a laid off worker, another about Chairman Mao. A real eclectic mix of characters. The final song is an argument about the key differences between love and sex--a distinction which Zhou Chao feels most Chinese don't understand (this from a conversation with him over a few beers at Woodstock a few weeks ago).
So if you want to see one of the top Chinese guitar players in Shanghai--perhaps in China--go to see Zhou Chao on a Monday night. And tell him I sent you.
Meanwhile here's a video I took with my Canon G9 (what a great little camera!), of him doing Cui Jian's song Cong Tou Zai Lai ("start again from the top"):
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