We fly from London to Amsterdam and then 10 hours or so to Shanghai. Sleep a little bit. Watch two movies, The Fighter and Source Code. When we get off the plane, I am shocked by the heat and humidity. Our host/promoter here in China is an American guy, Abe. Originally from Idaho, he moved here nine years ago to study martial arts; now he sets up tours for bands like Fucked Up and Das Racist. We go from the airport to a bus to a train to a taxi. The taxi ride is crazy. Lots of aggressive weaving in and out of traffic with motorbikes and other cars.
Abe warns us that the first show might be awkward, and it is. It’s at a bar/club that has a big, rough Bob Marley mural on the back wall. It has a large, nice stage and fancy gear for us to use, but we are warned that no one will care about us playing—they’ll just play dice. Mostly true. We play a pretty rocking set to little or no applause. When we finish performing, though, we are asked for autographs. This becomes a pattern: They don’t really care about the music, but they want pictures and autographs.
There is a typhoon coming.
We arrive at the airport and get picked up in a van. The van driver is crazy like all the others. Jeff says I shouldn’t look out the window or sit in the front seat anymore. It’s a two-hour drive. When we arrive at the hotel, it’s some sort of beach resort town, though I never see the beach.
Shit. I’ve forgotten my prized sleeping bag on the airport van. I’ve lost it before and gotten it back. Once I left it in Brighton, England, and had it mailed home to me. I’ve had it since I was 13.
Outside the hotel, some kids from the festival want to talk about the NBA to Jeff. “Sokee Ryan?” Ahh, Kobe Bryant? Yes, yes! “Reron Yames?” Yes, LeBron James!
A van comes and returns my sleeping bag. Amazing luck.
Day 3There are two big stages at our festival show today. We play one of them. In the backstage tent there are lots of volunteers. Slowly, one by one, they ask us to sign our picture in their program. Then more come. Then they come with three books each. We play to maybe 100 people.
We had to send in our set list ahead of time, and the lyrics. I told Jeff I really didn’t think they’d notice if we go off the set list, but he wants to stick to it. I want to play the cover we’ve been doing of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” We don’t. I wonder if it would be viewed as too political. We play our song “Time Machine,” which starts with Jeff and I yelling out years: “2424! 2010! 1980! 1974! 1950!” I worry this also might sound too political.
After we play, we try and sell merch in front of the stage. The night before, we weren’t sure of the exchange rate and sold CDs and shirts for too cheap—near cost. Today, we double the prices and I feel very guilty. We sell a few things. Stuff is cheap here. Our semi-fancy dinner at the hotel was about $25 for the four of us.
We have to wake up at 5 am to catch an early train to Zhengzhou to ensure that we get night-train tickets to Beijing to ensure that we arrive in Beijing early enough to ensure we get a two-hour taxi ride to the Great Wall.
After visiting the Shaolin Temple, we catch the bus back. We all take separate seats as the bus is empty, but after a few stops it fills up and a kid who’s maybe 10 or 11 sits next to me and falls asleep against my arm. I look out at the state-sponsored billboards: “Happy family starts from fewer and healthier births.” “Promote gender equality and eliminate sex discrimination.”
Day 7We all pass out on the five-hour trip to the Great Wall, and I wake up in the countryside. We buy tickets for a gondola up the mountain to the Great Wall, and we buy tickets to slide down in a toboggan thing. The total for the two trips is about $18, a bargain for such a fine wall.
It feels amazing to be on the Great Wall. It’s quite a wall. We walk a while and finally reach the slide area. I can’t believe we’re doing this. I usually don’t come to great monuments in order to take amusement-park rides down them. To be clear, you don’t ride the slide on top of the wall, you just ride it down the mountain.
After a five-hour train ride back to Shanghai, Abe takes us for a walk and then out to eat. Our tourmate Xiao He (a great local underground musician) shows Jeff how to write his name in Chinese. It starts pouring rain. We grab a cab back to the hotel and then walk to the venue. Tonight’s show can make or break the finances of the trip.
Before the show, three French people come to the door. “Do we get a free drink with a ticket?” The answer is no, so they leave.
We play a pretty good show for a packed house of about 230. People dance. We sweat. It’s good. Near the end of the set, one American guy shouts at Jeff and tells him he has to play “The History of Communism in China.” He’d seen Jeff do it in Beijing and come back to see it again. Jeff refuses. Later the guy comes by the merch table. He’s disappointed, he says. “I understand you guys like to play different sets, but you guys gotta play the hits.”
A local opener plays acoustic cover songs of Oasis, the Doors and more to an empty room. Xaio forces us to drink a lot before the show, but we don’t drink as much as he does. He doesn’t appear drunk, but he plays for a very long time.
Later, Abe tells us there was a man from the local government at the show recording our set. He wasn’t happy that we hadn’t submitted our songs/lyrics to get official approval from the local government. Abe tells us there are now stricter rules for foreign bands playing Shanghai: Each must pay $300 for an official to check their lyrics.
SEE IT: Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard (with his
brother Jack) plays Mississippi Studios on Sunday, Dec. 4, with Almost
Nearly and Awkward Energy. 9 pm. $10. 21+. To read Jack’s entire tour
diary (with more photos, video and typos), go to