Shanghai Superstars…wha da? Strictly from the name you’d almost expect to see a Chinese family trapeze act not a professionally-polished high-energy-exuding rock band...but this group (in existence only 8 months with this being the first time they have played a show in 3 months) is way more entertaining than that...initially they sounded to me like a cross between Men At Work (a 1980s Australian band that introduced a form of new-wave-reggae music) and Cheap Trick (the power-pop music group from Rockford Illinois)...this band has blended those music genres together creating a pop-punk-reggae format and as a result is as original as HELL (as mentioned in their tune "Fallen Angel")...sweeet!!! Shanghai Superstars was the fresh and exciting opening act for Val Halla (currently on tour with Ted Nugent) and appeared with two other bands Last Second Signal and Chris Servia & The Ivory Theory in Downers Grove, IL at North Beach nightclub on Saturday August 7, 2010.
(images: in order of appearance band members Mark, TJ, Spoon, Wes and band manager Bryan Javor)
The "Stars" performance was tight and clean and began with a "lets-get-ready-to-rumble?-styled" recording clearly announcing the name of the band to the audience prior to the band members running on stage...something which many bands get around to doing somewhere in the middle of their show, if they remember to do it at all...Shanghai Superstars made a point to let you know they were there to entertain you...and put on a show they did. Complete with choreographed routines on a few of the tunes, endless energy, great lead guitar work by Wes Anderson, harmonic-oriented vocals by TJ Neville and Mark Lewandowski and stunningly driving, regimentally-rhythmic beats to keep the band's tunes on track by the drummer Spoon (a.k.a. Ryan Jezuit), Shanghai Superstars brings it on and brings it all to the rock-arena stage, leaving their music fans wondering what's coming next. Inventive, honest and original music with entertainment chutzpah to match. At the performance's end, they even, actually made a point of sincerely THANKING thier audience for being there to catch their show...pretty rare nowadays.
It's very evident that the band's identified leader, Spoon, has a background rooted in drum and bugle corps music ("beat and blow" as we used to call it back when I was in the U.S. Navy Drum & Bugle Corps)...which has a definite influence on the Stars's sound. Shanghai Superstars opened with an appropriately-named catchy tune "Shanghai Radio" asking the question of the audience "are you listening, are you listening (Shanghai Radio)?" imploring them to "turn the dial to where we are"...it shows off the elements of all of their music that is about to be displayed during the course of the show...harmonized vocals, some heavy metal guitar riffs thrown in for good measure, nice short lead guitar solo, reggae-rock beats. The Stars continued to take you along on their personal musical journey with their original tunes like "Run", "Adore You Madly", "Met Her On A Train", "Voodoo Chica", and ending with "So Long"...their best three tunes I think were "Fallen Angel", "Stay" and the most memorable "Savannah" (a song inspired by the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers that pensively asks a blonde chick named Savannah "can we just meet?")...these three tunes in particular show evidence of some of the band members' love of heavy metal music as well, proffered by the guitar riffs contained therein. The fifth tune into the set the band did a "just okay" cover of Katrina & The Waves's 1985 hit "Walking On Sunshine" which really was unneccesary as a band this good doesn't need to prove their technical abilities when they have so much to offer in music originality. A band always sounds better when they play their own creations. I would recommend they remove it from their set and use the time to showcase more of their unique brand of musicality.
In speaking to their manager, Bryan Javor, having had many years in the music business himself, he pointed out that he hopes to guide the band through the maze of "drama, drugs and women" that seems to permeate the rock music scene and kill off many bands trying to make it...this was seconded by the band members stating that they "save the real partying for after the performance", not when they're on stage. Admirable behavior. This attitude reflects their devotion to their music, sense of purpose, focus of effort and teamwork as a band to be an enduring success...with this approach intact, I would expect nothing less.
One additional comment here, although there is an ample supply of Shanghai Superstars music to download, listen to, or buy, curiously the band has no videos available on Youtube or their other various websites...it could definitely help to promote their internet presence greatly and give people a chance to see them in some on-stage action...it would have been great to have one to embed for this review in particular.
Other than that, all I know is, when you plunk down some bucks to catch this band at one of their high energy shows, you can be sure your money won't get "Shanghaied" by the Shanghai Superstars...but your musical appetite for their style of rock sure will.'Nuff Sed.
August 13, 2010
Penny Road Pub
Wes Anderson-lead guitar
Spoon (Ryan Jezuit)-drums
(source: shanghaisuperstars.com, photos: J. McCune & Jenn Wilczewski)