Salty Tomorrow 明天的盐, Naja Naja
24D Beijing 2021.09.04
LiveChinaMusic heads back to Beijing (where it all began) with contributing writer Athole McLauchlan!
This was the opening gig of Salty Tomorrow’s tour promoting their fantastic eponymous debut album on BIE Records. In support were Kenja Time and Naja Naja. This was the fourth time I’ve tried to see Kenja Time, for various reasons I won’t bore you with. I’d not been to the 24D Space venue before, and I inevitably got lost en route. Luckily, it was the runaway, spiked guitar refrain of Kenja Time’s Maybe Mars single, 窗格里的乐园, reaching out to me like a splintered shooting flare of noise in the night, that finally led me to the venue. However, as soon as I dipped inside, they stopped playing. That was their last song. Shit! They looked and sounded (so very briefly) magnificent. I’m completely sure the rest of the set was too.
Naja Naja, signed to BIE Records, are a new band for me. A male/female duo on guitar and bass. With drum machine and electronic backing tracks for added rhythmic beef and blips. They excel in deeply melodic and trippy baselines and lyrical grooves. The track ‘Monopoly’ has a resolutely quirky and catchy refrain that is lyrically light on its feet but underpinned by a chunky fuzz guitar and driving bass. The funky organ pushing forward on ‘Tunnel’ cast a blissful loopy net of sound over the audience, reminiscent of an early Stereolab. It was accompanied by a chilling monologue vocal describing an unsettling set of directions through a tunnel to meet some people ‘who have been waiting for you.’ I’m not sure I want to visit the tunnel, but I’ll happily listen to more Naja Naja! Who are endearingly bonkers and altogether rather brilliant. They effortlessly weave and steer their hip-swaying, new psychedelic beats through deep trenches of hypnotic tones. It’s a somewhat claustrophobic sound, loosely wound but multi-layered, suited to low ceiling venues and darkened, poorly lit dance floors. And I completely fell for them.
When Salty Tomorrow enter the stage, they look calm, focused and totally up for it. At first glance, it’s a serious-minded aesthetic, very much influenced by Factory Records and the fashion sense of rain sodden late 1970s Manchester, England. I think. Or is just because Li Wangnian tucks his shirt in his trousers like Ian Curtis? Anyway, none of that really matters. This is 2021 and 明天的盐 is a truly brilliant album, the venue is packed and excited punters are already throwing out amusing words of encouragement. Li Wangnian gives a wry smile, replies in kind and then the bands start to play. 十字旅店 is tremendous live and one of my favourites on the album. Salty Tomorrow have an exceptional rhythm section. Loose funky drums blend effortlessly with a taught melodic bassline, plucked skilfully from the Motown songbook of James Jamerson. The guitar is brash and brazen. A brilliant slice of post-punk bliss in pocket.
On 老虎机 the band lets rip its edgier side. The rising, ascending melody chases with menacing intent towards a lyrical harmony that is both pronounced and catchy. Then, finally, twin guitars press it even farther skyward, circling higher and higher, like Icarus, towards a single bass note at the end. Astonishing.
In-between songs, there is more friendly banter and audience participation. One guy at the front of the audience takes it too far. No wry smile from Li Wangnian this time. Just a disapproving look and a shake of the hand. The heckler doesn’t say another word. Cool respect. Li Wangnian has the whole crowd literally eating out of the palm of his hand.
Every song is played with the confidence of a band releasing their 3rd or 4th album. 雨朵 showcases Salty Tomorrow’s ability to craft fantastic pop songs with brilliant understated harmonies and instrumentation. Whilst 上海 is a masterclass in seismic guitar riffs, piloted by pounding drums and thrusting bass.
However, the best track of the evening is 上海, an epic, end of the night floor filler, that twists and turns, building steadfastly through each section, before ending with a final flurry of twin guitars that is wide open, expansive and, dare I say it, anthemic.
The encore is Disorder by Joy Division. And it already looks and feels like a post-show celebration party. As Li Wangnian sings the words of Ian Curtis, ‘Who is right? Who can tell? And who gives a damn right now?’, well it’s pretty damn obvious. If this is how good Salty Tomorrow are on the first night of the tour, they are going to be simply unbeatable by the end.