The Record
2:11 pm
Thu August 15, 2013

An American Headliner In China: Metallica's Shanghai Debut

Originally published on Fri August 16, 2013 7:22 am

August is shaping up to be American music month in Shanghai. Metallica, the legendary heavy metal band, has just wrapped up its long-awaited China debut with two packed shows at the city's Mercedes-Benz Arena. This weekend, Limp Bizkit headlines a two-day festival. Next week, Aerosmith plays a Shanghai soccer stadium followed by a concert by Pitbull, the Cuban-American rapper from Miami.

Song Yang, a bass player in a Chinese metal band called Spring and Autumn, flew in from Beijing to see the first Metallica show, which sold out in just six minutes.

"For me and my comrades-in-arms who play rock music, Metallica was the band that enlightened us," says Song, 34, whose band is one of many in Beijing's thriving metal scene. "They were the first foreign rock band we listened to."

Song says the Metallica's rebellious music first spoke to him when he was a high school student in the late 1990s.

"I was in a classroom using a Walkman, listening to a cassette tape, while the teacher was teaching," Song says, standing in front of the Mercedes-Benz Arena, which looks like a flying saucer and changes colors. "Being able to see them perform onstage has been one of my dreams since I was young."

Metallica played for about two hours on a bare black stage backed by risers and giant video screens. For cultural reasons, Chinese audiences are generally much more subdued at concerts than U.S. audiences, but the Metallica crowd was an exception. As the band tore through hits such as "Enter Sandman," thousands on the arena floor sang along, pumping their fists in the air.

A Turning Tide, And Some Lingering Pitfalls

"In this third quarter and fourth quarter, you'll see an unprecedented amount of music coming through Shanghai in international acts," says John Cappo, president and CEO of the Asia division of AEG, the giant entertainment and sports events company that handled the Metallica shows.

Adam Wilkes, a senior vice president with AEG Live, says more talent is coming to China because of better venues and Chinese fans who are more familiar with Western music through the Internet. Not long ago, Wilkes says, potential venues for big shows included decrepit government gyms and arenas still under construction.

"There was no roof on the building, and the floor was mud," he recalls about one site visit. "They were convinced that somehow, three months later, the building would be ready for a show."

Today, AEG manages the Mercedes-Benz Arena, which seats about 10,000 for a concert and rivals any similar venue in the U.S. But just because more acts are coming to Shanghai doesn't mean everyone is making lots of money. Michael Luevano, who managed The Rolling Stones' show in 2005, says production costs in Shanghai are huge, and some revenue streams that work in the U.S. don't work there.

"Generally, the artist will keep the revenue from the merchandising, but the reality is that means they have to bring in the merchandising, which is very difficult," says Luevano. "It's too expensive to bring in thousands of Metallica shirts."

Customs fees and shipping costs just aren't worth it. When official merchandise does arrive, it has to compete with knockoffs sold within the arena grounds.

Take Tuesday night's show. To get to the upper-level seats, ticket holders had to run a gantlet of hawkers selling bootleg Metallica hand fans, buttons and black T-shirts. The knockoff T-shirts cost $8 each, compared with the genuine article sold inside the arena for $32. Just before showtime, police arrived with whistles and pushed the vendors outside the fence, but the effort was halfhearted and the hawkers merely saw it as a minor annoyance. One even kept trying to sell a hand fan for 75 cents as a cop stood over her.

Compromise And Catharsis

In 2000 Metallica famously sued Napster, the peer-to-peer file-sharing network, for copyright infringement. But at a press conference yesterday, drummer Lars Ulrich was diplomatic.

"The one thing increasingly that we focus our energies is to try to discern between what we can control and what we can't control," Ulrich said. "It is what it is, and that's a whole separate conversation about Chinese copyright issues and so on, which maybe is not the time to do now. But you can't control that."

Wednesday night's show wrapped up a bit after 10:30 p.m. Afterward, Kevin Zhou, a businessman from the central Chinese city of Nanjing, plunked down $32 for an official Metallica T-shirt. Zhou, 30, found the two hours of headbanging cathartic.

"I'm satisfied. Very satisfied," Zhou says, deflating a giant, black Metallica beach ball that the audience had been batting around the arena floor. "Everyone will encounter all kinds of troubles. I feel when I listen to their music, my troubles just go away."

As he headed out into the sweltering summer night, Zhou had one question: Can they come back next year?

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

August is shaping up to be American music month in Shanghai. Metallica, the heavy metal band, just wrapped up their long-awaited China debut with two packed shows. This weekend, Limp Bizkit headlines a two-day festival. Next week, it's Aerosmith at a Shanghai soccer stadium followed by Pitbull. Meanwhile, NPR Shanghai correspondent Frank Langfitt, definitely not a metalhead, he caught last night's Metallica's show. But he sent this report on the wave of name-acts hitting China's second city.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: It's close to show time and thousands of people are pouring into the Mercedes-Benz Arena here. The arena is a state-of-the-art place to hear music. It actually looks like a UFO on the outside and changes colors. A lot of the fans here seemed to be pretty hard core. I'd say at least half of them are wearing black Metallica T-shirts.

Song Yang has flown into the show all the way from Beijing.

SONG YANG: (Through Translator) For me and my comrades-in-arms who play rock music, Metallica was the band that enlightened us. They were the first foreign rock band we listened to.

LANGFITT: Song plays bass in Spring and Autumn, one of the scores of bands in Beijing's thriving heavy metal scene. Metallica's rebellious music first spoke to him when he was a high school student in the late 1990s.

YANG: (Through Translator) I was in a classroom using a Walkman listening to a cassette tape while the teacher was teaching. Being able to see them perform on stage has been one of my dreams since I was young.

JAMES HETFIELD: Yes, we've waited a long time, Shanghai, China.

LANGFITT: The band's lead singer, James Hetfield, spoke directly to people like Song during the two-hour show.

HETFIELD: Metallica is grateful to be able to come into China and to give our gift of music to you, the Metallica family of Shanghai. Thank you for coming.

LANGFITT: Chinese audiences are generally a lot more subdued than the kinds you see in the United States, but this is an exception. You have thousands of people now on the floor on their feet, pumping their fists.

(APPLAUSE)

JOHN CAPPO: My name is John Cappo. I'm the president and CEO for AEG in Asia.

LANGFITT: AEG is a global sports and entertainment events company. It handled the Metallica shows.

CAPPO: For this third quarter and fourth quarter, you'll see an unprecedented amount of music coming through Shanghai in international acts.

LANGFITT: AEG says more talent is coming to China because of better venues and Chinese fans are more familiar with Western music through the Internet. AEG's Adam Wilkes says not so long ago, potential venues for big shows included decrepit government gyms and arenas still under construction. He recalls one site visit.

ADAM WILKES: There was no roof on the building, and the floor was mud, and they were convinced that somehow, three months later, you know, the building would be ready for a show.

LANGFITT: Today, AEG manages the Benz Arena. It seats about 10,000 for a concert and rivals any similar venue in the U.S. But just because more acts are coming doesn't mean everyone is making lots of money.

MICHAEL LUEVANO: It's a tenuous and a very stressful business to be in. The margin is very small.

LANGFITT: Michael Luevano managed the Rolling Stones show here in 2005. He says production costs in Shanghai are huge. And some revenue streams that work in the U.S. don't work here.

LUEVANO: Generally, the artists will keep merchandising, but the reality is that means they have to bring in the merchandise, which is very difficult. It's too expensive to bring in thousands of Metallica shirts and whatnot.

LANGFITT: Just the customs fees alone. When official merchandise does arrive, it has to compete with scenes like this. To get in one of the gates, you have to sort of walk through a gauntlet of people selling pirated merchandise. There's Metallica fans, Metallica buttons. There's a woman over here selling - it looks like at least 50 black Metallica T-shirts.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

LANGFITT: Oh, here come the cops.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

LANGFITT: All right. Everybody is pulling back their stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LANGFITT: (Foreign language spoken)

So even as the cop is standing here trying to clear things out, a woman is still trying to sell me a fan for about 75 cents.

Metallica has railed against piracy in the past. But at a press conference yesterday, drummer Lars Ulrich was diplomatic.

LARS ULRICH: The one thing increasingly that we focus our energies is try to discern between what we can control and what we can't control. It is what it is, and that's a whole separate conversation about Chinese copyright issues and so on, which maybe is not the time to do now, but you can't control that.

HETFIELD: This has to be the last song. If you have any energy left, this is the song to get it out, OK?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HETFIELD: That's right, Shanghai.

LANGFITT: After the show, Kevin Zhou, a businessman from the central Chinese city of Nanjing, plunked down 32 bucks for an official Metallica T-shirt. Zhou, who's 30, found the two hours of head-banging cathartic.

KEVIN ZHOU: (Foreign language spoken)

LANGFITT: I'm satisfied, very satisfied, he said. Everyone will encounter all kinds of troubles. I feel, when I listen to their music, my troubles just go away.

As he headed out into the sweltering summer night, Zhou had one question: Can they come back next year?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LANGFITT: Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.