Article by Tim King
Afew nights prior to the Xi’an stop on their tour U.K. band, High Hopes played to a packed house of a couple hundred fans in Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning Province. On the evening of October 7th, Midi Livehouse, infamous for its boiling-hot subterranean shows, was a bearable temperature because there were only about 25 people in the room, not counting staff. “It’s incredible that there are even this many people here tonight,” vocalist Nick Brooks would later tell the audience between songs.
Incredible was something of an understatement; the end of October’s National Week holiday and a metal showcase across town at Imagine 16 had conspired against them—the small crowd was an odd mishmash of people who love hardcore music, people with the luxury of going to a concert on a work night and at least a couple of people who seem to have wandered in off the street. This led to a horrible sort of bystander effect not uncommon to smaller shows, where everyone in attendance just kind of stands there. Local openers, Sign, couldn’t find a pulse, try as they might, and blistered through their set.
When High Hopes took the stage, the same awkward pall was still hanging over the room. It, thankfully, wouldn’t last long. Realizing that the shy crowd maybe wasn’t sure what to do besides head-bang politely, the show became a crash course in hardcore. Calls for circle pits echoed out, and the audience obliged; instructions to stage dive ran up against the language barrier, so the band got hands on in making sure a suitably lightweight diver would be caught by a cobbled-together group of appropriately larger people. The Xi’an stop on their tour might not have had the attendance numbers that their Japan dates and their first couple of China shows did, but the band were going to make damn sure that it would be memorable all the same.
The last year has been a whirlwind one for High Hopes. The momentum they’ve been building since their demo has continued to snowball: their debut full-length, Sights & Sounds, was picked up by Victory Records and over the summer they went on a 30-stop North American tour to support it. However, none of them would’ve predicted that, by autumn, they’d be touring East Asia. They were contacted via Facebook by a Japanese promoter, who got them a short five-stop tour. When those dates were announced, Hotpot Music, a Chinese promotion company, offered to extend their trip with thirteen China dates in two weeks.
Not knowing what to expect, they were surprised to find enthusiastic, sizeable crowds shouting back their lyrics. With particular amusement, they recall a Japanese businessman, in a shirt and tie and briefcase in hand, headbanging in the front row. Freed from the usual touring burdens, like a van and amplifiers, they said it felt more like a vacation than a tour at times, but that doesn’t mean they were working any less hard. Their traveling show brought tour-de-force live performances, overflowing with thunderous, percussive breakdowns and cutting, expressive guitar leads, to cities with only fledgling underground scenes and left fervent fans in their wake. Only halfway through the tour, they were already talking about coming back next year.
When the final note of their set quieted at Midi, the now sweaty and tired audience caught their breath and rushed over to the merch table, eager for CDs and t-shirts and autographs and photos with the band; all requests, including that of a fan who wanted to have his backpack signed, were graciously fulfilled. High Hopes might not be used to this, but they probably should get accustomed to this level of adoration—if they can play even the smallest gigs like they’re playing arenas, and can make a room filled to capacity into an intimate concert experience, it only makes sense that they be greeted as rock stars.