A generation of fans waited in the rain on Saturday night (Nov. 18) for a chance to see the Taiwanese band Mayday take over the Barclays Center. While essentially unknowns in the greater American music market, Mayday has sold hundreds of millions of albums in the Chinese music market, and their Brooklyn show brought out these dedicated fans in droves. Filling out the arena, concertgoers sang along and shook bluetooth-controlled lightsticks that changed color in time with the music, as they reminisced about not only the group’s 20-year-long career, but also the ups and downs of life in general, in accordance with the thematic title of Mayday’s 20th anniversary Life tour.
Based around the band’s most recent album, History of Tomorrow, or Autobiography in Mandarin, the quintet descended on New York City for the first time since their 2014 performance at Madison Square Garden. Throughout a performance that included over two dozen songs and two encores, lead singer Ashin, guitarists Monster and Stone, bassist Masa, and drummer Guan You (also known as Ming) reveled in Mayday and all that it stood for: inspirators singing songs based around the dreams and lives of the five men who have become icons not only to Taiwain’s Gen X-ers and millennials but also to the greater, global Chinese youth community.
With two decades under their belt, there was nothing but sheer dynamism from the performance. Boyishly charming despite all of the members having passed their 40th birthday, the night began with the anthemic “Party Animal,” before alternatively jumping between tender ballads, many of which reflected on the human experience and Mayday’s career, and hype tracks that the crowd roared along to, the majority of which lyrically reflected on the ups and downs of life. Throughout the show, the band tackled topics like everyday hardships related to romance and careers — both their own and the audiences’ — and the future of the world.
Throughout the night, the bandmembers spoke and sang in different Chinese dialects with lyrics in both English and Chinese characters appeared on screens behind the stage, localizing the content and giving all concertgoers in attendance an understanding of the messages the band was sharing through their songs. Weighty lines like, “If you are sad, don’t listen to slow songs” and “I am not afraid of the opposition of 10 million people, only my own stubbornness” (“Stubborn”) exemplified Mayday’s overall approach to their music: part motivational and part reflective. Ashin’s rich, slightly gritty, vocals lay thick an emotive tone to the night, while the instrumentals from the rest of the band’s members overflowed with energy and passion.
While the Life show at Barclays Center was filled with music rife with meaning, comedic interlude videos brought a lighter tone to the night by depicting the members as out-of-work superheros hellbent on saving the world. But, recalling the struggles of everyday life as described through their lyrics, the in-video quintet had to earn money in a variety of creative ways — selling bras, hocking questionable ginseng — to save up to afford the accoutrements of the superhero lifestyle and be able to answer the distress call of “Mayday, Mayday.”
Even though they were there in earnest to perform music rather than save the world, for the crowd in attendance Mayday was less singers and more saviors: the inspirational messaging throughout the night had affected two decades of listeners who had been motivated by the band, and the intensity from the crowd reflected that. Things ended on a high note, with Ashin leading the crowd in a contemplative moment with their eyes closed before concluding things with the sonorous finale of their 2000 song “Fool.”
Epic in all its proportions, from the band’s immense sense of self and spirit to the audience’s size and enthusiasm to the standout staging and lighting, the New York City stop of the Life tour offered up just a glimpse of what has made the act one of the most popular in Chinese music, and did so with the sort of devil-may-care sentimentality that serves as the very essence of what Mayday is.