NYTimes - March 16, 2002

IN PERFORMANCE: POP; A Chinese Rocker With Ideals Intact Despite Prosperity

Cui Jian
Joe's Pub

Perpetual discontent and musical restlessness fuel Cui Jian (pronounced tswee jen), the pioneering Chinese rocker who played a rare club show on Sunday night. Mr. Cui, who performs in stadiums in China, has been a voice of idealism and discontent since the 1980's, and a more prosperous, more Westernized China has not mollified him. In songs like ''Spring Festival'' and ''Slackers,'' he chided a society obsessed with only money: ''The new age is here, no one is making trouble anymore,'' he rapped, ''You say everyone's ideals have been washed away by the times.''

His lyrics, in Chinese, use images that lend themselves to multiple readings. He explained ''Get Over That Day,'' written on the occasion of Hong Kong's reunion with China, as the feelings of someone being told he's getting a new baby sister who's smart, beautiful, sexy and wealthy, and wondering if he'll fall in love with her. In an older song, ''A Piece of Red Cloth,'' someone finds happiness behind a red blindfold. His gruff, troubled voice buttonholes the songs, turning almost guttural when he raps; there's no mistaking his urgency.

Mr. Cui's music isn't about to relax, either. Older songs draw on rock anthems, reggae and ska, while lately he has delved into funk, hip-hop, drum-and-bass and post-punk rock. ''Slackers'' started with the angular guitars and lurching backbeat of raw blues-rock, then turned into a dissonant Sonic Youth guitar tremolo spurred by a twitchy breakbeat. Prerecorded percussion tracks that meshed Chinese cymbals and gongs with dance-music beats sometimes bolstered Bei Bei's drumming; Liu Yuan delivered soul horn-section lines or bebop phrases on saxophone, though for one song he played a Chinese wooden flute.

The set's newest song, ''The Village Attacks the City,'' merged funk with the hurtling double-time of drum-and-bass and the circling synthesizer notes of trance music. Against that speedy urban backdrop, Mr. Cui sang, in a rural dialect, about the contemptuous way villagers are treated when they come to the city to work. No underdog escapes his sympathy.