Connick’s China Show Goes Flat

Singer-pianist Harry Connick Jr. is the latest Western performer to bump up against China’s cultural restrictions.

Connick said Thursday he was forced to make last-minute changes to his show last weekend in Shanghai because an old song list was mistakenly submitted to Chinese authorities to secure the performance permit for the concert.

Authorities insisted he play the songs on that list, even though his band did not have the music for them.

"Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was not able to give my fans in China the show I intended," Connick said in a statement.

J.Q. Whitcomb, a musician living in Shanghai, said the concert mostly featured Connick playing piano by himself, with the band sitting on stage doing nothing.

"Other people there said, ‘Wow, that was pretty mellow,’" he said.

Embarrassed last week by Icelandic singer Bjork shouting "Tibet!" at the end of a Shanghai concert, Chinese authorities have promised to be stricter on foreign performers. The Culture Ministry said last week that Bjork’s outburst in support of Tibet’s independence movement "broke Chinese law and hurt Chinese people’s feelings."

"Foreign artistic troupes and artists should voluntarily observe relevant laws and regulations of China when they come to perform on the Chinese soil," Vice Minister of Culture Zhou Heping said of the incident in a media conference Thursday.

Foreign performers have faced restrictions before in China. The Rolling Stones were censored in their China debut in 2006, most likely for their songs’ suggestive lyrics. "Brown Sugar," "Honky Tonk Woman," "Beast of Burden," and "Let’s Spend the Night Together" were banned from the concert.

"It’s actually really easygoing here," said Whitcomb of the Shanghai performance environment. "But when something happens, (Chinese authorities) are like, ‘Oh, we have to be strict about this,’ and then suddenly everything gets strangled in red tape for some amount of time. Then it will pass."