Jeff Chang possesses one of the most distinctive and unmistakable voices in the Chinese music industry that can achieve keys few would venture to. His pristine vocals delivered those familiar gentle soothing ballads that he has come to be known for. Attending this concert was likened to artistic appreciation and tasting of fine wine.
It has been a while since Jeff Chang performed in Singapore. Like many veterans in the music industry, Jeff has also somewhat slowed his pace of producing records, choosing to take time to produce quality albums and going on world tours. On top of that, his record company had also chosen to reduce promotional efforts in Singapore. While his albums are still available here, local fans got to see less of their idol. But like all good things worth waiting for, appreciative fans of Jeff Chang filled the Max Pavilion to the brim.
As it approached show time, crowd warm-up came in the form of die-hard Jeff Chang fans with their blinding props. At the same time, I spotted some familiar faces…
Say, isn’t that a mini-star?
Unlike his previous concerts, this one was drastically different. Jeff was accompanied by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Orchestra to provide an element of classical grandeur as well as additional dimensions in the music. The concert started with the orchestra performing an overture of Jeff’s signature songs.
At the same time, the giant frames at the back ran a slideshow, showcasing art works by masters from various eras. Suffice to say the stage and lighting design was quite spectacular that it looked convincingly lush and Victorian, yet modern.
His entrance on to the stage was surprisingly low key in relation to the whole set up on stage, but it was very much congruent with his refined mannerism. Jeff proceeded to deliver 3 of his most well-known hits, 宽容 (Tolerance), 信仰 (Belief), 不要对他说 (Don’t Tell Him) to warm up the crowd. His costume was elaborate with plenty of glitter and lush detail. Personally, his new hair style which some had described as a pile of instant noodles, took a bit of getting used to. Of course, the fans loved it no matter what, instantly noodles or not, and screamed, “阿哲! 你好帅!” (Jeff, you are sooo suave!)
Taking a break from the singing, Jeff explained the art works that would be displayed during his performance and the connection between the style of art works and his set of songs.
With another song, he exited the stage. The orchestra then performed a classical piece while Jeff did his costume change. I thought it was a pretty clever arrangement that added to this music connoisseur atmosphere. However, unlike an actual classical performance, the audience used this musical interlude as a time for chit chat, thereby probably ruining the whole intention of classical music appreciation.
Jeff then returns to stage to deliver more songs, some that I was not too familiar with. It somehow got a little difficult to feel connected with the songs and the lyrics. The orchestra also sounded like it was competing with Jeff’s vocals and the problem seemed to be made worse probably because the acoustics set up at Expo wasn’t exactly suitable for an orchestra. The audiences’ reaction also seemed restrained. For me, I was a little disappointed. I looked through the song list provided for the media to look for familiar songs in a bid to do a litmus test of sorts upon myself, to find something that can redeem the concert, to see if it was just me less familiar with the songs or if the performance really lacked the emotional connection. And the next song was one I was familiar with…
I knew I needed to be biased towards the performance and even hummed along, but it still didn’t seem right. Technically, the song was delivered flawlessly, but the emotional ride was monotonous and it didn’t feel satisfying. It wasn’t the gut wrenching melancholic feel that I remember which girls would swoon at.
Then came a pleasant surprise came in the form of a new song in his upcoming album to be released in April. The song was introduced by a Chinese opera hua dan who performed a graceful solo as Jeff looked on and later joined in. After Jeff’s first part was sung, it was followed by a Chinese opera xiao sheng‘s operatic singing. The collaboration has undoubtedly visually and aurally refreshing and perhaps a one-up against Jay Chou!
The element of audience engagement was sorely missed in this concert. Perhaps it was Jeff’s reserved nature as well as the classical music interludes and the fine art display that restrained the audiences’ emotions and reactions. There was probably also a little too much explanation about the slide show displaying the art works which served more as a distraction between the audience and the star of the show.
In the following segment which was complimented by impressionism paintings, a few of his songs were rearranged and given an up-tempo twist in line with the idea of impressionism. They were as refreshing as they were a little awkward, especially when he swayed clumsily to the upbeat renditions.
It seemed that it was only in the final segment of the concert did Jeff finally get comfortable enough to interact with the audience, making suggestions that he would be dispensing relationship advice through his songs. It was a much needed break from the emotionally monotonous concert thanks to the consistent melancholic melodies and lyrics. Even he was joking that the audience might have been falling asleep listening to all the slower songs. Finally to end the concert, Jeff sang his break out hit, 爱如潮水, which had the audience screaming in approval and singing along. Jeff jokingly lamented that they should have been in this state earlier and not towards the end of the concert.
Of course, concert going in Singapore is never a complete experience if there wasn’t the demand for an encore. With the audience starting to rush forward and the intensity of the applause building up, Jeff gamely returned to the stage to show his appreciation for the audience and joked that since he’s already back on stage, might as well carry on singing. So he belted out a medley of his songs to officially end his concert.
Perhaps there was also a good side for the shortcomings I experienced. I’m sure it made the fans want more.