David Tao Concert – This is no block of wood!

Amidst the glossy and fickle Chinese music industry, a few truly talented and well-marketed artists stand out, one of them is David Tao. His well-known signature R & B tunes have come to be the genre in the Mandopop industry. Well, he is also one my favourite singers, so called me biased if you want. :)

The Capacity Crowd
The Capacity Crowd

Towards show time, the capacity crowd streamed into the venue almost like those time lapse videos. Like all concerts outside Esplanade, this concert didn’t start punctually. But the waiting definitely helped to build up the anticipation. As soon as the light dimmed to signal the start of the concert, the crowds were already all well warmed up and cheering for David Tao to appear.

The overture started with chants of “1, 2, 3″ in Mandarin and then in various languages which pleasantly amused the audience. Then David Tao rose from below the stage to appear before the excited audience.

David with the quintessential guitar
David with the quintessential guitar

Within the first 3 up tempo songs, he had already had the extremely responsive crowd standing and waving their arms to the rhythm of the music.

After the fourth song, David took time to interact with the audience. Momentarily, it seemed rather awkward that he conversed predominantly in English for a concert consisting of Mandarin songs. It was later that I realised that there would be a number of band members as well as audiences that only understood English or not as familiar with Mandarin.

One of the main visual surprises at this concert has got to be the use of laser lights for the heavier up-tempo numbers. The first time it came on for the song “鬼”, plenty of oohs, aahs and howls complimented the stunning effects. It was clear that plenty of effort and heart was put in for this concert.

The Laser Effects

It seems that there has been a trend of Easternisation in Mandarin pop. First there was Jay Chou’s “千里之外”, soon there would one from Jeff Chang’s new album. Under David’s belt would be “Susan 说”. This live version was preluded with a pipa recital accompanied by a modernised opera dance, giving it a very strong Chinese flavour.

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Before his next song, “爱我还是他”, David took time to introduce one of the many local talents in his crew. On the keyboards was Goh Kheng Loong, the music director whom he has worked with for 8 years. More amazingly, there had never been any arguments between them, something he attributed to God. That got a rather muted applause from the audience. If you didn’t know, David Tao is very upfront about his Christian faith and is unapologetic about sharing it with the audience at his concert.

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Next was the jazzed up version of Teresa Teng’s “月亮代表我的心” which I felt was a little over-sang. He then followed up with “10:30的飞机场”. For “今天要回家” “今天没回家”, David got the audience to sing-along for the easier parts of the song. But when he challenged them to sing the following faster stanza, the audience stumbled. Nonetheless, the crowd enjoyed every moment of it.

“小镇姑娘” was definitely one of the more refreshingly rearranged songs. Originally a very light, country and folk sounding number, this live version was heavier and really rocked the house and had the audience on their feet and arms in the air.

A significantly slower “寂寞的季节” was then performed to lead up to his unplugged number, “普通朋友” which he shared the stage with his guitarist on tour, Jamie Wilson who surprised the audience when he replied to David’s questions in Mandarin. This would be just one of the numerous occasions in the concert where he showcases his band of talented musicians.

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One of the things that set David Tao apart is how he uses his music for positive change in the world. The next song “Dear God” was one he wrote in response to the tragedies that had happened around the world in recent times as a cry out for change. It had a video prelude with the accompanying crew introducing themselves, their role in the band, their different nationalities and racial diversity. Then they introduced themselves in common as human to drive the point that the fighting that is happening around the world needs to stop and that we should recognise that our most effective weapon is love instead.

“今天你要嫁给我” is a duet which he wrote and sang with Jolin Tsai. Of course Jolin wasn’t around. So Singapore’s very own Tay Kewei sang her part as David flirted with her on stage as always in every of his concert. It is a pity her talent is not as recognised locally, judging from the somewhat awkward audience response when David referred her as the pride of Singapore. But hey, it’s just a few more songs before her debut album rocks our air waves, but if you are curious, visit her blog for her demo tracks and support local talent!

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Producing a concert is always a team effort, so David took ample time after the song to introduce everyone that made this concert possible, on and off stage. Notably, there were many musicians that hail from Singapore and Malaysia. I was darn impressed that every musician on stage could sing and play at least one instrument! A special mention for Alisa Elisa, the multi-talented Taiwanese back up vocal who can also play the flute, trombone and violin. Not to mention that she quite gorgeous as well.

Kewei David and Alisa

David then shared a little secret – he is a closet dancer, but a bad one at it. That’s why he remains a closet dancer. But still he wanted the audience to have some fun, he included a dance medley so that everyone can get on their feet to shake it up little. Interestingly, during the dance medley, David took the role of the back up vocals for John Tan David Tan (back up vocals and guitar) to take centre stage.

Halfway through “就是爱你”, David decided to get off the stage and get cozy with the audience. The ladies screamed with delight as they flooded towards the barrier for a hug, handshake or even just a touch of their idol. The fans loved it tremendously. Due to the local concert regulations, he could only access a limited area of the crowd. Returning to stage at the end of the song, David even thanked the security for their hard work in making that up-close and personal experience possible and safe for everyone.

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The lady in red gets her tickets’ worth with a full embrace
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Near the end of the concert he shared that he was considering a move to Singapore, because it was one of the few places where there is racial and religious tolerance. On a lighter note, he said that said that contrary to what people said, Singapore is actually a fun place, with the latest attraction being the Singapore Flyer, which is really slow and expensive.

For those who remembered his comments on desperately anxiously seeking a life partner at his press conference, David picked out a lady in the audience to serenade with the song “沙滩”, on stage. Darn lucky girl. Hmm… Isn’t he awfully transparent laying out plans to get a Singapore PR, don’t you think? I could almost hear some of the audience chanting, “PR! PR! PR!” Or maybe David’s already aiming for Singapore citizenship?

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For the last song of the night, David sang his break out hit, “爱很简单”. With it he thanked the audience, the crew and especially God, sharing his testimony of miracle healing of tonsillitis on the morning of the concert. Yup, that too got a rather awkward reaction from the audience. But that didn’t affect the concert experience one bit. It was undoubtedly a great concert that would be remembered for a long time.

The Rakes – Who needs radio when you’ve got indie?

I like indie (independent) music. It is always effortlessly refreshing. Here is a genre where there are no rules and no restrictions, just the love of making music. Other descriptive terms include experimental, unconventional, quirky, fun, original. Well, you get the idea.

But with major record companies hogging the frequencies, it is rare that we hear music from indie artists, unless they were signed and groomed for stardom by the record labels. Which is why it is great that Heineken Green Room have started bringing in refreshing indie gigs to their parties. This time, Heineken Green Room literally flew The Rakes over from half-way across the globe for a one-night-only gig at Zouk.

The Rakes Gig at Zouk, Singapore
The signature green ambience of Heineken Green Room

I arrived at about 10.30pm and was quite relieved that the gig hadn’t started. So when was it going to start? Then a assistant stepped on to the stage numerous times to fiddle with the instruments and stretching the audiences’ patience.

The Rakes Gig at Zouk, Singapore

The band finally appeared from the back of the stage just before midnight, delighting eager party-goers and probably appeasing disgruntled ones. The band quickly got the crowd psyched up with plenty of their energetic and quirky original music.

The Rakes Gig at Zouk, Singapore

Known for being well-dressed, they seem somewhat more casual at this gig in comparison. Must have been the the weather. Nonetheless, the group rocked hard for the audience in their signature geeky, unfazed in the chaos style, much like the title of their song, The World Was A Mess But His Hair Was Perfect.

The Rakes Gig at Zouk

The first few songs had the lead vocal, Alan furiously signalling to the sound controls to tweak the volumes of the various instruments and vocals. Once that was finally fixed, he proceeded with his infectious signature quirky dance moves while singing that got the crowds rocking.

The Rakes Gig at Zouk The Rakes Gig at Zouk The Rakes Gig at Zouk The Rakes Gig at Zouk, Singapore

It was obvious that everybody on stage and off were enjoying themselves. The crowd seemed to have forgotten how long they had waited for them. Perhaps it is a similar attitude of patience that we should adopt for indie music as we trawl through the internet to find our own favourite brand of tunes.

The Rakes Gig at Zouk

Back on stage the guitarist played so hard his top ripped at the back! Ventilation is definitely helpful in our tropical climates.

The Rakes Gig at Zouk

And between songs, there would be the endorsement actions by members of the band. I am definitely going to show my appreciation to Heineken Green Room in the same way!

The Rakes Gig at Zouk, Singapore

I have to say that I am really impressed by the Lasse’s relentless energy on drums in particular. Being positioned right at the back of stage never obscured the intensity of his craft. In his frenzied performance, he exuded his own kind of charisma on stage.

The Rakes Gig at Zouk, Singapore
Drumming – a great work out

And just as everyone was high with all the great music, The Rakes left the stage. It took a long time of cheering from the floor before they returned to stage for an encore performance much to the appreciative crowd’s delight.

The Rakes would then stay on to spin for Zouk for the night, but many who attended have proceeded towards the exit, including myself. And by the time I got out, my ears were ringing, but I was humming the their infectious and catchy tunes.

Jeff Chang’s Concert in Singapore – A Review

This review was written for youth.sg
Direct link: http://www.youth.sg/content/view/4661/54/

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.

The Year of Jacky Cheung World Tour ’07

This post was written for Youth.sg.
http://www.youth.sg/content/view/4162/54/

I’m an eighties kid. I was born in that decade. And growing up, people around me would listen to the music on the radio. There would be a powerful voice singing the some of the most popular songs on air. That voice is none other than Jacky Cheung’s and he was easily the most popular Chinese singer around.

It is pretty safe to say that Jacky Cheung is a name well-known in every Chinese community in the world. His voice has captured the attention of countless audiences the everywhere and in this world tour, it was no exception.

The Indoor Stadium was packed to the brim. The atmosphere built up with the audiences’ anticipation with every passing second. Everyone was eagerly awaiting the appearance of Jackie Cheung on stage. Sure enough, the crowd cheered as the dancers appeared to perform to the overture. Then he appeared…

His appearance

…and he kicked off his concerts with a medley of sexy, sensual, high energy dance songs. He danced and sang non-stop with amazing vigour as the ecstatic audience cheered him on. It is hard to believe that the man on stage is already 46 years old and outdoing people 20 years younger.

The medley of dance songs ended with some stage pyrotechnics. Then he began chatting with the audience. This was the 92nd concert in his world tour and he admitted that it was hard work to be dancing and singing at his age. Knowing how to please his fans, he runs through his repertoire for the night. It would be impossible to perform all his hits in this concert, (it would probably last for at least 8 hours if it were to include everything) so a number of his classic hits in Mandarin and Cantonese were selected. There would also be less of his newer songs as audiences in his previous concerts had lukewarm reactions. There would also be songs from his musicals, “Snow Wolf Lake” and the more recent “Perhaps, Love”.

Jacky Cheung is perhaps best remembered for his sentimental love songs. It was common (and probably still is) to serenade girlfriends and wives with his songs. While most would probably suck at the difficult vocals, the green faces and/or constipated look (out of breath from singing) tend to convince the serenaded ones that they mean every word in the lyrics.

Despite singing for 23 years and a throat complication a few years back, his vocals remains strong and robust yet extremely versatile. In this concert, he effectively displays his showmanship, performing songs of vastly different genres, from sentimental love songs to rock to dance and musicals. He truly lived up to the title: “God of Songs”.

Referring to the rock-styled pieces performed, he reasoned that it was one rare channel where he could transform into something more animalistic, and thus the screaming during some of the pieces. While he explained that he doesn’t behave that way usually, he engaged the audiences in a brief screaming match to encourage the behaviour within the Indoor Stadium at his concert.

In this concert, Jacky would also share his with the audience his personal life. In fact, the concert could be considered as his autobiography. In his 23 year career, he has released over 70 albums, sung over 1000 songs and won about 300 awards. Yet his greatest pride and joy is his family. Behind all the glitz and glamour belies a humble family man. And he shared a little embarrassingly that despite having sang so many songs, he hardly had any songs specially dedicated to his wife and daughters. So in a recent album, he had a song written each for his daughter and wife. He joked that he was somewhat disappointed by his wife’s “not bad” statement as he had expected a bit of tears in her reaction.

He also shared snippets about his childhood. He lived in a large family where all the men were sailors. They only returned every three years. He joked that he only knew the difference between a man and a woman when he was three because that was when his mum introduced him to his father! He also shared that he got seasick, which was why he never followed the traditional sailor’s path of the men in his family. That would have been a blessing in disguise.

Relating how he entered the entertainment industry, re-enacted the singing competition which he participated in and won. It was no doubt his life altering moment which he shared in the most vivid and animated manner.

True to his observation from previous concerts, the audience reaction was lukewarm during some of his songs. They seem to only react in a more appreciative manner when he sang his more familiar songs. They cheered and sang along.

With a quick change of costumes, the concert progressed to the section where he performed songs from his musicals, “Snow Wolf Lake” and “Perhaps, Love”. On stage, Jacky Cheung and his dancers played out the excerpts for each song performed. It was a unique and more stylised presentation which joined the songs of two different musicals together. If my memory serves me, “Snow Wolf Lake” was the first Cantonese and Mandarin musical ever produced.

Once the musical songs were over, Jackie left the stage for another costume change for the encore. The thunderous applause beckoned him back to stage where he would the last series of songs for the night. Encores must have been an idea stemming from Singapore’s kiasu mentality, must always get more from a concert. Performing more classic hits, he got the ever ecstatic audience to their feet. The crowd went wild and the live cameras recorded every instance of fans waving their hands and light batons while singing along to his songs.

As Jacky Cheung introduced his last song for the night, audience gave their most appreciative cheer. While it was sad that this concert had to come to an end, they were probably also extremely appreciative of the he had made Singapore one of his world tour’s stops.

In retrospect, compared to other concerts, Jacky Cheung hardly did the mic-to-the-audience-partly-because-I-forgot-the-lyrics trick. It is no doubt that he continually works hard to produce quality works and performances. This three and a half hour concert was a fantastic visual spectacle and absolute audial enjoyment. The set, lighting, sound and pyrotechnics all synchronised perfectly with Jacky Cheung’s flawless vocals and showmanship. The concert was definitely worth every cent.One thing’s for sure, I feel more complete as a Chinese having watched Jacky Cheung live in concert.