By Jocelle Koh
Photo credit: Photos by Alvin Ho, Courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.
On a blazing hot Saturday afternoon in sunny Singapore, I was glad for a chance to duck into the cool darkness of the Esplanade Annexe Studio, where a sizeable, dedicated crowd eagerly awaited Asian-Australian R&B artist Julia Wu’s first showcase in the country. The singer-songwriter, who skyrocketed into visibility with her collaboration with rapper Kumachan and beatmaker rgry “買榜Mybong” and her chill, smooth R&B offerings was flanked onstage by an intimate band of MC (rgry) and keyboardist (Elin Lee).
Introduced through a witty selection of puns by MC rgry (See: Julia WOOO), the leggy 24 year-old took to the stage in a Adidas sweatshirt and jean shorts, and launched straight into “事後” mixed with classic “夜晚”; grooving and shaking with the best of them. Over the hour-long performance, the singer joked with her fans about how Singapore seemed so much like Australia to her (I think someone just misses home), and shared unique titbits about her experiences in Taiwan with the audience in English.
Not only was the intimate setting a new and valuable experience for Julia, but the chance to vary her set list and sing songs of hers she had always wanted to perform also presented itself with this showcase. Other than soulfully singing pared down versions of popular tracks such as “為你我受冷風吹” and “萬年”; Julia wowed with several lesser-performed tracks of hers such as one of her earliest works “H.E.N.R.Y” with producer Terry Lee; and even threw in an acoustic set, performing lesser-known work “Sea” and a song from her first album “Need U Now”.
By Jocelle Koh
Photos provided by Symmetry Entertainment and Rueven Tan
Upon entering the EBX venue around 8pm for Sunset Rollercoaster’s live show in Singapore, I was not in the mood for moshing through another two-hour performance. Dragging my heels and whining like a lil b*tch about my sore back, it was clear I was in no mood to jive and chill. This continued through the opening act, where we saw local shoegaze act Cosmic Child open for Sunset Rollercoaster. Amidst technical difficulties, the band soldiered on and although a little deafening at times, was a solid effort enjoyed by the audience.
Yet the moment the Taiwanese soft rock band stepped onto the stage, something inside of me flipped a switch and absolutely all the negative energy in me transformed into excitement and exhilaration. Dressed simply in basic caps and t-shirts, the band’s sparse look intrigued me; I had expected something a little more out there given their psychedelic, vibrant sound. Yet this was just one of many details within the curated performance that pushed the band’s lush sound and creativity to the forefront of the live experience.
Wearing a pair of vintage circle shades, lead vocalist Kuo Hung did not speak much throughout the whole performance; choosing to allow their music to speak for itself in a fluid and ever-dynamic way through clever musical interludes that joined most of the songs in their repertoire while adding a sense of free-flowing musicality to the experience. Only pausing to say a few brief thank yous throughout the performance, it was only towards the end of the performance that Kuo Hung interacted a little more verbally with the audience. Starting off with his wicked but also quite sweet sense of humour, he quipped “you guys are quite crazy. Don’t hurt yourself okay?”. And with that one sentence, the sold-out crowd went absolutely bonkers.
Paring everything down to the basics while achieving a synergetic effect is a hard trick to execute (see Khalil Fong TIO Tour Review), but the Taiwanese soft-rock band pulled it off with grace and aplomb, proving why they have been one of the most electrifying performers in the indie live circuit; both at home and overseas. While lead vocalist Kuo’s vocals are often genteel in recordings, they took on a surprisingly strong and clear quality in the live setting which cut clearly through the crowd. Although their repertoire continued to incorporate certain namesake riffs and hooks to get the crowd cheering and on their feet, the band built around keeping these riffs while skilfully rendering their live arrangements more dynamic and crowd-friendly.
Favourites of mine include their opening track ‘Bomb Of Love’; an oldie but a goodie. While the original track was simple, folksy and generally more 70s inspired; their live version was decidedly more upbeat and rock influenced. Revamping a few older favourites including ‘No Man’s Land’ and ‘Little Monkey Rides on Little Donkey’, the band of course could not forget to perform a few tracks from their 2018 release ‘Cassa Nova’.
‘Almost Mature ‘87’ was amped up a few notches with the electric guitars and paired with a dreamy, delicious 80s style rock solo; while ‘Greedy’ slowed things down just enough to seduce the crowd with their languid groves. And who could forget those amazing Saxophone solos by band member Hao Ting interspersed throughout the performance? Mimicking the guitar solos often done in rock tracks but on the Sax; his solos had the supportive crowd going wild, leaving screaming fans and broken reeds in his wake as he turned the brass instrument into a roaring, squealing headbanging machine.
Ending the night of course with a crowd favourite ‘My Jinji’ and then encoring with the sweet and heart-warming ‘I Know You Know I Love You’; the audience’s state of utter bliss throughout the entire showcase was living proof of the band’s live clout. Fluid, dynamic, and vibrant; Sunset Rollercoaster’s music often comes in small, unassuming packages or spaces, but boy do they pack a musical punch. The band have elevated their live performances to a whole new level in ways that reveal the thought, detail and passion that have gone into curating the experience. For me, the night was simple, but nothing short of perfect.
Sunset Rollercoaster's 'Business Trip' tour will be heading to Bangkok, Jakarta, Kaohsiung and then China and Hong Kong; with future dates in North America and other regions to be confirmed. Make sure you're in the know by checking out their tour dates here.
set list + PLaylist
Upon entering the Esplanade concert hall for Khalil Fong’s TIO concert, the simple, intimate performance setup beckoned to me, and hinted at the show that was to come. With tasteful light features in the background and a drums, guitar, bass, keyboard and piano set-up on display, it was clear that Soulboy Khalil’s focus would very much be on his indomitable musicality, which would be put on full display.
Given the tour’s title, which is short for ‘Throw It Off’; a concept that reflects Khalil’s zen, weightless philosophy, I was totally down for getting rid of the stresses of the day by singing my little heart out and being thoroughly entertained by Fong, his band, and his special guests. But as an anal control freak, this concert was the true test of whether Fong walked the talk. Could his musical experience truly allow me to ‘throw it off’ and lose myself in his music?
With the concert starting on time, the band members filed onto the stage to assume position, and launched into the intro of ‘Wukong’, a seminal track from Fong’s last album; grinding bass beats vibrating across the floors and rousing loyal fans into action. Upon entering the stage, Fong, clad in a simple rainbow sweatshirt and jeans was met with whoops and cheers which he shyly responded to before coming together with the band, finishing off the song and transitioning straight into his collaborative track with Wang Leehom ‘FLOW’, where he tried his best to get a call-and-response going with the audience. Fong then continued to wow with a solid set list bound to bring back treasured memories such as ‘春風吹 Spring Wind Blows’, ‘公園Park’, ‘Singalongsong’ and of course ‘愛愛愛’ and ‘Love Song’, with some of his newer stuff interspersed in between that had us singing along the whole way through.