By Jocelle Koh
It was a cool evening as I hurried to Tan Quee Lan street to check out the homecoming stop of SG MUSO’s exhibition Singapore: Inside Out featuring some of the nation’s notable artists and creative types. My friend, an architect by trade strolled lazily through the maze of art instalments in admiration, iPhone at the ready while I scurried ahead with just one aim on my mind: Charlie Lim.
As most readers may be well aware, my expertise clearly lies within music of the Chinese persuasion, so what’s the big deal about this Charlie Lim? The singer-songwriter initially caught my attention with his physical semblance to Hong Kong muso Khalil Fong (Note: VERY much my type), but managed to retain it with his eclectic yet seamless fusion of electro-pop, R&B, soul and rock. But it was in fact his poetic and beautiful lyrics that dealt the final blow, winning me over completely. Intrigued also by his Singaporean-Australian background, seeing him perform live for the first time was definitely on my to-do list for my end-of-year trip back to Singapore.
And Lim certainly did not disappoint. Accompanied by a band of four, he breezed his way through a six-piece set during which he maintained a remarkable equilibrium between technical consistency and musical showmanship that few can master. Between songs, Charlie took the time to interact with the audience, throwing out fast, awkward quips and anecdotes about nothing much in particular which usually tailed off into an undecipherable mumble. Frankly, he doesn’t seem one for small talk, but his efforts certainly endeared him to the audience nonetheless. Though not much of a sweet talker, his vocals and body language albeit subtly yet strongly command the presence of the venue, rendering it that much more intimate.
Kicking off the set with “Pedestal”, a funky and jazz-influenced piece from his debut EP, the performance was off to a festive start. With vocals pumped full of Adam Levine-style masculine sass and band improvs that were hard-hitting and full of bite, the song certainly created a groove that just kept going, leaving audiences on a high long after the song had finished. After somewhat entertaining the crowd with the exploits of his absent band members, Lim jumped into one of the tracks from his latest album Time/Space, “Conspiracy”, which featured his electronically-altered vocals against the backdrop of a rock arrangement, blending the grounded, fast-paced feeling of rock with an ethereal quality in a way that explores the dichotomies of time and space in a simple yet clever way.
His third song, a jazz-soul piece called “What can I do” saw Charlie’s versatile vocals taking the lead, unleashing a more soulful, passionate and spontaneous side to the slight singer that I didn’t know he had. Transforming in an instant from sensitive soft crooner to rough-throated powerhouse, Lim proved to audiences that he was as much a talented and charismatic vocalist as he was a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer. Nicknamed “The Airplane Song”, Charlie went on to perform his first single from his latest Time/Space album “I only tell the truth”, transitioning smoothly back into his cool and collected image. A little pitchy on the high notes at the beginning, I wasn’t too fussed given the amazing crescendo Charlie had pulled off in the previous song. He soon got back into the rhythm of things, backed by an abstract, electronic-themed arrangement that created points of revelation amidst a reflective, timeless yet almost tangible atmosphere.
Nearing the end of his set, Lim performed crowd favourite “Bitter”, a tune with a folky, John Mayer-esque melody, and an arrangement with elements of Jazz, experimental electronica and rock. I especially loved the abrupt slowing down of tempos within the second half of the song which eked emotions out of every single note; entertaining indulgence by seemingly slowing down time. Lim ended the set on a personal favourite of mine, a single from his latest album called “Knots”, bringing his performance to an even more perfect closure. One of the more rock-influenced tracks on his album, its no surprise to those who know me why this was one of my favourites. With a rhythm that never lets up and Charlie’s throaty vocals that are absolutely to die for, what’s not to love?
One of the most important things that I look out for when critiquing any performance is confidence. Not merely how confident the performer is, but how much confidence the audience has in their ability to pull off a successful performance. Music at its core is a form of entertainment, a way for audiences to seek pleasure and relaxation. If the audience feels nervous for the performer, and anticipate their mistakes then in my opinion the performer has failed at their task. With the advent of recording technology, it is now rare to see performers who truly instill confidence in me. However, Charlie Lim is certainly one of the rare few. Cool, calm and collected, Lim radiates a kind of introverted confidence that stems from an unwavering focus and dedication to his music. And that’s enough to keep me coming back for more.
Charlie Lim-I only tell the truth (Music Video)
Charlie Lim will be guesting at Lenka’s Singapore show on the 1st of December. Check out his Facebook for upcoming events and updates. His latest album “Time/Space” is now available on iTunes, Bandcamp and Spotify.
SG Muso's Singapore: Inside Out Live Showcase is on in Singapore now until the 6th of December. Go to their Facebook for more information.
Click "Read More" to see photos from the performance!