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Tuesday, 22 January 2008
Jay Chou in concert Hong Kong Coliseum 12 December 2007

Taiwanese talent Jay Chou played to a full house in the 12,000 seater Coliseum on the final night of his Hong Kong concert run. An early sell-out, his tour was extended for additional performances, and the sales continued to capacity. It's a tribute to a city that still responds to talent, and a performer whose reputation reaches beyond his homeland.

Actually, "home" almost came with Jay Chou, as his grandmother danced on stage during one number and a Taiwanese 4 voice band were given generous - even over-generous - exposure whilst the star vanished below to change his costume.

Throughout, the Hong Kong audience expressed appreciation in its habitual way: waving light sticks and large neon-effect signs with synchronized screaming of "Jay-goh, Jay-goh" (brother Jay, brother Jay).

So what were they screaming for? Raw musical talent for one thing: at various times, Jay played solo on a range of instruments - a perspex grand piano, drums, guitar and a Chinese lap harp. He also sang, danced and performed tricks with a diabolo and nanchukas; in between, he bantered with guest singer and dancer, the longstanding local star Aaron Kwok.

In addition to performing, Jay Chou is known for writing his own songs. He performed a few from the film "Secret", released earlier in 2007, which Chou also directed. Indeed, many Hong Kong film fans first knew him from the 2005 screen version of "Initial D" (Tau Man Ji D), a road racing story derived from a Japanese manga series.

Chou's acting and singing popularity has grown with Hong Kong audiences since then despite his understandable preference for mandarin over Cantonese, and despite nature not giving him the obvious ‘idol' look of, say, Leslie Cheung.

Memories of Leslie Cheung Kwok Wing were evoked, though, in one of Chou's cover versions, a lively number made famous by Leslie. Chou's own songs are certainly catchy, a bit formulaic, and definitely crowd-pleasing. Like most quality Hong Kong popular music - Beyond, Jacky Cheung Hok Yau, Richie Yam - Chou's compositions use classic Chinese touchstones in the melodies and arrangements.

Jay Chou is neither dismissive nor nervous of his national musical heritage and uses traditional instruments on stage, both in their own right (as with yi wu/erhu player who played a classic piece, unusually standing up, rather than playing in the customary sitting position) and in combination with contemporary features, such as rap.

Chou's voice varies between a reasonably distinctive natural tenor and a compelling falsetto, which is controlled in terms of pitch but emotionally unrestrained. Considering that this was the last night of a demanding tour of daily shows, his vocal quality showed little sign of wear or weariness.

Jay Chou held the stage for three hours, performing to thousands, without displaying any unease. With a practised confidence, he didn't disappoint his Hong Kong fan base. And his grandmother, no doubt, rightly returned to Taiwan very proud of him.

Sam Hui in concert - Hong Kong Stadium 16th December 2007

The two clam shells of Hong Kong's premier, but controversial, venue were filled almost to capacity for a live concert given by veteran Hong Kong entertainer and mover, Sam Hui.

The stadium, built in a small circular valley, surrounded by spiked residential blocks, can seat 40,000. But the complaints of the involuntary audience who live nearby have led to less concert events being promoted here than otherwise might be the case.

So, would they need to complain about Sam Hui? Well, it partly depends on your taste. His programme comprised a surprising number of English language (American) numbers. And although he is well-known for moving the HK entertainment scene towards Western credibility, the audience wanted more Cantonese numbers, as they were clearly looking forward to singing along.

The words appeared (sometimes incorrectly) on a huge screen behind the stage but the generation of true Sam Hui devotees doesn't commonly have confidence to let rip in English, particularly when their idol is strutting his stuff in a GI costume complemented with a Presley hairstyle.

Sam's guest artistes, however, were entertaining enough to the local audience and included long-time Beyond drummer, Sai Wing, and new(ish) boy on the block Justin. The guest spots also allowed time to enjoy the talented twin act Soler, whose close harmony singing was as effective as ever.

Justin and Soler, as the younger guests, added an energy and newness of enthusiasm which Sam's performance didn't pretend to offer: Sam was here as a much loved grandee, revisiting a historic repertoire for a loyal following. It felt a little as though someone had put on a favourite record.

Some of the stiffness and lack of spontaneity may have been due to the lumbering quality of the venue: Hong Kong Stadium is really built for sport and it certainly doesn't boast a great acoustic or a particularly good view of the performers, even with a T shaped stage built out towards the pitch (yes, there's grass - or the Asian equivalent - in the centre of the stadium).

However, Sam chose lively rock numbers, in the main, to be compatible with the unsubtle acoustic and sound system, which only creaked painfully when he got his harmonica a bit too close to the microphone!

And, to compensate for the sheer distances which the stadium inflicts, he took a drive around the perimeter track in a sort of lay pope-mobile (er... pop-mobile?) Another time, he disappeared into the die-hard audience to distribute rainbow streamers and kisses.

Held on a Sunday afternoon, it attracted a large, family audience. As the skies darkened into evening, the mini fibre-optic lightsticks, issued to all comers with a songsheet, came into their own. So too did the giant neon guitar providing a backdrop to the stage.

We didn't see any fists waving from the residential blocks and, hopefully, the noise from the stadium carried with it some of the atmosphere of a concert which was good humoured and wholly unchallenging.

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