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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Concert Review: Gwen Stefani The Hollaback Girl!

It's been 11 years since No Doubt released their breakthrough album, Tragic Kingdom, and thrust their lead singer Gwen Stefani into the limelight. With songs sung earnestly, like "Don't Speak", I had a hunch then that this quirky ska-sounding singer would become huge someday. Fast forward to 2007, Gwen Stefani, treated me and Vic, along with 6000-other screaming fans - with her self-admitted, "dance music"!

Frankly, it's probably the most fun I had in a live show since Madonna's Confessions tour last year. You can really sense that Gwen is a pro when it came to live shows. She knew how to warm up the audience, tickle their fancies, kiss their "asses", and bring the usually reserved HK audience to its feet - throughout the show! I never even sat, even when she sang her supposed ballads.

Today, in tribute to Gwen's L.A.M.B brand, I decided to wear an L.A.M.B-inspired outfit. Its a violet velvet sweatshirt with a hood, an adult urbane statement I wanted to make, as a tribute to Gwen and the burgeoning of urban dance and hip hop music that so dominates youth culture nowadays. Of course, it had to look adult enough since I'm 36 already, LOL, and I accented it with enough gold bling-bling, nothing obscene, but very stylish - Filipino-designed by the way - in that bling-bling shop in GB3, I think the bling designer's name is Joyce Orena or something like that - and it's a good start to my desire to design some clothes for men. Since everyone is wearing the same stuff in the street nowadays, to look slightly different with a twist, like what I did tonight, was quite a nice experience!

I will still watch the show in Bangkok on Sunday, so I get another chance to shimmy up my yo!-yo! moves! My favorite part was when Gwen surprisingly went around the arena towards the center, then towards the people at the back. While singing "Cool", she precariously, stood up on the ledge, holding on carefully to the railings, while hundreds of her mainly female fans at the back of the arena, had the time of their life, seeing her sing so closely to them. The shrill intensity of the shouts throughout the show - probably buoyed by the presence of many many female teen fans of Gwen, certainly upped the energy level of the show. I practically sang along to most of her songs, especially "4 In The Morning" (I can play this in the keyboard already) and a personal favorite from her present album - "An Early Winter".

Gwen, your self-admitted accidental foray to "pop dance music" has endeared you to many. I did snub your album when it first came out, since admit it, Love.Angel.Music. Baby, although had high points like "Cool" and "Crash" and "Rich Girl", did not quite compare with the immense work you did for No Doubt. I got a copy of "The Sweet Escape", just a month before your show so as to familiarize with your new work, and I am discovering gems in it everyday. "An Early Winter" has become my new "in pain" song, and your personal favorite, "A Wonderful Life", has become one of mine's too. I didn't think much of "4 In the Morning", till I learned to play it in my keyboard just a week ago, with the help of my keyboard teacher, Mike. It's now my new "true love" mantra! Weird that albums which I though were garbage turn out to be gems, and albums which I think are gems, turn out to be rubbish. I should stop being snooty!!!

I wouldn't be surprised if you become a gay icon soon, when your teenybopper fans get to earn real money. There were a considerable number of very young gay people in the audience tonight, a wonderful sign of a long career for you, for we gay people, are very loyal to our "queens"! Your energy tonight was intense! To you, we holla back - go on girl!
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Friday, August 10, 2007

Concert Review: Brilliant Jamie Cullum in HK

When I learned early this year that Jamie Cullum was touring Asia as part of his world tour, I was one of those excited to see him perform live. It was 2003 in HMV Singapore when I chanced upon his CD, and the buzz from England re his work was very good that, even without hearing a single song from him, I decided to buy a copy of his CD. I was not disappointed. It was solid work, a bit of pop-jazz, but it certainly had a personal stamp that made the songs all his own. Interestingly, he wrote some of his material too, and really, any guy in his 20's and 30's can surely relate to some of the stuff he is singing.

Well, that long wait to see him live finally came true tonight, as he became the first foreign act to perform at the newly-built Asiaworld Arena here in HK. The venue, contrary to its name, is actually not very big, but the acoustics are fantastic! Anyhow, it is very far from the central HK, so any act planning to perform there should be worth the one hour bus ride to it. (Coldplay and Black Eyed Peas are both performing there next month.)

And Jamie was certainly worth it! The venue was less than half-filled when the clock passed 8:30PM, but anyhow, like most shows, they fill up very fast. Jamie, along with his band that night, calmly walked onstage, sans fanfare, introduced himself, spoke some Cantonese, and did his best to endear himself to the usual staid HK audience.

To those who don't know him yet, Jamie Cullum is classified as a jazz artist, but bordering on pop jazz really. He is also famous for being cute, literally, pint size, but with boundless energy and verve. The first half of the show was a bit slow, partly due to the fact that the audience area lights were left on, so imagine someone performing, and with all the audience lights on! Oh well, they did put off the lights when a girl shouted and asked for them to be turned off. Certainly, how can a couple be romantic in public while listening to some lovely music, when all the lights are on! Well, for me, I didn't care. By the time Jamie sang my anthem, "These Are the Days", I was ready to party. I was quite thankful he sang more songs from his first album, which I know very well, than his new one. He's an incredible performer - solid vocals, vibrant piano playing skills, and lots of tales about his experiences - like playing Elton John's "Rocket Man", with the main man just five feet away from him, and with the Queen of England as audience. He also talked about how he wrote an ode to London, in of the songs in his new album, since his Brazilian girlfriend didn't particularly like the weather there (who does!) The guy can also drum, use the piano as percussion and play the guitar - this time, in a lovely rendition of "Photographs", and it came along with a lovely tale of his growing up years.

For me, the highlight of the show came, when he, as is usual with most new performers, went straight to the audience, and straight to me! Well, my seat was in the second block on the left side, and my friend and I were on the leftmost seats, with an aisle, separating us from the first block. Anyhow, I had my camera that night, and throughout his show, I was gleefully clicking away, when the occasion demanded so. So here was Jamie, on that aisle, walking towards the left gallery, and since he was so near, I flashed my camera as he was walking by. To the surprise of my friend, and me, he touched my shoulder, as if to say hi, as my friend recounted. (Vic could not be in HK so I brought William). William and I ended up looking at each other, very surprised about that gesture! I then said to William, now these $130 tickets are worth it, finally! William said, Vic's going to be so envious. Oh well, by the time the encore came, the audience was already on its feet, and Jamie and his band, like most jazz performers, were already improvising, very well, if I may say so.

Another interesting bit from his show, is his ability to do his original distinctive version of "Don't Cha" by the Pussycat Dolls, and "Gold Digger" by Kanye West. He also did a snippet of John Legend's "Ordinary People", thereby showcasing the purity of that song's arrangement. Of course, he did his own version of Pharell's "Frontin", which is one of the fabulous tracks in his first album - which I casually danced to, while sitting down, and "High and Dry", from the ever creative Radiohead - one of those really, really sad songs. These were no copycat versions, but versions, done in piano, that sounds like the way Jamie wanted them to sound - distinct, colorful, vibrant, surprising.

I believe my decision to watch him in Singapore on the 15th is well worth the wait. I would encourage Vic to buy his own ticket, for William, who has not even heard of him, came out of the concert hall impressed - he even went to the front for the encore! He was a bit apprehensive, since I told him it was a jazz concert, and not many people can dig jazz.

Japan is next in his itinerary, and I'm sure, as Jamie and his band become more comfortable and cohesive together, by the time they perform in Singapore, there would be more nuances to him, as a live performer, that I will still get to discover.
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