Chet Lam + The Pancakes + Ketchup — live in Hong Kong

This was meant to be nothing more than a concert featuring three local Hong Kong singers. But it turned out to be lots of fun, if often incomprehensible, and had more strange, unexpected moments than you could shake a stick at, unless you’re really good at shaking sticks at strange, unexpected moments.

As a nod to the independent pop music scene in Hong Kong (such as it is), the Arts Festival included this show, featuring three local singer-songwriter types performing with a four-piece backing band.

Most of the time they were all on stage together, doing versions of their own songs and each other’s (or should that be others’?). The interaction between them was great. The on-stage chit-chat was absolutely hilarious, going by the audience reaction — I didn’t understand a word, since they spoke in Cantonese the whole time. (Strange, since half the songs were in English.)

Having already enjoyed The Pancakes’ PCP album, I was very happy to see that Dejay Choi (who is the sole Pancake) had a nice line in kooky Bjorkish dancing. Also, halfway through the show she brought a watermelon onto the stage, and gave it to some lucky audience member later. On the other hand, her singing voice was a bit quiet for the backing band (though not during the onstage banter — she seemed to have a marvellously quick and deadpan wit).

I liked Ketchup’s songs too. He sang melodic, interesting songs with conviction and humour. He was the most understated of the three, but still a good performer.

Chet Lam was very fun, dancing around, smiling and laughing, and singing his slick ballads. He really got the crowd going — no wonder a bunch of girls rushed the stage to present him with half a dozen huge sunflowers. (One of the girls seemed to feel sorry for Ketchup and gave her flower to him.) Apparently he is an award-winning canto-pop songwriter and music composer. But just when I thought I had him pegged, he waited till the others left the stage, went to the grand piano, and pulled out an Ernie puppet (Bert’s partner from Sesame Street). Then he sat down and sang a heartfelt and lonely lament called When Bert’s Not Here, with interpretive dance from Ernie. There was barely a dry eye in the house, except for Ernie’s.

After this came a little pop music history lesson, as the three singers performed their interpretations of some of their favourite songs. A few of these were in Cantonese, and obviously crowd favourites. The Pancakes did one song in German, and there may have been a Chinese song in there too. But the highlight for me was the rightly-neglected ’80s non-classic Tonight by New Kids on the Block. Non-stop trashy fun, especially the “La la la la la la tonight” singalong bit. I’m quite keen to try this at karaoke sometime.

Best of all was the fantastic moment towards the end, when all three artistes joined into a Big Ballad. Normally this kind of song calls for the audience to wave their cigarette lighters or even glowsticks; but this being Hong Kong, everybody turned on their mobile phones and raised them aloft. Fortunately, we were sitting towards the front. We turned around and saw a thousand glowing mobile phone screens — one of those surreal moments that stop life ever getting boring.

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