Dick Lee in fine form on 60th birthday concert

Dick Lee's vocals rang out clearest during the stripped- down segments where it was just him and the Steinway grand piano.
Dick Lee's vocals rang out clearest during the stripped- down segments where it was just him and the Steinway grand piano.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Dick Lee's voice was in fine form as he celebrated his birthday with songs from his career



The Star Theatre

Last Friday

Dick Lee's gig at The Star Theatre last Friday was an aurally colourful jaunt through his music career, which has lasted more than four decades.

This sense of jubilation was unmistakable from the title of the concert alone, which spelt out the singer-composer's pride on becoming a sexagenarian. His 60th birthday falls on Wednesday.

At one point in the concert, he quipped: "I can't believe I'm still doing this at this age."

His three brothers, Peter, Andrew and John, later wheeled in a birthday cake and led the 3,500-strong audience in a singalong of the Happy Birthday song.

Even before he becomes a senior citizen, his 21/2-hour set had affirmed his position as an elder statesman of the local entertainment scene.

Throughout the show, he had no qualms about listing his many music achievements, which range from the popular songs he wrote, including classic musical numbers and pop hits, to his success in the Japanese music market and Chinese pop scene, which are hard to break into.

His set list was a neat summary of the different phases in his extensive and varied career, starting with songs from his 1974 debut to last year's National Day Parade (NDP) theme song, Our Singapore.

He also performed the beloved NDP song, Home, which he penned in 1998. The audience would not let him off stage before he sang the quintessential National Day song.

He sang this, along with other NDP tunes, in a patriotic segment towards the end of the show and he was dressed appropriately in red and white.

Tackling the rising notes with ease, his voice was in fine form and his vocals rang out clearest during the stripped-down segments where it was just him and the striking-red Steinway grand piano.

It did, however, help that he had a solid, nine-piece band led by music director Indra Shahrir Ismail and a trio of backing singers, who included Simone Khoo from a cappella group Vocaluptuous.

Lee was in a genial and cheeky mood, making jokes and gentle pokes at the authorities for banning some of his early songs such as Fried Rice Paradise because of his use of Singlish in them.

He also spoke, in one of his many monologues during the concert, about how he used music to explore his roots and identity.

In fact, he had so many stories to share about his life and music that the little speeches tended to disrupt the momentum of the show.

At times, it felt like his banter between songs would last longer than the songs themselves.

Still, there was special significance in hearing him sing Life Story, a song from his 1974 debut album of the same name, which has since become one of his signature tunes.

It is a remarkably mature rumination on growing old, written when he was just a teenager, and hearing him sing the bittersweet lines four decades later was stirring.

He also invited a bevy of guest singers and musicians, ranging from celebrities to young talent. Among them were home-grown Mandopop star Kit Chan, who sang Waiting, his composition for the hugely successful Chinese musical Snow.Wolf.Lake, and his long-time music partner and former wife Jacintha Abisheganaden, who duetted with him on a refreshed version of Daniel Boone's Beautiful Sunday.

Another guest act was jazz singer Alemay Fernandez.

Her show-stopping vocals on songs from his musicals Beauty World and Sing To The Dawn threatened to steal his thunder.

Younger talent were also given a turn to shine, including vocal group After Six with their deft a cappella four-song medley of his 1990s Cantopop compositions for Hong Kong stars such as Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung.

Not all the updated versions of the old tunes worked though. Rapper Shigga Shay put on a spirited performance of the recently released edition of Rasa Sayang, a song from Lee's seminal 1989 album The Mad Chinaman, but his gruff raps seemed incongruous with the song's buoyant tone.

Lee's second encore, during which his three brothers joined him in an a cappella version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, though, was poignant. Dedicated to their late mother and sister, it was a touching and apt end to a nostalgic show.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2016, with the headline '60 and still singing'. Print Edition | Subscribe