A gig for all ages

A confident showcase by The Sam Willows' (from left) Narelle Kheng, Benjamin Kheng, Sandra Riley Tang and Jonathan Chua.
A confident showcase by The Sam Willows' (from left) Narelle Kheng, Benjamin Kheng, Sandra Riley Tang and Jonathan Chua.PHOTO: ISKANDAR ROSSALI

The Sam Willows pulled out all the stops for their first major ticketed solo show, catering to fans even of lower-primary age



The Coliseum, Hard Rock Hotel Singapore, Resorts World Sentosa

Last Friday

You have to give it to home-grown music quartet band The Sam Willows - they know their audience.

Their biggest headlining show to date was an all-ages, friendly pop spectacle designed to safely entertain even young, impressionable minds.

It is the kind of gig by a band playing music that parents would not have to worry about their kids getting into, a concert worthy of a new year countdown show on prime- time television.

Indeed, while the attendees were mostly in their teens, there was one young concertgoer spotted in PE (physical education) uniform, as well as several fans of lower-primary age in glitter-dresses skating around in wheeled shoes.

The quartet, made up of singer- musicians Benjamin Kheng, 25, his sister Narelle, 22, Sandra Riley Tang, 25, and Jonathan Chua, 26, seemed intent on keeping their fans on their feet and on a sugar- high throughout their two-hour- long set. Opening acts, home- grown singer Samantha Rui and Indonesian trio The Overtunes, preceded the main set, which started at 8.30pm.

The 2,500 turnout was impressive and the deafening and shrill cheers from the audience were a testament to how much pull they have among the young crowd.

The band seemed eager to pull out all the stops for their first major ticketed solo show. There was stage choreography galore, from both professional dancers as well as from the four members themselves.

It is essentially the percussionist- plus-contemporary-dance-troupe routine found in their Take Heart music video brought to life.

The mystery guest promised in the gig promos turned out to be rapper Shigga Shay, who made a brief but fiery cameo on Taking All His Time.

The dazzling light show and overactive smoke machine complemented the quartet's polished vocal harmonies, as well as the tight interplay by their backing band that included sterling young sessionists such as keyboardist Nazaruddin Mashruddin (53A, Gentle Bones) and drummer Adam Shah (Charlie Lim, The Observatory).

And while the band made their name with YouTube covers, the gig was a confident showcase that proved the Willows can stand on their own with uplifting original tunes culled from their 2012 selftitled debut EP and their first full- length album, Take Heart, released last year.

The order of the gig was also cannily organised into three parts. The explosive, crowd-baiting tunes made up the first third, next came the pensive tunes and solo segments by each of the four members, while the third act was saved for all their big hits.

While they slipped in a couple of covers by British girl group Little Mix as well as a spoken word segment by Kheng, the resounding singalong to their radio hit singles, such as the album title track, Glasshouse, and other self-written songs, by the home crowd was heartening.

The gig might be a little too slick and polished for more discerning musicheads who prefer a little more grit to balance out the abundance of perkiness on display.

Still, the show marks an important milestone in the band's rise to becoming a mainstream music force and the growing number of young music fans willing to put homemade English pop on a pedestal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'A gig for all ages'. Print Edition | Subscribe