Concert review: Khalil Fong lets the music speak for itself

Hong Kong singer Khalil Fong performing at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Feb 16, 2019.
Hong Kong singer Khalil Fong performing at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Feb 16, 2019.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY

SINGAPORE - Hong Kong singer-songwriter Khalil Fong can hardly be described as a showman. Introverted, awkward at banter, he admitted to being "quiet" at his latest show here on Saturday (Feb 16) at the Esplanade Concert Hall, as part of this year's Huayi - Chinese Festival Of Arts presented by the Esplanade - Theatres On The Bay.

Explaining why he wore a loud jacket with bold red, orange and blue patches, he said: " I am more of a quiet person. So I wore something no-so-quiet to balance it out."

More expressive through song, the 35-year-old gave his fans what they wanted - familiar favourites mixed with some new material - during his nearly two-hour concert.

Opening with the catchy, head bob-inducing Wu Kong, he eschewed most of the bells and whistles associated with big concerts, and mostly let his music speak for itself.

Although a check three hours before the show revealed several rows of unsold tickets, those who turned up got a delightful peek into Fong's world - a fusion of Asian and Western influences, with elements of soul, funk, and jazz thrown in for good measure. He is often lauded for his innovative and unconventional approach to Chinese music.

Clutching the mic with his right hand, his left hand was often animated and expressive - miming playing a keyboard, spinning turntables - as he got into the groovy headspace of many of his earlier hits, such as Spring Breeze and Everyday from his 2005 debut album Soulboy, as well as Love Song and Park from his 2007 third album Wonderland.

In terms of newer material, there was last year's inspiring number Throw It Off, which the concert, Khalil Fong TIO Concert Tour, is titled after.

He also performed The Tree Of Life, a soothing song released last year for the Emi The Dream Catcher series of graphic novelsfor children, effortlessly switching between the English and Mandarin lyrics.

There were missed opportunities though. With his new single Fake Monk on the charts as recently as this month, it was a pity he did not perform this hauntingly hypnotic track during the show.

Among the highlights, however, were his duets with guest stars - Holland-born singer Diana Wang on the cheery Dear Ocean, and Singaporean singer-songwriter Charlie Lim on the gloomy Ain't No Sunshine.

The collaboration with Lim - who has been said to be the Singapore version of Fong - was particularly apt.

Seeing the bespectacled talents on the same stage, playing the same type of guitar - Fong's soulful pipes coupled with Lim's sonorous voice - was unforgettable.

For a self-proclaimed quiet guy, Fong's music speaks volumes.