Jolly uncle all out to please

Bobby Chen Sheng's gruff, scraggly voice evoked a melancholic acceptance of life

Bobby Chen Sheng is eager to please, cracking jokes, dancing and posing for a selfie.
Bobby Chen Sheng is eager to please, cracking jokes, dancing and posing for a selfie.PHOTO: TCR MUSIC STATION



Resorts World Theatre/ Last Saturday

Taiwanese singer-songwriter Bobby Chen Sheng's most recent gig here felt like a party by a jolly uncle you have not seen in a while. He sings, even though he cannot hit many of the high notes.

He dances, even if his steps are all over the place.

He pats you on the back, hugs you and poses outrageously for a selfie. But you know it is all to make you smile.

And behind that grin, you wonder at the experiences - tenderness, hardship, pain even - he has encountered in his years.

The 57-year-old is a man of contradictions. In the past, he was seen as a womanising troubadour, even the Bacchus of Chinese pop, due to his penchant for alcohol.

But he has also had his moments of vulnerability, like when he was assaulted in a pub by a drunk man in 2002 and suffered a near-fatal head injury.

These experiences, together with his vast travels, have made him an astute observer of society and relationships.

There is a street-wise poetry in his lyrics, like in Don't Let Me Cry, which he sang during his 21/2-hour show, which goes: "Because I didn't understand myself/I was satisfied being your shadow/And that's how I end up clinging to you helplessly."

About 1,600 fans attended his third solo concert here. And judging by their loud calls for an encore towards the end, they enjoyed themselves.

Chen's gruff, scraggly voice was full of character as usual. Neither perfect nor powerful, it could not reach many high notes.

Yet, it had a haunting beauty, evoking a melancholic acceptance of life and all its vicissitudes.

Maybe in the past, he was someone who wanted to escape from life, as suggested in his lyrics in Bobby Hates Love Songs and I Like To Elope With Myself, which he wrote in the 1990s.

But now, he is very much present and eager to please.

During the show, his jokes came fast and furious, many to do with a seven-year-old boy who sat in the front row.

At one point, Chen said self- deprecatingly: "Maybe he expected this to be a Show Lo concert."

He suggested that one of his less well-known guest singers pretend to be Lo to fool the boy.

Casual and unpretentious, Chen was dressed for the most part in a white shirt, pants and matching shoes, and breezed through the classics One Night In Beijing and Don't Leave Me Alone Anymore, occasionally playing a harmonica, such as on Do You Still Remember?.

Between verses, he seemed at times lost in his own world, dancing along in a madcap, devil-may-care fashion.

Perhaps only a veteran with as many years behind him - he started out in 1988 - could feel so at ease with himself and his audience.

As he revealed in a previous interview, performing on stage is "entertainment" for him. Going to the recording studio is work.

Coming to Singapore, he said towards the end of the show, was like "seeing relatives who live far away".

"There's so much I want to say, but I'm afraid I might not be able to say it properly."

This visiting uncle did just fine.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2016, with the headline 'Jolly uncle all out to please'. Subscribe