Taiwan's Cheer Chen presents stripped-down acoustic show for 20th year in showbiz

Cheer Chen singing down in the aisle was a crowd-pleasing highlight.
Cheer Chen singing down in the aisle was a crowd-pleasing highlight.PHOTO: ONE PRODUCTION

Singer-songwriter Cheer Chen can let her songs speak for themselves after launching her debut album 20 years ago



The Star Theatre

Last Saturday

In 1998, while still an undergraduate at Taiwan's National Chengchi University, Cheer Chen released her debut album Think Twice.

That means the singer-songwriter is marking her 20th anniversary this year. But instead of a high-profile celebration, she is touring a stripped-down acoustic show. Indeed, she mentioned the occasion only at the end of the gig, almost as an afterthought.

Then again, she is not exactly a typical popster.

There is a philosophical bent to some of her songs - her major was philosophy - as they contemplate time, identity and love while others reflect an empathy for those left behind by the relentless pace of modern life.

She said at one point: "Every day, we're busy with living. Is there a corner for us to breathe freely where we can redefine what it means to be successful?"

Her thoughtfulness was in the details as well: The lyrics projected onto the screens flanking the stage were handwritten by her.

And in a simple, cosy setting, her songs bloomed.

It was just her and a guitar as she opened with the track Think Twice, her voice still girlish at 42, light and feathery, especially on the high notes. She stretched out the timing here, quickened the pace there, performing the song as the moment seized her with no interest in replicating the recorded version.

One of her guitars was given by her maternal grandmother and when she fell sick, Chen would stay with her in the hospital, where it was very quiet and dark at night. She proceeded to perform Hei Yan Quan (Dark Eye Circles) - "this is the expression of my love for you" - her voice intimate in the blackness of the hall.

A favourite moment was when she did a jaunty piano accompaniment to Too Smart. The loose-limbed playing had an improvisational feel to it even as she sang: "I began to regret, shouldn't have been too clever and showed off."

Only about halfway through was she joined by a cellist, a flautist and a percussionist on the spare stage, which had a television set and a sofa and was meant to represent Chen's "room in Singapore".

She also playfully questioned the concepts of authenticity and truth, unplugging her guitar and moving away from the mic to perform Prototype, a song about Platonic ideals.

Not that she was out to alienate the 4,000 fans. There were several crowd-pleasing highlights, such as when she sang Immortal down in the aisle and also when she hugged four lucky fans who got to go up on stage and accompanied her on percussion for one song.

What did not quite work was the blinding distraction of bright lights aimed at the audience and the somewhat awkward English tracks, including the hippie-dippy Peace & Revolution.

The electric guitar made an appearance at the end as Chen commanded everyone to stand and unleashed a jolt of energy with Groupies and My Paranoia.

She has no need to call attention to her milestone year as a musician when her songs speak for themselves.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2018, with the headline 'Much to Cheer about'. Print Edition | Subscribe