Last year, one Chinese album emerged from all the typical ubiquitous wannabe chart-screamers and moved me emotionally. The songwriter is Eli Hsieh (谢震廷) and his debut album is 查理 (Progress Reports). Hsieh is fresh from winning the Best New Artist award at the Golden Melody Awards and the Best Single award for his song Light (灯光) at the Freshmusic Awards last year. The album is inspired by Daniel Keyes’ seminal 1966 novel Flowers of Algernon, which is about a dim simpleton with an IQ of 88 who through an experiment becomes a genius and with that he loses his innocence and joy for living. I have not read the story and will hasten to hunt the book down after writing this review.
I love concerts like this – simple, no fuss, intimate and acoustic. The no-frills set-up is particularly apt to showcase Hsieh’s honest resonating songs which speak about lonely struggles, small victories and the search for acceptance.
Before launching into some of the noteworthy songs, he would give us the context and stories of his life. That’s something I always love to listen to – the inspiration behind the creative turns. It reaffirms what I have always believed in – pain is the reservoir of creative ideas.
There were many gems last night – Hsieh doing a cover of John Mayer’s Good Love is on the Way which will no doubt earn a thumbs-up from Mayer himself; Hsieh singing Stefanie Sun’s 天黑黑 in his plaintive voice which gives the familiar song such a different melancholic feel.
Before launching into Flowers of Algernon (查理), he shares how Daniel Keyes’ book has changed his views on life during his formative years and proceeded to sit on the carpeted floor to sing the number. Being a professional and having full reverence for the book, Hsieh even had to stop and repeat the song twice because of overwhelming emotions.
One of my favourite songs from the album is a duet called Your Belongings (你的行李), which I always thought is a breakup song. Hsieh shared that the song was written when he was 16 and it is a song for his father who divorced his mother then. Since the song is a duet he urged the female audience to sing the female part, but he was probably wondering if anyone would even know the lyrics. He must have been pleasantly surprised by the affecting note-perfect female voices sprouting up from the audience. Sublime.
Hsieh did an encore of one song from his forthcoming album and before diving into it he asked the audience to come up close to him. It was beautiful to see adults like little kids, sitting centimetres from the storyteller as he ‘told’ one last story. But my kind of encore is when I get to meet the singer and share with him how his work has moved me, which I thankfully got to do.
Hsieh was just 13 when he took part in the One Million Star singing competition in 2007. Watching him performed last night was like watching a little star shining in a mass of stars littering the night sky, all vying for your attention, but his lil light is an unwaveringly honest one and he was so thankful to all who came to listen to his stories, probably even surprised by the turnout. I am sure the next time he comes, things will be very different.