Live Review: Jason Zhang – The Star Event Centre, Sydney (18.06.17)

Australian fans had the chance to catch Chinese superstar Jason Zhang live in action on Sunday, 18 June at The Star Event Centre, as part of his ‘Sound of My Heart’ world tour. To many in Australia, the name Jason Zhang, or Zhang Jie, will sound unfamiliar, but in mainland China where Zhang is from, he’s practically a household name.

Zhang made his singing debut in 2004 after winning the Chinese singing competition My Show. In the following years, Zhang entered another singing contest, Super Boy, which propelled him into the spotlight. He’s stood on international stages, winning the Best Asian Artist award in 2010 at Korean music award program Mnet Asian Music Awards, and performed as part of China’s most-watched TV program of the year, CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala – an honour for an entertainer.

Even before the concert started, there were avid fans waving glowing blue lightsticks and donning blue devil horn headbands inside the concert hall, in support for Zhang. The opening VCR played – a montage introducing his tour ‘Sound of My Heart’ (the literal translation of the tour name is ‘I Want’, and the VCR was accompanied by Zhang’s voiceover listing all the things he wanted to achieve). A lone spotlight shone on Zhang, who appeared onstage in a glittering silver jacket, and he launched straight into his first song of the night, ‘Just Love’ (爱,不解释).

He continued with a mellow, ballad love song, ‘Love of the Big Dipper’ (北斗星的爱), complete with purple stage lights and a background video of hand-drawn planets, before launching into his address: “My friends in Sydney, are you well? I’m Jason Zhang, really happy to meet you here.” He went on to explain how the song he just performed, relating to the Big Dipper constellation, was how his fans got the name of ‘Stars’ (星星).

Transitioning into a more rock-ballad sound, Zhang then performed two tracks ‘Love, and Courage’ (越爱越强), and ‘Soaring’ (高飛), showing off versatile vocals. The VCR which followed explained how Zhang wants to express his feelings through music, singing both Chinese and English songs. Although he’s faced criticisms about how he’s still poor at public speaking, he believes that he can let his music do the talking. This video included a cute section dedicated to how he wants to continue loving his wife Xie Na (also known as Nana), of Happy Camp fame – cue excited screams.

Morphing into an even heavier rock sound, Zhang performed ‘The Most Beautiful Sun’ (最美的太阳), right after which he commented that last time he came to Sydney, nine years ago, the crowd wasn’t this passionate. “I remembered the first time I came to Sydney, I was at the airport, and I saw a lot of my fans there at the airport taking photos and videos with their phones. So I also took out my phone, so that I could record all of you as well, to preserve those memories. I still have that recording. When I came two days ago, I saw some of the same fans who were here to pick me up at the airport, all of you here at the front. I think, just like the song I just sang, ‘The Most Beautiful Sun’ – you are the most beautiful sun to me.”

Next was ‘Peace of Mind’ (勿忘心安), one of Zhang’s songs which was the main OST of the Chinese drama Overheard, and he followed on with a semi-R&B inspired song he performed on the singing show I Am A Singer, titled ‘We Are All the Same’ (我们都一样), showcasing his unique vibrato.

He then encouraged fans to take out their phones and turn the flashlight on, to create the effect of a starry night sky, for ‘The Brightest Star in the Night Sky’ (夜空中最亮的星), a cover of Chinese band Escape Plan’s original song which Zhang performed on I Am A Singer. This song really highlighted Zhang’s famous high notes, the echoing effect in the backing track creating the sensation of a trip into the galaxy. Zhang brought it down from the rock high to a bittersweet love ballad titled ‘He Doesn’t Understand’ (他不懂). In the same vein, the next song was a sad breakup ballad, ‘Why Be Together’ (何必在一起).

And on to one of my favourite songs of the night: Zhang brought out his high notes again with a stunning performance of ‘Silent’ (默), the original song by Chinese singer Na Ying. By this stage he had changed into a black jacket, fully embracing the ballad rock genre. He built up to the chorus which would see many female singers struggle, his volume well-controlled and tone resonant and carrying the right emotion – impressive for a live. He said after the performance that he’s never dared to sing the song live before because it’s just so difficult.

Performing a track originally dedicated to his wife, Zhang sweetened the atmosphere again with ‘After Tomorrow’ (明天过后), changing into a dapper tuxedo suit. Moving straight on to an English-language performance, Zhang mentioned that when he was a child he always enjoyed listening to English boy band music, and especially adored the discography of music legend Michael Jackson. Unfortunately, Zhang mentioned MJ’s songs are difficult to sing, so he instead sang his original English-language song ‘Give You My World’ for the Chinese release of the movie Allied.

Zhang transitioned from a romantic, laid-back pop track ‘First Lady’ (第一夫人) – which was written for him by internationally-renowned singer-songwriter Wang Lee Hom – straight into an R&B dance break to Chris Brown’s song ‘Take You Down’, throwing off his tuxedo jacket. This marked a completely unexpected change in atmosphere from the ballad and rock tracks he’d been singing for the first half of the concert to a heavily trap-inspired hip-hop track ‘Troublemaker’ (闹啥子嘛闹), where Zhang challenged the art of rapping. What made this unique was that his rap verses were entirely in his native Sichuan dialect (which also explains why I didn’t understand a word of it)!

Again diving into a completely different genre, he performed his power ballad featuring traditional Chinese instruments, ‘Sword Heart’ (劍心), the main theme song from the TV drama Swords of Legends. Changing to a sea-blue microphone, he then sang ‘Through the Sea of People’ (穿越人海) and upbeat rock track ‘Against the War’ (逆戰), which officially marked the end of the concert.

But of course, a concert isn’t complete without an encore. Zhang returned for his encore stage, finally performing his title track and namesake of this tour, ‘Sound of My Heart’ (我想). Even more heartwarming was the fact his Sydney concert fell on Father’s Day in China, so during this encore he especially reflected on his relationship with his parents and played some voice clips fans had recorded for their own parents, even reading out a long letter a fan had written for her father. He wrapped up this section with a cover of famous Chinese song ‘When You Are Old’ (当你老了), dedicated to all the parents out there, and his own song ‘Everything is Worth It’ (一切都值得). He encouraged us all to put our phone lights on again for ‘Looking Up to the Starry Sky’ (仰望星空).

The true end of the night, Zhang wrapped the concert off with his arguably most famous song, ‘This, is Love’ (这,就是爱), finishing the night off with explosive power vocals.

If there is one thing I took away from this concert, it would be an increased appreciation for Zhang’s versatility and vocal stamina. Many singers rely on one genre to define them, but Zhang demonstrated he can adapt his vocals to both sentimental ballads and powerful rock tunes. Although the rapping part of his venture into hip-hop threw me slightly off-kilter, he would make a great featuring vocalist on hip-hop tracks, and maybe in future we’ll see him delve into R&B. His vocal stamina is applaudable, too – the entire concert ran for a little over two hours, yet he was still pulling off acrobatics up until the very end.

It’s difficult to find a singer who’s emerged from the competitive singing program arena and has managed to consistently put out quality music – for 12 years no less – but Zhang has achieved this. I would recommend going through his discography if you’re into ballads, power ballads, or soft rock, and even if you’re not, at least give ‘Silent’ (默) a try.

FULL SETLIST
‘Just Love’ (爱,不解释)
‘Love of the Big Dipper’ (北斗星的爱)
‘Stars’ (星星)
‘Love, and Courage’ (越爱越强)
‘Soaring’ (高飛)
‘The Most Beautiful Sun’ (最美的太阳)
‘Peace of Mind’ (勿忘心安)
‘We Are All the Same’ (我们都一样)
‘The Brightest Star in the Night Sky’ (夜空中最亮的星)
‘He Doesn’t Understand’ (他不懂)
‘Why Be Together’ (何必在一起)
‘Silent’ (默)
‘After Tomorrow’ (明天过后)
‘Give You My World’
‘First Lady’ (第一夫人)
‘Troublemaker’ (闹啥子嘛闹)
‘Sword Heart’ (劍心)
‘Through the Sea of People’ (穿越人海)
‘Against the War’ (逆戰)
‘Sound of My Heart’ (我想)
‘When You Are Old’ (当你老了)
‘Everything is Worth It’ (一切都值得)
‘Looking Up to the Starry Sky’ (仰望星空)
‘This, is Love’ (这,就是爱)

Photos courtesy of Award Entertainment and Nan Hai Culture & Media Group.