In their first concert in Malaysia, singer-songwriters Sam Tsui and Kurt Schneider show that they can command a stage as well as computer screens.
Sam Tsui said it best at the end of his Malaysian concert on Saturday night: He and collaborator Kurt Schneider are just “two college kids who love music”. The Internet, however, has allowed the 25-year-old American musicians to connect with a global audience, something once unheard of for a singer-songwriter without a major record deal. But now, only six years since they started, Tsui and Schneider are bona fine YouTube pop stars – something over 2,000 fans at their show in KL will attest to.
In their two-hour concert on June 21, they performed 21 songs that included all the expected material – the requisite hits from their extensive catalogue, original songs, unique covers, mash-ups – with a couple of unexpected gems exclusive to their first show here. Tsui thrilled the fans by announcing that a new EP was on its way as he debuted his latest recording, Wildfire, set to drop next week.
Wildfire shows that Tsui and Schneider are still very much hit-or-miss songwriters. A few of their ham-fisted lyrical outings are reminiscent of the Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus compositions from ABBA’s early recordings. Like ABBA aficionados though, when they get it right, they’re spot on. Case in point: the encore tune, Don’t Want An Ending. Tsui and Schneider sang an acoustic version of their original composition from 2010, with Schneider on guitar and Tsui sitting on the edge of the stage, their performance backed by an enthusiastic crowd – all of which gave a poignant meaning to the melancholic but hopeful song.
As for their full set list, Tsui and Schneider didn’t disappoint the long-time fans who wanted to hear the old stuff. We got the Michael Jackson and Explosion medleys, Journey's Don’t Stop Believing, Nelly's Just A Dream, and Britney's Hold It Against Me (one of Tsui’s favourites) – although, with over 30 songs crammed into the '2013 Summer Pop Medley', Tsui admitted even he gets confused where he is lyrically when performing that piece. He also confessed he was most worried about Cups, in which the duo slap, turn and rhythmically play two plastic cups on a box while singing – a move made popular by Anna Kendrick in the movie Pitch Perfect.
A few pitch problems did crop up in the concert, notably during the rock out songs, but Tsui was a dynamo nonetheless. Having a career born on the worldwide web, he seemed preternaturally aware of the placement of iPhones and GoPro cameras in the audience. Energy bursting through him as he worked the stage, shaking outstretched hands and dancing, he wasn’t shy to stop at all the right moments for fans to snap a photo or take a quick video. Whereas traditional pop artists seem loathe to allow ubiquitous recording devices at their concerts, Tsui and Schneider openly encouraged it. Take pictures! Record the set! Post it, hashtag it, share it!
Meanwhile, Tsui and Schneider’s banter routine is best described as Donny & Marie 2.0. They’re corny, absolutely goofy, but totally endearing. While throwing various memorabilia – signed T-shirts, posters, wristbands – into the crowd, Tsui apologised for his lack of sporting ability, as Schneider playfully “admonished” overeager fans to not fight over the loot. Then, amid deafening screams at the word “Disney”, Tsui introduced his mash-up of Let It Go/Let Her Go by asking if anyone had seen the movie “Chilly... or is it Icy?” while Schneider donned ridiculous “summer sunglasses” to segue into the first 'Summer Pop Medley' and stated that there was a “rule” requiring silly faces to be made when taking Instagram pictures.
Having seen Tsui and Schneider on their first North American tour last summer at The Roxy in West Hollywood, California, it’s interesting to see how they’ve grown in just one year. From singing to 500 people on The Sunset Strip, where they were part of a line-up of YouTube performers, to being the main act in a foreign country with four times the audience size – mostly tweens, teens and twentysomethings – that’s great to see. If they keep this up, a venue like KL Live might not be big enough to house all the fans when they return. How do we know he’ll come back? It’s something Tsui promised at the concert, and he’s posted in on Twitter, so it’s got to be true.
The Sam Tsui and Kurt Schneider Asia Tour Live in Kuala Lumpur show was organised by The Livescape Group. For more information and updates on upcoming shows, visit the Livescape website or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.