This post was almost a month in the making.
Recently there was a surge of concerts in Manila, left and right people were bringing in foreign artists to perform, and of course, local artists wouldn’t let themselves get behind. June was a month of OPM concerts and I really wanted to watch all of them if budget wasn’t really that much of a problem. You had Bamboo performing 7th, Rico Blanco on the 12th, Aiza Seguerra and Noel Cabangon on the 22nd, and Cecille Licad on the 29th, if classical music was your thing. A lot of options, but budget constraints considered, I had to choose these two.
Rico Blanco Live! June 12, 2013 at the Music Museum, with Special Guests Kitchie Nadal, Ira Cruz and Taken By Cars
Stupid me for not taking down notes. Probably if I wanted to write the most comprehensive review of my experience I would rely on the internet articles and tumblr tags to remember every single detail (it was 18 days ago from the time I was writing this!). However, I still remember some parts, which is why I think the experience in itself was very memorable. Taken By Cars opened the concert with their songs: This is Our City, Shapeshifter, and Neon Brights. It was actually a bonus for me since I wanted to watch them as well. They have the most interesting songs, and I think their music is the most appropriate introduction to what people will be hearing that night, Electronica. Synthesizers, Drums, instruments configured in varying degrees and producing machine-like sound effects.
I don’t know if the audience knew what they were in for though, what they were about to listen to, what they were about to see.
When it was time for him to take the stage, the stage went black and you were hearing dark, ominous sounds, something that sounded like it came from outer space and something bad was going to happen. It went on for minutes, until that sudden strong pounding of the snare and base drums snapped you out of that Outer Space daze that you were initially put into. Next thing you know, you were being ushered into ‘Amats’, Rico Blanco’s Dark-Sounding song about obsession being sang by this man in this strange witch doctor outfit; Feathers on his head, in full ati-atihan garb, manning the Synthesizer and whatever effects machine he had on stage. He was accompanied by a Electronics Person (manning the laptops, the mixers) and three guys mightily pounding on the drums that were strapped to them, the kind of drums you typically see used in fiestas around the Philippines, snares, that big bass drum, all of them dressed in the same ati-atihan outfit. That first song was what I’d like to describe as Sonically Arresting: you were still, you were listening as if you didn’t had a choice, and it was Bam, Bang, Banging all around you. After it ended, I felt that there was really a noticeable moment of silence before the audience bursted into their ‘wooooohs’ and applauses. It had arrested them as well.
All I can say to my self at the end of it was ‘Woah, I’m definitely going to like this’.
Next was a medley of songs that he wrote, arranged Fiesta Bandido style. That was how he introduced himself in the concert, this persona who was acting crazily on stage, parang sinasapian pag kumakanta. The songs were familiar, and yet, it doesn’t seem to be the same songs that you’ve heard before. Antukin, Umaaraw, Umuulan.. arrange electronica-style with matching ati-atihan drums. It had the audience applauding after every song, though I had this impression that people were uptight for the first few songs. Was what they were hearing too weird? Was what they’re seeing too different?
There was an intermission wherein this girl was doing a dance with led-lighted hula-hoops, in the darks – and everything transitioned to a relatively quieter part of the program. The lights were a simple mellow yellow, Rico was there, playing the synthesizer, and behind him, a Rondalla group all dressed in Barong. He played 214 and sang it with Kitchie Nadal. It was sincere singing. I think it was around this part where he loosened up and joked with the audience. He turned a slight technical difficulty with the synthesizer pedal into a chance to insert a jab. Can’t really forget that jab: “Ulitin natin para masulit yung bayad nila. Nakipag-patayan yung mga yan para sa tickets…..sa twitter….nang libre..” (Let’s repeat the song so that people can make the most of what they’ve paid for, they killed for tickets…in twitter…for free) And then he began singing and playing You’ll be safe Here.
I think that part did wonders for the audience, people started loosening up as well. The next part had him change costumes, he comes out as the White Fiesto Bandido – mirrors attached to this costume. The beam of lights hit him, it bounces to the Disco balls dangling from the ceiling, and you could just imagine how beautiful it looked like on stage. He was like this being of light in the center. As the concert was nearing its end, he was able to get people to stand up and dance, particularly to Sayaw, his song where he got Ira Cruz to perform guitar acrobatics. This part of the concert where I can say that people were having fun, and I got my money’s worth.
By the end of the concert, where Rico was thanking everybody who was part of the production, you have this sense of how much the concert, and the music was a big artistic gamble for him. As he had said, when he told his record producers that he wanted to make an Electronic-Meets-Ati-Atihan record, they fell off their seats. When he got the people to stand up and swaying their hands and shouting, I think he could have said to himself that the gamble paid off. And why wouldn’t it? It’s original, it sounded good, weirdly good, different, it wasn’t a miss. These are the times when you can appreciate his talent as a songwriter and a musician, what I’ve just witnessed was an artist at work, this was an artist’s hardwork, this was art. And for that, I think the ticket, and braving the rains afterwards, was worth it.