Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Sound + Motion

Yeah, I have good memories of that night when I hitched a ride with you to Makati -- Conch and Denise in the back seat, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs blasting on your stereo. :) Not to mention the ride back to QC later that same night (thanks to you, and Margie), listening to the Y3's again. "Date with the Night," "Black Tongue" -- all that good stuff -- and of course the immortal "Maps."

There's something about listening to a song when you're on the road that enhances both the experience of listening and the experience of motion, both of which are pleasant enough in themselves. Some of my best music-appreciation moments these days come from listening to songs while riding a cab to or from work -- thank goodness for the mp3 feature on my dinky old cellphone. I love watching the city go by while my earphones are transmitting Stars or the Sundays or David Bowie into my skull. My current in-transit favorites: "On Peak Hill" and "My Radio" by Stars (both AM and FM versions), "1992" by our friend Isha, and "Goodbye" by the Sundays.

As you know, I wrote about "Goodbye" for July's Swan Song feature -- didn't realize how hard it could be, to try to describe exactly why you love a certain song so much, and how it embedded itself into your life. I hope I did it justice. As difficult as it was, though, it's something I kind of want to do again; there's something satisfying about exploring as thoroughly as one can that link between one's life and one's music, through just one specific song. Maybe I'll do that again here -- I want to write about my No. 2 candidate for Swan Song, XTC's "Wrapped in Grey." :)

Am still at the office. The wind is howling outside and I think the rain can't be too far behind. Will cut this entry short, and head home now, lest the storm swallow me up. Good night!

Monday, June 28, 2004

Yeah? Yeah. Yeah!

I didn't catch all of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' performance at the MTV Movie Awards owing to an ill-timed bathroom break, but I was enraptured by it anyway.

It's strange, watching the Y3's not-an-act act for the first time. I mean, you know I love their music. I haven't stopped playing Fever to Tell since Margie brought it back from the US, and you know how I think "Maps" is one of the best love songs ever written. But the song was almost incidental to what I loved about their MTV Movie Awards performance--now I get what all the magazine articles have been saying about Karen O and her wondrous stage presence. Nick Zinner might be the musical genius behind their music, but it's Karen who draws you in. And what she has is not stage presence of the look-at-me kind that actors and Madonna might possess--it's not theatricality. What it looks like to me is sheer joy. She looked so awed by everything--by the music that they were making, by the words coming out of her mouth, by the stage design, by the audience--that she looked lost in way that was both naive and sincere.

I miss that. Truth to tell, I don't remember the last time I enjoyed myself at a gig that much. I don't even remember the last time I didn't leave a gig early. Maybe it has to do with my age and my now-aching-back, or maybe it does have something to do with the job and how I'm constantly on Reviews mode, assessing the music and giving it oranges in my head.

But last night, after dropping off Margie at her house, I drove around for about an hour or so, listening to some music. Wasting gas, I know, but it wasn't something I could do just plugged into my Discman at home. Music is still, to me, an event. It's important, and it's something I would find time and space for. I don't always understand it, and I don't always think about why I love it so--I just do, sometimes. I'm still able to listen to music and enjoy it just for being there.

What I'm saying is, I'm glad I haven't lost that kind of naivete when it comes to music. I like that, despite being a professional (ahem) in the industry, I'm still an amateur at heart, in the best sense of the word: "a person who engages in an art, science, study, or athletic activity as a pastime rather than as a profession." Looking into the etymology of amateur, we're reminded that it comes from the Latin root amare, "to love."

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Throw Your Hands in the Air

Just got home from a good gig, and I am so annoyed. This is not normally how I feel after a good gig, in case you're wondering. But then again, this is the first time I've gone to a gig at Club V, in Makati.

So I went there to attend the Sun Valley Crew launch of their third album, "It's All Natural." The opening acts were decent, although plagued with technical difficulties, some having to do with the sound, most having to do with the lights (at one point, the overhead lights started strobing, flashing full on and off, simulating rapid blinking -- and the Club V people couldn't turn them off. The strobing went on forever until half the people were blind or insane). Nevertheless, we witnessed some impressive human beatboxing by Turbulence, Caliph8's engaging, almost-stuttery flow, and this other act whose name I'm not sure of (I think they were called Grand Cru-Z) -- but when Sun Valley Crew took the stage, it was clear who the best act of the night was. Armed with a full band lineup (including, yes, the guitarist from Chicosci, and even featuring a genuine saxophone solo at one point), they sounded great, and they delivered great hip-hop songs with a touch of soul and jazz -- in short, they should have brought the house down.

But the crowd -- man, the crowd sucked. These people, I don't know where these people were from, some of them looked like stereotypical yuppies, some of them were dressed for the occasion in baggy hip-hop gear, there were a lot of mini-skirted, high-heeled women -- but it didn't matter what they were dressed like, all that matters is that they weren't feeling it. It was a good thing Bernie and Marcus arrived, fresh from that Drip gig elsewhere in Makati -- otherwise, I would have been the only person moving to the music in my row, near the front. Most of the other people stood still as if they were looking at a painting, and even more annoying, almost everyone up in front was fiddling with their camera phones and digicams, 'preserving the moment' instead of enjoying it. SVC's set was uniformly strong, but the crowd remained mostly inert even during surefire crowd-pleasers, like "Rockin' It" -- when you hear that "This is the way we rock it, this is the way we make you move" chorus, how the hell do you not feel like jumping up and down?

Bizarrely enough, the height of the evening in terms of crowd participation was during the damn sponsor games, for God's sake. Our boss Vernon dropped by just in time to catch this interlude of idiocy. We watched as a tall, attractive, ostensibly demure girl removed stickers randomly placed on some guy's front, whilst blindfolded and using only her mouth. We thought she couldn't do it, at first, and then watched in amazement as she ran her face all over his body and picked up sticker after sticker with ease. "She's a pro!" Vernon exclaimed. Then there was a grotesque dance contest, between two pairs. We chose to root for the pair with the guy who looked like he should have been playing golf instead: this bespectacled, chunky guy with his long-sleeved shirt tucked in. Well, better him than the other guy, who looked like he thought he was Michael Jackson but who couldn't even move in time to the beat, he was so pathetically drunk. The winner was judged by the crowd's reactions, so we hollered and clapped and Vernon banged his beer bottle for pair #1. When they took the prize, Vernon said, "My work here is done," and left.

I remember the Sandwich video launch (for "2 trick pony"), at Big Sky Mind. Cebu-based hip-hop outfit Dice + K9 performed as a support act that night, and the crowd gave them so much love that they basically overshadowed the headlining act. (Not that I think Sandwich minded -- Marc Abaya and Raimund Marasigan both jammed with Dice + K9, and everyone just had a lot of fun). People were on their feet, hooting, waving their hands in the air (like they just didn't care), requesting song after song, dancing, singing along. And this was an indie-rock crowd, in friggin' Big Sky Mind. Those supposed hip-hop fans at Club V tonight should be ashamed of themselves. Once again, I realize: great gigs are a two-way street. And with that, I say good night, or good morning, as the case may be.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Geek and You Shall Find

Funny you should mention how the people we work with are "music geeks through and through." In the cab on my way home last night after having interviewed the band Marty McFly, I was just thinking of our artists -- Dave, Paul and Marcus -- and how they're at least as into music as the writers. Sometimes I think their music geekery is of an even purer sort, as they're not constantly having to analyze why they like this album or that act.

Our office artists' knowledge of the genres they're into is deep, but it's not anything they researched for a story or interview. They just happily play the stuff they like -- in some cases, over and over, and singing along, besides ("Pa paa! This is the sound of settling!"). Not that I mind, of course. My tastes pretty much jive on some level with all of them: from Paul, I learn about nice indie bands I might otherwise never have had the time to discover, and Marcus always plays this cool obscure undergound hip-hop stuff, and Dave... well, Dave plays David Bowie, the Pet Shop Boys, Black Grape and R.E.M., so it's just like being at home.

I envy Dave and the others sometimes, to be honest; I wonder if it's harder for us to just sit back and enjoy music now, purely and simply and wordlessly, since we have to review it and write about it all the time. And besides, while working with images and typography can be very difficult in its own way, I've always found laying out and designing stuff to be less mind-mangling in general than stringing words together. In fact, I have secret plans (ssshh) for mastering Freehand. ;p (Too bad the problem with learning more skills on this job is that it sometimes leads to us doing extra stuff we don't get even paid for -- photography, concert organizing, etc).

Of course, we writers get to be out in the city, covering events, interviewing artists, doing phoners, scoring free CDs, etc. Which, depending on one's mood or the people involved, can suck too, but on the whole still gives me a buzz. I have yet to interview a musician I'm really really cartwheelingly enthusiastic about, but it's probably just as well. Put me in front of David Bowie or Aimee Mann or XTC -- even if it's just on the phone -- and I may very well be struck speechless, or slip into a coma.

And speaking of covering events and such -- I'm off now, to go to hip-hop act Sun Valley Crew's album launch in Makati. Jun Balbuena assures me that they've got a nu-jazz/soul thing going, and Joey just mentioned that Mong Alcaraz is playing guitar for them now. Sounds interesting. :)

Seeing The Dawn

Well, Almost Famous wisdom aside, I think you're cool, in the best possible sense of the word. :) Definitely cooler than a lot of the supposed rock stars I've interviewed.

Speaking of The Dawn, they were on the bill of the first real concert I ever went to, when I was 12. (I think I had tagged along with some family members to a David Benoit concert before that, but that doesn't count. What a mistake. I got so bored and sleepy that I ended up going out to the lobby and reading my Thing comics instead). I still have my Ultra Storm ticket somewhere, but I don't have to look at it to remember that The Dawn weren't even the headliners then -- it was The Rage (The Rage! My God. Who remembers The Rage?). These were the days when every local band had the word "the" before its name; rounding out the bill was The Amo. I don't remember too much about specific performances or songs that night, but I do remember the thrill, to be jumping up and down, and singing along, with thousands of other people -- to be standing, near the stage, instead of on the sidelines, which were safer -- all for the first time.

The Dawn remained an important part of my life through most of high school. My friends and I knew the songs from the first two albums well; I would even draw the little stick-figure men from the cover of I Stand With You in my binder. When Teddy Diaz was killed, it was something we could barely wrap our minds around: so senseless, such a waste. Their third album didn't -- perhaps couldn't -- affect us the same way the other two had, but it was still pretty good. Whatever life a song like "Salamat" might have once had was sucked out by its incessant use in beer commercials, but lesser-known numbers like "Little Paradise" still found their way into our days and nights.

I remember going with friends Dexter and Voltaire and Erwin to The Dawn's All Hallow's Eve concert. We were 14 or 15 years old then -- not being able to afford better tickets, we ended up on the upper levels, where all the druggies and gangs were. Numerous fights broke out in our section. I remember Voltaire standing very still, not moving to the music, for fear of accidentally elbowing one of our less sober neighbors and getting pulled into a confrontation. We heard "Salamat" far too many times that night -- they looped the San Mig commercial and kept playing it in the half-hour or so before the band got onstage -- but the band's version of "Sweet Child O' Mine" was a fun surprise. I think that was the concert that eventually got released as a live album. Wonder where my copy of that album is now.

I only completely lost interest in The Dawn around the fourth or fifth albums. Sorry, Francis Reyes -- nothing to do with your guitar prowess, obviously. It's just that the new songs seemed to have lost whatever the old stuff used to have that made it important to me. Maybe it's just that I was older. As a music fan, though, one always hoped for a resurgence of that magic. I was at the launch/mini-concert of their last album, at the Music Museum (was that in 2000? Has it been four years already?), hoping, hoping. But the only magic that sparked to life was during their renditions of their old hits. I look elsewhere for that thrill I first tasted as a 12 year-old concertgoer now. These days, it seems really hard to find.

Thursday, June 24, 2004


An extra post, because it's a special day today.

In the car last week, listening to Thor's burn of Edie Brickell's Volcano, in the passenger seat while K. drove. Midnight, and the streets wet with rain. It wouldn't mean anything to anyone else that that's the scene, and that's the music. But years and years ago, and it was me in another car, with my first love; now it's the same singer, and I'm with the person who I hope is the last of my loves. There's a bittersweet symmetry to it.

"Would it be uncool if I could write a love song?" -Courtney Love

The MTV Ink anniversary party next week reminds me that I've been at this job for three years now, and at PULP for another year, year-and-a-half, longer than that. It's a great job for a music fan, as you well know; some days are so cool, they're unreal.

The first assignment that meant anything to me as a music fan was an interview I did with Lisa Loeb, when she was in town for a (canceled) performance in '96 or '97. I was working for a fashion magazine (!) at the time, and one of the editors had managed to sweet-talk the organizers into inviting me to dinner with the band. When the performance was eventually canceled, because of some missing permits or whatnot, the guys in the touring band asked me to take them out drinking, and so we ended up in Malate. I can't begin to tell you how much that meant to me, knowing that a few months earlier I was obssessing over Tails, and then being able to actually meet and hang out with the people who were responsible for the music.

Lisa Loeb has been superseded by many other musicians since then, and the scene's replicated itself over the years. I've gotten to talk to or meet many musicians I've admired, and whenever I threaten to get jaded about it all, I remind myself what the experience would've meant to the 13-year-old me. Waiting for the Dawn at Starbucks for an interview? Well, I remind myself how it was like to be in sixth grade, hearing "Enveloped Ideas" for the first time, and thinking that it was the coolest thing ever. Reminding myself to hold on to that excitement nowadays, and forget that we're familiar enough with the band for Francis Reyes to make jokes about my height on air. On NU 107! Is that cool or what?

(And I also need to be constantly reminded, like Patrick Fugit's shy young writer character in Almost Famous, that the bands I cover are cool. I am not cool.)

It's somewhat of a miracle that music still remains so personal to us, despite it being a job. I like how the people we work with are music geeks through and through, music geeks first and foremost, music geeks now and forever. As the Lester Bangs character said in the aforementioned movie: "The only true currency in this bankrupt world... is what you share with someone else when you're uncool."

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

"Hey, you know what paradise is?"

I remember some of my earliest encounters with music on the radio. My father had these big fat yellow headphones with an AM radio receiver built into them. I would steal the headphones from his room, snap them on, lie back, and just listen. Unfortunately, it was in this way that my innocent pre-adolescent soul first came across that horrific anthem, "I've Never Been To Me." I couldn't believe my ears. What was this filth about being undressed by kings and making love with preacher men in the sun? How could they broadcast that smut? And had I sinned, just by hearing it? (You can tell I was raised Catholic). Perhaps that's why I shifted to cassettes, early on in my life. There was no telling what an evil DJ could inflict on you.

"The music scene: We love it, we live it, we write about it..." It does sometimes seem strange to me, after a lifetime of being a listener, to be writing about bands and gigs and albums as a full-time job. (Actually, the very fact that I have a full-time job at all seems strange to me, but that's another story). I never thought of my love for music as anything that would lead to a possible career. It was only in college that I slowly started to realize that not everybody was as into music as I was. After all, in high school, I hung out with people like Allan Tabilog, a genius guitarist who introduced me to The Smiths and listened to everything from jazz to classical to heavy metal to show tunes (I remember getting him a Megadeth cassette for his birthday). Then there was Jason Baluyut, the biggest Michael Jackson fan I knew, who composed songs on his Yamaha keyboard and dragged me to see Moonwalker. Twice. In the company of wonderful weirdos like them, it was little wonder that I felt like an amateur music appreciator. (Although I do remember reviewing The Dawn's Beyond the Bend for the school paper. I think I gave it the equivalent of 3.5 out of 5).

In college, it was a surprise for me to realize that my friends saw me as an authority of sorts. They would ask me questions like, "What was the name of that guy from Depeche Mode? No... the other guy." They also asked me for listening recommendations, and would give me blank cassettes to make mix tapes for them with. Despite my admitted admiration for the entire Pet Shop Boys oeuvre (with the possible exception of Disco 2), my opinions on music were, apparently, being taken seriously. So I guess I have my college friends to thank for my currently being underpaid, and annoyed on a monthly basis. Thanks a lot, guys.

Seriously, though, I love this job. I mean, there are times when I hate it, too, but on the whole it's a great gig, not least because of the people I work with. *makes 'driving' and 'globe-shaped' gestures* Hooo! Stir! Bola!

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Bed Weather

Well, while you and the rest of music-loving Manila were getting drenched and disappointed at the Fête de la Musique, I was miles and miles away, in bed, having passed out fully clothed because of these damn antihistamines I'm on. Not that I'm complaining--the meds are giving me wonderfully quirky dreams.

Like that night's dream, which had Morrissey living at my parents' house, hiding out from the public and trying to take a break from the relentless media storm that followed his latest release. Some neighborhood kids showed up at the door, asking if they could see him, and I had to tell them that, no, that wasn't Morrissey bunking at our house. But then he came back from doing the groceries--I remember he was dressed in walking shorts and looked a little old and slightly squidgy 'round the edges, like he did in his pictures in the recent SPIN issue--and the children went wild. He took it all pretty calmly. He looked tired at the attention, but also grateful for the children's sincerity.

I don't know why I dreamt that, since I haven't listened to the new album or actually given Morrissey more than a passing thought since its release. Maybe it's because I heard "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" in a bar some nights ago. Probably because I'm on so many different meds, I'm hallucinating half the time.

I told Margie about this blog, and she laughed. It's not like we don't get enough of writing about music at work, she said. Now you guys are putting up a blog about it! Well. I guess it means we're hard-core music fans.

Little-known fact about this music fan, though: I've only ever been to one Fête, which was last year's. And every year, I get text messages from friends, asking where I am, and where we can meet up. I've always been out of town during the previous Fêtes, and this year...well, after missing Olympic Smoker's set, I didn't feel like going anymore. Which was, as you said, just as well, considering what kind of personal dramas unfolded for C. and P. that evening. The music scene: We love it, we live it, we write about it and dream about it, then we date the people in it. Or date people who dated people in it. ;)

Things were so much simpler when I was a teenager whose only contact with the music scene was through the radio.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Rain, Rain

So the other night I was at the Fête de la Musique in Eastwood. "Over 100 bands slated to perform in 10 simultaneous concerts at the festival’s biggest venue... There is no doubt that this year's Fête de la Musique shall be the most memorable to date," proclaimed the Fête's official page. Tall order, considering they've been holding the music festival here with relative success since 1994 -- but it turns out they were right, for all the wrong reasons. We spent a memorable time wading through instant floodwaters, had many memorable experiences trying to get into venues too jampacked to admit any more people, and the collapse of the tent on the heads of the Radioactive Sago Project was certainly nothing, if not memorable. Okay, so obviously the sudden downpour was a big factor; one wonders, though, how the organizers failed to allow for the possibility of rain, considering that it's the rainy season, and every other Fête I've been to has also been rained on?

Still, I managed to catch a great set by Squid 9 on the Electronica stage -- Raimund Marasigan and Company's combination of head-bobbing beats, atmospheric stabs of sound and vocals that glide from smooth to almost-pained was as cool as ever. I also caught Ciudad (I love "Dance Lessons"), Mayonnaise (surprisingly, a crowd favorite -- "Kahit hindi kami sikat!"), the Happy Meals (my favorite part -- when vocalist Odin gave a shout-out to the men watching from the top of a parked truck) and Kjwan ("Bastusan na!!" yelled Marc Abaya -- twice, by my count) on the Rock stage. Managed to catch Sundown Muse (I know the band prefers to write their name with all the words jammed together, but I prefer it this way) on the Alternative stage too. All in all, not a bad night for music for the fairly early Fête-goers, but after the sudden rainfall, the World, Alternative and Jazz stages shut down, and the event as a whole, while it did not exactly grind to a halt (some of my friends stayed, and got home around 6 or 7am), became much less than it should have been.

I have fond memories of last year's Fête, though, when we stayed 'til the very last blues-rock jam, with guitarist Sammy Asuncion noodling away and Binky Lampano growling into his mic and Joey "Pepe" Smith swinging his mic in a wide arc from the stage, proving the old rock n' roll stage antics still have some spark in them. We didn't mind the rain then, as we watched and clapped and moved to the music (especially Dave, who was executing drunken robot-like dance steps), and it just goes to show that the best gigs aren't just made up of great performances onstage, but the company you keep in the audience, even if it's just a smile and a nod to the rest of the people around you who are enjoying themselves too. Hope we can both go to the Fête again next year -- it's just as well you sat this one out though.