Thursday, December 30, 2010

Breaking Boundaries

For the umpteenth time, legendary Pinoy supergroup Juan Dela Cruz band staged a “reunion” show over the weekend, but it wasn’t some lame production at a seedy bar with a perpetual cloud of cigarette smoke hanging over the air. The venue was the Cultural Center of the Philippines and Mike Hanopol, Wally Gonzalez and Joey “Pepe” Smith headlined a fantastic, three-day concert billed as “Fiesta ng Musikang Filipino.”

Sugarfree and UpDharmaDown were the opening acts on the first night. Despite their relative youth, both bands are pretty much pros in the local music scene. Ebe Dancel in particular stole the show when he started crooning Sharon Cuneta’s immortal classic “Sana’y Wala Nang Wakas.” It was obvious he was struggling in some parts, but the sheer bravado he displayed in belting out the videoke staple was impressive. Ate Shawie would’ve been proud. Armi Millare, on the other hand, was in her usual element, with her distinct vocal stylings lending an air of originality to their songs, including their take on the Apo original, “Kaibigan.”

The curtain behind the bands came up afterwards, and the musicians of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra were revealed, all wearing white shirts and jeans. Performing Bamboo’s hit “Hallelujah,” the MPO received thunderous applause from the audience. A traditional orchestra performing contemporary pop hits isn’t exactly jump-off-your-seat exciting and new, but in today’s musical landscape of tired old acts, the attempt of jumping out of their tight dresses and suits and reaching out to more mainstream audiences is still very much appreciated.

International violinist Lucia Micarelli was up next. I wasn’t exactly blown away with her largely experimental repertoire the first time I saw her perform at Embassy last Valentine’s Day, but I much preferred her this time accompanied by the MPO in a stirring violin solo. I had the chance to interview Josh Groban’s punky violinist the first time she was here and she’s always expressed her desire to break boundaries and perform in front of newer audiences, not just in front of the classical crowd, and it looks like she’s getting her wish. (It didn’t hurt, too, that she was looking might fine when she played barefoot and in that plunging dress.)

But the night was about Juan Dela Cruz band. Launching into their first song, it seemed like the trio of Smith, Gonzalez and Hanopol still played like a tight, mean, Pinoy rock-playing machine. But midway during the song, there were unexpected technical difficulties that forced them to stop playing. And as usual, dear old Pepe entertained the audience with his antics. He walked around spewing verbal nonsense, pretended (?) to drink out of his trusty whiskey flask, laid down onstage and even gave somebody in the audience the finger. Yep, it wouldn’t be a Juan Dela Cruz show without lolo Pepe being his irreverent self. When the kinks were ironed out, the band played on, this time accompanied by the MPO, and it was as though the music never stopped. Up to the grand finale of “Ang Himig Natin,” with Lucia, Armi and Ebe joining in, the whole show was truly a feast for the senses. Organizers of the show should be proud of themselves for mounting such a unique, genre-defying production, and here’s hoping we get more of that soon.

Coldplay’s fourth studio album Viva La Vida or Death and All of His Friends drops next month, and whether you think of them as insanely talented or overrated crapbags, this is pretty big news. Multi-hyphenate musician and producer Brian Eno takes the helm for this outing, and Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow and his cohorts promise something “new” and “completely different.” That’s certainly the least that I could say about the first single, “Violet Hill.” If you didn’t get the chance to download the song for free off their website, you’re gonna have to wait till the album’s release in these parts June 19th. (That or you can ask nicely and I might just send the song to you for free).


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