Thursday, December 30, 2010

The brilliant and the dim, then and now

The brilliant and the dim, then and now

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The show was billed as “probably the biggest concert event of the year.” I don’t know about that, there’s been quite a succession of tremendous productions of foreign acts over the past few weeks, but the “Then and Now: Massive Music Fest” concert was certainly big on artists and ambition.
Gathering music stars from the 1990s and today for a special, one-of-a-kind music festival, the concert was held at the SM Mall of Asia grounds. On the bill were V Factory, TQ, PM Dawn, Diana King, Frankie J., Baby Bash, Jojo, All 4 One and SWV, who performed in that order. 

But before the marquee acts, there was a bizarre opening number by one Myrus Ramirez. I have nothing against the guy, but with such an assembly of big-time international names, I didn’t think there was a need for a warm-up act. Myrus was neither a household name nor an underground favorite, and his all-covers set list, including songs by Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, The Spice Girls and Jason Mraz, left many in the audience scratching their heads, or worse, hurling unpleasant remarks towards the stage.
Sadly, his set felt more like a Tuesday night at Bagaberde or some other watering hole, not Saturday night at a major concert stage.

V Factory started the show. I have never heard of the group before that night, but their song-and-dance act reminded me of the boyband explosion of the mid to late 1990s. The group is originally a fivesome, but one member was back in the US stuck with other commitments and couldn’t make it to the show.
They did a lively set, but save for a few fans screaming in the audience, they hardly made an impact on the crowd.

TQ is the stage name of Terrance Quaites, who is best known for his 1998 hit “Westside.” After the underwhelming opening acts, his rap stylings upped the energy level a little. The enthusiasm was certainly appreciated. When he started on “Westside” the adoration and excitement was almost palpable.
Audiences joined in on the chorus; it was clear TQ loved every minute he was onstage. An album called Kind Of Blue is in the works, his follow up to last year’s S.E.X.Y. EP.

Hip Hop and R&B group PM Dawn was next. Brothers Attrell and Jarrett Cordes scored a hit single in “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” in 1991, but it was only Jarrett who was in town for the show. Brother Attrell a.k.a. Prince Be suffered a stroke in 2005 and is presumably still recuperating. With a DJ in the background, the lone Cordes also performed their other hit, “Looking Through Patient Eyes,” but sadly passed on one of their most recognizable song “I’d Die Without You.”

By this time, the uneven sound system was becoming a major issue. There were no audio tracks onstage for the performers, the microphone was crackling and they had to adjust the audio levels and monitors more than a couple of times while the artists were performing. For a huge-scale concert event, which needless to say, relies heavily on what audiences hear, a patchy and troublesome sound system is unforgivable, and if it weren’t for the professionalism of the artists, the show would have been a complete disaster.

Thankfully, Diana King tried very hard to ignore the audio problems and focus on giving the audience a good time. With her reggae-tinged RnB and dance hits like “Shy Guy and a cover of the Dionne Warwick original “I Say A Little Prayer,” it was a good set marked by vigorous dancing and booty shaking in the audience. While PM Dawn looked and sounded a little strained, King was still in her element, hitting the high notes and moving and grooving to a recorded track all by her lonesome onstage. “Whoa. I’ve always wanted to come here to Manila, and I can’t believe I’m finally here,” she told the crowd.

After all the booty shaking, Latin artist Frankie J. shifted gears a bit and sampled his RnB infused ballads.
The Mexican-merican singer has yet to carve out a name for himself in these parts, but he channeled Ne-Yo in his spiffy suit and remarkably clear, heartfelt singing. Save for a small Frankie J.delegation, the songs largely fell on clueless ears, until he started on his cover of Extreme’s “More Than Words.” The next act, Baby Bash (a.k.a Ronald Rey Bryant) joined him in his final number. The American rapper performed his songs with a pair of Samoan back-up acts that he called Da Stooie Brothers. The crowds clapped politely and even jiggled a few behinds in time with the songs, but overall, they were just fillers in what was becoming a long and increasingly tedious concert.

The last three acts were, purportedly, the big guns. Pop singer Jojo proved there was much more to her than her two-song contribution to the Timbaland and Justin Timberlake show in March. The hips popped, the hair flew and her singing hovered somewhere between average and outstanding. The audience had noticeably thinned out by the time All 4 One came running onstage. They wasted no time though and quickly launched into one of their familiar hits, “I Can Love You Like That.” One of the four verbally blasted the audio guys for the disastrous sound system. Still, the foursome said they were glad to be back in Manila after performing here at the height of their popularity over a decade ago. Finally, almost five hours since the concert started, the final act of the night appeared.
Hands down, the trio of Leanne Lyons, Cheryl Clemons and Tamara Johnson George was the best act of the night. The voices were still as smooth on their hits, including “Right Here” and the one song perhaps many in the audience who had stayed on looked forward to hearing the most, “Weak.” For many who grew up and came of age in the 1990s, the song no doubt brought back a lot of memories. All in all, with that one song, SWV managed to salvage what could have otherwise turned out to be a droll and lackluster production. 

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