Alone Again Naturally

“Mag-isa ka lang?!” she asked me. “Oo,” I replied confidently, “walang puwedeng sumama sa ‘kin eh.  Sayang kung mapapalagpas ko ‘to.” Her eyes expressed surprise, and her voice, concern. Then, slowly and briefly, she looked away; her brows furrowed. It was as though she was trying to let what I had said sink in. It was as if being on my own was such an unbelievable thought. I suddenly had the feeling that she was somewhat sorry for me for not having any company except for myself. I could almost hear the thought that she decided not to express: “Kawawa naman siya.”

Six years ago, going to concerts alone was an unimaginable thing for me to do, and I would’ve probably had the same reaction the woman I briefly met at the concert last year did. Why would you want to go to such a social event with no one else but yourself? That’s just… sad.

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The Ataris Live in Manila

Later on I realized that some people go to concerts alone not by choice but because of circumstances. Sure, there must be some who attend shows on their own because they enjoy being with nobody, but I’m positive that they are outnumbered by those who prefer the company. And I am one of the latter.

The first concert I went to on my own happened in 2013 when American pop-punk group The Ataris visited the country for the first time. I am no big fan of The Ataris, but I do like some of their songs especially their earlier works. Despite being anxious, I headed to the venue and popped my “going to concerts alone cherry” and survived! The Ataris concert was then followed by another, and another, and another, with Karpos Live in 2018 featuring Urbandub and The Royal Concept being the last… so far.

Watching concerts alone is not really such a terrible experience, but it does have some negative points.  These are especially true if the show I’m seeing is an SRO event or the ticket I’ve purchased doesn’t provide any reserved seats, which are usually the lower priced ones or the mosh pit section. Remember, these are for major concerts and music festivals, not for bar gigs. Small bar gigs are ironically scarier for me. I have yet to try watching one on my own.  OK, on to the disadvantages:

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waiting for the gates to be opened at Switchfoot’s 2016 concert. It was an outdoor event in the middle of the dry season. Needless to say, it was hot and uncomfortable.

1. The eternal wait. Waiting for the gates to open. Waiting for the front act to start. Waiting for the main act to start. Although these are things that I also have to endure even when I’m with someone, the experience is more of a torture when I’m by myself. Since I’m all alone, there’s no one I can chat and kill time with during these seemingly interminable waiting periods. I’m not the type who can easily strike up conversations with strangers, so I people watch, or sometimes I preoccupy myself with any gadget I may have brought, or stuff my mouth with food from the concessionaires.

2. Saved… not. No one can save my spot when I go to the toilet, food stalls, merch table, or wherever. Sure, I can ask the person beside me to save my spot, but when queues suddenly become disorganized or when more audience members begin to pour in, I will most likely lose my place, and I can’t really blame the person I’ve entrusted my space to.

3. Shoot me, please! I’m not really fond of taking photos and videos during shows. I’d rather rely on my companion to do that for me, but since there’s no one else, that task becomes all mine. When I want to have a photo of myself, I usually find someone who seems friendly to take it (No, I don’t like taking selfies either.)  Here’s the downside: if the person takes an unpleasant shot, I can’t really force her/him to take another one, and another, until I get the picture that I want. Some are kind enough, and they themselves offer more takes if necessary, but that’s not always the case.

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If I’m alone and there’s an M&G session, no one can document it for me properly. Boo! This was taken during the post-concert M&G of The Royal Concept at their Karpos Live show in 2018. In photo: a female fan; Filip Bekic, who had a sort of a Serge Pizzaro vibe going on, and Magnus Nilsson.

4. What was that? When there’s something that that the vocalist said and I didn’t get it, or when an incident suddenly takes place and I didn’t know what has caused it, (e.g. a guitarist suddenly angrily throws his instrument or pushes amps on stage (Hello, Mike Einziger!) there’s no one I can bug and ask “What did he say? Why did he say that?” or “What the hell just happened? Did you see what happened before he went berserk?”

5. No post-concert discussion. You know when you’re super happy and you just want to talk endlessly about it? Yeah, I can’t do that after a show. Whom will I be talking to? N O O N E. Again, unless I have made friends with someone during the concert, which rarely happens, I just have nobody else to share that happiness with. Of course, I can share it on social media, but it is still different when I can just spontaneously spew out all the things I want to say to someone right then and there.

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The photo’s blurry, I know.  Blame the dude who took it.  This was an impromptu M&G with Switchfoot (2016).  The people with me were fellow fans I got to meet only after the show.  A couple of them also went to the show only by themselves.   I don’t think I would have had this moment had I been with someone that night.

Flying solo is not all negative, though. One advantage is that you own your time. If you want to stay long after the show has ended to see if you can get an impromptu meet and greet opportunity with the artist, (Hello, Switchfoot! Hello, Christian Mazzalai!) or just take in everything of that exhilarating event that has just transpired, you can! No one will complain and bug you to go home already.

Another and perhaps the bigger advantage is that your happiness doesn’t depend on someone else. You have independence! Imagine: you’ve waited for so long to see this particular artist, and you’ll fail to do so just because no one can accompany you.  Then you’ll rant about it on social media and file the post under #teambahay.  I think that’s worse than the points I have just raised here, don’t you think?

For sure, watching concerts alone will put you outside of your comfort zone, but hey, at least you got to revel and get intoxicated with the music that means so much to you!  You may have arrived alone, but you have witnessed and celebrated an event with hundreds or even thousands of people who share the same passion in music as you do.  Seize that opportunity.  It may be the last.  Going to shows alone may leave you feeling uncomfortable, but sometimes those moments that extract you from your comfort zone are exactly the ones that you need to help you open up to amazing experiences, grow, and understand yourself a little bit better.

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You Need to Know Need to Know

“It’s about unrequited love, obsession, and frustration,” said David Larson when he described The Royal Concept’s newest single released last February 1, Need to Know.  A song that the vocalist of the Swedish four-piece also admitted to being fond of, Need to Know, is a departure from the band’s usual sound, which is often laced with blithesome mood and vibrant synthesizers.  The track instead adopts a slower tempo and injects a melancholic vibe, while at the same time paints images of waves, palm trees, and lively downtown areas that seem to hearken back to California decades ago.

The song is actually included in The Wake Up EP released exclusively in Asia during their tour last year.  The three other songs in it, Wild Things, Kick It, and Up All Night, are also almost in the same sonic landscape as Need to Know, with guitars being featured prominently in them.  The latter, in fact, features a guitar solo courtesy of Filip Bekic, and it’s the longest one he’s done so far.

Obviously, The Royal Concept have taken a different musical direction with this new song and the band’s second full album itself as well, which hopefully will be out quite soon.

 

We Owe the Unlucky Ones

Maybe that’s how books get written
Maybe that’s why songs get sung
Maybe we owe the unlucky ones

Grainy with some splashes of ochre and scenes of an urban neighborhood – details that popped in my head when I first heard From Above almost a decade ago.   This song had been buried in my memory until The Royal Concept recently released a video for their new song, Need to Know, which painted almost the same things in my head upon hearing it as From Above did.

But unlike Need to Know, From Above sounds cheery.  It’s the kind that can make you bob your head and shuffle your feet while you’re on a pavement on your way home from work, and the colors of the sunset are just beginning to spill across the sky.  Listen carefully to the words, however, and you will realize how deceptively jovial it is.   That instead of making a little dance, its words will make you want to look up at the sky, and ponder on coincidences, soul mates, and things that are and yet are never meant to be.

This Ben Folds and Nick Hornby collaboration tells the story of these two unnamed characters and their so-called love story.  The lyrics are somewhat comparable to reading a book, so instead of singing verses, it feels like you are unraveling chapters of it.  It is accompanied by a video with animated illustrations that breathe life to the tale of the central figures in the narrative.

The strength of the song is in its lyrics.  Nothing’s cryptic; everything, in fact, is simple and clear, but the way that the events unfold is cleverly written.  It touches on a topic that you won’t normally hear in other love songs that reek of pain, loneliness, and even desperation.  And I think it is the absence of love that makes it, ironically, a unique and awfully tragic love story.

I Am the President of Your Fan Club* [But, No, I Didn’t Follow You Home]

They don’t even know what it is to be a fan. Y’know?
To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.
– “Almost Famous”

Last year, a friend of mine invited me a couple of times to watch live football games.   I am not into football, but for the sake of trying out something new, I decided to say yes.  That was my formal introduction to the world of football.  For someone who couldn’t stand watching football on TV for even 15 minutes straight, the matches were not as bad as I had expected them to be.  It even allowed me to ponder on a few interesting things, like 1) the idea of nationalism and citizenship (because most of the players were only half-Filipinos);  2)  the influence of politics and history, and;  3) humans’ curious fascination with balls!  But there was another thing that interested me when I saw those games: it was the idea of being a fan.

You see, my friend has a sister, and she is the founder of one of the football clubs’ cheering squad.  During the two instances that I attended the games, she, along with other supporters, was busy and preoccupied with preparing their cheers.  Of course, it was natural because she was, after all, part of a booster squad, but her “duties” did not end there.  She was also in charge with the props used (banners, flags, etc.) which were either funded by her own pockets or created with the help of some family members.  She was in communication with some of the players, coordinated with the coach, other fans of the club, and the major sponsor of the club.  She really made time out of her busy schedule to attend the games of the team, and even on some occasions, celebrate a player’s birthday by baking something herself.  Her dedication to the team itself was something.  I told her that I had never met anyone as committed as her before and that her passion for the things that she was doing was admirable.

I looked at my own life, and I couldn’t find a time when I did something comparable to the level of her enthusiasm.  Sure, I had been a fan of some artists or musicians: I collected their albums, went to their concerts multiple times, joined their communities, lined up just to have pictures taken with them, but that was it.  OK, I admit that there was a time when I followed an international band to their hotel after their concert in Manila (I checked-in unplanned.  My “stalking” was unsuccessful, though!)  but that was the first and last time I did something really crazy as a fan.  My support for the bands or artists themselves was limited; my interactions with them, oftentimes none.  I did not constantly go the extra mile and I never involved other people to the extent like my friend’s sister has…

…Until one day, some French band came along and ruined my record!

I am not going to go into the details of my my “fan-girling,” but so far I have:

  • put up a fan site / petition page (I didn’t know that it entails a lot of work and even frustration!)
  • contacted a ton of strangers to encourage them to join the community
  • communicated with a record company
  • gotten in touch with event organizers
  • “rallied” people to vote for the band’s songs

…all for the purpose of being instrumental even in the tiniest way in bringing the band here to the Philippines!  But you know what’s funny?  This band that I am pouring my efforts into isn’t even my #1 favorite band!  Heck, not even #2, but #3!  If my former self would see me right now, she would probably say, “Seriously?”

Sometimes I also can’t believe that I am doing so much for a group of people who isn’t aware of my existence!  There are times when I begin to question the relevance of all these in my life.  Why the hell am I wasting my time on this stupid project? Such a triviality! But whenever I listen to them, I am reminded of the reason – Music.

I realized that I am not doing this for the band, but more for myself.  In a way, there’s also a selfish aspect to all this: my strong desire to help bring them here and experience them live.  To celebrate and be one with a crowd that’s also been touched by their Music.  Because there is something divine in a live musical experience that people will never understand unless they have been immersed in one and have truly surrendered to Music’s power.  That idea alone keeps me going because although they are not my all-time favorite, their music has been a source of happiness and inspiration.  Their words in some instances have helped me see some things in a different perspective.

I guess all this work (and its pay off, which I HOPE would come to fruition) is a small gift for them but a much bigger treat for myself.   Maybe that’s also for the case of my sister’s friend.  Maybe not.  Whatever it is, one thing is sure: in being a fan, love is always involved.

 

 

* I started writing this six long years ago, but I only got to finish it a few years after that; the exact year of which has already escaped me.   But even then I never felt it was completely done, and so I postponed publishing it.  Last week, however, I came across it again and thought that I should simply throw it out into the universe instead of keeping it and letting it rot.  So, here it is.  The title, by the way, was taken from a song by Cancel the Astronautswith some minor editing made.

Once Upon a December

“I’d like to invite everyone to sing along with us,” said a man as he faced the crowd.  Sitting among the people that the man had just addressed, I didn’t hesitate and began searching for that slip of paper inserted into the booklet given to me earlier.  On the paper were the lyrics of a song I had heard a thousand times yet realized just then I never really knew by heart.  “Come and behold Him.   Born the King of Angels!   O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!”   I sang in my low voice, making sure that I would not be too loud so as to not attract any attention unlike the woman seated in front of me who was belting out the lines with no apparent difficulty.

It may sound as if I was in Church praising God, but I was nowhere near one.  It was not even Sunday.  In fact, it was a chilly Friday night, and I was in Pasay City.  I, along with hundreds more, was in the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo or the Main Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), and the man who encouraged everyone to lift their voices was Mr. Herminigildo Ranera, or as I should properly call him, Maestro Herminigildo Ranera, the conductor of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) for that night.   Yes, audiences don’t sing during orchestral performances, but as you can probably tell, this wasn’t a regular orchestral performance to begin with.

Despite the rain and the distance of the venue, I decided to go and witness the PPO’s concert last December 14 because I knew it was going to be extra special.  If the lyrics of the song were not obvious enough a clue, it was a Christmas presentation; moreover, it was PPO’s final show for its 36th season, which also coincided with its 45th anniversary.  I had already missed their performance at UP Diliman the week before, along with various UP choral groups, wherein they performed Handel’s Messiah, so I didn’t want to miss this one anymore.  After all, Christmastime isn’t all year round.

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Taking of photos or videos while the concert is ongoing is prohibited, but this was taken literally a few seconds before the orchestra members left the stage, so the rule no longer applies! 😉

The orchestra performed these as part of the repertoire: The Christmas Elf – Overture (Pfitzner), Violin Concerto No.5 in A (Mozart), Hansel and Gretel Prelude to Act One (Humperdinck), The Nutcracker Suite (Tchaikovsky), and different carols such as Pasko na Namang Muli, O Come all Ye Faithful, and Joy to the World.  Young Filipino violinist Joaquin “Chino” Gutierrez, who especially made the trip back home from Austria, where he is studying at the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg, was the featured soloist and superbly performed Mozart’s Violin Concerto.  The sound of the soaring violin, accompanied by the orchestra, tugged on my heartstrings and transported me to another time and place, and wove a tapestry of scenes in my head despite the absence of lyrical images.

The Nutcracker Suite, I must say, was my favorite part.  One of the main reasons I wanted to be there that night was primarily because of it.  I knew it because it is a popular Christmas ballet, but I wasn’t fully aware of how it went.  Or so I thought.  Once the PPO played one movement to the next, it was only then that I came to the realization that I actually knew the suite; I just didn’t know that they belonged to the same composition.  Obviously, when it comes to classical music, although I do enjoy consuming it, I have yet to fully acquaint myself with that world.

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After two hours, some showering of bravos, and encores, the night was finally done.  Some people immediately got out of the building while others still milled around the lobby.  Outside, the lit fountain in front of the CCP continued to spew water up in the air.  Further out was a view of Roxas Boulevard with the headlights of vehicles, lampposts, Christmas lights and lanterns cutting through the dark December night.  It was only a few days before Christmas and several more before the New Year.  I momentarily stood there at the lobby and absorbed the scenes, glad to have experienced a lovely time before the year would finally bid everyone adieu.

 

язык и музыка

до свидания (bye) and нет (no ) — these were the only Russian words I knew until a couple of years back, and I wouldn’t even have known them if I had not encountered them in some Hollywood films. Russian was practically an alien language to me, recognizing only how the letters looked but had zero knowledge about how they even sounded.  In films, Russian sounds strong and intimidating, but it was these features why I’d always wanted to learn it ever since I was young in the first place.  I never got to explore the language, however, until 2016 arrived.  Strangely, the biggest push for me to start learning it was the confusing and toxic political situation of the country in 2016.

Long story short, the Philippines — thanks to then newly-elected president, Rodrigo Duterte — started pivoting towards Russia, which was something that was unprecedented given that the Philippines had always been a vocal and strong ally of the United States. I thought, “hey, perhaps this is a sign that I really should start learning the language!”  Well, I didn’t really seriously study Russian but more like got myself acquainted with the alphabet and some basic phrases and sentences with the help of some language apps and websites.  I only did so whenever I had the extra time or extra patience in me, though.

To supplement the apps, I then decided to start watching some Russian movies and listening to some music.  Growing up with only Filipino, English, and a bit of Spanish music, I naturally had extremely limited knowledge of Russian music, being familiar only with a few names in the classical world such as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Stravinsky, and at the end of the spectrum, Regina Spektor and the pop duo t.A.T.u.

To be quite honest, I thought all I was going to find when I typed “Russian music” on Spotify was a bunch of either metal or clubbing songs, but I was proven wrong!  Yes, there were metal and electronic-heavy tunes, but there were also a lot of other songs that better suited my taste. Listening to a handful of them, I realized that they sounded very much like the ones I listen to here in the Philippines; the only difference was that the singers were using another language.

There were these couple of playlists that helped me discover several good tunes: The Best of Russian Indie Music of 2014 and 2016. Many artists sang in Russian, but there were also those who had English lyrics. Since I couldn’t understand what the others were saying, I could only appreciate how they sounded.

Here are a few of the artists that I have discovered via the playlists and beyond:

Mana Island

Наадя

Artemiev

Марсу Нужны Любовники

КИМАКИМА

Pompeya

The Tweed

Unfortunately, since I didn’t really study the language seriously, I still can’t comprehend their lyrics. Without a copy of the lyrics and their translation, I can only pick up some words and phrases but cannot grasp what the song really is about.

I know I’ve still got a pretty looonng way to go when it comes to the language, but at the very least I stumbled upon some nice music, right?

Was Geht Denn Ab, Leoniden?

Whenever Leoniden post an Instagram story, I never understand anything they say except the occasional mention of “Swipe Up”, certain names of some German cities, and their current favorite greeting “Was geht denn ab?”  Everything else is lost on me (but I like watching them because they’re hilarious!) The same isn’t applicable when it comes to their music, however.  It’s not just because this band from Kiel, Germany opt to sing in English and the language barrier has been eliminated, but moreover, I can relate to their words.

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photo: gigmit.com / L-R: Lennart Eicke (guitar, vocals), Felix Eicke (drums), Jakob Amr (vocals, keys, synths), Djamin-Izadi Kooshki (keys, vocals), Jann Phillip Neumann (bass)

It wasn’t always like that, though.  I discovered them through an internationally syndicated radio program called Passport Approved, which aired on Jam88.3, a local radio station, earlier this year.  I got introduced to their sound when I heard Nevermind, a guitar and keys flavored upbeat track, with a dash of choral singing added for good measure.  It didn’t really catch my full attention, honestly.  I even failed to get the band’s name or the track’s title, only learning about these details later on. The same thing happened with their other song 1990: I simply heard it. It went on for several weeks, until finally, one Saturday morning when I walked past my radio while it was playing 1990, I heard the vocalist and a choir declaring

“Anyone can fill the space beneath the sky...”

What once were words that merely entered one ear and exited the other now remained and prompted me to stop and listen right then and there.  

I then rummaged through Passport Approved’s website to find out the identity of this band, and when I finally did, I checked out their discography and realized that these people from halfway around the globe had been trying to tell me something all along.   I listened to their self-titled debut released in 2017, careful not to simply abandon listening to the entire work by focusing only on the ones I got acquainted with the first, something I am guilty of doing with some of the albums I’ve listened to during this streaming era.

Leoniden employs the basic guitar and drums combination as well as some keyboards and synthesizers. It is notable, however,  the presence of a choral group, whose contribution can be heard in Nevermind, 1990, Sisters, Storm, and City.  Having a choir then distinguishes their sound from that of the other new bands’ in the market today.   It is an album filled with catchy hooks and youthful exuberance. It is also angsty and many of its lyrics deal with frustration, hope (and lack of it), the search for one’s identity, among others.

These qualities are extended to Again, the band’s sophomore album released just last October 26.  The sound of Again has more elements and uses more synths compared to its predecessor. It is dancier, more complex, and more pop. Vocals are higher in pitch and more confident.  The album deals with positivity, identity, doubts, anxiety, and love — something that many can surely relate to.   Personally my top tracks are Kids, Not Enough, People, Alone (which I couldn’t stand listening to initially), Slow, and most of all River, which is mellow, lush, and multi-textured; it is a stand out in the album.

Although the year isn’t finished yet, I can undoubtedly say that Leoniden are my best musical discovery this 2018, (something I already realized as early as August!), and I definitely recommend their albums to people who are looking for music that’s fresh, highly energetic, fun, and introspective at the same time.

 

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Habibis, get to know Leoniden more and get yourself addicted! 😀   Drop by their official website and their Instagram page.