Here’s a question to regular local concertgoers out there. Have you ever paid for a concert ticket which, without any exaggeration, is easily worth at least 10 times more than what you were charged? Last August 8, 2014, my wife and I experienced exactly just that at the Music Museum, the venue of The Dawn’s Landmarks, their first major concert for 2014.
1. “Tulad ng dati, halika’t ating balikan…”
There is a famous Filipino saying that goes: “ang di marunong tumingin sa pinanggalingan, di makararating sa paroroonan.” Hence, to move forward, one must take stock of how far one has come. This appears to be the context of The Dawn’s first major concert in 2014 if we go by how they opened the show. Squid 9’s reimagining of the 10-year old “Tulad ng Dati” (2004) provided an apt sonic backdrop as the four members of the band made their grand entrance in pitch black darkness perchance to simulate the breaking of dawn. When the band broke into the familiar opening anthemic riff of “Alam Ko, Alam Nyo” thereby effectively launching frontman Jett Pangan into “Halika’t ating balikan…,” it was clear that the motif of the evening was a proper revisitation of the past albeit farther back than 2004. And what a wonderful musical revisitation it eventually turned out to be.
2. The Guitar Man
The Dawn’s first major concert in 2014 also celebrated the public performance debut of Sancho, The Dawn’s new axeman. Both his long-time fans and past bandmates (i.e., among them Ely Buendia and Marcus Adoro whose Eheads gigs abroad he fired up further with his guitar playing and members of his other band called The Ronnies) were in the audience to provide support and encouragement to what would eventually be a dazzling performance by The Dawn’s new lead guitarist. With due respect to the past lead guitar players of The Dawn (i.e., Teddy Diaz, Atsushi Matsuura, Francis Reyes and Kenneth Ilagan) and notwithstanding the already superlative guitar parts supplied by these guitar heroes to The Dawn’s past recordings and live gigs, Sancho brings a more layered and a more interesting guitar drive to the sound of The Dawn in 2014. From start to finish, he deserved all the props that came his way for practically replicating the familiar notes plucked by The Dawn’s past guitar heroes even as he seamlessly wove guitar riffs we’ve never heard before in past Dawn recordings.
While some observers would rather that Sancho break through his seemingly shy demeanor to match the showmanship of Jett Pangan, in my opinion, his strength is precisely his laser-like focus on the music that comes from his guitar playing rather than bothering with the histrionics and the acrobatics typically associated with lead guitarists. In point of fact, his “shy” demeanor lends itself as an excellent foil to the long-time-no-see-dude¬-so-let’s-hang persona of Jett Pangan.
3. The Rocker as Showman
Which brings us to The Dawn’s frontman for almost 3 decades now. Teddy Diaz may have founded this band and he may have been the acknowledged leader from the very beginning. Furthermore, as veteran music writer Tony Maghirang perceptibly observed, the influence of Diaz may have loomed large in this concert but it is Jett Pangan’s unique signature stage presence that effortlessly connects and engages with the audience whether they are performing on a make-shift mall stage or in a historic concert venue.
In an earlier interview which they graciously accommodated, Pangan says that his work as a stage actor recharges him and, consequently, enriches his work with The Dawn. And it shows both in his onstage banter with his bandmates and his impromptu exchanges with the audience. The man has a natural gift for building rapport with his audience regardless of demographics and socio-economic classes. His innate sense of humor is an added bonus which all the more endears his band to its audience.
4. “Habulan” Debuted
Midway through the show and shortly after covering “Hatak” from their 2009 Sound the Alarm album, Jett Pangan introduced their latest single which came about as a result of his collaboration with Peryodiko’s Vin Dancel and bandmate Buddy Zabala. In this song, Buddy Zabala clearly shows that he does not only astutely provide the tight and pounding bassline that dovetails with the seamless martial colors provided by JB Leonor’s manic yet calibrated drum playing. More importantly, he levels up his musicality by contributing both in the songwriting and in the singing. In a separate interview, Zabala shared how they’ve spent months tweaking the song until they were happy with it. Accompanied by an engaging music video featuring an equally engaging muse who appears to be chasing after something even as she herself is being chased, “Habulan” promises to be a radio hit as it soars further into the stratosphere when played live and loud.
5. Keyboard Essentials
When the band was asked recently as to who their foreign musical influences are at this time, Pangan candidly shared that they “listen to stuff from The Killers, Imagine Dragons and bands with nice keyboard arrangements.” After watching Landmarks, we finally got to truly appreciate first-hand how the music of The Dawn is just as keyboards-driven as it is powered by the glove to the hand complementarity of its guitars and drums. More to the point, Leni Llapitan’s playing that night showed beyond the shadow of a doubt that keyboards are not add-ons to the music of The Dawn. They are essential to it as the instrument permeated nearly all of the songs that comprised their Landmarks setlist. Quite possibly the most powerful testament to the value-adding import of Leni’s keyboard playing was the band’s rendition of “I Saw You Coming In.”
6. The Acoustic Set
The acoustic set which came after 4 full-throttle rock numbers proved to be a welcome surprise. Aside from serving as a break or intermission of sorts, it highlighted the fact that The Dawn consists of career musicians who play well whether plugged or unplugged. The classic rock band The Eagles have a term for this in response to critics who accused them of loitering on stage: songpower. In lieu of their electric bass and lead guitars respectively, Zabala and Sancho gamely strapped on acoustic guitars while Leonor made do with a stripped-down drum set as they launched into a medley of Dawn classics from the 80s. A perfect instrumental configuration for a quick drive into the dark alleys populated by girls with names like Isabel bumping into mothers, brothers and sisters trying to figure out how to get past their myriad social problems and personal challenges in life.
7. From Drums to Keyboards
Yet another surprise awaited the audience after the acoustic set when JB Leonor traded his drumkit for the keyboards minus the hitherto indispensable support provided by Leni Llapitan on keyboards and Buddy Zabala on bass. Leonor then proceeded to flawlessly accompany Jett Pangan in laid back and therefore, stress-free rearrangements of “Runaway” and “Little Paradise.” For some reason, his performance that night reminded me of Larry Mullen, Jr’s taking on the keyboards in U2’s live rendition of “Yahweh” towards the end of their 2005 Vertigo Tour movie. But while the two drummers could easily give each other some serious competition, Leonor could teach a thing or two to Mullen on how drummers can better vindicate themselves on the keyboards.
8. Songs We Came to Hear
The truth of the matter is that my wife and I already felt we got our money’s worth when we heard the songs we came to the concert for. I am, of course, referring here to our all-time favorite Dawn singles like “Tulad ng Dati,” “Hatak,” “Iisang Bangka,” “Magtanim ay Di Biro,” “Dreams,” “Salamat,” and of course, “Enveloped Ideas.” Timeless Pinoy Rock compositions which all sound great regardless of their storage medium. But there is simply no substitute to listening to already great music tracks like these played live. Indeed, there is a whale of a difference between listening to a recording and listening to a live performance if the band is this good with their singing and their playing.
9. “Mga Awiting Di Gasgas”
Complementing the songs we came to the concert for were Dawn songs which despite their melodic appeal were somehow spared from being overplayed. Heading the top of the list would be “Babaeng Mahiwaga,” “Harapin,” “Change is Tearing Us Apart,” and “Salimpusa.” All great power rock pieces which score pretty well both in the lyrics and in the sonics departments. Given their not being “gasgas” and notwithstanding their obvious prominence to Dawn loyalists, these songs inevitably still continue to grow on you with repeat listens. It was a brilliant idea to have thrown them into the night’s set list.
10. Two Encores
Like all good things, Landmarks eventually had to end. But how exactly do you top the dramatic opening sequence?
How about via two encores? One all-original. Another all-covers.
The two all-original songs, in retrospect, come across like a musical parting shot of sorts. “Abot Kamay” is an eloquent yearning to transcend the physical distance (between the band and its followers) which would once again inevitably set in after the show. Something that augurs well with the second song which, in essence, is an unabashed pledge of loyalty. Given how the energy of the band fed on the spirit of the audience and vice versa, it might as well have been mutually articulated by both the band and the audience.
After “I Stand With You,” which was supposedly their last song for the evening, the audience continued to ask for more. Buoyed by the enthusiasm of the crowd, the band obliged. At this point, we were half-expecting them to sing Pinoy Rock classics by calling on either Ely Buendia or Cooky Chua (who was also in the audience along with Lea Salonga and her husband) to join them on stage. After all, they seamlessly threw in “Yugyugan Na” and “More to Lose” in the course of their set list.
To everyone’s surprise, they launched into TFF’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and then capped the night with “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers. Was this their way of declaring that for all their being progenitors of Pinoy Rock and OPM, they have no intentions of divorcing themselves from the international music scene and being overly protectionist? Or was it their way of underlining the fact that despite their being around for almost 3 decades now, this is one band that is humble enough to appreciate and learn from other equally great rock musicians from the eighties to the noughties.
Either way, it was the perfect ending to an awesome Pinoy Rock retrospective and a fitting preview of greater things to come from the band that has always been faithful to the core of its name.