CONCERTS are difficult to come by for a freelance-writer like me, mostly because ticket prices are just too steep, and unlike theater, there seems to be less interest in getting concerts reviewed.
There was of course the Eraserheads reunion in 2009, which I saved up for. And then more recently Pinoytuner sent tickets my way for the Teeth reunion concert, and the Moonpools and Caterpillars in Manila gig—both of which were respectful tributes to the music and performance of these band’s life and times.
Original Pinoy concerts of course imagine that they live (and die) in competition with foreign acts with far more expensive tickets. But when the less talented artistas fill venues to the rafters for performance that is all pomp and pageantry, you know we’re dealing with a bigger problem than just foreign acts.
Spectacle is the competition, and watching Regine Velasquez feeling the need to fly (yet again) for last year’s Silver, or Ogie Alcasid putting Anne Curtis on that concert stage with him, just speaks of that in more ways than one.
The competition is not the foreign, you realize. It is ourselves. We do not level up for an audience that just might know to appreciate better, and so we lose that audience to spectacle.
And then there was Icon featuring Rico Blanco, Gloc-9 and Yeng Constantino. Produced by Cornerstone Concerts, this reminded of the concert productions of old: well-thought out and classy, a celebration of talent and not of pageantry, which allowed for artistic idiosyncrasy and personality at a time when everything’s fake and manufactured.
It was of course at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, which for all its fancy redesign from the outside, is still the dingy ratty old coliseum inside. What is this but pretense?
Thank heavens Icon easily made me forget the sticky floors and uncomfortable seat. Because nothing prepared me for the kind of creativity that was here. Also and more importantly, the kind of control.
Because one finds that local stage performances—be it theater or concerts—have a tendency to misuse technology, where video screens and projectors overpower or become irrelevant to performance. The same goes for badly blocked dancers and ill-imagined choreography, where the point seems to be to fill that stage with movement, like there’s an unspoken fear of the empty stage.
But Icon’s production had a sense precisely of the power of that empty stage. With well-thought out choreography, songs and performance were never overwhelmed by the idea of being production number. There was a very clear sense of how the lighting design was working with the video screen which was backdrop that refused to claim any of the limelight, save for when it actually had the three stars of the show speaking to introduce each set of the show.
And it was well written, also well-executed. There was a sense of directorial vision and musical direction that took into consideration—that understood—exactly what these artists stood for independently of each other, not sacrificing who they are for whatever trappings “a concert” demands at this point. There was respect for the artists that were here, as there was the decision to le Icon t songs speak for themselves, tell their stories, in the way these artists know how.
It was classy, which is so rare. Might be because there’s a tendency to imagine that what TV and globalized music have created is an audience that wants the pomp and pageantry. In fact all an audience demands is really good music and honest performance still.
Creativity, control, magic
Which is to say that “Magda” was fantastic, with that lone girl in red, sadly dancing in her skimpy clothes, oblivious to Rico Blanco and Gloc-9. She wore nothing but a blank stare, and the otherwise bare stage front allowed for that video screen and lights to work as setting for the song’s emptiness.
The same was true for the Yeng Constantino-Blanco collaboration on Rihanna’s pop song “Stay,” when dancers walked in two at a time, carrying boxes that they would use as platforms. It was then that I thought this choreography was such a crucial part of why this concert worked: dancers were there to add another layer to it, with choreography that knew of the creativity the songs demanded.
Which of course had everything to do with the creativity of Blanco, Gloc-9 and Constantino and with allowing them to be themselves on that stage. Constantino was a combination of giddy and reflective as she sang her love songs for her set, after revealing she could do “Wrecking Ball” like only a pop rocker chick can.
Gloc-9’s decision to do a mash-up of Kanye West’s “Heartless” and his own “Upuan,” was like watching someone fly on stage, being allowed to do a song he’s always wanted to do, and showing us all the kind of creativity that he stands for. The decision as well to do a FrancisM tribute—instead of merely filling his set with his own songs—is classic Gloc-9 at this point: the gratefulness is real, the humility even more so.
And then there is Blanco. He who might be the most creative of concert performers one will see for his generation, the creativity and control allowing for a wondrous amount of magic that one cannot help but be carried away by, because it is pageantry that’s justified, pomp that is about talent. With “Bandido,” the ensemble of drummers in costume already filling that stage, here was just the right amount of insanity that Blanco himself was ably conducting. It was brilliant, but my words might be failing his creativity.
Which cannot be said of Icon. A success on all fronts, one cannot wait for the next Cornerstone Concert. In fact, let me save up for whatever that might be.
Icon was directed by Paul Basinillo, with musical direction by Ria Villena-Osorio, lighting design by Shakira Villa-Symes, and writing by Dido Camara.