ABOUT five years ago, I went to a concert called Lost 80s at the Araneta Coliseum featuring the bands A Flock of Seagulls, Real Life and When In Rome. I’m not really familiar with their songs (okay, I know “The Promise” by When in Rome, but who doesn’t?), but a friend had extra tickets so I ended up tagging along.
I’ll admit I was a bit bored during the whole show (another friend actually ended up snoring in his seat beside me), but most of the other folks there seemed to have had a good time. It was obviously quite a thrill for many of them to be hearing songs from their youth live.
Fast-forward to last Monday night and it was my turn to go back in time. Bands who reached the peak of their popularity in the 1990s and early 2000s were in Manila for a one-night-only show—Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray and Gin Blossoms. Just like how it was for those who attended Lost 80s, this show was especially exciting for me and people in my age group because these are bands whose songs we sang along to on our way to classes in college, on the grueling commute to and from school and in the darkened corners of our rooms as we nursed hangovers and heartbreaks.
OPM stalwart Color It Red opened the show. I was a little concerned that by the time Cookie and co. finished their set, at past 8 p.m., the venue was hardly filled up. The bleachers (General Admission) was packed, but the next sector, Upper Box B, was near-empty. Still there was a reasonable number of people at Lower Box and Patron, so it wasn’t a total letdown by the time Smash Mouth came out.
Vocalist Steve Harwell put on a few more pounds since their heyday in the 90s, and he was losing his graying hair, but he sounded exactly the same. People responded enthusiastically. I was up on my feet dancing along, especially to the songs I know. They performed most of their hits, including “Walkin’ On the Sun,” “All-Star,” “Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby” and their cover of “I’m A Believer.”
A highlight of the hour-long set was when guitarist Sean Hurwitz jumped down from the stage and ran around the Patron area, high-fiving audiences along the way. Smash Mouth are one of those bands that spreads nothing but good vibes and it was clear everyone in the audience had a good time, whether this was the band they looked forward to seeing the most that evening or not.
There was a 30-minute delay as stagehands set-up for the next band. I had reservations about enjoying Sugar Ray’s set, mainly because I didn’t think they were necessarily a fun live band. But my fears were immediately put to rest as soon as frontman Mark McGrath came bouncing onstage amidst wild applause. “Kamusta kayo?” he said. “Thank you for having us in your beautiful country, brothers and sisters.” They started with a relatively new song, but when the first few chords of “Someday” wafted through the air, everyone was up on their feet, nostalgia clearly etched on their faces. “Someday/ When my life has passed me by/ I’ll lay around and wonder why/ You were always there for me.” It seemed everybody was singing along.
And they sang for practically the whole set. Sugar Ray may not quite rank high up on the cool meter (blame it on snooty standards of what’s critically acclaimed vs. what’s mainstream hip), but one thing I can say about the band: they weren’t lacking in the fun factor. McGrath was a consummate frontman, endearing himself to the audience by tossing in Pinoy words here and there and telling the story of how he was starstruck when he met current Journey frontman Arnel Pineda. “He’s the sweetest thing and the perfect representation of all of you Filipinos all over the world,” he said.
As expected, Sugar Ray performed many of their biggest hits, including “Every Morning,” “Falls Apart,” “When It’s Over,” and “Answer The Phone.” There was a strange variety show bit when McGrath brought two audience members up onstage to do Gangnam Style, but it was mercifully brief and they soon segued to their finale, their first big hit, “Fly.” I had to concede that critics who think the band are nothing but talentless hacks probably take themselves too seriously. Sugar Ray were lively and fun and when it comes to concerts, you don’t really need much more than that.
The last band didn’t take the stage till almost 1 a.m., when many people had become restless or simply left and chose not to finish the show. Gin Blossoms headlined a separate show in Manila and Cebu back in 2010 and I found myself back at the exact same spot near the stage watching them three years later. Perhaps to mix thing up a little they started with relatively newer songs, including the catchy “Miss Disarray,” from their 2010 album No Chocolate Cake. They of course garnered the loudest applause when they did the classics: “As Long As It Matters,” (which they dedicated to the people of Cebu), “Hey Jealousy,” “Follow You Down,” and “Til I Hear It From You.”
By the time the show ended, it was almost 2 a.m. Many were exhausted, slightly deaf (for those nearest the stage) and bleary eyed but for the 90s kids who shelled out goodmoney to see three bands from their youth, it was a time-traveling experience they probably won’t soon forget.
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