Friday, September 21, 2007

Night out: RJTV Bar (9/20/07)

RJ??!? I never thought I'll ever step inside Ramon Jacinto's joint. The mere mention of those two letters conjures images of matronas and senior citizens reliving their youth by dancing the twist to the music of Manila's most well-known covers band, seen in a blurry cable channel that you just sort of stumble upon late nights when nothing's on.

I was feeling a bit under the weather, but I just felt I had to drag my butt to Makati on a Thursday evening precisely to go to RJ, because who in his right mind would pass up the chance to witness the killer double-bill of The Jerks and Binky Lampano. When I read over the internet about this rare match of Pinoy rock legends, I knew only a nuclear holocaust (or an Eraserheads reunion show perhaps?) could keep me from going.

I've never seen Binky Lampano perform live. I've read a lot about him though, especially in the 90s. He used to front the band Deans December in the late 80s. I have a tape of his early 90s album "I Read The News." At that time, I think I saw him perform his remake of "Hallelujah I Love Her So" in some TV show. I liked that song which made me buy the tape. Some of his songs also made it to a bunch of compilations, most notably the now-classic but long out-of-print "10 of Another Kind," which I have on CD (a vinyl copy of this was once offered on eBay for P10,000??!!?). Binky now fronts the Lampano Alley, and they have an independently-released CD I've yet to listen to. He is said to be going to the U.S. soon, so after the night's gig, it will be quite a while before Manila gets to see Mr. Lampano perform again.

The Jerks have been heralded as Manila's best live band for the longest time. After a brief stint with Lokal Brown, Chikoy Pura and company became the band-in-residence of Mayric's and 70's Bistro. Their songs, like "Reklamo ng Reklamo," "Sayaw Sa Bubog," and "Rage" are now considered classics, but the band remains no more than underground icons, which is a pity. Save for a live album and a single mainstream-released CD, both long out-of-print, their songs have not reached enough mainstream ears, unless they went to the clubs (or have a Multiply account, thank goodness).

But the band will always have a special place in my memories. In 1995 (December 8 to be exact, mga 9pm), The Jerks were the opening act to the Eraserheads during the now-legendary launch of the Cutterpillow album at the UP Sunken Garden. I'd just turned 19 and it was actually my first real rock concert. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people. Probably hundreds more trying to get inside the enclosed space. And there were The Jerks. When they ripped through "Mad Mathematical World" with a sea of people responding, it was like seeing God. They added euphoria to an already euphoric event. Twelve years after the event, that moment with The Jerks is still what I remember most about it.

The night had a lot of promise. I couldn't wait for these rock stalwarts to perform. Pero mamaya pa yun.

Turned out, RJTV Bar also serves as the studio for the cable talk show of Jojo Alejar. Seeing Jojo is a bizarre experience. That hair. That face. That suit. That attitude. It's as if the last 15 years did not happen. What was he busy with all these years, being cryogenically frozen? Like Aga Muhlach, the guy hasn't aged a bit. Ang pucha mas mukha pang bata kesa sa 'kin. There's no justice. I used to see him often in Congress when I was still with Namfrel. I think he was an assistant to a congressman or something. But it's pretty clear that Jojo Alejar is back in showbiz. He even has a music video.

The show is called Jojo A...All The Way. You might have accidentally stumbled upon it while channel surfing one particularly slow evening. Ano ba 'tong channel na 'to na sobrang labo? The show is clearly inspired by Letterman, and definitely Kuya Germs.

You know it's going to be a crazy night when the host opens the show with his back to the camera, shaking his butt to the tune of SexyBack. Jojo then launced into his spiel, as if he's talking to an auditorium full of people (there were like 20 of us, more than half of which were staff). The jokes came fast and promptly failed. Cue canned laughter! The first guest was a nine year old kid from the Center for Pop Music who was made up to look like a starlet. Who are this kid's parents? The second guest was a guy who sang a plakado rock ballad. Were more talented people booked that night? The third guest was an R&B band who did a faithful version of "Time Will Reveal." Hmm...puwede na,!

Honestly, I would have preferred if Jojo Alejar did everything himself. He can be quite funny actually, if he sticks to his adlibs and not to the script. How about a one-man show where all Jojo would do is dance, sing, yak, and make tsika to Kuya Germas, with the Bellestar Dancers thrown in? Now that's entertainment!

On with the real show! The event was sponsored by Underground Radio (UR) 105.9. The host for the evening was no less than Howlin' Dave himself (quick, Google him and know more about Pinoy rock history). The first band was Reckless Imprudence, a bluesy band who are
supposedly lawyers by day. Who would not want to sing the blues if your source of living sometimes entails defending crooks?

Binky Lampano and the Lampano Alley came on next. Now here's another guy who seems to have spent the last few years being cryogenically frozen. He looks so young, younger than his pictures from 15 years ago. Is there a fountain of youth somewhere behind 70's Bistro? I was hoping Binky would sing "Hallelujah I Love Her So" and "Kuwentong Looban," but his repertoire consisted mainly of blues covers. When he sang "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," he did it sans microphone, as if he's talking directly to the audience. It takes a lot of skill to sing the blues. The key to being an effective blues singer is sincerity. And you can't be sincere if you haven't experienced what you're singing about. Binky Lampano is a showman more than skilled enough to sing the blues, and Lampano Alley with their wicked guitars and bass are more than worthy enough to lend support. I like the blues. I think it's the sound of pain enunciated beautifully. I don't mind listening to the blues as long as people like Binky are the ones doing it.

Okay, but maybe not too much. When The Jerks launched into their set, it was pretty clear to me that yes, this is a blues night, and no, I might not get to see The Jerks really rock out as I had hoped. In the first place, this was RJ. The walls are covered with Elvis and Beatles pictures. The crowd was almost exclusively middle-aged guys, some in barongs and suits. (And the place is expensive. Entrance fee was P200 without drinks, and beer costs a hundred bucks! Who was their supplier, Makati Shang?)

"I'm so overdressed tonight," said the similarly baby-faced Chikoy Pura, looking quite formal in his black jacket over long-sleeved shirt. It was a less than fiery set as I had expected. The Jerks took requests from the audience, and finally did some originals mid-set. Somebody at the back kept shouting "Rage! C'mon Chikoy!" but the song won't come up till the very end. Binky Lampano joined them for Paul Simon's "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" and Lennon's "Jealous Guy." Ramon Jacinto himself joined The Jerks for a number. The band also did Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," a Steely Dan, and a bunch of other bluesy tunes. I requested for "Mad Mathematical World," writing it on a tissue paper, but they did not sing it.

It was already 1:30 am and I was itching to go home. I just knew that I'd feel crap at work the next day if I stay one more minute. And then this old-ish mustachioed guy took over the reins from Chikoy. His name was Rick, and with his performance, I wish I could have tried to know more about him. He first did Bobby Gonzales' "Hahabol-Habol" with the band, which made two couples get up and dance (uh-oh). But after that, unexpectedly, he blazed through Jimi Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner," a truly face-melting number that made everybody drop the expensive cheese sticks, shut the fuck up for once, and watch with awe. It was a performance of great technical skill. He then segued into "Purple Haze," that only cemented his performance as the highlight of the evening for me.

Whoa. Heavy. I'll probably not go back to RJ again. Nabutas ang bulsa ko. But I had a jolly old good time, and in the end it was worth it.


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