Thursday, December 18, 2008

Review: AC/DC - Black Ice

by Clarence Yu, also on, here

AC/DC is like comfort music to me. With their latest release, Black Ice, these seemingly unstoppable and stubborn rockers just refuse to quit. Why should they? The music they’ve created over the past 35 years seems timeless, and you can always be sure of satisfaction. And they know it.

Produced by Brendan O’ Brien (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen), Black Ice is also a return to the sound reminiscent of the band’s previous studio efforts, Highway To Hell (1979) and Back In Black (1980), with renowned producer Robert “Mutt” Lange (Def Leppard, Bryan Adams, Shania Twain).

Whether this is a conscious effort or not, the results are decidedly for the better. The various producers the band have chosen over their previous releases either gave this signature sound a slightly more commercial feel (the late Bruce Fairbairn with 1990's The Razor’s Edge), or a less radio friendly, harder edged twist (Rick Rubin, with 1995's Ballbreaker). Of course, the challenge with each producer is to try to capture the legendary bands' sound as they envision it, so credit is due to Brendan O’ Brien, who rises above the pack.

Black Ice is also a classic example of an album that doesn’t really need titles to make its point. The sequencing of the songs make the album sound seamless: each track segues into the other without much ado, and this is an album you can listen to over and over without having an epiphany of any kind.

The lead single off the album, "Rock And Roll Train," also demonstrates the band’s great songwriting skill. Take the intro of the Rolling Stones’ "Start Me Up," and add a bit of distortion to it, or take the verses from "Highway to Hell," and mix it in with the chorus from "You Shook Me All Night Long," and you’ve got a new, fresh sounding song.

The album contains all the elements of classic AC/DC themes: war ("War Machine" with its signature chants reminiscent of "TNT"), sex ("She Likes Rock and Roll") and rock (four songs on the album have the word "rock" in the title, so it's quite obvious). Outstanding cuts include the funky "Decibel," "Rocking All The Way" with some low-octave, bluesy singing from vocalist Brian Johnson, and the closest thing they’ve done to a ballad in a while, "Anything Goes," which sounds like a cross between Def Leppard’s "Hysteria" and their own "Touch Too Much" off Highway to Hell.

The band also teaches a thing a two about dynamics. Throughout the album, the only thing that constantly breaks the monotony of the basic 4/4 pounding by drummer Phil Rudd is the tempo, and whatever tempo changes that occur are always augmented by the intricate yet deceivingly simple guitar interplay between the Young brothers Angus and Malcolm. Bassist Cliff Williams knows when to play and more importantly, when not to.

AC/DC has, if anything, proven with Black Ice that there doesn’t need to be much thinking in rock n’ roll. It’s also enough to quiet all the “too old to rock” pundits who started criticizing bands of AC/DC’s stature long since grunge reigned for a time. Labels such as "metal" and "headbanging" have always been applied to describe the band's music, but much harder sounding bands have come since their inception in 1973. Basically, it’s just no fuss and no frills — a welcome respite from today’s contemporary rock. And surely, a message that rock is definitely here to stay for good.

Clint Eastwood and Gran Torino: Does He Still Feel Lucky?

by Clarence Yu, also on, here

When Clint Eastwood uttered the now famous lines, “Do you feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?” in the polarizing, landmark 1971 cop drama Dirty Harry, he might as well have been talking to himself, minus punk, as he enters another interesting phase of his storied career.

Gran Torino, which opens this December in limited release and wider in January, has been receiving mostly positive reviews as it makes its premiere rounds with the usual critics. The particular emphasis now is on Eastwood the actor, in his first starring role since 2004’s Million Dollar Baby, and also rumored to be his last thespian effort.

Eastwood’s acclaim owes much to his directorial efforts: Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004) won him two Oscar awards for Best Director and Best Picture, and Mystic River (2005) and Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) garnered Best Picture and Director nominations as well. He is reputed never to shout or disrupt his actors when directing, keeps his set relatively calm and focused, and delivers his films under budget and with great speed.

Being a lifelong fan of Eastwood, the actor, has been no easy task for me, personally. The stereotype he virtually created — laconic, lean, mean, mysterious, and anonymous — has been particularly hard to defend against nonsensical accusations (especially from vicious personal friends out to hurt my feelings) painting Eastwood as a lazy actor. I always argue that he acts in terms of gesture and economy of dialogue, but that is another story altogether.

I have mixed feelings about why critics get to see a movie like this before I do, but in large part due to Ben Stiller’s terrific Tropic Thunder, I can accept the logic easier now. The film is obviously up for the Academy’s consideration, and there is always this drawn out process of taking out ads and lobbying for votes. Releasing two pictures this year in the late fall has been the same strategy that Eastwood employed in 2006 (Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers), the other film being a directorial effort, The Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie.

Nonetheless, I am absolutely frantic in anticipation of seeing Gran Torino. I loved the trailer, and have heard the tear-jerking closing credits song (co-written and sung by Eastwood himself in a duet with English jazz singer Jamie Cullum). I’m reading all the reviews I can possibly find. I’m being sucked in slowly but surely, the same way I was during Million Dollar Baby’s pre-Oscar rituals. My crazy theory is that he lost out for Best Actor in Unforgiven and Million Dollar because of a stellar but overshadowing supporting cast (Torino's supporting cast are unknowns) that garnered both Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman their supporting actor trophies. One feels that, at 78, perhaps wanting to go out with the biggest bang possible, Eastwood the actor wants to make sure that all bases are checked and is relying less on luck to bring in his potential first acting Oscar.

Whatever the outcome will probably not diminish his status, but a win against Sean Penn (directed by Eastwood in Mystic) and Dustin Hoffman, amongst others, would surely be a fitting coda to Eastwood’s distinguished career.

Book Review: Crash Proof - How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse

(also featured on, here)

By Clarence Yu

I have to admit that I discovered author Peter D. Schiff the new-fashioned way: via YouTube. A friend of mine insistently kept sending me links to his televised appearances on Fox News and CNBC, so, one day, I finally relented and watched a clip. His words were enough to make me go out and buy the book Crash Proof, which he wrote with John Downes (also by Schiff: The Little Book of Bull Moves In Bear Markets: How to Keep Your Portfolio Up When the Market is Down).

Crash Proof is a book about economics, specifically sub-titled as How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse, and was published in 2007, way before the current worldwide economic crisis hit us. If you're thinking that this was a book that should have been bought and read in 2007, think again. This book has way too much information in it to be treated just as a "how to" guide, and offers plenty of invaluable advice, whether or not we are in a crisis situation.

In Crash Proof, Mr. Schiff gives the reader a back-to-basics lesson in fundamental economics, dispensing with technical economic jargon and instead using conventional day to day conversational language. Mr. Schiff doesn't pretend that you know everything, nor does he spoon feed you with perfect information, so the layperson reading the book is able to stop once in a while and think before continuing on.

Slowly but surely, the reader is treated to doses of common sensical insight and concepts about the mysterious world of economics---for example, carefully explaining what the trade deficit is about and why a capital surplus isn't always that good, among other things. Or what the gold standard was, and what the Fiat system currently is. I never learned that when I was taking up economics in college (perhaps I wasn't listening), but the point I'm making is that I wouldn't be able to explain this to you now had I not read this book. On that point alone, this book is worth its price, and more.

Building from this momentum, Schiff argues on several points on why and how the U.S. economy is in its current state, and offers specific strategies on how to protect yourself from the real estate debacle that already happened (again, the book was published in 2007), what to buy, what not to buy, but most importantly, he presents the logic on which he builds his strategies with a simplicity that is so understandable, until there is absolutely nothing left to explain. In my case, I had to check Wikipedia a few times to check out some definitions in the book, but not nearly as much as when I read the newspapers or when I inadvertently happen to find myself in the middle of a conversation on economics (not my favorite topic, now and forever).

But what is most admirable and noteworthy about Mr. Schiff's approach is his apparent ideology: he advocates a shift in American economic policy back to manufacturing goods (production), living beneath your means, saving your hard earned money, and emphasizes, in so many words, the value of hard work, as opposed to borrowing to fund your needs. Work and use common sense, Schiff seems to be saying, and you will reap. Followers and worshippers of the Federal Reserve, Allan Greenspan, and Ben Bernanke may have trouble reading this book, but nonetheless, it can’t be denied that the advice Schiff dispenses is invaluable and logical.

The title Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse doesn’t really do the book enough justice, for the content is more than just about that. And though most of the scenarios painted within the book aren't exactly all about sunshine and rainbows, the context in which Mr. Schiff writes --- the worldwide economic crisis --- allows for him to explain economic concepts which are much more understandable to the reader, because of the immediate urgency of this context.

For anyone who has always wanted a solid, easy to read and practical book about economics, but has always been put off by the usual difficult economic terminology, have no fear. Crash Proof will not exactly show you the way out of the tunnel, but it will enlighten you, amuse you and inform you along the way.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Manny Pacquiao should fight everyday

Manny Pacquiao, now the undisputed wonder of the boxing world, should start fighting everyday. According to this report from USA Today, the crime rate during his fight versus Oscar De La Hoya was virtually nil.

What do you say, Manny? If you really want to make a change, instead of running for Congress or public office, just fight everyday. But I'm not sure you'll do that. You'll probably come home to a ticker tape parade, bestowed with more accolades, record more "Pacman" audio CD's, and enter into more advertising, licensing and franchising deals, which will no doubt plaster your mug around Manila's crowded city highways on giant, monstrous billboards (by the way, do those painkillers really work?) Which is fine. After all, you deserve it. You won the fight. You made the Filipino nation proud. What's the problem with making a few bucks while uplifting the dignity of one of the poorest third world nations?

I just hope one day when you wake up years from now, after all the champagne is sipped, after all the giant, sprawling advertising billboards in the Philippine metropolis bearing your name and a product long gone, your CD and DVD sales all spent and your youthful energy exhausted, that you will realize the potential you had in effecting real change. The Filipino nation, tired of hearing bad news of corruption and governmental scandals, is literally at your command. The irony here is not wasted on some like me: with good news of your continuous wins, the newspapers choose to flash you on their front pages instead of what real news is about. Why don't you start speaking about the real truth?

You, of all people, the people's champion, have the mandate to do this: borne into a world of poverty: the poor boy, who thru hard work, discipline and divine providence, captures a world boxing championship crown and wins more respect than any "elected" official of the Filipino nation. The people who afford you this respect are the very people suffering today from the unfair and corrupt practices (of which, I'm sure you suffered from during your difficult rise to the top) of the Filipino government and commerce --- who, oops, also happen to be, by the way, your prime sponsors and backers.

To say that your victory is a victory for the Philippines is a fallacy, borne of flawed logic, allowing government officials to effectively sweep more corruption related problems and scandals under an already overcroweded and dirty carpet.

This victory is yours, and yours alone. You can offer the victory to the Philippines, but it is not theirs. Cherish it, do not abuse it. Honor your fallen fellow boxer and countryman Rolando Navarette. And while there is still time, use your power wisely. If you are not afraid to step into the ring with deadly prizefighters, at the risk of shedding blood and feeling enormous physical pain, surely, then you should not be afraid in using your celebrity as a starting point in taking on other deadly fighters (of the economic and political kind). After all, we've heard more outrageous stories: A housewife with minimal knowledge of her nation's politics, whose husband was once murdered by a tyrannical President, led a revolution and became it's first woman President. Her name was Corazon Aquino.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Do Video Games Make The Music Now?

You can also read the article at

Apparently, gaming company Activision’s collaboration with rock legends Aerosmith has paid off handsomely for both parties. As reported on the Gamasutra website, the sales to date of the game Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, has netted the band more revenue than any one of its album releases.

In my opinion, the success of the Guitar Hero franchise is dependent on two things: artist name association and the technology employed to make the game highly entertaining to gamers. I am a big Aerosmith fan, but not into gaming myself — thus, I was never attracted that much to consider buying the game.

Of course, there are many exceptions to my theory. I’m pretty sure that a lot of gamers who weren’t familiar with Aerosmith bought the game: some were probably intrigued, some had nothing better to do with their money, and most were probably challenged by the game. Good for them. They get to enjoy themselves, while learning the music of one of the best rock bands of all time.

How does this bode for the music industry in general? For one thing, I’m pretty sure that most big name bands will start to fall in line for their share of the revenue pie. Van Halen and Metallica are examples of the next bands to be featured on the franchise. Big money is in store for both the bands and Activision. But to boast of Guitar Hero's "music selling power" is a bit of a stretch; by reversing the logic, you can say that Aerosmith enabled Activision's "video game selling power."

While it can be argued that the artists involved may not need the money and just want to pass on their musical legacy to a new generation of potential fans, CD/music sales are also a big factor. Reportedly, Aerosmith’s CD/music sales had a “several folds boost.” Now is that just a coincidence, or a result of a lot of focus group discussions?

For the struggling garage band out there, I don’t think it will make any difference — perhaps marginally, in terms of inspiration. But inspiration is a totally different animal from business. Many bands out there with talent have never made it, and many more will never. It’s just a fact in the recording industry. You still have to make it the old fashioned way — through gigging, recording, and touring — before you can be featured on a game like Guitar Hero. And with games exactly like Guitar Hero in the market taking away the attention span of potential new fans of these struggling artists, what will become of them? It just gets harder and harder.

So, while Activision may be on to something here for quite a long and profitable run, dare I say that without the big name artists, the Guitar Hero franchise is worthless? Imagine Guitar Hero: Anonymous, and see if the product sells.

Book Review: President Lincoln - The Duty Of A Statesman

You can also read this review at
Book Review: President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman by William Lee Miller
The author uses Lincoln as an example that statesmen are not born but made. Future young leaders can find inspiration

Any new book on President Lincoln will almost always beg the question, "Why?" In this follow up to Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography, author William Lee Miller answers the question with an eloquent, yet easy to read 512-page analysis of Lincoln’s term in the White House and his actions as the Civil War president.

I’m not a scholar of Lincoln by any measure, but I have a small collection of books about him; half I consider garbage and the other half essential reading. Of course, it takes reading the essentials to find out which ones are really meant to be in the trash can, and Miller’s book is one of the essentials.

In President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman, Miller reminds us of a time when the young nation was faced with a crisis, and how an inexperienced man by conventional standards was able to withstand and eventually exert his will in seeing the country through the Civil War. In this sense, he asserts that (using President James Buchanan, Lincoln’s predecessor, as one of his examples) experienced men do not necessarily qualify for the nation’s highest office. Instead, morals, kindness of heart, and raw intelligence are also qualifiers in the mix. There is a basic truth to this, and young leaders should take this to heart (President-elect Obama, are you listening?).

The book also tackles the art of statesmanship, that ever-ambiguous field in politics that so many try to inhabit. In the context of Lincoln’s time, Miller writes, statesmen were of noble blood, but Lincoln changed all that, having been a prairie lawyer and of poor family background but rising to the challenge by defeating all his critics, winning the Civil War and preserving the Union of the States. In this sense, you can argue that Lincoln invented the blueprints for the modern politician today.

President isn’t new on factual details, but delivers great insight on the shaping of Lincoln as a politician as he assumes office. The long-standing arguments and debates on whether the Civil War was over slavery, preserving the Union, or whether Lincoln was a dictator or not, shouldn't influence the way the reader interprets the author's intent. The book is supposed to be about Statesmanship, and thus should be treated as such.

Mr. Miller writes with fluidity and a passion, and you are surely convinced by the first few pages that he is clearly pro-Lincoln. The President seems almost infallible in every decision he makes, and the skill of Miller’s writing almost convinces you that Lincoln might be more than mortal. If the reader can be discerning enough to steer clear of this bias, then President is required reading for Lincoln and Civil War buffs, and for those who seek to find meaning in what our everyday politician says.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kevin Costner's "Untold Truths"

By Clarence Yu

No, you did not read the title wrong. It is Kevin Costner, actor-director, with his band Modern West and their debut CD, “Untold Truths.”

At the age of 53, Costner decides to go into his first album of all original songs, with long time band Modern West. Most might be surprised (like me) but after a little checking, Costner has not been a stranger to playing music, as he and his band have been playing live gigs for the past couple of years.

The sound is all country/roots-rock with Costner on vocals. Surprisingly, for a shameless country music fan like me, I’m not that disappointed, nor am I elated.

The songs on the album have little to do with what the title suggests, at least in a direct sense. “90 Miles an Hour” sounds a bit like Jacob Dylan’s “One Headlight,” and “Every Intention” sounds like a John Mellencamp song. The fire cracking country-rocker “Gotta Get Away (Song for Bud)” is one of the tracks that is quite unique. Most of the other tracks deal with tales of Americana and it’s heartland and the actor’s voice isn’t really that bad — he sounds like he’s having a blast, and the band is superb.

Please click here for the rest of the article.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

When the Boss mixes politics and Rock N Roll

By Clarence Yu

OCTOBER 27, 1975: Bruce Springsteen, 25, appears simultaneously on the covers of Time and Newsweek and is heralded as “The future of Rock and Roll.” Around this time, a young man named Barack “Barry” Obama, 14, is attending High School in Hawaii’s Punahou School, destined to be the future President of the United States.

October to November, 2008: Bruce Springsteen, 59, now known as “The Boss” worldwide, critically acclaimed and one of the biggest rock stars on the planet, speaks and plays at several rallies for Senator Barack Obama, 47, who is now the President-elect of the United States.

I used to believe in what Keith Richards used to say about rock n’ roll and politics not being a good mix, that rock n’ roll should not be used as a tool to further anyone’s political agenda. After all, rock n’ roll has always been about good times.

However, as an ardent Springsteen fan for many years now, I believe that the Boss is an exceptional exception to this rule, or at least Richard’s rules.

(Please click here for the rest of the article)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

AC/DC Back with "Black Ice"

By Clarence Yu

AC/DC fans, it’s time to rock again after eight years.

Angus Young and company are back with the new album “Black Ice,” released last October in the United States. You can find a sample of one of their songs, titled “Rock ‘N Roll Train” here.

Their last release, “Stiff Upper Lip” was in 2000, and was met with their usual commercial success. In between then and now, the band was quite inactive with the exception of jamming onstage with the Rolling Stones in 2003, and releasing several box sets.

“Rock N’ Roll Train,” the lead single off the album, is typical AC/DC: it lifts the hairs off your arm and immediately hypnotizes you with that 4/4 signature rock groove they’ve perfected since their inception in 1973.

“Spoiling For A Fight” sounds a bit like “Moneytalks” off 1990’s Razor’s Edge, but less radio friendly and more ballsy.

Read more here.

Clint Eastwood: Riding off into the Sunset?

By Clarence Yu

JUST as mysteriously as he came into the American movie industry as “The Man With No Name” in his “Spaghetti Western” trilogy and as Dirty Harry in the landmark cop drama “Dirty Harry,” reports have been leaking over the Internet that his latest starrer, “Gran Torino” (originally thought as a last sequel to the Dirty Harry franchise) would be his last film as an actor. Might I mention again that word, actor.

I found this official trailer for “Gran Torino” on YouTube:

For Eastwood has, in his storied career spanning over 40 years, been not only an actor, but a director who has had to work his way up the ladder for recognition, culminating with his Oscar wins in 1992 as Best Director for “Unforgiven,” and in 2004 for “Million Dollar Baby.”

You can read the rest of the article here.

SLASH, on life and music after Guns N' Roses

By Clarence Yu

With news of the imminent release of Guns N’ Roses’ new album setting the rock music world on fire, I thought it apt to write something about one of its members — to be specific, an ex-member, Slash.

To most of us growing up in the 80’s, Slash was the epitome of the cool, tough, classic rock guitar, refusing to use a whammy bar in an age where ala’ Eddie Van Halen tapping was en vogue, and keeping mostly to Gibson Les Paul’s as his main guitar of choice. He (along with Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi) brought the talk box back to life (a device, when connected to a guitar can make your voice and guitar sound cool and robotic — listen to the intro of “Livin’ On A Prayer by Bon Jovi).

(The rest of the article can be found here.)

Movie Review: Swing Vote

Movie Review: Swing Vote

Starring Kevin Costner, Madeline Caroll, Dennis Hopper, Kelsey Grammer
Directed by Joshua Stern
Distributed by Touchstone Pictures

By Clarence Yu

KEVIN Costner’s latest drama-comedy starrer, Swing Vote, is a timely film for a primer on the US electoral process. Released in North America in August this year, the movie focuses on a trailer-living, divorced, single father, all-around loser and drunk bum (Bud Johnson) played by Costner.

As it happens, during the US election that transpires in the movie between the two presidential candidates played by Dennis Hopper and Kelsey Grammer respectively as the Democrat challenger and the incumbent Republican President, the whole fate of the race boils down to the vote of one man, Johnson, due to a voting machine performance error that did not able to record his vote.

Please click here for the rest of the article (at the Philippine Daily Inquirer's TV blog, Couch Potatoes).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Just Shake Yer Head

Guest Post by Emjay Polina (you may contact the writer at

(Raves and Lamentations on The Eraserheads Reunion Concert)

“Ok pa ba kayo dyan?” This was one of the very rare moments Ely Buendia spoke onstage (and this was mid-way through the first set). It would have been the perfect question to ask himself. Was he still fine? His calm demeanor onstage all throughout the first 15 songs belied the unstable mental and physical state he was in. We didn’t know his mother just died 2 days ago and we did not know how extremely pressured they were to push through with the concert with just less than a week’s preparations.

Ten minutes before Lally Buendia (Ely’s sister) went onstage to announce that the show has to be cut short, our friend Di said she was feeling weird about something. “Kinakabahan ako. Ewan ko basta kinakabahan ako.”, she said over and over again I almost strangled her. I jokingly told her she’s not going to get raped on our way back to QC and just please cut the crap. But to our great shock, the unthinkable happened – there are no more 2nd and 3rd sets. Ely had to be rushed to the hospital due to severe “emotional and physical stress”. Raimund took the stage first, his voice a bit shaky it sounded like he’s going to break down any minute. He handed the mic over to Buddy and Ely’s sister for the formal announcement that would break all of our hearts. It took a while for the disbelief to subside. We left the field after an hour of debate and “pagmumura”.

Me, my three friends and the rest of the 20,000 ‘Heads fans and curious folks who flocked The Fort last night eagerly waited for this event for almost two months. This would have been the biggest and most successful concert this year and not to forget – the most remarkable. There were no major promotional events, no tv and radio commercials, no posters - just plain word-of-mouth and incessant blogging. They started selling tickets Wednesday and, well they just easily sold out. This just goes to show how much the people missed this foursome. The ‘Heads faithful are very much alive. Well just imagine how many more people would have flocked if the concert was really free (as was originally planned before the “Dastardly Dementors” ruined the tobacco company’s plans).

There was really no sign of impending doom at the start of the show. The whole thing was unbelievably organized. Entrance and exit points were well marked and people promptly fell in line. There were no pushing or shouting . And to me and my friends’ great relief – there were no JJ’s ( Jumping Jologs aka Killer Orcs aka Goth wannabes) in the area. Actually the crowd were mostly students and yuppies (mostly people from Peyups). “Parang isang malaking malaking UP fair lang ‘to”, a former dormmate said. And to think hours before I was fretting about getting mercilessly pushed about and having my belongings robbed off me.

So much for the drama….

How did the whole thing start off?

The crowd started going wild during the ten-minute countdown. That was one of the longest ten minutes ever. The excitement can hardly be contained anymore. And then the lights were on, the magnificent sparks flew, and then - Raim’s drumbeats. I always knew they’d kick off with Alapaap. That unforgettable bass line that followed immediately was more than enough to get each and every one screaming and jumping. Each ‘Head got their spotlight –the hyperkinetic Raymund Marasigan (donning a lady’s wig) on drums, the super-cool surferdude Marcus Adoro (my favorite) on lead guitars, the calm and steady-looking Buddy Zabala on bass and of course, the enigmatic and deeply-troubled Ely Buendia on vocals and rhythm guitar. Together at last after six friggin’ years. I was very lucky to have caught them perform twice during my freshman year at UP Diliman. I was always at the front row before, this time I was at the Gen Ad section where I could hardly see their faces. I didn’t really care much just as long as the wide screens were there and the audio system was just directly in front of us.

They sounded really really good. Hands down. It’s as if they never disbanded and just grew even more musically sophisticated. “Alapaap” did not disappoint. If you are a fan of the ‘Heads, you really know that they have the tendency na “magkalat” during live shows. They’re just performing in the spirit of fun and you could feel it. Those were the heady days.

A quick succession of melt-in-your-ear old pop hits followed (mostly from their Ultra, Circus and Cutterpillow albums). There was the very popular college favorite “Ligaya”, then came “Sembreak” (during which UP students and alumni screamed Go UP! as familiar campus sights were flashed on the big screen). “Hey Jay” was just as engaging as well. “They tried…They really tried… to tell us we’re too OLD. Too old to really be … BOLD.” Ely spoke these first few lines from “Toyang” – a song reportedly about a former flame with whom he had a love child. This song was one of the major highlights of the first set.

Everything would have been really OK except that they just don’t talk to the crowd. There is total dead air in between songs. We were half-expecting Raims to jump up and just grab the mic from Ely. All they do instead is tune up their instruments a bit before hitting off with another pop ditty. People chanted “GROUP HUG!!” and “Magsalita naman kayo!!!” to the band to ward off the increasing tension among the four of them. Apart from the really great 1st set of playlist, the silence in between is really creepy. They went on with “Fruitcake”, “Kama Supra”, and for the rock ballad “Kailan” Ely invited Jazz Nicolas of Itchyworms to play the keyboards and he just let the crowd sing the last part: “Kailan ako lalaya sa anino ng pag-iisa, Mga rehas lang ang tanaw. Nanginginig sa seldang maginaaaaaw”. “With A Smile” became quite an emotional piece that my friend Di almost burst into tears. For “Shake Yer Head” Ely was so hyper he was literally shaking his head a lot and even let his oversized aviator shades fly off his face. If Ely was hyper at one point, Buddy was frowning over a slight malfunction of his bass effects.

Three more pop favorites were sung: “Kaliwete” (with lots of Macoy’s guitars), “Huwag kang Matakot” and the walang-kamatayang “Huwag Mo Nang Itanong”. The first set ended with an obscure “Lightyears” (from Fruitcake). Most people were asking: “What song is that?” It certainly wasn’t the type of ending song they’d want to hear but it was great nonetheless. Ely afterwards just held his guitar in one hand and kept looking sideways (as if looking for someone to take it off his hand). Then the lights started to go out one by one, and the only thing shown on the screen is the big timer once again counting to 20 minutes before the 2nd set – that would never be.

Raymund, on his Subsandwich mailing list said that they prepared three sets for what he previously called the “Magical Mystery Show”. “The first was just a warm up. The remaining two was going to be the fun part. There were more videos and light shows and pyro in store for everyone.” True enough, their more popular songs were not yet played : the riff-driven favorite of mine – “Superproxy”, the cult-favorite anthem “Pare Ko”, the wild “Pop Machine, the likewise controversial “Tikman”, the upbeat “Magasin”, the beautiful “Torpedo”, the weird “Spoliarium”, the sappy “Hard to Believe” and another controversial, “Alkohol”. I was expecting they would end with the bittersweet “Ang Huling El Bimbo” or the more emotional “Para sa Masa”.

After all the disappointment, the question now remains: “Will there be a Part 2?” There better be. Raims said it himself during one of the numerous news interviews that followed afterwards. “Babawi kami.” No word yet on the date or place. They just wanted to assure that Ely gets the rest he deserved. In the end the people wouldn’t really care if they reunite for real (a highly unlikely possibility) or not. They just want to see the foursome perform as a whole again even for just one marvelous night.

To cap a truly disappointing night, we headed to our favorite ktv tambayan Uncle Tat’s at Matalino St. We sang every Eraserhead song we can find in the catalog and screamed our hearts out until 4:00 in the morning. We did not want to feel really defeated after all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Applause for true session musicians

THE scene is all too familiar for me: take any known club in the mainstream nowadays that features a show band. The band is composed of veterans who don’t look overly familiar, yet they play a blitzing repertoire of 70s, 80s and 90s pop standards, get a rousing ovation for the night, and disappear.

If the club owners happen to like them because they bring in the customers, I’ll likely be able to catch them again next week. If not, and I happen to like them, you’ll have to search high and low for their next gig, and at the next club.

Such is the plight of session musicians — virtually virtuosos (pardon the pun) at their instruments, oftentimes with years of experience under their belts, yet unable to find a steady gig, a record deal, a good name for themselves or a steady flow of income from playing their instruments.

Please read the rest of the article at the Philippine Daily Inquirer's On-Line Blog Soundtrip, here.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Reconsider the Rolling Stones, Please!

(Note: this article is also printed on the Philippine Daily Inquirer's on-line blog, Soundtrip.)

The Rolling Stones simply defy categorization. They have played and recorded songs in every imaginable genre, be it jazz, blues, reggae, disco, rock and roll, hard rock, and pop.

This is probably why there is such a short supply of Stones fans in Manila, and why they never pervaded our culture, even after existing as a fully functioning band for the last 46 years.

While the rest of the world has celebrated its’ “Greatest Rock N’ Roll Band” throughout the years, the Philippines has yet to follow suit.. How many Filipinos can name at least three songs of the Stones? The normal answer I get is “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” their 1965 worldwide hit. Outside my musical circle of friends, no one can give me any other two songs. And in my opinion, it is a crying shame.

The Rolling Stones were cool before cool was cool. They were the Metallica to the Bon Jovi, the Sex Pistols to the Osmond Family, and indeed, the dark, inverted persona contrasted to the mop-topped Beatles.

Perhaps not many people know that the Rolling Stones were actually marketed as the anti-Beatles, and that the Stones and Beatles, throughout the ‘60’s, actually existed together in cooperation: everytime the Stones or the Beatles had a potential new single for release, each would call the other to see how the other band’s current singles were doing. If the Beatles were on top of the charts at the time, they would give sufficient way for the Stones to release theirs, and vice-versa, thus ensuring a virtual lock on the charts for both bands.

Many Filipinos still remember the 1966 concerts that the Beatles performed here, and the subsequent back story of the band being mauled and physically abused by henchmen of the former President Marcos. The Internet is abundant with accounts of these stories. Indeed, even my mother-in-law saw them perform. With enthusiastic glee uncharacteristic of me, I asked her if she remembers anything about the Rolling Stones: I get a glare and a short, “No.”

What is it about the Stones that Manila didn’t like in the ‘60’s? My take is that they didn’t write pop songs that were “poppy” enough for our tastes. We just didn’t get their darkness, their rebelliousness, and most of all, the quality of their music, which is kind of weird because we Filipinos are normally discriminating when it comes to music. The Lennon/McCartney songwriting team was far more popular than the Jagger/Richards partnership, though much higher output can be credited to the latter.

The Rolling Stones started out with a mission to “educate” the masses with the Blues and Rhythm and Blues music. Thus, they started out recording cover songs of black artists, respectfully giving a nod to their forbearers such as Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Robert Johnson. The story then goes that their manager at the time, Andrew Loog Oldham, locked Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in a kitchen and told them not to come out without writing an original song, because the belief at the time was that the band could not continue existing playing and recording cover songs. Jagger and Richards emerged with “The Last Time,” a vaguely prophetic song of things to come, considering that throughout the next 40 or so years, the band would be frequently asked if this record or tour would be “the last time.” Output during these years also included the ballad “As Tears Go By,” the controversial “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” and the doom song “Paint It Black,” which my generation was familiarized with via the 1980’s TV series “Tour of Duty.” Everyone thought it was a new song.

Perhaps the Stones didn’t have an “All You Need Is Love” type psychedelia attached to them? Well, those looking for it just have to direct their attention to 1967’s “Their Satanic Majesties’ Request,” the Stones’ only experiment in psychedelia, considered a big blunder by many hard core fans and the band itself, but still, an oddity with a gem of a song in “2000 Light Years From Home.” The Stones toyed with old Beelzebub long before Led Zepellin, Ozzy Osbourne ever did.

With the First Quarter Storm anti-government movement in the late ‘60’s and the onset of Martial Law in 1972, the Stones’ music would have been perfect for the times (“Gimme Shelter” in particular, from the 1968 album “Beggars Banquet,” comes to mind.)

Of course, with the Beatles, the rest is history. After breaking up in 1969, the most significant things to happen were Lennon getting shot, and George Harrison passing away. In between, solo records, the Wings, Yoko Ono, rumors of McCartney’s death and guest spots.

The Stones just kept playing, touring, recording, and defining a whole new era of music to the world, while the rest of us sat during the Martial Law years, cursed to listening to apolitical disco music (which the Stones also partially defined, albeit in rock parlance, with the 1978 hit, “Miss You” off the album “Some Girls.”) pop/rock music from the Eagles and Steely Dan, or hard rock like Nazareth and Led Zepellin, for those who could afford the imported albums. We still missed out on the Stones for some reason.

1981, the end of Martial Law, marked a great chance for us to get acquainted with them via the excellent riff- renaissance rocker, “Start Me Up,” off the album Tattoo You, but close, no cigar. MTV came out, and of course, as it really happened, video killed the radio star and paved the way for the invention of the modern rock star---with more than a few cues from the Rolling Stones.

Take any bad, naughty band existing today. Chances are, the charismatic lead singer learned more than a few moves from Sir Mick Jagger or his descendants. The would-be bad boy guitarist with cigarette in mouth and seemingly deliberate nonchalance probably studied Keith Richards’ profile more than once. Movie star Johnny Depp decidedly did so, mirroring Richards’ stance, gait, look and drunken accent in his Captain Jack Sparrow Pirates of the Caribbean movie role. The cool, detached and well dressed drummer will always have Charlie Watts as his model.

What we got from MTV were either the New Wave crew (Tears for Fears, Duran Duran, etc.) or the resulting new bad boys of Heavy metal/Hard rock---Motley Crue, The Black Crowes, Guns N’ Roses, The White Stripes, to name a few. While excellent bands in their own right and more than a few serving as front acts during several Rolling Stones tours, not many saw the parallels in the bad boy images that these bands projected, with the originals (of course, the Rolling Stones), which, in my opinion, is just plain unfair, and again, another crying shame. Most of us never got the point, which was all but stepped upon with the onset of Seattle grunge in the 1990’s. All these “I hate myself and I want to die” themed songs were just overkill.

With more than 150 millions albums sold worldwide, a 46 year career spanning 5 decades with more than 25 studio albums recorded, chart breaking tour grosses (they still hold the world record for the highest grossing tour in history from their 1995 “Voodoo Lounge” tour, bettering themselves subsequently with their 2002 “Licks” Tour and their 2005 “A Bigger Bang” Tour), the Rolling Stones has been vital, relevant, and surviving, serving as the prototypical bad boy band, and writing the blueprints for the modern rock song. Most importantly, they are still as bad as they were, and even more active than ever. Count on them to play the hell out of “Satisfaction” anytime. For those who watch NFL football, they did, during the 2005 halftime show.

For us locals, the Eraserheads were smart enough to capitalize on the poppy songwriting of the Beatles. The 70’s era Juan De La Cruz band took on the mantle of Cream, with Wally Gonzales’ Claptonesque inspired guitar work (though Mr. Jun “Pepe” Smith soon turned himself into a Filipino Keith Richards). The modern day rockers Wolfgang and Razorback took their cues mostly from AC/DC and the 80’s sensation Skid Row, who were all, in the first place, heavily influenced by the Rolling Stones to begin with. I have yet to see a local band who has taken on the Rolling Stones’ music and carried it on.

With the Martin Scorcese (attention: Oscar winning director of “The Departed,” and other classics such as “GoodFellas,” and “The Aviator”) directed “Shine A Light” documentary movie on the band released last year, I have high hopes that many of us will get to see the band as they are now and reach back on the heapings of musical history that the band has created over the years, and finally give the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band the credit they deserve in the Philippine Islands.

If not, I will still be content to attend to my own Rolling Stones collection, cranking up the 1968 single, “Jumping Jack Flash,” every morning on my way to work. They will be my secret pleasure, and mine alone.

The Rolling Stones are:

Mick Jagger – lead singer and knight of the British Empire
Keith Richards – guitar and the human riff
Charlie Watts – jazz drummer in the World’s greatest rock and roll band
Ron Wood – the confederate lead guitarist

Former members:

Brian Jones (deceased, founding member) – guitar and the original Kurt Cobain
Mick Taylor – lead guitar, blues extraordinaire, currently still asking himself why he left
Bill Wyman – bass, and original stone face, now a restaurateur
Ian “Stu” Stewart (deceased, founding member) – boogie woogie pianist who hated minor chords

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Why Thailand Beer Won't Sell in the Philippines

People react to their senses.

When they sense that something, for example, smells bad, they tend to find the nearest exit away from the odor.

When they see something attractive, such as a nice watch, or a nice article of clothing, they tend to reach towards their wallet.

I've been around. I've seen the world. I've had a rough childhood. I've even been known to cry during happy moments, and laugh during sad moments.

But nothing in my life, after summing up the totality of all my life experiences (which accounts to roughly more than nine lives, more than that of a cat), ever, ever prepared me for this:

This is a bottle label from a beer that I was drinking in a bar while visiting Denmark on business. Now the Danes probably wouldn't know any better, but the word "Singha" in Tagalog (the Filipino language) takes on a whole new meaning.

It means, roughly translated to English, "Snot." As in, "Snot on your nose," or "Snot in your nose," or simply, "You snotty little bastard."

Needless to say, the sensation of drinking Singha gave me the shivers. Thanks for the Thai beer, but no, thank you, I'm fine. Nothing against the Thais. I have some good friends from Thailand. Maybe one day I'll mention this concern of mine with them.

The old cliche still applies after all----" Lost In Translation."

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Guitar Hero: Aerosmith

Guitar Hero: Aerosmith

How Video Games Might Change the Dynamics of the Music Industry

(The virtual Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith in Guitar Hero: Aerosmith)

I have to admit before going on that I am not a gamer. I know absolutely nothing about PlayStations, PSP’s, Xbox’s, and whatever other gaming brands and consoles that are out there.

To read the rest of the article, please click here on the link to the Philippine Daily Inquirer's Music Blog, Soundtrip.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Please check out Mr. Arnel Pineda's Official WebSite

While looking at the official Journey site, I found a post about Mr. Arnel Pineda's plans to put up a foundation here in Manila, dedicated to helping less fortunate kids. This led me to a link to Mr. Pineda's official site. Quite interesting, and there is a section that documents an actual chat between Arnel and some of his fans, where he mentions his plans to put up the foundation.

I personally like the way the site looks and feels. Simple and easy to use interface. I wish this blogsite can look like that....:)

You can check out the site here

Many thanks for reading. Soldier on!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Swing Vote: A New Movie from Kevin Costner, Out Soon

Kevin Costner films have always been a staple in my movie collection. Best known for his Academy Award winning film "Dances With Wolves," Costner once ruled the box-office in the late 80's and 90's, playing the stereotypical strong but silent type in movies like "The Untouchables," and "The BodyGuard."

Unimaginable as it might be today, Mr. Costner was once the biggest box-office draw (compare that to Brad Pitt or Will Smith today) in Hollywood.

But Mr. Costner has always played wacky characters, a side of him that some movie fans probably don't get a chance to see every so often. In fact, his big film debut in "Silverado" was playing the character of Jake, a young gunslinger with a penchant for the ladies. Take a look at "Bull Durham" "3000 Miles To Graceland" and "Tin Cup" where he played off the wall characters.

Though he hasn't had a big hit in years, Costner has managed to keep his career alive by making movies that really tell a story ("Mr. Brooks," "The Guardian," "Wyatt Earp") and I appreciate that effort.

Just in time for the November U.S. Elections is a new Costner release, titled "Swing Vote." The movie is about a man whose single vote will determine the fate of a fictional U.S. Election. Both parties, Republican and Democrats, try to sway him to get his decisive vote.

I am really looking forward to this movie. Here's a short trailer c/o You Tube:

Read more about it here.

The United States Civil War: Lessons Learned

I've always been interested in U.S. history. As a child in school, all that was taught to me in History classes was that it was a war fought between North and South, over slavery. Simple enough for a 12 year old boy to understand, but as I matured, I started following the war more closely. I bought all kinds of books: Coffee Table books, books on President Abraham Lincoln, you name it.

On film, all sorts of movies are available that depict the Civil War in one form or another: North and South, Gettysburg, Gods and Generals, Dances with Wolves, Glory, to name a few.

There is a great deal of information out there right now on the Internet, and I'm no scholar, but after years of reading up on Civil War events and trivia, I've concluded that this war wasn't a war between good or evil, generally speaking. It was a great era, and the United States indeed was in a crisis. Good men acted decisively, men fought for their beliefs, and human nature itself was tested. The outcome really did not matter to me in the end (the South "lost").

What is most fascinating about this war are the small stories and events that were not highly publicized in media. I've stumbled on a very informative blog dedicated to the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. You might want to take a look at this.

More to come on the Civil War...stay tuned.

More On Journey and Arnel Pineda

Mr. Dennis Posadas, author of Rice and Chips, and tech columnist of Business World, has written a story on Mr. Arnel Pineda's incredible rise to success with Journey.

Check it out here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Journey Is Back

I’ve been very lucky to have a sixth sense when it comes to getting a hold of good music.

In these days of downloading music, I rarely buy CD’s, and if I do, they are from bands that in my mind deserve a slot in my CD case drawer.

Journey is one of those bands. When a friend advised me of his impending trip to Manila I immediately requested him to find me a copy of their latest release, Revelation, which is available only at Wal-Mart Stores in North America. Much of my interest stemmed from news that their new lead singer was Arnel Pineda of the Philippines.

Click here for the rest of the article.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pardon me...

To all friends to whom I've sent e-mails on the second post, please wait till next week. I need to do some further editing on it. Come back soon.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones!

As the title suggests, I am a big fan of the Rolling Stones. For the hardcore fan, the name "Glimmer" will ring bells right away. For the uninitiated, check out the official site here.

This blog will talk about anything under the sun that comes to mind. Most of it will deal with music and history, but please feel free to e-mail me on topics that may come to mind.

Pardon the formal tone. This is my first experience with blogging; I have resisted the temptation for quite a while...but as with all temptations...well, Eve must have a good answer for me when I reach the Pearly Gates.

Thanks for reading.