Note: This is a detailed look back at Phoenix’s first Manila concert held last January 21 at the World Trade Center as seen and experienced through the eyes of a fan. If you want to read a review that simply retells the details of that night – one that expresses very little emotion – then head over to my music page, the EOS.
Almost, almost, almost the real thing.
It was a sunny April afternoon in 2013 when I saw Phoenix live for the very first time. It was an unexpected event. I didn’t know that that day was the Coachella performance. I just heard the announcement from someone a few moments before Phoenix walked on stage. Although having a decent spot seemed impossible considering the multitude of people already flooding the venue and how incredibly late I learned about the concert, I was still able to secure a nice and comfortable place – right in front of the action!
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention – it was live on Youtube.
Ever since I got to know their music several years ago, I only got to experience them live vicariously – through the reporting of an online music magazine, fan video uploads, or past recorded live sessions. That Coachella live stream was the closest thing I got to watching Phoenix live and real time, but still that was not enough to satisfy my desire to experience their music live myself – to be one with a crowd, to let every note fill my fingertips, to be right there in bursting glory of it all… until January 21, 2014.
Victim of the Crime
Despite my intense longing to see Phoenix live, I was calm on the day of the concert, which was rather strange considering I had waited for that day to arrive for a loonng time. Well, I was a tad nervous (take note, nervous, not excited) but I was generally steady. I didn’t feel as happy and super excited as I had thought I would be. There were no butterflies in the stomach, no neon lights flowing in my blood, no confetti bursting in my head when I thought about the concert that was only hours away from happening. Even after months leading up to the concert, I was just calm about everything. And I didn’t know why.
I tried to determine why I felt that way. I mean, I got more excited about a concert I had attended four months prior, and to think I was not even a big fan of that band! And then there I was, on the day of the Phoenix concert itself feeling curiously tranquil! This had never happened to me before. It was possible that the cause of this calmness was a combination of stress from work, the activities connected to Manila Wants Phoenix, and my not winning the M&G contest (twice!); being extremely busy and tired had probably prevented me from letting everything sink in, for the excitement to seep through. But whatever the real reasons were, they certainly didn’t keep me from watching a band that I adored.
Napoleon says to come over here!
It felt surreal being at the World Trade Center in Pasay City last January 21. Although I had reserved seats, I, together with my sister, who eventually became my official photographer, went to the venue about 5:30 p.m. There were already people lining up at WTC’s entrances by the time we got there, all getting ready to secure their places inside. The whole place was generally quiet. The overcast sky the whole day that day painted a gloomy picture, and it belied the events that were to be.
We went inside the venue at about 6:30, and were able to find our spots quickly. Although our seats were far from the stage, it was not as far as I had expected them to be. I immediately noticed the chairs for the VIP ticket holders. They seemed out of place in the with their black and white chair covers. They made me feel like I was going to attend a seminar rather than a concert.
Despite Karpos Multimedia’s announcement last December that the show would start at 8:00 sharp, we had to wait for more than hour for it to begin. I went in and out of the venue several times while waiting for the show to start to meet some members of Manila Wants Phoenix, who would later on be instrumental in allowing me to meet Christian, Branco, and D E C K unplanned!
I’m just too glad to say no, just too glad to say no….
The audience was composed of a different mix of people, but generally young; many of them wore midriffs and boots. My sister and I spotted some guys trying to imbibe a Thomas Mars aura by wearing a light blue shirt. Some women, on the other hand, flaunted their fancy dresses and high heels, which made me wonder how the hell they were going to dance, let alone move, in those killer heels. One thing was common for everyone though – the cameras. What’s a concert without those cameras/iPads/phones ruining concerts nowadays, right?
Because I didn’t own a fancy smart camera phone, my sister then offered hers, thinking I would want to capture the moments of the event; I gladly said no. Being a fan for years and the owner of a page for Phoenix, I had already seen tons of videos, photos, and livestreams of their concerts. I had already become familiar with their setlist (for this tour at least), the versions and mashups, some of their LED backdrops, even with some of the things that they were going to say! What I needed that night was to experience them LIVE – to dance, to listen, and sing along. To be in the moment. All those years, I had only seen them through a screen, and I didn’t want to watch them through another one. Besides, there were hundreds of people there who were nearer the stage than I was and had cameras with better resolutions than mine; I decided I’d just rely on them.
I’ve waited so long there’ll be no decency, no!
It was almost 9:20pm when the lights were turned off and the sound that was similar to the beat of tribal percussion instrument floated in the air. Covered in the shadows, Phoenix casually went on stage and the crowd simply exploded with energy and ecstasy. Then, a buzzing of synths. The introduction of Entertainment, their first single off Phoenix’s latest album Bankrupt! signaled the start of Phoenixmania in Manila.
The East Asian keys of the song filled WTC and soon, Thomas Hedlund was banging the drums like a drunken monster. A massive LED video wall projected a vibrant red background and dancing lights accompanied the six guys on stage. This video wall and strobe lights that danced and flashed would accompany the succeeding songs all throughout the show. These were definitely not something a person with photosensitive epilepsy would appreciate. Otherwise, they were dazzling!
I was expecting to see some familiar backdrops that they usually used during their tour last year – the fountain at Versailles, The Hall of Mirrors, and even Everest, a metaphor for the band’s quest to conquer perfection in their music. But none of them were present, instead Phoenix used a video of 1960s Parisian streets leading to the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, the interior of Notre Dame Cathedral, ruins of – I’m assuming – some Roman pillars (when they performed Rome) and probably the most memorable of them all – Mayon Volcano.
When I saw Mayon Volcano being flashed on the screen during Chloroform, I thought, “What mountain is that? Wait, its perfectly shaped cone looks very familiar!” And then I asked my sister, “Mayon ba ‘yan??” Although it was no Everest, I think it still reflected the band’s philosophy in music making, being Mayon a symbol of perfection. It was nice to know that Phoenix tried to connect to the country that they were performing in. It just made me wonder though if they flashed the photo of Mt Fuji when they recently played Osaka and Tokyo!
The lights and backgrounds were only a small component of the entire concert. The meat of the concert was, of course, the setlist. A big chunk of the setlist consisted of songs coming from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix; in fact, 9 out of 10 songs were taken from WAP – Fences was the only one that wasn’t played.
Apart from their most popular songs, I looked forward to them playing the song that made me fall in love with them – If I Ever Feel Better. I wanted to see these live too: Run Run Run, (I was impressed when I saw it performed live at Lollapalooza 2013.) Don’t, Playground Love, Funky Squaredance (starting from part 2 onwards), and the full studio versions of Drakkar Noir and Countdown, but I knew that there was only an extremely slim chance that those last 5 songs would make it to the official setlist of this tour.
So imagine my surprise when they did a mash-up of If I Ever Feel Better and Funky Squaredance! I think it would have been better of these two songs separately though and not in a medley. (As with Funky Squaredance, it would have been great if they did Live! ThirtyDaysAgo version of the song. ) Nevertheless, I enjoyed them, along with the others: Long Distance Call, Consolation Prizes, S.O.S in Bel Air, The Real Thing, and Armistice. But it was the performance of Sunskrupt! that completely made an impression on me.
I had seen Love Like A Sunset and Sunskrupt! played “live” but none of them gave me the same emotional pull when I saw it last January 21. I remember reading an article in 2009 about a Love Like a Sunset performance held somewhere in the US. I could clearly imagine the narration of the author that I got all teary-eyed just thinking about how breathtaking it must be to watch this instrumental being played.
When Phoenix played Sunskrupt! with all its visual accompaniments, I was just quiet the whole time, magnetized by the intensity of the moment. When Thomas stood up to sing, and the melancholic guitars and steady drums of Love Like a Sunset part 2 entered, I suddenly remembered the magazine article. And then I realized that the moment I longed to have was already happening. I was in it, witnessing everything! There was fulfillment, happiness, sadness, and nostalgia; the music carried me off to a place I had never been. By the time Sunskrupt! ended, small pools of water had gathered in my eyes. It was a magical moment. Suddenly, I felt like one of the girls in the Chloroform video.
Sunskrupt! may be the most memorable part for me but these were also special:
1 When Thomas exclaimed “Oh my God!” in reaction to the audience’s singing and loudness during Lisztomania. The whole show was actually loud. I remember not hearing anything else during Entertainment (reprise) because the music was just blasting away my eardrums.
2 Thomas’ crowdsurfing.
I felt scared for him when I saw how the people reacted to his presence. I thought he was going to drown in the crowd! I felt terrible for him afterwards. Lamog!
3 The confetti blast
I read several days before the concert that a rain of confetti could be expected from a Phoenix concert, but I didn’t believe it because the only shows I had seen where it rained confetti were at Primavera Sound (they actually used fake money, not just plain confetti) and at the Aragon Ballroom. I didn’t think they would pull a stunt like that in Manila. But surprise, surprise, they did!
True, True and everlasting, it didn’t last that long
The Phoenix concert was comparable to their albums; it was short. It might have contained 21 songs, but nine of them were done in a medley. I would have preferred to hear more from It’s Never Been Like That or Bankrupt! but I guess with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix having more mass appeal, they probably decided to play more from it. Well, then they would just have to add more songs the next time they drop by the country!
I hope during their second visit, these things would also be taken into consideration by the next concert producers.
1 Remove the chairs!
Apart from them looking awkward, they also didn’t give people more room to move. Yes, having the chairs were convenient, especially since we had to wait for almost 1 ½ hours, but they were also an impediment to movement.
2 Follow the schedule. Please don’t make the audience wait for too long again.
3 Lower ticket price.
Many Phoenix fans may be sosyal but a lot aren’t, too. A number of people were not able to watch the band because the tickets were expensive (roughly $126 for the VIP, and $87 for the Gold section), way higher than in other countries: Phoenix’s Scotland 2014 gig was only £17.50 (P1300) and one of their Australian shows this coming March only costs AUD95 (P3800)! I think it wouldn’t hurt if the concert producers would lower down the price even a bit.
4 If possible, ban iPads and other tablets with huge screens!
Hook up with me. Meet me at the
rally. backstage exit.
Even before the announcement of Phoenix’s concert in Manila, my gut feel already told me in the earlier part of 2013 that Phoenix were going to visit Manila in the earlier part of 2014, and that I would even be able to meet them. How the hell I would be able to meet them, I didn’t know. I just knew it was going to happen. So, when Karpos had a Meet&Greet contest last December, I didn’t hesitate to join. However, luck was not on my side and I lost… two times.
What I didn’t know was that my loss was actually a blessing in disguise, for in the end I would be able to meet, have photos taken and get their autographs (the photo of the Manila Wants Phoenix paper below was made possible with the gracious assistance of a Karpos representative). I would no longer go into details but my own version of meet and greet happened about an hour after the concert. Christian Mazzalai came back on stage, and he was the first member I was able to talk to – such a down-to-earth and friendly guy! Walang ere! He even hung out with the fans for about 15 or 20 minutes! After my encounter with him, the others and I got to catch Deck, Branco, and for some, Thomas before they finally left WTC.
I have some photos with them but I’d like to keep them private, but these I can share.
The Real Thing
Almost a month after the concert, here am I still unable to absorb everything that had transpired. When I look back at photos and videos, I simply cannot believe that it happened. Was I really there? Everything was real yet unreal at the same time.
I might not have gotten extremely thrilled as I had wanted myself to be, but everytime I remember the details of the concert and my meeting with them, they never fail to paint a smile on my face and heart like Phoenix have always done to me all these years. And that is something you cannot fake.
Concert photos are courtesy of Phoenix, Kris Rocha, Karpos Multimedia, Jeeves de Veyra, Magic Liwanag,Carla Barretto, YouTube users easteleventhstreet (for the screen shots of Rome & Sunskrupt!), Del Robles (for the screen shots of If I Ever Feel Better + Funky Squaredance) and Filippo L’Astorina (for the Brixton Academy 2014 show).
Special thanks to Karpos Multimedia Inc. for bringing Phoenix to Manila and for facilitating Manila Wants Phoenix‘s special request, and a personal one as well.