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Monday, April 24, 2017

The Concerts

What is life without music? Less rockin', I guess, haha. Truthfully speaking, music changes life. It eases the pain, it heals the soul and it gives hope. It cheers us up, it makes us smile and yet it also reminds us about the reality in the most subtle and sophisticated way. If you think I just made it up, rest assured that I didn't, because I spoke from my experience.

The Beatles changed my life. They were cheeky, smart and, hey, that eloquent British accent, it was just inspiring. Growing up in a country where spoken English was almost unheard of, I studied the language for the longest time with no significant improvement. Things changed when I got to know the Fab Four. I always like the way John and George spoke and I remember wanting to speak like them, too. Motivated, I picked it up real quick since then.

As for the music, when I found myself in times of trouble, I listened to Let It Be just to hear Paul singing that there would be answer and I would just have to let it be. When life was difficult, I would listen to John telling me it was easy and all I need was love. There was this confidence and optimism in his voice that I knew it was going to be alright. When I got help in the time of need, I remember Ringo telling me that we all got by with a little help from our friends. When I set my eyes on my then girlfriend, it was just like there was something in the way she moved, attracted me like no other lover. George was right, and that girl is now my wife.

The experiences above blend in seamlessly with others, such as there will be miracle when you believe or imagine all the people living life in peace or sometimes love just ain't enough. I can quote you all the brilliant lines until the cows come home, but what I'm saying is, there's no way one can really separate music from their lives. I believe music plays a crucial part in our daily lives. It brings me to where I am today.

Music is just that important, but it is also surreal at times. I mean, back in the days where you couldn't download or stream your music, when you were still holding a cassette or CD and reading the booklet that came with it, I thought that pretty much defined the relationship between the fans and the musicians. Coming from a small town, I was under the impression that this was as far as it could go, ie. there'd be me listening on this side of the speaker and there'd be them in the pantheon of rock and roll, wherever that might be.

Mr. Big - Pontianak, 25 Jan 2000
Image credit: @boriz13

What I once assumed as the unbreakable myth was eventually broken when Mr. Big came to Pontianak. Yes, you read it right! Mr. Big, the band from Los Angeles, with hits such as Wild World and  To Be with You, came to my hometown to play at a university auditorium for only IDR 40K (SGD 4) per ticket. That was affordable, so there we were on 25/01/2000, my friend Ardian and I, despite the fact that I knew only two hit songs. Oh, three, including Goin' Where the Wind Blows.

To this day, I still have no idea where Mr. Big learned the name Pontianak from or why they even decided to come and play, but it was a revelation for sure: so this was how a concert was like. Gone were the differences we had, all united by the music. The rock band played all out, despite the fact that it was small town with less crowd. The audience sang to their hearts' content. The excitement was in the air. That two hours in my life was great.

And I felt like coming back for more. When I moved to Singapore, I had better chances than before, watching Air Supply just to see them performing Goodbye, All Out of Love and Making Love Out of Nothing at All or attending a Firehouse concert to enjoy the live versions of When I Look into Your Eyes and You Are My Religion.

I was also there when a legend such as Don McLean performed at the Esplanade. Stuff like Vincent and And I Love You So are gold. They've been around long before I was born and I'm sure they'll still be around after I'm gone. To be able to hear these songs sung by their writer as they were originally intended to be was quite a privilege, really. On top of that, as if that still wasn't good enough an experience, the concert was closed with, as expected, American Pie. That was like the best pie ever!

Same goes for the Eric Clapton concert. Eric wasn't much of a lively performer. During his concert, he seldom spoke. As far as I could remember, he just sat there, played his guitar and let his music speak for itself. Then came the most memorable moment when he got many to dance slowly with Wonderful Tonight and brought people up to their feet immediately with the guitar intro of Layla.

Eric Clapton - Singapore, 13 Jan 2007
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It'll be overrated, of course, if I said all concerts I attended were good. Take Backstreet Boys for example. The songs were alright, but to see those four (yes, there were only four of them at that time) performing as Backstreet Boys and doing As Long as You Love Me when they no longer looked boyish... that just didn't feel right. Oasis had their own problems, too. Liam's antics were fun to watch, but the songs, after a while, they all sounded alike. 

The biggest and the most unexpected disappointment, however, was Bon Jovi. My friends and I flew to Jakarta just to watch the show. Prior to that, we had acknowledged the fact that Richie Sambora wouldn't be there. We were okay with that, but nothing would have prepared me from being surprised when I saw Jon Bon Jovi on stage. Under the bright lights, I couldn't find him at first, until I realized that the white haired man who was panting behind the microphone was him! He was sweating profusely and seemingly out of breath. I was nervous for him because it was as though he would collapse any time soon. I also felt cheated when he shoved the mic to the audience for the high notes chorus he was once famous for. He got better when the show almost ended, performing Keep the Faith frantically. The last song, Livin' on a Prayer, was a saving grace.

Guns N' Roses - Singapore, 25 Feb 2017
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After Bon Jovi, you can imagine how worried I was when I saw how fat Axl Rose was. I know how punishing Guns n' Roses' songs could be, so I thought that was it, we'd been Bon Jovi-ed again. Much to my delight, Axl really delivered. He was a hell of a performer. When he sat on piano for November Rain, it was as if my youth was replaying on my mind. How I wish Hardy, the guitarist in my old band, was there watching it, too. He would have loved it so much as he was the one who performed that song in our band. By the way, not to be sidetracked, Slash stole the thunder from time to time. His guitar playing was fierce, reminding us again why they are one of the best rock and roll bands out there.

Now, after attending quite a few, I realize that a concert is best enjoyed when we know all the songs. This is why the Michael Learns to Rock concert is still ranked quite high on my list. Say what you like about their songs, but the band opened the concert confidently with Sleeping Child, they interacted with audience and, after pampering us with the singalong of hits after hits, they closed it with an all time favorite, That's Why (You Go Away). That was what I called fun!

Who tops the list, then? That is, without doubt, a Paul McCartney concert in 2015 at Tokyo Dome. Best concert ever. To be in the same room with an ex-Beatle, that was magical! I mean, here was a long time hero of mine, in a country where people couldn't speak or spoke broken English (trust me, I was there, trying to communicate with a nice gentleman who went the extra mile to buy me a keychain when he knew I came from afar just to watch the concert) but the moment the music began, the Japanese, including my neighbour, they all went hysterical, and, much to my surprise, they knew all the lyrics and sang them all! Japan loved Paul and the affection was not in vain. Ever an entertainer, I could see Paul savoured the moment. He loved playing and didn't hold back. He had so much fun and so were we!

Paul McCartney, Tokyo, 23 Apr 2015
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