Tuesday, February 1, 2011

When Rockville Rocked: Arnel Pineda's Farewell Concert 1-26-2011

Excellent, superb, electrifying, stupendous. I ran out of adjectives.

Wednesday is not your usual day for holding concerts but Arnel Pineda is flying to his next big gig that will reunite him with his Journey band mates after a year long  break to trailblaze their way all around Europe and Latin America and several more cities in the U.S. of A for their latest world tour and to introduce their new cd.

Earlier husband and I took a quick burger snack a few establishments away from Rockville Bar before it opened just to fill up our hungry stomachs. But I found myself hardly finishing my sandwich. Not that it was bad. It was good but I just wanted to take a few bites and was antsy to run to Rockville. I was afraid we may not get seats as there were previous gigs where people had to be turned away.  That night was one night I did not want to miss since it would be his last gig and last time he'd spend a night with his fans before he turns Journey mode.  Indeed he made it extra special by singing songs the fans and followers listed on his fansite.

As everyone should know by now, Arnel Pineda can sing the phone book. After all he's been in the business for twenty seven years and has tried everything literally from A-Z. There was a mix of requests from the list that I read.  From love songs, to kundimans, to classic rock and songs fans never heard him sing before -- at least not on youtube nor on any recorded media.  Bridge Over Troubled Waters for one. Who would've thought. But more on that later.

The show started at half past nine with the Ammo Band.  They did some real good classic rock songs I haven't heard any local live band perform.   Mustang Sally?  Whoa!  Next time I get a chance to visit, can you guys please do Muddy Waters and Raspberry Beret?  There must be five or six more songs that really impressed me a lot. Unfortunately, I didn't note them down.  But for two songs, I do remember telling my husband  I want Arnel to perform them too.

End of first set.

By this time I was already enjoying a glass of mai tai. I haven't drank anything with alcohol since two Christmases ago when sister brought home some real good wine.  I also gorged on a plateful of deep fried chicken fingers. They were yummy and juicy.  I also didn't expect it to be a generous serving for its price. For this alone, I give Rockville 5 stars!  Even the pancit bijon is how I wanted it to be steamy with just the right amount of sauce and not dry.  Again another generous serving.  The waiters and waitresses were nice and quick to attend to you. They were also quite diligent in cleaning up the tables. I just noticed though that they were using their bare hands in removing soiled table napkins. I think it would be better if they had tiny tongs to pick them up instead. But that's just the OC part of me. I think we all have that in us.

It must be fifteen minutes already and I was again turning antsy until I overheard one lady at another table say Arnel will I start at 10:30.  That would be ten more minutes to go.  I took this time to check my camera and took  one last visit to the bathroom.  Speaking of my camera, when we arrived I and  hubby took turns taking a few photos behind the logo and the photos of Arnel with Journey by the stairs. One waiter passing by overheard me telling my husband to take just a quick shot to save up on battery. He then told us "Yes, ma'am baka mamaya pag dating ni Sir Arnel maubusan kayo ng battery." (Yes ma'am you better save up on your battery so it won't run out when Sir Arnel starts)  Hmm.  I like this guy. I thanked him for reminding us.  He knows for sure fans bring along cameras and videocams to preserve those precious performances. In a way I was glad  cameras were still allowed and in a selfish way I feel lucky that the livestream was not yet functioning or else our cameras will not be allowed.

After a while I heard some noise coming from behind. Then I saw about three bouncers (at least that's what's written at the back of  their shirts) coming in surrounding the man of the hour. I hear more wolf whistles as he goes nearer the stage.

Immediately what came to mind is the question of what is it about extraordinary people that makes them different from you and me.  Earlier I saw the Ammo band play and I thought they were good.  When Arnel stepped foot on the stage even while the spotlights were not yet turned on you  can already feel the electricity in the air. Then the spotlights were turned on.  Wearing  white printed shirt over a white tee, he looked like some kind of deity.  And by some coincidence, his first song was entitled "Heaven" by Bryan Adams.

I can never forget the visual.  It gave me goosebumps actually.  Awashed in bright spotlights, he looked radiant, almost luminous. Was it a sign of things to come I ask myself, that his star will shine even brighter in this tour with his musical heroes?   It didn't take the entire show to finish to answer that question.

As soon as he segued to the second song More Than You'll Ever Know, you can tell he already had the crowd at the palm of his hands especially the women. Oh the women. You can hear them sigh, scream, swoon the entire night.  They were having the most fun especially when Arnel sings the love songs like First Time which was a special request from the missus "or else he can't come home'' as Arnel announced.

Then came two U2 songs. First was One which segued to With or Without You.

 I've always wanted to hear him sing this live in its entirety.  I was delirious. Crowd sounded deilrious too. His rendition of With or Without You , my personal U2 favorite, this time was much better than the last time I saw him sing it. On you tube of course. How Arnel made me feel like I'm hearing this in an arena like the famous Irish boys in a small dim bar is only proof how his voice can bring you to places.  I wouldn't want to hear anyone else sing this other than Bono himself.

Then he sang two hits from The Doors back to back.

For me this was one of the highlights of so many highlights of the show.   Roadhouse Blues and Break On Through. Using the growly side of his voice,  Arnel showed mastery of his gift. The only thing I wished that were there was Jon Cain's harmonica playing.  I can  imagine the J-boys do a cover of this song with everyone in the crowd singing and dancing wildly like they do whenever Loving Touching Squeezing is played.  Now this was the first time for me to hear this song. A funny moment for me was when I misheard part of the lyrics of this song. Towards the bridge or chorus I thought I heard him sing  "take off your blouse"  only to find out when I googled the lyrics back home  that he was singing "Give up your vows." It must be the mai tai.

When the song ended and segued to Break on Through, the energy and heat rose ten notches higher. Man, this number was hot, hot, hot.  More than any other song on this show, here was where I saw the classic rocking Arnel, headbanging, jumping  (the ceiling is too low for the famous Airnels though), twirling the mic stand, so completely into his zone. He seemed to have thrown everyone back to the sixties where wild parties and smoke-filled rooms were the order of the day. Except of course there was no smoke here at all. The only one sizzling other than the 'sisig' on peoples plates was Arnel himself.  Also starring was the mic stand which took some extra beating from our rock stah.   The performance was so infectious that you want to join the  ride with him but at some point you just have to stop and allow him to have his moment and just be at the sidelines to watch how he gets into his zone. It  was a thrill to watch him do this.

Fast forward to what I would call the triple whammy. Satisfaction, Stairway to Heaven and Bridge Over Troubled Waters. What more can you ask for.  With Satisfaction he got the crowd singing along and raising their fists each time Arnel points the mic towards their direction to sing the last two words of the line "I can't get no!"  He got the place shaking.

With Stairway to Heaven,  he got everyone else, to use a twitter's words, trippy. He started the song  with some light banter with Monet about interesting substances.  Ahem. What more can I add but yet again another highlight of the show. Robert Plant and Arnel should jam before any of them completely forget the lyrics of that song.

And then came Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Wow.

 It was nothing that I expected to be on his playlist. I learned later it was someone's favorite.  Simon and Garfunkel are two of my and my husband's favorites. These two geniuses definitely has written some of the best songs that any generation can appreciate. To hear it sang live by Arnel no less made me excited as he started  the first words "When you're weary..."  Everyone was in awe. Again ladies were screaming their heads off.  But Arnel made it into  not just an "I'm singing this song because you requested it" moment.  His show of emotions was something I did not expect. As ladies kept swooning he maintained a sober mood. As soon as he finished the words "When times get rough.." he took a short bow and gave out a quick smile. Soon his voice was starting to quiver and tears fell.  From my angle I thought these were just sweat. After all he has been singing for more than an hour now without break and the kinds of songs he were singing were more than enough to drain one's energy in thirty minutes.

When the song ended, he mentioned something about the lines "When you're down and out. When you're on the street." Everyone should already know the story by now. As it is with Arnel there are just things that happen in our lives that you simply can't erase. You move on alright but the memory of the pain remains.

For his last encore song, Arnel sang  Kenny Loggin's Forever.

This one I say you just have to be there and hear it live to be able to fully appreciate the magic in that voice.  No camera or recorder can do justice to hearing his voice reverberate within the four walls and feel that passion coming out from him.  It was heartfelt and beautiful and at the same time enchanting.  What they say about drowning in one's voice.

Truth is there's something about how Arnel delivers each song he sings that  sucks you into his realm. While this was meant to be in a way a fans' day being a Most Requested Song night where fans and followers throw in their favorites, it was in some sense a night where Arnel has proven what a truly gifted artist he is.   I won't be surprised if the list was just given to him a day or two before and thus the presence of the lyric sheet. (Well I only said he can sing the phone book, not memorize it! lol) but he delivered each song and made sure that it gets the respect that is due the artist who wrote them.  It could have been one big karaokefest with someone singing the lyrics of the songs but Arnel was not just doing that.  He made sure he puts the right emotions to those songs and  made his audience feel what is being conveyed in the lyrics.  He made each song his own that you sometimes forget who the original artist was.

Was it a perfect night then? No and I don't expect that in this kind of setup where Arnel gets a list of songs probably just a day or  two before the event. There could be songs he hasn't sang in ages and thus the need for a lyric sheet.  However there are also pitfalls to singing with a visual aid  which became pretty obvious when he sang  'One' where he almost skipped a line. He was  quick though to correct himself.  Arnel does some adlibbing as a way of adding his personal touch but again given the setup, there was the tendency to emphasize on the words he remembers but those that he didn't and had to read from the sheets sounded slurred. In some songs, in a manner of saying, he has to mind his p's and q's. To an OC listener (I sometimes am) it can be just a wee bit distracting. If there is something he had to improve on (which every artist should continually be on the lookout for),  this would be it. At the same time I must say he has vastly improved.  As for the band, they did well. Were excellent at some point especially when performing the blues where one does a lot of improvisation.  I was pleasantly surprised by how they did the two  Doors song.  Same thing with U2's WOWY though I wished the bass part were given more emphasis because the bass riff is what that song is known for. Did I tell you I can be quite OC?

If there is one word that I can use to describe  this night, it is enchanting.  Truly I felt everyone left the show like they fell under his spell.  It was not just your usual MRS night but a night that was like Arnel himself selecting the  songs which he does best. And since six of the songs I requested were performed with two more I've been wanting to hear him sing, this would be a perfect playlist for me. If there were others that were not played it was simply because two hours was not enough.  Indeed two hours is so short considering the  repertoire of songs he can deliver well. Then there were some of us who not only requested two or three songs but even an entire playlist.  I was one of those. :)

Lastly, if there is a word I can use to describe Arnel that night it is resplendent. He started the night by appearing onstage wearing his white shirt and with the bright spotlight reflecting on it, he appeared radiant. He ended it shining brighter even as the lights were turned off for he proved to each and everyone of us in that small room, that he truly is a star extraordinaire. I'm more than excited with what lies ahead of him in the very near future.