Oh, Flamingo! and the necessary discomforts of gigging
Oh, Flamingo! and the necessary discomforts of gigging
DLS Pineda (The Philippine Star) - November 13, 2015 - 9:00am

Billie Dela Paz and Pappu De Leon were already coiling their guitars’ cords when I entered Saguijo that Saturday night. Their band, Oh, Flamingo!, had just finished their set at Ransom Collective’s second anniversary gig. The place was packed, and the crowd was still high on their music. One of their songs, June, played over the PA system. And as though to lure the band into doing an encore, the crowd continued to sing their lungs out.

But Oh, Flamingo! couldn’t stick around. They were slotted to play in two more venues — at Café Mizmo Bar and Grill on Kamias and at Mow’s on Matalino Street — and it was 11 p.m. Their call time at Café Mizmo was in 10 minutes and we were still in Makati. Guitarist Howard Luistro, in his haste, threw his cords on top of his pedal board, picked up his gear with both hands, and exited through the door on the right. His guitar remained strapped to his left shoulder while its case hung spineless over his opposite arm. I stopped him in his tracks and after a brief hi-hello, asked him how the gig was. “Ang saya lang. Ang wild,” he said. “I couldn’t find the time to wipe off the mist that formed behind my glasses.”

Pappu was right behind Howard. I introduced myself to him as the guy from the press who wanted to write about them. He shook my hand and, because of the noise, shouted in my ear, “We’re leaving for Café Mizmo. Alam mo kung sa’n ‘yun?”

I said yes and asked, “’Di ba 11:10 kayo ro’n?”

“Yes,” Pappu said, “but we’ve already informed them. They said it was all right; they won’t run out of bands.” To be fair to Oh, Flamingo!, they were supposed to start playing in SaGuijo much earlier. But as these gigs go, nothing’s ever on time after 8 p.m.

Meet the band

Things have been picking up speed lately for Howard (rhythm guitar), Pappu (lead guitar), Billie (the lone girl on bass) and Fries Bersales (drummer), members of Oh, Flamingo! The four of them met at the UP Music Circle in 2011, but only formed the band after two years of knowing each other. Howard, Pappu and Billie had other bands back then. Fries was playing here and there with no stable group of his own.

“As much as we’re ashamed of it,” Pappu says in our interview, “originally plinano nila Howard gumawa ng Arctic Monkey’s cover band. Nataon lang din na naaya ko na siya gumawa ng Arctic Monkeys at Beatles cover band. Ayun, ipinagsama na lang namin.

“That plan took more than a year to come to life,” Billie adds. “Di pa kami nagjajam no’n pero may agreement na kaming may banda na. When a friend of ours asked us if our band could debut sa gig niya, ‘yun nagforce sa amin magbanda. For two weeks before the gig, we wrote five songs and practiced them.”

“Those are the same five songs that we play now. But we’ve edited them so many times hanggang umabot sa form nila ngayon,” Howard says. And it’s true, once you’ve heard their songs, you realize they couldn’t have bashed them out in one sitting. Two years is a fair incubation period for songs that might live longer than the band. Throughout the interview, Fries just keeps to himself, eating his food at the corner.

Home court

Their second gig for the night was at home court — the UP Music Circle’s Applicants’ Night. Indeed, there was no shortage of bands; two other groups had performed before they did. It was five minutes to midnight when Oh, Flamingo! started their second set, which they had agreed to cut down to four songs from five. They were set to play Mow’s at 12:10 a.m.

They began with eight slow measures of Inconsistencies to check the levels of their instruments. Once they had fixed everything, they dug into the song’s groove, hypnotizing the crowd and causing some to squeal. This was a band that knows exactly what they’re doing — no fidgety fingers, stiff shoulders, or frightened front men — and you could hear it in the music.

June, their next song, started out comfortably, or “chill” as some might describe it. But in the middle, right after the chorus, the song whips into a rhapsodic flourish of stops and scales. Like many of their songs, they seemed to enjoy playing with sonic equilibrium — “ADHD mode,” the band calls it. “We do it as a way to excite ourselves,” Billie told me afterwards. They end June with the same six chords as the intro, but much slower — with the drums hitting only the ride cymbals and snare, like the music is hovering over a cloud on a sunny day. They follow it up immediately with another original, Two Feet.

Reflections on ’reflections’

Their final song, Reflections, is their tour de force. More important than showing what they are capable of, Reflections showed what their sound is capable of doing to its listeners. Reflections shifts moods repeatedly but avoids showing off like a Dream Theater cover band might. The song transitions abruptly yet seamlessly from one mood to another: like a moment of realization, like that sudden buzz you get once you stand up after shots. These days, when sounding cute and tame is the norm, Oh, Flamingo! breaks ground by bringing discomfort to their audience without offending their eardrums.

In between measures, on the downbeats of Reflections, Billie and Pappu toy with their instruments and, in unison, poke Howard’s butt cheeks. Howard reacts comically, like a mouse caught by a trap. But somehow, their tomfoolery has a place in the performance.

They played the same set in Mow’s half an hour later with no apparent loss of gusto. When the strap of Billie’s bass unexpectedly unfastened, her hands trembled while trying to hook it back. But they played on — their third set in three hours — for a well-deserved encore.

* * *

Oh, Flamingo! will launch their EP tonight at Route 196. They will be playing with Cheats, Ourselves the Elves, Sandwich, Joop, and Ang Bandang Shirley.

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