Between the stars and waves, a Rivermaya reunion
DLS Pineda (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2016 - 9:00am

My good friend, Lean, was at 19 East, Sucat at 5:45 p.m. He was three hours and 15 minutes early for the first band, Kontra, which was opening the night as one of Perf de Castro’s guest acts. On the venue’s marquee, it still read “Performing Tonight: Side A,” unchanged from the night before. Worried, Lean called me up to make sure: “Sigurado kang tutugtog silang apat ngayon — as in, original lineup?”

“Ewan ko,” I said, and explained that in Perf’s post on Facebook, the other three — Nathan Azarcon, Mark Escueta and Rico Blanco — had merely confirmed to be his special guests. It said nothing about the four of them playing at the same time as Rivermaya. It was also problematic to say that they were reuniting when there is still a Rivermaya today. In fact, they play regular gigs with Mark on vocals, rhythm guitars, and percussion, Mike Elgar still on lead guitars, Norby David on bass and Ryan Peralta on drums.

Ang sigurado ay wala si Bamboo,” I said. “Out of the country daw.”

To say that we were excited for the gig would be an understatement. Perf’s post reached more than 1,200 “likes” and 999 shares; we also feared that 19 East would explode with too many attendees, like it almost did in one of Sugarfree’s farewell gigs (in which Lean asked for and received Ebe’s guitar pick). We had longed for this, and we knew we had to be there before everyone else.

They were the biggest

I first got to watch Rivermaya in 2006 at a gig in Aruba Bar, Metrowalk. Back then, Rivermaya was composed of Rico, Mike, Mark and Japs Sergio on bass. Returning from a successful gig at the MTV Asia Music Awards in Bangkok, they were the biggest OPM band back then. My eldest brother, Nico, was playing as the replacement drummer for Stonefree, who was opening the show. I was a scrawny high schooler who knew little of these things, sitting at the same long table as Stonefree and Rivermaya before their sets. I was two seats away from Lizza Nakpil, their manager, who seemed busy with her Palm Pilot. She spoke with authority, and reminded Mike and Mark of their schedules for the next day.

Anong gusto mong tugtugin namin, Miro?” a warmed-up and energetic Rico asked Stonefree’s frontman. To which Miro replied, “Tanong mo si Nico, sub-drummer namin ngayon.”

Asked the same question, my brother replied, “Tanong mo si Dino, utol ko.” Shyly and with no one to pass the ball to, I said I wanted them to play Alab ng Puso. Rico said they would try to do something about that.

Throughout the show, I waited for them to play Alab ng Puso. But it hardly mattered as I enjoyed every minute of their set. I remember the bar-goers, their faces dimly lit and composed, all losing their marbles when they played Liwanag sa Dilim. Right on cue, all the lights in Aruba were switched on each time Rico sang Liwanag, catching everyone by surprise. And after they sang a bone-crushing rendition of Alab ng Puso, I remember Rico asking me, “Okay ba?” I raised both thumbs above my head, a huge smile glued to my face.

The next Rivermaya performance I watched was a gig without Rico in 70’s Bistro, but with ex-member Kakoy Legaspi in a face-melting guitar duel with Mike on Panahon na Naman. And after that gig, the next one I watched was in Music Museum when they crowned Jayson Fernandez as their new vocalist, for which my future sister-in-law got us good seats. The most memorable part of the night was when I turned around and saw (but hardly heard) Anne Curtis, still a teeny bopper then, singing her lungs out to Stonefree’s rendition of Shattered Like. I remember the host ending the night saying, “We are all Rivermaya,” which I found odd. They were Rivermaya, and I was happy to keep it that way. It didn’t matter whether or not they were the original members. I just knew that they were the ones who made music, and we were the ones who listened and sang along.

Fast-forward to 19 East almost a decade later and I couldn’t believe I was about to see the Rivermaya I never got the chance to watch. It seemed that we were not the only ones losing our wits as we (the first ones in line) were met with a spaced-out Nathan Azarcon. For absolutely no reason at all, he held his right hand high in front of Lean, gave my friend a high five, and walked away laughing. I later read from Niña Sandejas’ blog that Nathan was, in fact, feeling fidgety before the gig.


But onstage, the four of them were unbeatable. Before each song, you could hear Rico and Nathan, who were on opposite sides of the stage, asking each other, reading each other’s lips, “D ba? Hindi ba G?” Their words were sparse, usually accompanied by two or three chords from the scale. At that point, Perf would throw disclaimers, “Oo nga pala, hindi kami nag-praktis. Ngayon lang kami nagkita, eh!” And with a nod from Mark, they would proceed to play the first song —  Gravity from their first album.

Throughout their set, their rawness was powerful. While that lineup had long parted ways, you could hear how the four of them had changed — individually — through the years. Perf was armed with an unbelievable array of riffs, his guitar wailing from start to finish. Himala brought out the spirit inside Nathan. He hunched his shoulders tighter, pulled his bass guitar closer each time he attacked a groove. And when they covered Beep Beep by Juan dela Cruz Band, Rico and Nathan each added a bit of funk, a bit of the blues, a bit of swank. Rico smiled and grinned to himself whenever he fitted a dissonant chord. At the back, Mark held everything together and swept through his drum kit, giving it all he had for their final number, Awit ng Kabataan.

The band played six songs and exited after taking a bow, side by side. When Mark threw his drumsticks to the crowd, Lean caught one. I ran after Rico who was slowly exiting, pacing two steps at a time after each photo op, and had him sign my copy of his new album, “Dating Gawi.” By the time I got back inside the building, the other three were with their respective groups.

The deafness I felt after the gig was not unpleasant. The feeling that engulfed me was not of nostalgia either, for it was my first time to see the original lineup play. Rivermaya today has moved on from the ‘90s with Mark as its front man; Perf continues to play and record in the US; Nathan has Hijo and a number of project bands; Bamboo is nursing a TV career; Rico has just come out with his third solo album. In a strange way, the reunion gig was a welcome message for everyone to trust change. Rivermaya, our country’s own postmodern band, continues to exist in parallel universes.

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Tweet the author @sarhentosilly.


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