Black Dog, Diamond Dogs & the hounds of doom
AUDIOSYNCRASY - Igan D’Bayan () - February 15, 2008 - 12:00am

Like frogs the exact moment before being put in a blender. Get this, I am at the RJ Bar along Jupiter in Makati on a Saturday night, watching the members of metal band Holy Water run through a blisteringly loud set of originals, several tables away from a couple of stupefied senior citizens and their hot dates. I am sure those guys have come to watch Ramon Jacinto and his band duck-walk down memory lane to Twist & Shout or La Bamba or other ’60s jukebox staples just like on typical Friday nights. Not on this night, though. Not on Welcome to Rehab Night, which calls for rock ‘n’ roll that is of the noisier, wilder and more angst-ridden variety.

“Where the hell are my Ventures, my Shadows?” a guy whose gold necklace and matching ring glitter in the dark seems to say.

I am told that the bar gets a lot of stray old-timers on nights when productions such as Rehab take over RJ Bar. Half of the strays get this bewildered look on their faces (like frogs about to be turned to frappe, like Hobbits visited by Darth Vader’s Stormtroopers), drink their brews, get the bill, and scram before they bleed to deafness, leaving a trail of pomade and disappointment. Lost in translation, kumbaga. But half of them wisely stay and get treated to a night of metal, blues, alternative rock, country rock (yes, country rock), as well as classic rock tunes from the ’70s and early ’80s. What doesn’t kill you only makes you want to rock ‘n’ roll.

Last Saturday, my girlfriend and I hung out with good friends Sari Ortiga and Boy Vinzon at My Bros Mustache in Quezon City to watch rock legends Wally Gonzales and Dondi Ledesma. What a joy to behold the Juan Dela Cruz guitar hero cover classics by Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin (Black Dog! Black Dog!) and, of course, Juan Dela Cruz. Dondi did an amazing solo on Red House — with bends, staccato fills, chords, harmonics, all the tricks in the book and beyond. Not even Satan could play the bass that well. Lots of musicians sat in, including the sultry Kat Agarrado (who used to front Wally’s band before forming Sinosikat?), a really good drummer named Jong (?) and a young chinita who played drums on War Pigs and Kagatan. What an unbelievably good night.

On this Saturday night, Lokomotiv’s Wolf Gemora and his partner Ann Barcelona have assembled a great lineup — from rising stars (such as the guys from Kastigo) to rock legends (Jun Lopito and even Wolf himself who jammed with Kastigo on two Wolfgang classics). Guys from RJ Underground Radio (UR) 105.9, headed by UR vice president and GM Ramon Jacinto Jr., were also there at the gig.

UR plays songs that I never imagined would be played on local rock radio. I went mental one morning when I heard a version of Layla by jazz flutist Herbie Mann and former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, followed by a track by Maria Cafra. P*ta, shades of Rock of Manila with legendary RJ jocks like Howlin’ Dave, Cousin Hoagy, the Penguin, Captain Eddy and all of them merry pranksters (if not for these guys — and my brother Dennis’ record collection — I would’ve been a ledge-dancer gyrating to C&C Music Factory with all my powers). They were like the Illuminati. It’s great how RJ Jr. is restarting that fire.

Anyway.

Holy Water plays Deep Purplish rock, characterized by counter-pointing guitars, lurching time signatures and good vocal work from singer-guitarist Mike Bewer (who has played in bands like Piranha and — at first I couldn’t believe it — Reggae Mistress). Bewer and company play tracks such as Rock Tonite, Wakosey Pare, Buang Blues and Sumabay, Sumayaw. Good solos from good guitars: Mike fingers a Gibson Flying V, while guitarist John “Blues” De Zuñiga plays with a beautiful black Fender Jazzmaster (or was that a Mustang?).

The rhythm section — composed of drummer Butchoi Sombilla and bassist Don Bautista — also cooks, especially on the last tune in their set titled, Blinded by the Lightning.

The guys from Dr. Mindbender follow, as more of the elderly customers get up and leave. Singer Peter Mutuc gives them a wave and sings something like “Take me to the wonderland,” as the other band members navigate a tricky country rock riff. Guitarist Marco de Leon, who has a cool Prodigy-style Mohawk (as if his head got caught in a mini lawnmower), plays a nifty slide guitar, while drummer Alsey Cortez provides a propulsive beat. The band performs originals (Leave Me Alone) and good covers (Rusty Cage, Johnny Cash’s version interspersed with bits from Soundgarden).

I liked the band so much I approached Peter to get the names of the band members. In comes the bald bassist, bursting with cockiness, who instructs the singer, “Isulat mo diyan, pare, dancer ako… Dancer.” Whatever you say, dude.

And then Kastigo takes the stage.

Kastigo is composed of singer Carlo Ordoñez, guitarist Joshua Montecillo, bassist Sans Fojas and drummer Mark Santiago — young musicians (in their early 20s) who could play metal with the best ones around. As proof, they jam with Gemora on Wolfgang’s Arise and Halik ni Hudas, which for me are the highlights of the evening. Even the musicians from the other bands get up on their feet as the petite female bassist deftly plays the difficult slap-and-pop bass interlude in Hudas. She hardly breaks a sweat in her boots, this cute girl who plays her Yamaha bass so fiercely and defiantly.

Joshua Montecillo is also in fine form, doing lightning-fast arpeggios and holding his guitar like a machine gun. (Didn’t Woody Guthrie once write “This machine kills fascists” on his guitar?) I imagine Montecillo’s guitar gunning down obscenely corrupt public officials who wring out billions of pesos in kickbacks while we powerless Filipinos wonder where our next meal or rent money is coming from. If only those fat bastards could be felled, one by bloody one, by Kastigo originals titled Our Daily Riot and Complicated Man (“All that there is and all that is seen/Is more than the filth of human schemes”), or a cover of Halik ni Hudas, as we spit into the evil lairs of those bureaucratic judases and their hounds of doom. If only, that is.

Ah, the magic of self-delusion.  

The members of Kastigo are not just about angst and anger; they also play heartfelt tracks such as KKK (Kapag Kapiling Ka) and ABP (A Bitter Passion). I wish more people would check this band out and their independently released “Our Daily Riot” CD once they get tired of bands that churn out nothing but rum jingles. Sige…

I like the spirit of PowerTone. Singer Red Dela Peña, guitarist Atoy Arce, drummer Rayman Malaluan and bassist Kuber Gojar take on covers that are bigger than them: Led Zeppelin’s Misty Mountain Hop, Whole Lotta Love, and Aerosmith’s Walk This Way. I’ve seen cockier bands screw up these songs or do them like soulless karaoke, but the guys from PowerTone manage to wing them because they don’t take themselves that seriously. You know right away they’re just happy to be onstage playing music — flubbed guitar solos notwithstanding.

After the set I tell Red that I like their cover of Reeling in the Years (the first time I heard any band cover that Steely Dan tune). “Ano ka ba? Binaboy nga namin eh,” dismisses the singer with a hearty laugh. I heard that PowerTone (named after Arce’s recording studio) won in a band competition last year. A five-year contract with a major record label was supposed to be one of the major prizes, but it never materialized. The promoter reportedly left the guys in a lurch, a traumatic experience for the band. But things are picking up. UR even plays one of their originals titled Kama. (For more information about PowerTone, visit http://reddelapena.multiply.com.)

By the time Jun Lopito takes the stage, most of the barflies have already staggered home. Jun and his Diamond Dogs came from a blues festival at The Hobbit House, so I guess they have had their fill of alcohol, of the blues, or whatever. I’ve seen the guitar hero in finer form. I watched Lopito, Dondi and the late great Edmond “Bosyo” Fortuno rehearse for the first RJ Guitar Night a decade ago, jamming on a blues number and doing a version of Jeff Beck’s Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers. (I talked afterwards to Bosyo and he was so humble and self-deprecating. I have never seen anyone in our neck of the woods play drums as well as him.) I’ve also seen Lopito and Noli Aurillo perform together at The Republic of Malate seven years ago. The former with his fiery pentatonic runs and the latter with his broken chords designed only for classical guitarists with spidery fingers. Memories branded in the fretboards of my brain forever.

That said, it is still a thrill to watch Jun Lopito just the same as he takes the microphone for originals as well as covers of the Rolling Stones’ Happy (on which Keef sang lead) and Cream’s Crossroads. I believe I’m going to get the crossroads blues in the morning.  

And if someone tries to make me go to Rehab, I will go, go, go.

* * *

For comments, suggestions, curses and invocations, e-mail iganja_ys@yahoo.com. 

BAND CITY JUN LOPITO KASTIGO PLACE ROCK
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