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Pinoy Rock Comes Alive in New York's Lower East Side
All this and Anti-VFA protests too

By Pasckie Pascua
(Courtesy of The Philippine Indie)

NEW YORK CITY - Legendary Pinoy rock journeyman Mike Hanopol was there alright - tearing the walls down with endearing Juan dela Cruz broadsides, including "Beep, Beep, Beep" and "Balong Malalim." However, that rockin' overdrive almost hardly mattered.

Acme Underground-seated on 3rd Street between Broadway and Lafayette in Manhattan-blasted like a house on fire with raw, unadulterated rock and roll from eight Filipino rock bands in this hot New York August night. The music almost didn't matter, the vibe was.

The gig, billed "Pinoy Bands@Acme Underground, Part 2," was organized by Makabayan, Philippine Forum's youth collective, in cooperation with PMI Ltd of New York and New Jersey, and The Philippine Independent fortnight.

The flyer says the July 31st event was mounted "In denunciation of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement." As testimony to the show's anti-VFA defiance, a Philippine flag hangs on centerstage-with its red band up. "We are here not just to rock the night away," offers Gary Labao, vocalist of the neopunk trio Kadena. "We are converged here to protest the recent Senate okay of the VFA."

Some close to 300 packed the basement club located just a block away from New York University campus and Washington Square, often a favorite dive to mostly non-ethnic punk and grunge bands. "Because of the good attendance that we got during Part One of this project, we were able to book another gig," relates program coordinator and PMI Ltd.'s mainman Renrick Pascual. "Normally, Asian minorities don't get good bookings in the Village."

Which means Pinoy rock is slowly but surely making its presence felt in this city's effervescent but prudish multi-ethnic rock subculture. "Mostly, we're just contented sharing weekend gigs in Filipino-run karaoke bars in Roosevelt, Queens," says co-coordinator Nick Cordero, "now, we're hitting the Village."

The initial concert held last May 8-which featured Queens and Jersey City-based bands The Grudge, Midnight November, Nearby Cries, Corrupted Minors, Modess, and Yagbols - ran the advocacy line, "In Commemoration of the 100 years of Philippine-American War." That show attracted an even larger throng, mostly young middle-class Fil-Ams from across the Hudson River.

Part Two opened with Maniakol. Like most of the bands, this gangling garage crew from Jersey City has its own faithful roadies in tow, a-screaming-never mind the sloppy cover of Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" and Asin's "Himig ng Pag-ibig" (geez, they forgot Lolita Carbon' lyrics).

Blok-Blok, a kind of rehash band from two other outfits based in Queens, ext took the mike. As its diminutive bassist/vocalist starts working his little fingers on the fretboard, young girls went gaga and as he grabs the mike to half-nervously stammer the first number, sweaty pubescent bodies ram each other on the dance floor. From then on, we knew what the deal was-never mind the bullocks, let's have fun.

So much for opening sidelights, the show actually went full gear as the hard-driving punk trio Kadena took to the stage. This no-holds-barred, three-chord band knows no boundaries, no compromises, no apologies, nothing gets in between. Vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Gary Labao yells, "Putang-ina Nyo!" - and the crowd echoed in deafening unison. The mosh pit starts building up like crazy. Not contented, Labao defiantly intermittently gives the crowd the finger-"F-k them politicians!" he hollers.

Kadena's next cuts-all penned by Labao-articulated, or should I say, rammed the effervescent vocalist's hardline politics. To wit, "Rebolusyon," "Militarisasyon," "Anakpawis," among others. Next Mike Hanopol addresses the crowd, most of which were barely on their diapers when the original jeprox wailed, "Laki Sa Layaw, Jeprox!" some two decades ago. As expected, he did faithful summation of longtime Juan Dela Cruz's street-smart anthems-with the Rubberband's twin-guitar duo backing him up, and Midnight November's Rusty Fabunan on the drums.

A milder interlude calms down the crowd as Daisy Chain does soft-rock all-Tagalog originals. Fronted by a clean-cut Jun Fabella, this foursome writes radio-friendly, melody-induced songs designed to cut to the mainstream. Manila recording scouts should take notice.

The talented three-piece Rubberband next takes centerstage. However, the crowd has thinned-save for the lone shaved-head groupie named Butch who pogoed all through the band's seven-song repertoire. Guitarist/vocalist Gino Inocentes, who wrote all the songs, could be the Ely Buendia this side of New York. He, with the schoolboy looks and Eraserheads-kind of vocal mannerisms, could easily win devoted following around the Filipino community in the tri-state area if handled by good management.

Worth mentioning is guest guitarist Jason Baquilod of Sons of Brando who tagged along in the Rubberband's three cuts. His impromptu improvisations stream through with disarming ease and nonchalant clarity, you wonder where the dude has been playing all through these hot summer nights.

But the show actually climaxed as another Jersey rock ensemble called Splitendz signals its coming. Flamboyant vocalist Kane Umali-shirtless, long-haired, arms outstretched high, and spewing Budweiser to his minions (five of them clad in black "Splitendz" shirts)-makes his dramatic entrance. He yells, "Kalayaan para sa bayan ko!" and that was it-the very Pinoy rock and roll showtime.

Save for the rock-star theatrics, Umali could really and sincerely sing and scream like a demon's prodigal rocker. The band played all Tagalog songs, including gutsy covers of Freddie Aguilar's "Anak" and Teeth's "Laklak"-with, yes, the exact amount of justice given.

It was way past 2 AM when Splitendz ends its set. Another band, Modess, an all-female crew, was lining up onstage.

Apparently, the show wasn't over yet. But we had to go-we're pretty tired, and it's still a two-hour drive to my Long Island pad. Mike Hanopol has already left, some two hours ago, a few minutes after his set. Almost unnoticed.

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