Greetings from Woodstock: The Eraserheads Reunion Concert, 2009

They came from everywhere… from all walks of life. Youth converged on one area, as if magnetized by an irresistible force. They came, picketed, and listened to the music of their generation. In a moment that lasted for forever, they raised their hands and their voices in one simultaneous expression of their lives.

But this celebration of life was cut short, when Ely Buendia was rushed to the hospital to have an angioplasty. A stunned audience could only listen to the official announcement, wait anxiously for something more, perhaps rejoin the rest of the band in another venue for a defiant continuation, or stagger back home.

And they scattered, this generation, wondering if that one memory of their generation, the nexus that defined them and their music would ever be redefined, and remolded. The news came, that the continuation of that reunion would come; in SM Mall of Asia.

The First Set

Phase 1: The Beginning; And Now, some Guests…

We were late, we realized, and thought that the concert would begin with us outside. We saw jeeps and people going to one path, one direction. I was convinced that maybe, this was simply one regular night in Mall of Asia; not everyone could have possibly been going there.

But as we walked, on, asked the guards, and went in and out of the mall proper, we began to realize that all roads did lead to the concert. That all these people, from the age range of 20 to early 30, had converged on this one place to the Beatles of their generation, the Eraserheads. And I realized that Woodstock had begun again.

The concert began with Magasin. We were still outside, trying to find our way through the crowd. There were several areas; the VIP, Gold, Silver and Bronze. The Silver area, where we were, was a bit pricey, but one could see the stage from the horizon. One could see Ely Buendia from the horizon. From the outside, people who could not afford the tickets just remained where they were, thinking to listen to the concert from the outside.

These first set of songs ranged from the popular ones-like Torpedo-to ones that the audience might have had mixed appreciation of-Poor Man’s Grave, for example, was not well known to some people, but as popular as Torpedo to others. There were some memorable improvisation of lines: for example, Ely Buendia, in his song Pare Ko, held back saying the “Tangina” line for the audience to shout. At one point, however, he did exclaim it, to the cheers of the crowd.

And there were already signs of him weakening, faltering. To serve as contingency, some songs were given to the other bandmates; and, surprisingly, to a guest singer from Itchyworms, who sang a Reggae rendition of “Huwag mo Nang Itanong.” “Alkohol” was mixed with melody from Radioactive Sago Project. “Overdrive” was sung, and finally the first set ended, with people anxiously moving to buy food at nearby stalls.

The Second Set

Phase 2: Breaking down

While the first set of songs seem to come off without a hitch-though there were already signs of Ely’s deteriorating health-the second set completely fragmented to several smaller parts.

The people took the time for break as a welcome opportunity to fall in line to the nearest booths (two of which in that section was called “Tindahan ni Aling Nena”–I guess the old lady didn’t take long to “expand her shop). There was also some fear that they would miss the first few songs the minute the concert would begin again. They were, however, trapped in the long lines, and no man was fool enough to yield his place to the guy behind him.

By the half-hour, people began to worry. Though many had already managed to get food and drinks, and were thankful that they didn’t miss anything, they began to wonder why they didn’t miss anything. A few more minutes and the crowd waited and even anticipated for the feared “announcement” of cancellation. Then, the monitors all pointed to the stage, and everyone saw Ely Buendia, in a position seemingly trying to be defiant but clearly highlighting his weakness; he was in a couch, and maybe as a gesture of solidarity some bandmates had also opted to sit down.

He began the set with “Julie Tearjerky”. The audience, where I was, had the choice of either looking far across the stage which was just on the horizon, or look to the sides to the larger monitors. At that moment, every head was turned to the gasping-for-air tone of the vocalist. (“How do you like our house,” he joked). Some bandmates were caught on camera checking out whether Ely was still okay. Many had feared that the show would end on the same note as the last concert. Many now feared that anything could happen at that moment.

Ely Buendia rallied on, continuing with “Wishing Wells” and “Trip to Jerusalem”. As time passed, faster songs helped pick up the pace, but these came on intervals, with fast and slow alternating together. Finally, Ely ended prematurely with a “thank you and goodbye” remark, which left the audience skeptical and hopeful that the concert might continue.

Phase 3: Recovery and Cameos

What better way to start off the second, couch-less part of a second set, than with a reimagining of the song “Kailan”. Memorable was the scene where the camera had a close-up of Ely singing on the right, while from the left a wide camera shot of him from the back. This was the beginning of the recovery, though even then there were scenes of touch-and-go.

“Alapaap” was sung very differently, and in a slower pace than was familiar to its listeners. Towards the end of “Spoliarium”, one could see the image of Ely crouching down (probably to regain some air) while on the background the band tried played a very long and dissonant ending to the song. One might think it callous to try to “encourage” Ely’s collapse with such nerve-wracking music, but then the dissonance did fit the context of the song, though it might have incidentally fit with the apprehension of the crowd as well as Ely’s staggering.

Another “thank you and goodbye”, and by now people were convinced that the concert would continue on. By then, most of the popular songs had been sung, including “Overdrive”, “Torpedo” and “Magasin”. But that one song that people most identified had not yet been played; and, like a magical talisman waiting to be invoked, many believed that this song was the true sign of the end of the concert.

The darkness, meanwhile, filled the stage, and the monitors turned to celebrities present in the concert. These shots had been done before, during the early parts, but the cameras took advantage of the long break, and took a sweeping look at the audience. From looking at the monitors, at the image of arms raised and cheers, one might have envisioned a rally, or even the ancient Colosseum of Rome. One saw the pictures of Anne Curtis, an actress from GMA-7, most of whom did not look at the camera and tried to act as normal as possible. To the visible exception of Jericho Rosales of ABS-CBN, who was caught by a lingering camera, mingling with the crowd, discovering that he was on, and raising his hat facing it to face-well, the audience.

Now, anonymous faces. A shot of a guy looking flushed, but even more so as the girl beside him bent over for a peck on his cheek (to the holler and cheers of the audience). T-shirts raised bearing the insignia of the Eraserheads, banners, more celebrity shots, and another sweeping camera shot.

Phase 4: Explosion, Francis M. tribute

The band began again, with a visibly-renewed Ely Buendia shouting “para kay Francis!” and urging the crowd to shout with him. Like an army cheering their leader, as well as the fallen hero, they raised arms and cheered. “Francis! Francis!” And the band began again, with the song Superproxy. We later learned that Francis M. had been planned to sing this with him, but as events unfolded, it was decided to play the last set of songs as a tribute to a good friend.

After the explosive beginning of the song, came the next tribute song, “Minsan”. Where the concert had faltered in some moments, the people and the atmosphere was alive and electrified. Songs began to wind down, and people wondered if this was it, if this was the moment when the talisman would be released.

Then the familiar chords of that song… which turned out to be the beginnings of the chorus of Kaleidoscope. The people cheered as the four monitors above the stage showed random images of Francis Magalona, as a rocker-rapper, as a peer, as a family-man. Darkness filled the stage.

And… there it was. The chords at last. The crowd, now swept with emotion, could not but repeat the oft-repeated lines: “Kamukha si… Paraluman, nang tayo ay bata pa…” They repeated every line, sometimes embellishing with second voice, sometimes just raising their hands in solidarity. Then, as the third stanza began, confetti exploded on the stage, and everyone knew that it was the end, “Lumipas ang maraming taon… di na tayo nagkita…” The stanza, though telling of the heartbreak of finding a lover’s bitter end, at that moment seemed to cry out at the passing of Francis M.

Then, the instrumental after the chorus… between the fireworks behind us, and the confetti showering on the stage, it was a memorable spectacle, more so with Ely’s own improvisation; as the cameras stayed on him, and the fireworks continued with gusto, he poured lighter fluid on what seemed like a board, then, with what seemed like forever, tried to set and then set a piano on fire, as he played defiantly.

Not enough, of course, as he poured even more lighter fluid on the piano. The crowd was now wearied, invigorated, and whatever they might have thought throughout, that final set was worth it. The band bowed, and the lights of the stage went out. People began to stream home.

Third Set

Phase 5: The Eleventh Hour; the band returns; Crowd pushed back the barricades; Mosh

We had begun to go home. Fortuitously, my brother decided to get one of the Eraserheads shirt-one that portrayed them in Beatle-like fashion. As we were struggling in the lines, suddenly there was a solitary voice calling out from the microphone: “Nabitin ba kayo?” Many might not have believed at first, but gradually, the band began to rematerialize.

We saw the crowd began to shuffle back-no, force their way back, no, flood their way back. Finally at that point we broke off from those still buying shirts and pushed and shoved our way back to the crowd.

The barricades had been brought down; we found ourselves in Gold area. My brother remarked that the place had become porous, and security had begun to break down; everyone did expect that it was over.

Then, the expected, “Three for the road!” declaration of the band, who had huddled in the stage and talked about what to sing finally. As the band began “Ligaya”, the crowd surged forward; the barricades all across the Gold Area had collapsed; and there was a very real danger of stampede.

One could not stay idly standing while the rest whooped and jumped. He had to stay on his toes and keep from getting in the crush of the now-formed mosh. Ely had just finished his second song; he began to cap it with a song that “I wrote all by myself”-people screamed as Ely began the first few lines of Toyang. He went down the stage and to give the microphone to members of the audience to sing some of the lyrics. As the instrumental of Toyang began to play, he expressed gratitude at the crowd.

Then it ended, and people were unsure what to do. Was this another fake-out? The crowd was still electrified, though wearied by the three-song mosh (a fan had been slowly lifted out of the mosh by paramedics in their redoubt, at the early stages of the third set). Eventually, however, they began to stream out, and make their way to SM Mall of Asia.

It was like a pilgrimage; the food shops that were open were filled to the brim, and for some time there were no vehicles to carry us back to reality. One, in the midst of the euphoria, would want it to last forever. And in that moment, with people shuffling left and right, forward and back, it did.