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Pinoy punk

We’ve written several posts about D’s love of live music, and the dearth thereof at every post we’ve served, but the subject bears revisiting – not only because, as Nietzsche wrote, without music life would be a mistake, but also because Manila figures to be quite different from our previous tours in this respect.

Already, D has gone to three concerts in the Philippines, which is three times more than all of the concerts he had seen at our previous three overseas posts combined. It’s not that Kenya, Moldova, and Rwanda completely lacked musical entertainment; rather, they did not have the kind of music scene – ska and punk – that makes D’s heart giddy and his feet move. D feared the Philippines would similarly disappoint given the popularity of ballad singers and K-pop in Asia and the total lack of any well-known Filipino rock bands. He has been thrilled to learn just how wrong he was.

Given the crush of people in the Manila metro area, perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that there would be a thriving underground music scene to cater to just about every musical taste imaginable. Certainly, punk rock and heavy metal, which are both alive and thriving in Manila, make for appropriate anthems for the frustrations and grind of daily life in a city as heavily populated and gridlocked as the Philippine capital. It is uncanny how much traffic – vehicular and pedestrian – there is in Manila at all hours of the day and night. Many Filipinos work in call centers and keep U.S. hours despite being literally half a world away. Sometimes it feels like the capital runs on shifts, with half of Manila’s residents leading a mostly nocturnal life.

Before arriving in Manila, D joined the Pinoy Punk Facebook group, and shortly after settling in we went to our first show – a veteran Filipino ska band’s CD release gig at a small bar minutes from our house. While S went out to dinner with some friends, D headed over to catch the opener. The bar was half empty, and most of the patrons looked completely disinterested in the band setting up on the small stage. There was one table, however, with a lively group fully decked out in mod gear. The scene reminded D of a Toasters show he once caught at the Hard Rock Café in New York – with a few dozen kids tearing up the dance floor while the rest of the patrons chewed languidly on their burgers. “My people!” D thought, as he grabbed a beer and pulled up a chair.

The group, as it turned out, consisted of the two lead singers from the seminal Filipino ska band Put3Ska and the lead singer of the equally influential Filipino punk band Urban Bandits, who also plays guitar in Put3Ska, along with their friends. Ask most Filipinos if they know what ska is and they’ll shake their heads; ask them if they’ve heard “Manila Girl” and their faces will light up the same way Put3Ska’s catchy tune lit up the radio in the 90’s. The band had just reunited the previous year after a long hiatus. They, along with the Urban Bandits, subsequently co-headlined a show on the outskirts of Manila, which D drove two hours in heavy traffic to see. This was a proper show – with a stage, a railing, and a solidly packed dance floor. D’s new friends pulled him through security so he caught the show stageside.

The third concert differed considerably from the first two. It was U2’s Joshua Tree anniversary tour – the first time the band has played Manila in its four decades of touring. The show was held at the Philippine Arena, also located several hours’ drive away from us. With a capacity of 55,000 people, this is the world’s largest multipurpose indoor theater. The show was not sold out, but even with the roughly 40,000 people in attendance, it was more than the surrounding infrastructure could bear.

We timed our arrival almost perfectly, departing central Manila at 4:30 p.m. and pulling up outside the venue four hours later after stopping for dinner. The ring road around the arena resembled a parking lot by then, while the actual parking lots were nearly filled to capacity. The traffic had slowed to a crawl, but at least it was still moving. After 20 nerve-wracking minutes, we finally found a spot in the last unfilled lot and made it to our seats by 9 p.m.; U2 hit the stage ten minutes later.

We were incredibly fortunate. Several of our friends also had tickets, and none of them made it to the show. One couple got stuck in standstill traffic for several hours and only made it halfway to the arena before turning around and heading home. Another friend actually reached the arena, but arrived too late. The parking lots were full by then, and traffic on the ring road had stopped moving entirely. If she had had a driver, as many concert attendees did, she could have walked to the arena. Instead, she found herself stuck in her car just outside the venue, unable to park or make her way out of the jam.

Three concerts in as many months is a great start, and the new year is already looking equally promising. D just bought a ticket for Green Day, who will also mark their first appearance in the Philippines in March, and there are a few other shows on the horizon as well.

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