Sunday, June 7, 2015

The world through prism-vision

“We’re going all around the world spreading light,” said Katy Perry on “Vevo Tour Exposed” in describing the Prismatic World Tour, which is in support of her fourth studio album, “Prism.” According to, Perry originally intended to make an acoustic record with “depressive shades,” but instead “found inspiration in more positive places.” The site quoted the singer: “All the light hit me and it influenced the songs.”

On May 7, the tour marked its first anniversary and biggest show to date at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan. For two hours, Katy Perry fans, also known as “KatyCats,” were transported into and enraptured by Perry’s Prismatic world.

The show was divided into seven set pieces, each one showcasing Perry’s music and personality. The first part, “Prismatic,” opened with the pop star’s recent #1 single, Roar and immediately raised the room’s energy to stratospheric heights.

Perry came out on stage donning a gladiator-inspired suit, not without a touch of Katy quirkiness — glowing cats eyes on the chest, lights at the seams, and more strands of light flowing from her ponytail. Around her were dancers wielding fluorescent spears.

She was just starting. Next up was the “Egyptian” section where the audience saw their princess riding a mechanical horse around the stage and a giant snake dancing as she sang Dark Horse. At this point, it was difficult not be impressed by the elaborate stage production and be convinced that “more is more.”

After the stormy performances, the playful, campy Katy Perry we knew surfaced, taking on the role of her cat Kitty Purry (or was it the other way around?) in the “Cat-oure” section, which was packed with every visual and aural cat pun and reference — from the theater theme that was reminiscent of the musical, Cats to making a catwalk out of the stage. A highlight within this highlight was Perry sashaying in a glittering fishbone dress to the tune of Madonna’s Vogue. In this part she sang an early hit, Hot N Cold and International Smile, a potential new hit from “Prism.”

The singer displayed both her warmth and sense of humor in the “Acoustic” section, dishing out emotional songs like By the Grace of God and the soaring ballad, Unconditionally. In between she talked to the fans and even asked a die-hard KatyCat to come up on stage and teach her Tagalog.

A video posted by Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) on

“We may have different languages but we both share the love of music. We all came here and went through the traffic because we love music,” she remarked and continued in a more serious tone, “We hope that you come out of this show feeling happier than when you came in.”

The following section, “Throw Back” was all about good ol’ fun. It began with dancers grooving to old-school hip hop beats like Good Vibrations before Perry came back on stage to perform Walking on Air, Last Friday Night and This is How We Do, employing humble props like SUV-sized flying emojis (the poo emoji a crowd favorite) and an inflatable car.

Later on Perry brought the California vibe to the Philippine Arena in “Hyper Neon,” where the audience reveled in Katy classics, Teenage Dream and California Girls. Meanwhile the dancers played with their colorful version of the HOLLYWOOD sign, spelling out words that define our time: YOLO and LOL, among others.

Perry ended the night belting out Firework. Here the audience was encouraged to put on the prism-vision glasses that diffract light — a final kaleidoscopic touch to the spectacle that preceded it.

The Prismatic World Tour had every intention do dazzle and succeeded. It’s a rare concert where one can say, “I’ve never seen anything like it before” alongside “Ah, that’s where my money went.”

It’s one thing to mount a show with a scale as grand as Prismatic’s and quite another to replicate it (from production quality to energy intensity) in 138 cities across different continents. “I’m proud that we never had a major injury or show cancellations,” declared Perry in the middle of the concert. “We get tired, we get homesick, but we show up every single time because we said we will show up.”

On behalf of the 30,000 people who went to the Philippine Arena last Thursday, we thank Katy Perry and her crew, who came over bringing music, humor and, as promised, light.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

Friday, June 5, 2015

Forever 15: Backstreet Boys still make us giddy

Right after their opening songs, Nick Carter, 1/5 of the Backstreet Boys, walked solo on stage and scanned the arena. “Are you guys for real? Are you all Backstreet Boys fans?” he told the audience, who filled the Mall of Asia Arena to the rafters on May 5.

To be honest, I was surprised myself and had to ask the same question. As an early bird, I witnessed the slow arrival of concert-goers. Most of the seats were empty with only a few minutes left till showtime.

But as the lights dimmed, more people started coming in and when the first notes of The Call struck, loud screams reverberated. I looked behind me, saw what Carter saw, and thought, “Wow, The Backstreet Boys’ charm hasn’t waned a bit.”

Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson, AJ McLean, Brian Littrell and Howie Dorough were quick to note that they — no we, them and their fans — are old(er). Right away (and this shall be quoted in all BSB Manila 2015 concert conversations) Carter set two rules: (1) Act crazy and (2) act like 15-year-olds. Later on Richardson commanded, “Party like it’s 1999.”

A photo posted by Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) on

The crowd didn’t really need the instructions, but those words fuelled everyone’s desire to go deeper into the whole nostalgia trip, back in the days when we were still collecting copies of Teen Beat and Bop, and praying that song lyrics were included in the sleeve of the cassette tape we saved our meager allowance for.

The entire arena was transformed into a sort of huge karaoke house with everyone singing along with the band for two hours. My only complaint was security wouldn’t allow us to get on our feet — at least not until the party went into full swing. My companion joked, “Of course they’ll put chairs, the fans are oldies.”

In the middle of the show, the five men took a break from dancing and sat down to play acoustic instruments. The moment was easily a highlight because it was refreshing to see them doing something different, but more than that, the acoustic set underscored the fact that we just love belting out their songs.

Over-romantization alert: It was like their way of giving us a chance to shower them with adoration. Yes, after all these years, we still know the words by heart!

A video posted by Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) on

Boy bands and pop songs often get a bad rep, the latter pegged as mere feel-good tunes, without aspirations to elevate the spirit. But who doesn’t want to feel good? And on that night, the Backstreet Boys were masters at making us as carefree as bright-eyed teenagers.

I’m no expert but perhaps the reason why they’re still here is that they continue to put out songs we can sing along to, melodies that stick, plain and simple. And it helps that they’ve taken good care of themselves (read: they’re still eye candies).

Backstreet Boys shared that the “In A World Like This Tour” is in celebration of the band’s 20th anniversary. “We’ve been together for 22 years now and we’re still happy to do this,” they said. It didn’t sound that impressive until I made calculations in my head. Because if you were 30 now, that means you’ve been a fan since you were 10. In other words, you’ve been a fan since grade school till you got a job, got fired, put up your own business, right up until you got married and had children.

They’ve got it going on for years and they promise to keep going. “The Backstreet Boys will go back to the studio,” disclosed Bryan towards the show’s end. And before they finally bid their good-byes, they told the all-smiles crowd, “We’ll see you again with a new album and a new tour.”

Okay then. I bet everyone in that room will have another reunion when that time comes, and count me in when the group announces their jubilee concert.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

Saturday, May 30, 2015

'The whole of life calls for tears'

I understand breakdowns. When celebrities get mocked for it, I'm sympathetic. Sometimes I ride a cab home and wish it crashes.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

We have given up on trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves

Muriel Barbery. The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
Paris: Editions Gallimard, 2006.
Pages 140 – 141:

This is the first time I have met someone who seeks out people and who sees beyond. That may seem trivial but I think it is profound all the same. We never look beyond our assumptions and, what's worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves. We don't recognise each other because other people have become our permanent mirros. If we actually realized this, if we were to become aware of the fact that we are only ever looking at ourselves in the other person, that we are alone in the wilderness, we would go crazy. When my mother offers macaroons from Ladurée to Madame de Broglie, she is telling herself her own life story and just nibbling at her own flavour; when Papa drinks his coffee and reads his paper, he is comtemplating his own reflection in the mirror, as if practising the Coué method or something; when Colombe talks about Marian's lectures, she is ranting about her own relfection; and when people walk by the concierge, all they see is a void, because she is not from their world. [my emphasis]

As for me, I implore fate to give me the chance to see beyond myself and truly meet someone.
Got around to finishing The Elegance of the Hedgehog—which I received last December as a Christmas gift—this Holy Week. The book is a full home you can live in but that passage is a room washed in sunlight.

I have never thought of knowing another that way.

PS: I lost it on page 306.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lindsey Stirling's advice to fellow artists

It’s funny how, sometimes, taking comfort in your uniqueness and not pretending to be like everybody else, can lead to hearing things like, “Sorry, the world has no place for you.” Take Lindsey Stirling, for example — a dancing dubstep violinist once deemed “not cool” or “not marketable” enough.

For so long, she has struggled with putting her music out there: “I tried lots of ways, from traditional ones like going to record labels and talking to agencies to joining America’s Got Talent — that didn’t lead to anything,” shares Stirling.

So she took matters into her own hands. “I got sick of waiting for somebody to sign me, for someone to say, ‘Okay, you’re good enough,'” she continues. “So I started making videos, uploading them to Youtube and setting up shows.”

Stirling’s Crystallize became the eighth most-viewed video on Youtube last year with 63 million views and her channel, “Lindseystomp” garnered over 6 million subscribers. That was when record labels, for a change, came knocking on her door.

“I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to be signed,’” says Stirling, who later on sealed a record deal in Asia. “I don’t live here. It’s a different world that’s why I signed with a record label here, but I still act very much as an independent artist,” she adds.

Her new album, “Shatter Me,” might well be a confessional. Far from the “happy-go-lucky” vibe of her debut record, Stirling admits to exposing the darker side of herself in her latest outing. “At that time, I was going through depression and anorexia,” she shares. “But the album is also a celebration of breaking free from whatever it is that haunts us: other people, ourselves, our fears.”

This freedom from fear is best represented in the titular single with a music video that shows a violin-wielding ballerina trapped in a snow globe. “As she starts to express herself (through music and dance), the globe begins to crack,” narrates Stirling. “But she’s afraid of what’s happening. ‘If I break, will there be anything left?’”

It’s difficult to imagine Lindsey Stirling contained in any form of barriers, especially after seeing her perform live. On March 13 she returned to the Philippines to open for Incubus at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena and for a moment made us forget about Incubus.

She is always moving — going from one point of the stage to another, involving every part of her body in the performance. And even in her craft, she couldn’t keep still. In “Shatter Me,” Lindsey collaborated with Dia Frampton and Lzzy Hale of Halestorm. Asked if we could expect more from the trio, she said that she wishes to create different sounds in the future and work with different people such as Zedd, Haley Williams, Ellie Goulding, and Ryan Tedder of One Republic to name a few.

Right now, Lindsey is touring, and on the side, writing a book with her sister. Somewhere in the future she hopes to score for a film, work on a video game composition, and maybe squeeze in an acting gig.

Lindsey Stirling with reporters

Following her arena performance in the Philippines, Lindsey got a little closer to her fans and held a small show and a meet and greet at SM North EDSA The Block. As much as the fans were delighted to meet their idol, they were clamoring for a full concert from the dancing violinist. Their plea didn’t escape Lindsey, who told everyone who came, “I’m planning to come back, I’m going to do a full show as soon as I can.”

Later in the afternoon she laid down her bow and picked up a pen to sign copies of “Shatter Me.” But her CD wasn’t the only thing fans wanted autographed; a lot of them brought their own violins and guitars — a reminder that many of Lindsey’s fans are aspiring artists as well. And to them, Lindsey’s biggest message is simply: Don’t give up.

“Artists are so hard on themselves. They are the most critical of themselves,” she says. “Failure is just one of the many steps that comes in the line of being successful, so pick yourself up again and don’t be too hard on yourself.”

—Originally published on GIST.PH

Monday, March 23, 2015

Dancin' and singin' in the rain

The best things about the One Direction concert have little to do with One Direction. Well the entire night wouldn't have happened if not for 1D, but let me talk.

OTRA Day 2 pass
First of all, am no Directioner, just someone who appreciates music. The way I see it, there's ambition and achievement. Louis (my crush), Niall, Harry, Liam, and Zayn aim to be a cute boy band singing singable danceable tunes and they do it well, so I like them. That's why when there was a chance watch the group live, I grabbed it.

I attended the second night of the On the Road Again Tour – Manila leg. It was fun but not as magical as I hoped it would be. Maybe because I could barely see the boys and maybe because it was 1D sans Zayn.

Anyway, we've already settled at a nice spot in the middle of the concert grounds late in the afternoon. So it was basically a waiting game from then on. By 6pm it started to drizzle. Then rain. Then back to drizzle. Then solid rain. Non-stop rain. That made me anxious and cold.

Our view

Until a DJ KC came out on stage and the next thing you know, I was in the midst of a rave party and loving every second of it. Except when his set finished and the rain stopped as well.

It was as if all the good things I own in the world were taken from me. I was wishing for more rain and dancing.

Instead, there was more waiting.

When One Direction finally showed up, performing song after song, I was simply going through the motions. Humming, swaying, hands up in the air; replying with a howl when they say, 'How are you, Manila', 'We love you, Manila', 'Thank you we wouldn't be here without you'; and taking a couple of photos and videos as keepsakes.

Of course I went wild when they sang my favorites—One Thing, What Makes You Beautiful, and Night Changes.

It was fitting that they closed with Best Song Ever (imagine when you have a song with that title and the melody's crap?). That was a pure moment I had with One Direction coz I was dancing and singing like crazy to the best song that night, which was punctuated by fireworks—their final good-bye.

While fun, the show wasn't as magical as I hoped it would be. Maybe because I could barely see the boys and maybe because it was 1D sans Zayn. Or maybe because I would've liked it for the rain to keep pouring and the band to never stop singing so I may carry on dancing.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

In a Sing state of mind

As early as five in the afternoon, people already came in droves at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena, chanting, “We want Ed! We want Ed!” They meant Ed Sheeran, the British singer-songwriter who broke into everyone’s music consciousness with hits like 'Lego House' and 'The A Team'. To those who still don’t know him, he’s the artist behind that song you keep hearing everywhere, that song you can’t get out of your head and will probably play on your wedding day — Darling I will / be loving you till / we’re 70. Sheeran brought his Multiply Tour to Manila on March 12 and a couple of hours before taking the stage, we had the chance to sit down with him for an interview.

X memories forever frozen still in digital photographs

“I was expecting a good gig, but I think this might be one of the bests in the tour just based on the reception I’ve got. Everyone is so excited and that makes me more excited,” Sheeran said when asked about his expectations of the show.

We were surprised that he was surprised by his level of popularity in the country, to which he replied, “On social media (you have an idea of your fan base), yes. You can see the amount of tweets that you get but you can never really tell until you step into a country and feel the electricity.”

His doubts must’ve been cleared now as the 16,000-seater arena was filled to the brim, and with how the audience behaved (or misbehaved — blocking aisles to get closer, for example), it felt like there were 30,000 people in the room — which Sheeran effortlessly commanded.

Those who watched the concert fondly speak of how the 24-year-old musician in jeans, polo, and messy hair only needed his voice, guitar, and loop station to rock the night away. Meanwhile, those who were able to meet him, talk non-stop about his kindness and humility.

How can one be a rock star on stage and a grounded human being off stage? (Sheeran once remarked that thank goodness he wasn’t selling albums based on his looks.) The answer, at least for Sheeran, is to separate the musician from the man. “The artist side of me is the one who is successful and the normal side of me is not. You have to separate the two,” he said.

Ed Sheeran is the third act featured in MMI Live’s British Invasion 2015 concert series. Before him, The 1975 and The Vamps performed in Manila in January and February respectively, and following him are One Direction on March 21 and 22, and Sam Smith in May.

What is it about British music that resonates so well with the rest of the world?

“I don’t think the invasion ever stopped,” offered Sheeran. “Because before us there was Adele, Coldplay and Mumford & Sons; and before them there was James Blunt, David Gray and Travis,” he continued. “There’ve always been British bands — Oasis, Blur — It’s the same for the Swedish, they’re good at songwriting. England, UK and Ireland just produce good artists.”

Lucky for us they’re now crossing continents so we can watch them perform live. Before we let Sheeran off, we asked which one of his songs best reflects his current state of mind. He paused to think, then said, 'Sing' — the upbeat tune he co-wrote with Pharrell Williams. “I’m having a wonderful time in the Philippines and I just, I feel…” he couldn’t find the words, so maybe he just really felt like singing and letting go. And that he did at the MOA Arena last Thursday.

Sheeran closed his first Manila concert with Sing. Towards the song’s end, he told the audience to sing the song’s hook, O-oh o-oh-oh o-oh-oh o-oh-oh oh-oh… and to “never stop singing” even as he put his guitar down and left the stage. The crowd obliged.

It was, to reiterate and to understate, a memorable night. And in case you’re reading this, we’re still singing, Ed.

—Originally published on GIST.PH