HOTDOG: ANG WALANG KATAPUSANG KAGAT
By N. Mark Castro
TROPICAL Storm Juaning hit the country yesterday with such unbelievable force most everyone was either stranded or frozen in time … but such force was nothing compared to the public’s reaction to the Hotdog’s Reunion Concert last night.
In what was perhaps the most expensive real estate space in the country, the entire ballroom of the Dusit Thani Hotel was packed with people vying for their precious seats at the table. The cost of the ticket and sponsorships could probably initiate a Third World country project. The entire room was filled with the country’s who’s who: from top government officials, socialites, tourists, to avid groupies and, well, me.
Initially, I was reluctant to come in alone to the concert not knowing anyone, but bringing in a date to a Hotdog concert is like bringing sand to the beach. Women are everywhere: single, married, married but available, separated, daughters, granddaughters, young, old, virgin, virgin again. And the problem with a freebie ticket is that you’d almost always end up in Siberia, but when I entered the ballroom, a genteel gorgeous woman called out my name “Norwin!” and introduced herself as the wife of Hotdog’s founder and lead bassist Dennis Garcia. Lucky sonofab, I hate rockstars!She showed me to our table, moved me towards a better view of the stage, and introduced me to their two lovely daughters: “This is Tito Mark!” You’d normally think rockstar families are a snooty bunch, but the Garcia family is so grounded you wouldn’t think they’re practically royalty.
A lot of critics say that reunion concerts are just a way for old guys to get loads of money, while can’t play or sing as well as they used to. Fans would be disappointed from the low musical quality after paying a ridiculous amount of money for tickets. Lots of reunion concerts feature a non-original lineup that’s inferior to the classic one, and the value isn’t worth it. Their songs — timeless classics — are almost always ruined by their modern interpretation, with vocal chords failing all over the place, ruining their legacy.
But not with the Hotdogs.
If the Hotdogs ever spent a single second worrying about leaving a legacy, it never showed because they were simply too busy living it, giving their lives to their love of great music, which paved the way for the OPM (Original Pilipino Music) while etching The Manila Sound in the country’s music history.
How many bands you know have done that?
Initially, I thought that a two-month grace period for a repeat of their reunion concert wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be passionate.
I was wrong.
Last night’s performance was pretty perfect. It was full of big, lush chords, suspensions, inspiring lyrics and gilded sacred music that rocked your soul.
While most bands strum along to passable music while reserving their popular hits for last, the Hotdog opened their act with “Annie Batungbakal,” then Maso Diez-Rivera followed it through with her deep, right-from-the-pit-of-your-soul “Pers Lab” it was practically a spiritual. After a while Rene Garcia delivers curtly and succinctly “Ikaw Ang Miss Universe Ng Buhay Ko,” along with a montage of Miss Universe winners to the cheers of the crowd. It was so resplendent when Rene Garcia hit those low, rythmic chords which, in all earnest respect, makes me hate the man all the more.
How could this guy have the same shrill after all these years?
Drugs didn’t do him in? Booze didn’t do him in? Parrties didn’t do him in?
It was THE 70s for Juan’s sake: drugs and booze were everywhere! He was making young women scream in the 70s and 80s! And he’s still making all these women — 40 years later — scream even more! And to add serious insult to my wounded injury, he’s making these women’s nubile daughters scream as well.
And to top it off, Ramon RJ Jacinto, the perennial rocker, came onstage to do the one number that added to the deconstruction of the entire ballroom: He sang MULI. Though the song has an upbeat tempo, it’s actually one man’s plea to a loved one to never love again. You may talk about unconditional love and all that crap, but if you really broke it down: no man wants to see his girl with anybody else. No one.
Then came “O Lumapit Ka” and, thankfully, this time it was food entrepreneur Bong Daza’s turn to be egged on by the crowd to flirt with the singer. Actually, if there’s one thing Bong Daza didn’t need any egging, it was flirting with a girl. After all, I doubt he got the country’s Miss Universe with his cooking.
The evening continued with Hotdog’s popular hits while inserting new songs that they would be releasing soon. “Panaginip” was sang by a former bandmate who flew all the way from the UK. The song is a reflection of a lover’s disbelief in the presence of a loved one, of being loved, but if it were all just a dream, then truly it is the saddest music ever written. Another highlight of the evening was the presence of former VST & Company member, a former fierce competitor of the Hotdog band. The crowd shrieked when they sang “Ipagpatawad Mo,” a song popularized by the country’s top entertainment draw Vic Sotto. They did a medley of songs that the Hotdog band wrote for other artists, including Tito Mina’s “Ikaw Pa Rin.” Then came “Beh Buti Nga,” with an added twist of changing a word here and there to match the changing times: from Assumption to Poveda. It was unbelievably funny, after all these years, with Maso Diez-Rivera still sounding very much like the college girl she was, and Rene Garcia speaking in behalf of all the collegiate boys. Note to self: I love Maso. I hate Rene.
But what changed the evening’s mood from a rendition of sacred rock and roll classics to patriotic was “MANILA,” a little melody that has practically become the country’s national anthem.
No one else sat since then.
The band nailed the piece technically, while also filling the hall with so much emotion, with the entire crowd thundering with applause and dancing, giving me a glimpse of what the 70s must have been like, wishing these people, most of whom control the entire Republic of the Philippines, were still passing around their joints.
Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. was visibly enjoying the evening, wearing a simple tucked out t-shirt, but commanding a charming and intelligent presence that shot him all the way to Senate. Phippine politics can never be spoken without the names Marcos and Aquino. And I can hardly wait for this unassuming man to go for the same seat his father once occupied. Right now I advise politicians and ministers of a country that gave me home. I tell people what to buy, what to wear, where to go, and who to vote, but when that time comes for this man to go for the presidency, I’d line up to carry this man’s shoes.
As the concert sustained its energy, the band sang “Bongga Ka Day,” by then everybody was already up on their feet, singing with the band, singing with their friends, smiling with strangers, dancing with everyone, while the storm brewed outside. It could have been an open air concert and these people would have still sang and danced with the band because such was the pull of the Hotdog band. It wasn’t just music. It was a drug, a drug that elevated you to heights you’ve never before seen or heard, the same drug that catapulted a local music to stand at par with the rest of the world, the same drug that infected their generation to keep that feeling, which allowed for them to translate it to their work, in corporate boardrooms, in corridors of politics.
I said it then, I say it again: the Hotdog band sang and spoke to the nation.
They never stopped listening.
This was their legacy.
And people came back to the earth of their birth from places like London, California, Hawaii, Singapore, Malaysia, among others, to listen to one band perform again.
I can hardly wait to tell my sons: “Yes, I was there.”