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REVIEW: Eraserheads’ ‘Huling El Bimbo’ reunion concert was magical in every sense of the word

By Susan Claire Agbayani Published Dec 23, 2022 1:04 pm Updated Dec 28, 2022 12:37 am

"Pasensiya na kung ako ay 'di nagsasalita. Hindi ko kayang sabihin ang aking nadarama. Pasensiya na kung ako ay naiiyak, mababaw lang talaga ang luha ko. 'Di ko mapigil ang aking damdamin." These words from Eraserheads’ song Torpedo from their third album Cutterpillow brought me to tears last night, halfway through the first set of their supposedly last concert together as a band on Thursday, Dec. 22—in the Philippines, that is—as they are slated to do a tour of Huling El Bimbo concert overseas.

How do you capture over a decade of existence of one of the country’s most influential bands—if not the most influential—in one concert? It must have been difficult for the band’s members and the concert organizers to curate what songs to include, and what not to include, given the multiple hits they had through several albums they released commercially throughout the 1990s and in the early 2000s.

Having seen and watched all their concerts since Eraserheads Jamboree at Folk Arts Theater in 1994, I must say that this one held at SMDC Festival Grounds just three days before Christmas is the most sophisticated of all the concerts they’ve had so far.

Guitarist Marcus Adoro

What was particularly striking was the visuals. It’s as if the audience saw a series of very colorful paintings of various shades and hues as a backdrop to the main focus of the night, mainly the band members: guitarist Marcus Adoro, bassist Buddy Zabala, drummer Raimund Marasigan, and lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Ely Buendia

And that inverted “E” logo of the band is so iconic, it’s going to be etched in our minds for a really long time.

What’s interesting about the concert is that while they had guest performers Gary V., brothers Elmo and Arkin Magalona (and a hologram of their late father, composer and rap artist Francis M), conductor maestro Mel Villena, and members of AMP Big Band, as well as singers from the stage musical Ang Huling El Bimbo, the attention of the audience was focused mainly on the band and their songs.

It would have been interesting to have had several bands identified with the 1990s field in their vocalists for a production number (say, Color It Red, Truefaith, Afterimage, Introvoys, The Youth, Yano, Rivermaya); but thanks to The Diegos tandem of DJs Diego Mapa and Diego Castillo who took care of that by playing songs from this era from Teeth, Put3Ska, P.O.T., Razorback and Wolfgang, and even Gary Valenciano. But then, it wouldn’t be about Eraserheads, right?

And speaking of Gary V, while the audience—or those who knew or are familiar with his songs—appreciated his presence, it would have been better had the ‘Heads rendered one of the classic songs of Gary V., or Gary could have had a production number with the band, with him singing one of the band’s hit songs. The duet was Christmas Party from the Fruitcake album, in keeping with the season. But it was a wasted opportunity, and Gary could have sung even just one more song. 

The sound of brass and string instruments courtesy of the members of AMP Big Band, led by conductor Maestro Mel Villena, added texture and nuance to the wonderful songs Eraserheads had composed through the years. Particularly moving was the final song, which was, you guessed it right: Ang Huling El Bimbo.

When he was interviewed about how he felt about having been asked to be part of this huge concert, Villena told PhilSTAR L!fe: “I could only be grateful for having been considered to be part of the show. I [was] really excited to [share] the same stage with four of the most influential musicians in our Pinoy pop culture. How cool could that be?”

When queried as to how hard or easy it was to do the musical scores for the songs, “It was truly challenging for me. I had to navigate my way through a genre and style of music that is normally played by a smaller rock and amplified ensemble, while being enhanced by a larger mixed combination of instrumentation. [It was] challenging but nevertheless, exciting and satisfying,” Villena said.

“These guys are a breeze to work with! [They are] very open and game with any new ideas. As long as it works, rock and roll!” he added.

Having seen and watched all their concerts since 'Eraserheads Jamboree' at Folk Arts Theater in 1994, I must say that this one is the most sophisticated of all the concerts they’ve had so far.

It actually is very interesting to hear Eraserheads songs performed by other musicians. One gets to appreciate their songs even more! Among the musicians who lent a hand to the band were guitarists Audry Dionisio and Mikey Amistoso as well as keyboardist and vocalist Jazz Nicolas.

The guest singers/ensemble from the musicale Ang Huling El Bimbo have performed the Eheads songs countless times, so their voices also added texture to the sound of each song.

Of the participation of her sons Elmo and Arkin, and the hologram of her late husband Francis M, Pia Magalona said via a Facebook Messenger reply, “We are so grateful and blessed to have been part of this monumental experience."

One of the surprises of the night was the presence of, and performance by the UP Pep Squad. This got people chanting, U-NI-BER-SI-DAD-NG-PILIPINAS! U-NI-BER-SI-DAD-NG-PILIPINAS!” Wasn’t the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines the band’s birthplace?

As for the audience, the tickets to the concert were available for such a short time because fans—no matter how premium the prices were—snapped them up in a jiffy! They were willing to part with their hard-earned money for a ticket to this very special concert. 

Bassist Buddy Zabala

And it was evident from the audience's reaction to the songs, how they knew the lyrics by heart, especially the songs Magasin and Pare Ko. The more “mature” demographic practically grew up singing these songs. Some of them watched the concert with their children, some of whom also sang their hearts out while the band was performing.

Drummer Raimund Marasigan

The concert was capped by confetti and fireworks. Since we were standing a meter away from the stage, we got rained on by the confetti. It was so much fun, as though we were celebrating the New Year.

“It will take a long time before we see something like this ever again,” broadcast reporter Mario Dumaual told PhilSTAR L!fe during the 30-minute break between the two sets.

It’s time to look at the future, and honor the past. — Ely Buendia

Overall, it was “magical,” but “fun,” in the words of Villena. And indeed it was.

Ely set the pace and summed it all for us when he bid everyone adieu: “It’s time to look at the future, and honor the past.”

Lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Ely Buendia