January 29, 2011

Tragedy and Mystery: China Crisis live in Manila

I was never really a fan of China Crisis, that introspective British band which released a slew of cult favorites from the post-punk era. I admit to having listened to 1983's Working with Fire and Steel - Possible Pop Songs Volume Two and few songs that get airplay from nostalgia programs that played songs from the 80s, but I don’t have that much knowledge on the band’s discography to begin with. 

Having seen them live though at the very start of 2011, despite my limited exposure to their music, made me realize one thing: nostalgia is a beauty that lasts. 

Sing-songy anthems of the 80s were relived in an encore-worthy live performance that one, rainy night in Eastwood Mall. Fans, most of them in their 30s flocked the venue expecting nothing but to see the band (now a duo) play the old songs that once become a part of their adolescent angst.  Never mind that the event started out way too late. China Crisis blew the roof off. And their set was tight and engaging as ever. 

Prior to the perennial new wave group hitting off the stage, the lull took the exasperating turn. The rain poured heavily and the annoying female DJ kept on repeating her spiels straight from the PR script. The mall got rowdier and noisier as people from the bustling side that is from the shopping complex went near the venue to eavesdrop. You can just feel the excitement rushing every minute, right at that very moment. And the moms and dads, and the kids born in that bygone era—seemed to challenge themselves amidst the boredom and noise in anticipation for the main act.

Magic 89.9’s Jon Tupaz, in an initiative to cut the still air that evening, played a DJ set composed of 80s retro gems ranging from Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me” to everything new wave. It wasn’t exactly a solid one, but it’s a pretty good start to build the bar of excitement. After a long set, a newbie band named Popseeds then went up the stage to serenade the crowd with their healthy mix of original and cover songs. They paid tribute to underrated ‘80s hits by doing a cover of Wire Train’s “Chamber of Hellos” and The Red Rocker’s “China.”

Honestly, I wasn’t feeling the performance. Not that it was all tired and sloppy; in fact they were quite promising and full of vibrant energy at some point, but they just sounded like they’re playing for the sake of playing. Not exactly front-act material that I was expecting. And their brand of youthful alt-rock still needs some refining to do. Perhaps give them a year, and you’ll get a better offering from these newbies.

From there, the energy went wild and loose. The main act from England brought the time capsule with them and warped us to the picture-perfect memories of their past hits. Nobody wore fishnet stockings or quirky, new waver ‘dos that night. But as Gary Daly, Eddie Lundon, and the bunch of pinoy sessionists introduced themselves to the crowd, we instantly got the feeling that we’re going to have the time of our life. “The 80s is alive and kicking,” screams the guy at my back, who gamely joined the collective sing-along to classics such as “Best Kept Secret” and “Tragedy and Mystery.” Nostalgia seized us like willing captives that one, nostalgic night. And we just can’t complain.

Surprisingly, Gary Daly was fun to watch. His comic antics joined by his knack of flamboyant gestures and cuddly, Brit accent had us completely floored. He’s a great singer as he is a total entertainer. He knows how to persuade his audience to do some crazy, fun stuff like letting us break into the chorus of Minnie Ripperton’s diva-bending, 70s love ballad, “Loving You” while interpolating it with China Crisis’ 1985 seminal UK hit, “You Did Cut Me.” He goofs around the stage, borrows a fan from the audience while complimenting how different the weather is, here in Philippines. Bubbly and charming. That’s him. Guitarist Eddie Lundon on the other hand, is the quiet type. His guitar playing, like the beautiful crisp tunes in every China Crisis record, is still in top form, while managing to sound restraint. And let me just say that the pinoy sessionists who backed the duo are just awesome, if not mind-blowing in a big way. Gary was kind enough to share the limelight with them, sometimes allowing the backing band members to showcase solos.

And the audience? Well, we just ditched the heavy rain in favor of joining the karaoke moments to the band’s biggest hits, “Black Man Ray,” “African And White,” and the now classic, “Wishful Thinking.” The latter inspired a succeeding encore, with Gary charming us to sing with him and fully immerse ourselves to the Cat Steven-ish father-and-son theme of the song. I have always regarded “Wishful Thinking” as the band’s biggest cross-over to pop charts and a memorable tune that inspired a 1997 comedy movie of the same title. More than the commercial viability of that forlorn anthem or its pop culture impact, it’s the poignancy that got me hooked on it. It’s Gary singing, “I see the likeness in his smile and the way he stands, makes it all worthwhile,” and his optimistic vocal delivery buried in a downtempo, synth-pop crush that, makes it more than just a song. It’s a brink of living memoir for all the dads who have missed out on seeing their kid grow into one fine adult. Inescapably a tear-jerker, it is.

All in all, the band played 11 songs with the inclusion of 1982’s “Christian” as the encore. Nostalgia was indeed all over the place, and seeing hardcore fans in their 30s satisfied as ever, made me realize how fun it is to relive the old days. I wouldn’t mind getting old and seeing my favorite bands reunite for just a night. I would still sing the anthems that once soundtracked my teenage reawakening, whether it’s Pixies churning “Where is My Mind” in a posh mall somewhere in Ayala or Lemonheads’ gracing the Araneta Coliseum crowd with “My Big Gay Heart.” In nostalgia lies beauty— and there’s plenty of it to come. Who cares about getting old, anyway?

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