Going solo is often taken as an unwise move for a band member, especially one from a top-caliber group like Rivermaya. But Rico Blanco proved, with his first major solo concert last June 12, that he’s in a class all his own.
Though this may be difficult to chew for die-hard Rivermaya fans, “Rico Blanco: Live!” eclipsed much of what the prolific hit maker had done as lead vocalist for the band.
Taking a cue from his latest album “Fiesto Bandido,” Blanco went creatively ballistic at the Music Museum, doing everything he wished that might not be possible in a big-time band setup.
The 40-year-old rock icon walked up the stage in full Fiesto Bandido regalia—face paint, silver tribal armor, orange feather headdress. Reflectors on his shoulder gear sent laser-like beams darting across the venue.
He opened with the song “Amats,” lead track off his latest CD from Warner Music. Sure, he was intoxicated, but in a purely artistic sense.
He picked up and played the melodica amid a whirring noise, then turned to the lyre bell—the tinkling sound it made was a stark contrast to the ominous sound that pervaded the air thick with anticipation. And when it was least expected, Blanco’s three-man marching drumline shuffled in the background, unleashing a series of hurtling drumbeats in sync with the manic flashing of white lights enough to induce seizures —the good kind.
Blanco once swore that assuming his synth-electronic rock-playing alter-ego liberated him, in fact enabled him to make a bigger fool of himself than usual.
He did let loose at the concert, but fooled no one. What everybody saw was an authentic talent, one who dared go beyond conventional rock entertainment.
While he dished out new songs such as “Burado,” the applause was louder when he delivered trippy, synth-drenched, thumping versions of classic Rivermaya hits like “Umaaraw, Umuulan,” “Kisapmata,” “Elesi,” and “Kung Ayaw, Mo Huwag Mo.” He performed with madness, but also with much, much beauty.
He was a man possessed, dancing, prancing, popping and locking; kneeling and roaring onstage. He flailed his arms wildly, as if drowning, struggling to stay afloat in a sea of lights and sounds.
And then, seated at the keyboards, he serenaded the audience with “Lipat Bahay,” “Balisong,” “You’ll Be Safe Here,” and more. He was at once serene and hypnotic, disturbed only by intermittent crashing streams of percussion.
In contrast, Blanco’s “214” duet with Kitchie Nadal, moving at a relaxing dream-like pace, felt almost like a lullaby.
“Ayokong masayang ang pera n’yo,” he told the crowd at one point as he struggledwith some instrument. He was easily forgiven; his audience roared in approval.
He changed costumes—all surprising outfits—and did some ethnic dance steps, especially when performing Rivermaya classics “Posible,” “Awit ng Kabataan,” “Liwanag sa Dilim,” and “Hinahanap-hanap Kita.”
Guest guitarist Ira Cruz sustained the energy, shredding his guitar in a long, frenetic solo before joining Blanco in the funky, at times cheeky, rock-dance ditty “Sayaw.” Blanco urged, “Kalimutan n’yo muna ang problema sa buhay, pera, puso, babae… sayaw!”
Blanco prefaced his debut solo hit “Yugto” with a foreboding drone that sounded like an oncoming vessel. The crowd let it all out—shouting, clapping, stomping in unison to the song’s chant section: “Ang mga tinig palakas nang palakas/Hanggang gumuho ang mga hadlang!”
When he started singing the emotionally-charged “Your Universe,” bluish-green light beams fanned out, then converged again on his body. His last song, the buoyant “Ngayon Lang,” was uplifting, with a shimmering fusion of melodica, bell lyres, drums and bandurias.
Blanco raised his fist and dramatically muttered the meaningful acronym, “OPM.” He then said, “It’s the first time for some people here to attend a local artist’s concert. Some have come late in the game, but it’s all right. The important thing is that we all get to appreciate our own music.”
Before the concert, Blanco promised a spectacle inspired by his penchant for electronic music and the festive pounding of drums that accompanies Ati-Atihan dancers. He kept his word, staging a two-hour visual and aural feast that demonstrated his unwavering efforts at reinvention.