A day before the opening night of his ongoing concert series “Tuesdays with Gary” at Teatrino Promenade in Greenhills on Aug. 6, Gary Valenciano—then suffering from acute bacterial laryngitis—was advised by his doctor to cancel his show so as not to aggravate his condition. Valenciano wasn’t allowed to talk, let alone sing, but he didn’t think twice about pushing through with the show.
“It was too late to call it off,” he said.
In rehearsals, Valenciano would scribble down instructions to his team, or resort to hand gestures to save his voice. “I just thought, ‘Let’s go by with miracles,’” he said.
The following day, Valenciano did create his own miracle—with the help of heavy medication, a shot of steroids, and, most importantly, lots of prayers. And so for more than two hours, the indomitable performer—who celebrated his 49th birthday during the show—danced, jumped, popped, locked and shuffled feverishly; he slammed the percussion, and then scatted, beat-boxed and screamed much like James Brown.
Filled with songs from R&B legends such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, and various other vocally demanding classics that required Valenciano to constantly sing in his upper register or in falsetto, the opening set proved to be the most challenging for the singer—a stern test of how his vocals would hold up for the rest of the night. But with the way he unleashed that piercing high note in “Reasons,” it was safe to say that Valenciano was in fighting form.
Steadily backed by a five-piece band, Valenciano tackled hits like “Lately,” “Overjoyed” and “Boogie Wonderland” with his trademark intensity—his feet moving constantly, spastically. His sped-up, jazz version of “For Once in My Life,” in particular, was a pleasure to watch and listen to.
According to Valenciano, as much as he loves performing songs that compels his body to move, he also enjoys those that stir his soul. Thus he set off a medley of ballads that showcased his gentler side—“Somewhere Down the Road” and “One Last Cry,” among others.
The gig—set in a venue big enough to keep people from bumping into each other, and small enough to maintain close and spontaneous interaction between the artist and the audience—aimed to evoke the vibe of Valenciano’s shows at Tavern on the Square back in the 1980s. It was not uncommon to see Valenciano jumping off the stage to sing and dance with the crowd, which included his family and relatives, as well as colleagues G Tongi, German Moreno, Erik Santos, Candy Pangilinan, Martin Nievera, Anna Fegi, Iza Calzado, and newly engaged couple Jericho Rosales and Kim Jones.
There were a few niggling technical problems in the concert. But after 30 years of performing live on both TV and stage, Valenciano knew better than let trifling issues affect him. For instance, when his mic went off, Valenciano immediately went over to the backup singers to jam and share the mic with them. And whenever the speakers crackled, Valenciano, as if on autopilot, would crank up the decibels of his voice to rise above the noise.
The show also featured outstanding performances from guests such as the soulful musician Julianne Tarroja, who impressed with her version of “Englishman in New York,” as well as the sassy all-female group AKA Jam, whose members’ rich, powerful vocals beautifully complimented Valenciano’s in the more upbeat numbers.
The second set was more standard fare—his own log of inspirational songs and hits, as well as medleys of teleserye themes and enduring Filipino compositions, like “Sana Maulit Muli” which was composed by Valenciano’s wife Angeli Pangilinan. It’s one of the most overperformed pieces in concerts and contests, but Valenciano still managed to come up with a fresh arrangement, which he performed with his keyboard player and two backup singers. After serenading everyone with “It Might Be You,” one of the couple’s favorite songs, Valenciano kissed and handed a bouquet of flowers to his wife amid much cheering and clapping.
But perhaps the definitive moment of the night—the one that undoubtedly showed why Valenciano was dubbed Mr. Pure Energy—was his fiery performance of Al Jarreau’s “Spain.” Starting off slow, just like a smooth R&B tune, the song segued into groovy and festive beats interspersed with Valenciano’s relentless scatting.
After the show, Valenciano described the concert as “an incredible miracle”—the kind that he had hoped for when he was still unsure if he would lose his voice or not. “I was so happy to have shared this miracle with everyone,” Valenciano said. “The energy is not from me anymore—it’s from Him… There have been other occasions in the past like this one. I just prayed and God never put me to shame.”
“Tuesdays with Gary” continues tonight, then on Aug. 27, Sept. 3, 10, 17, and 24 at Teatrino Promenade in Greenhills, San Juan City. (Call TicketWorld at 8919999 or visit ticketworld.com.ph.)