10 June 2010

When a Thunderstorm Shortened a Bon Jovi Manila Concert to Just 8 Songs


Flash back to the nineties, which when I come to think about is not really too far back. In those days, how often did a chart-topping, world-famous hard rock band touch down on these beautiful islands when they were still at the prime of their careers? Tokyo, well, that’s a given for any world tour organizer. Hong Kong, maybe; ditto Singapore.

But Manila? Maybe for ageing rockers who could no longer sell albums in their homelands but were still iconic figures in distant lands…

This was, by no means, the scenario for long-haired rock acts alone. For instance, the acoustic guitar standard bearer trio America first came to Manila in the mid-seventies already reduced to a mere duo. I ought to know! I was at the Folk Arts Theater for their show. By that time, one of their members had already bolted from the band. To be perfectly fair, though, “A Horse With No Name” and other chart-toppers did not really sound any different.

Then, there were the Jackson 5. When I saw them live in the same decade, Michael Jackson had already become adolescent and had started to struggle with the high notes of “Ben” and “I'll Be There.” He was also just about ready to fly the coop and embark on a magnificent solo career most other artists can only dream about.

Ironically, what is arguably history’s most globally-famous band did actually land in these shores for a one-off engagement while still at the top. Self-proclaimed as “probably more famous than Jesus Christ,” the Beatles’ experience here, we were told, was none too pleasant. I am not too sure if they really had the utter gall to snub an invitation to dine at the palace; but one of them had the total lack of tact in explaining, “I didn't even know they had a President...” I remember having read somewhere that they were pelted with debris as they walked to their plane to fly out of Manila.

I do not know if that incident had anything to do with future top bands preferring to fly past these islands while on their world tours. My guess is that they simply did not think Manila was fashionable enough for a stopover.

So, when the radio stations started making announcements that Manila was included in Bon Jovi’s world tour in support of their new album “Keep the Faith” in 1994, my immediate reaction was to scamper towards the radio to turn up the volume. Had I heard the announcement right?

There is, indeed, a God! I did hear it right, and much later I read in a music magazine that we all had the hardcore metal band Metallica to thank for this minor miracle. In setting down the itinerary for their own world tour, Metallica made it a point to include oft-ignored nooks and crannies around the world as stops for their engagements. Yes, including Manila...

In other words, they made playing erstwhile unfashionable cities suddenly fashionable!


I, of course, have every Bon Jovi album in my collection. If they made a new album made up of cover versions of Eddie Peregrina, Imelda Papin or Rico J. Puno hits, I will buy that one as well.

There was just something about the way they combined melodies and energy in their mid-eighties "Slippery When Wet" album that really caught my fancy. I became an instant fan.

Thus, when news of the Manila gig broke and I had convinced myself that it was – indeed – for real, the obvious thing to do was to plan how to get a ticket and party! As things turned out, the gig was scheduled at the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium and tickets were reasonably priced. A few of my players were also fans; and together we traveled for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Now, remember this was Bon Jovi at a time before hip-hop totally rewrote the music scene. In the States, they could fill up Giants Stadium with screaming fans at a moment’s notice.


When we arrived – we were early, of course – the queues were already terrifyingly long. Later, I would learn from others who also went that the queues eventually snaked down Vito Cruz all the way to Taft Avenue!

Finally, the gates were opened. People surged forward from behind and in the crush, bodies became tightly-welded together moving forward towards the gates. A couple of times, I could feel hands feeling up my backside for my wallet. But I was wearing tight denims and in that squeeze, even the pickpockets stood no chance.

I could not say the same for the women, as unknown hands helped themselves to their softest parts. Not that they could do anything about it except holler breathless invectives into the night air… The marshals, fearing that people would get hurt in the mad rush, decided to open the gates all the way to ease the pressure caused by their surge forward. And we were through…

There were a couple of local front acts that I was not really familiar with; but we were in party mood and madly applauded, nonetheless. We had stripped off our shirts like most males did in the hot and humid night, patiently waiting for the “real” concert to commence.

Then, the lights went out and an American voice announced over the public address system, “Bon Jovi!!!”

Richie Sambora was already onstage playing around with the strings when Jon Bon Jovi walked in with a guitar carelessly slung over his back. Richie then started to crank up the volume… The pyrotechnics exploded into the air… And “I Believe” was the mood-setting first salvo!!!

Oh, I seem to have forgotten to say that there was a tropical disturbance that night and that Storm Signal Number 1 was actually raised. We in the audience often mistook the loud thunderclaps for pyrotechnics… And vice-versa… Either was loudly applauded.

“Yer not afraid of a little rain, are ya???” Jon shouted into the microphone. In party mood and in unison, everyone replied, “No!!!”

So, we rocked on! A little rain? In fact, it was raining elephants and rhinos…

Once in a while, Jon would plead with those who had climbed the light towers to please come down for their own safety. Somebody should have warned him that he was in the Philippines and that a) anybody who was stupid enough to climb nevertheless had the good sense to hold on tight; and b) if anyone fell, he would probably not have enough money to hire a lawyer.

Eight songs later – with the rains falling relentlessly – the band retired backstage. We all thought it was an intermission! They never came back, though! Any hopes of a resumption were finally banished when plastic chairs started raining down as well on the stage, hurled by irate fans who felt – justifiably so – that they had not gotten full value for their money.

I guess that was a learning experience for all concerned. The next time Bon Jovi came for a gig, it was set at the Araneta Coliseum. As for me, I forgave the band a long time ago! What did these New Jersey boys know about tropical storms?

I just wonder if Jon ever asked an audience ever again if they’re afraid of a little rain…

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