Originally posted on the online magazine, Pulse.PH on March 13, 2009. The website doesn't exist anymore!
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Pulse.PH / Listomatic

The "Final Set" Decameron
by Aldus Santos

It’s final. The Final Set is over. What do we look forward to now? I seriously wonder. The Eraserheads were our college roommates, our drinking buddies, our eccentric neighbors with the dirty sneakers and the exotic Nella Sarabia eyewear. They fought and broke up (a feud that’s simultaneously private and public—private in its details, public in its impact), and they ceased being these friendly things to us. No proper goodbyes were said. That kind of thing happens in real life: you lose someone’s number, you quarrel, one of you leaves, then the furniture in the small, cramped space that is your life gets rearranged. When the Eraserheads reemerged, they reemerged as different people. They wore different things, spoke differently, and their expressions have lost that collegiate playfulness of yore (okay, Marcus still has that signature dazed expression). With the continuation of the reunion saga last March 7, however, the farewell finally had a semblance of conclusiveness. In no particular order, the ten things that made The Final Set the definitive Eraserheads experience:

1. “Basag—ipagdiket-diket” (The Piano).
Ely Buendia went Jimi Hendrix on the Sticker Happy upright piano: doused the top with lighter fluid, lit a piece of paper, and set the damn thing a-blazin’. It could still be salvaged, you thought, and Buendia trying to jam on it for the outro of “Ang Huling El Bimbo” gave you a momentary glimmer of hope. “It was just for show.” By song’s end, you thought, guys with small fire extinguishers (or buckets of water) will rush to the stage and mum the crackling fire. It didn’t happen. He stood up, kicked the piano down, and pogo’d on it like a child on a racket, sending the black and white keys ricocheting in several directions. It was a good show prop—iconic and instantly recognizable—but it was also a physical representation of an impalpable dream now turned vapor. It was a true artifact, and now it’s gone. (Well, at least publicly. Pinoy Rock Central, a music fan’s blog, quoted Pupil co-manager Day Cabuhat saying that it’s currently being restored and will be kept in Buendia’s home.)

2. “Akala ko’y pumasok—sablay” (The Paraphrases).
The “jam” approach of the Eraserheads towards their material live (on songs that are practically eons away from jazz or the blues) doesn’t only include instrumentation. It also involves tweaks on the lyrics. To several E-Heads know-alls, these paraphrases were like private stories told to them once long ago by older, cooler cousins: stories that stuck, jokes that didn’t get old, anecdotes that required constant retelling. “Eh, medyo panget ka pa no’n—hanggang ngayon.” “Akala ko, wala ka pang alam sa kama; ‘yun pala, ang dami na.” And who could forget the newest of the bunch, Marcus Adoro’s reggae-tinged paraphrases on “Huwag Mo Nang Itanong”: “Chika ang inabot ko” and “Ayoko ng ingay mo.” The otherwise word-perfect sing-alongs were sporadically interrupted by these gems, and the effect they had were one of disorientation, like being, out of nowhere, pushed into the water (in your jeans or your cocktail dress, whichever the case may be). You cuss out the moron who pushed you, but you’re laughing anyway, dripping with the excitement of a new discovery.

3. “Please, please come back to me” (The Divorcees).
It’s like Christmas dinner and everyone is there, and there’s the cousin everybody thinks you hate, and, seeing the two of you approach each other, the relatives trade whispered guesses, elbow each other in code, and smile innocently when the two of you pass them by. “Are they really okay?” their eyes seem to say. Part of the charm of both The Reunion and The Final Set, it must be said, is the Peeping Tom in the E-fan: “Are Ely Buendia and Raymund Marasigan really okay?” The stage is huge and wide but nothing is too fine a detail to the obsessive. When the singer and the drummer had to do quick pocket meetings to consult each other about—I can only guess—songs or arrangements, people cheered, jeered, and yihee’d to oblivion. When Buendia introduced Marasigan as vocalist on “Slo Mo,” “Alkohol,” and “Insomya,” you can feel a spine-tingling chill, because the people beside and around you suddenly, giddily freeze. When in mid-verse the gyrating Marasigan stood skin-to-skin beside Buendia, the back-talking relatives weren’t able to hold it anymore and they almost went ballistic with glee. The strongmen of the Eraserheads may not be malling or booking cruise trips together, but at least they can share a stage. Magnificently at that.

4. “I’m a thousand miles away from my number-one fan” (The Fans).
In the Eraserheads’ heyday, their collective onstage demeanor, generally speaking, was one of detachment. It was almost a trademark. No elaborate spiels. No banter. No messianic visits to the pit to shake people’s hands. Until now. It took age, fatherhood perhaps, and lots of time, but they are finally comfortable with the love. “I love you, Ely!” a manly man’s voice pierced the balmy Saturday night air. Hesitating only for a second, the guitarless singer (who was being backed solely by pianist Jazz Nicolas on the lounge rethinking of “Kailan”) answered back, “I love you, too, pare.” The Final Set was almost like a good, evenly-keeled conversation. Or, to appropriate singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche, a “two-way monologue.” After Adoro and Marasigan’s respective turns at the mic—presumably to give Buendia a needed breather, to prevent you-know-what—fans started chanting “Buddy! Buddy!” and, yes, like a good conversation, Zabala responded curtly by singing, as a tease, the first line from Fruitcake's “The Fabulous Baker Boy.” In a nutshell, they gamely responded when spoken to, and vice-versa. “Group hug!” the several-thousands-strong crowd insisted, to which Ely quipped, “Kayo muna!” Also, it’s totally cool that the fans played that game of “Ely says” (a la “Simon says”) quite well—that is, with an almost-blind fanaticism—with the singer barking one-word commands, e.g., “Sing!” or “Jump!”

5. “Ibato mo na lang sa ulan” (The Throws).
Throwing projectiles audience-bound: it’s standard rock-show fare. And, because the ‘Heads were anything but standard in their active years, their arena-rock gestures at the big show by the bay were taken as little surprises. Ely threw guitar picks, or at least tried to, as said guitar-playing implements landed, at best, on the front row (physics would dictate that he can only do that successfully without wind resistance). Raymund, meanwhile, threw drumsticks, which are infinitely easier to throw and get to actually land somewhere. And, because one of the band’s strongest suits is unpredictability, they also threw unpredictable things. After the first onslaught of songs, Buendia rid himself of his designer jacket, helicopter-twirled it a la Pete Townshend, and hurled it at the crowd. During the latter half of the show, he threw out, erm, a shoe. Imagine the chaos in that portion of the pit: girls with foot fetishes, inflicting bodily harm on each other for a used sneaker. Okay, girls and boys with foot fetishes. Okay—girls and boys with every Eraserheads-related fetish imaginable. Is this fanhood? It’s religion. (Scroll down in this page to witness the fate suffered by said piece of Eraserhead apparel.)

6. “There are B-sides to every story” (The Non-Singles).
Sure, “Magasin,” “Pare Ko,” “Overdrive,” and “Ang Huling El Bimbo,” among others, were must-plays during The Final Set. However, the inclusion of B-sides and non-singles alike gave the diehards serious to-die-for moments. The most memorable, hands down, would have to be the triad of Marasigan-led performances: Cutterpillow’s “Slo Mo” and Circus’s “Alkohol” and “Insomya.” Gladly, the members of the audience were impressively clued-in types: they effortlessly breezed through the spokenword of “Slo Mo,” chanted the Radioactive Sago Project paraphrase of “Alkohol” (“Utak mo’y buhol-buhol!”), and went totally primal on the choruses of “Insomya” (“Agahan ko sa hapon, tanghalian sa gabi, hapunan sa madaling-araw!”) It was evident how the Man from Marikina has truly become a full-pledged frontman now: a facet of his that has always existed, but something which was perhaps solidified in his post-Marc Abaya work with Sandwich. He clearly owned the crowd, like he was a punk-rock Moses atop a rock 'n' roll Sinai. However, the most surprising—to most, at least—was Marcus Adoro’s aforementioned reggae take on “Huwag Mo Nang Itanong.” Makoy has been doing this version of the song in his bar stints with Markus Highway for quite some time now. There is a subtle salute to the intro of “I Shot the Sheriff” in the opening, and the accents and syllabication were mildly altered. When Raymund dropped by my book launch last January, we bumped into each other during MHW’s set, and they were doing said “revival.” Marasigan did a double take when he heard the crowd singing along inside saGuijo. “Si Makoy ba ‘yan?” he smiled, visibly amused. Noteworthy runners-up, for me, include “Walang Nagbago,” “Poorman’s Grave,” and “Back 2 Me.”

7. “Ako ay kaibigan, na lagi mong maaasahan” (The Man from Manila).
A day before D-Day—pre-show crunch time—horrid, abysmal news came. Francis Magalona (a.k.a. “Francis M.,” a.k.a. “Francism,” a.k.a. “The Man from Manila”), the president-elect of the Pinoy rap nation, succumbed to complications from leukemia. He was 44. He was a multi-faceted man: a film star, TV host, musician, toy hobbyist, photography nut, entrepreneur, but mostly, a family man and a good friend. He also wore the flag proudly, on his heart and on his (literal) sleeve. He redressed nationalism so that it ceased being an outdated thing. He stripped it of its furrowed-brow pomposity. As a musician, meanwhile, he was setting his horizons further in the early 90s, looking into the then-burgeoning Dredd scene to hook up with “alternative” rockers, one of them being the Eraserheads. The friendship that was fostered bore fruit when Kiko did the rap outro for Cutterpillow’s opening track, “Super Proxy.” The famed rapper developed a particularly intimate friendship with Ely, and they were currently collaborating as “The Sickos” (an allusion to their simultaneous bouts with mortality) when he passed away. The project was something which has been keeping him “alive,” to quote the late musician loosely. Ely opened the encore set of the big show by leading the crowd into raised-fist chants of “Francis! Francis!” The Eraserheads then ripped through “Super Proxy,” with Buendia subbing for his dear departed friend on rap detail. A montage of music videos featuring the late rapper flashed on the screens, and the band segued from the last few notes of the down-tempo rearrangement of “Alapaap” to the first few chorus bars of Magalona’s “Kaleidoscope World.” To appropriate Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach this time, “There were tears at the birthday party.”

8. “Tapos na ba ang kanta—ba’t may tumutunog pang gitara?” (The Real Encore).
People were already bee-lining for the exits. Some of the installations were already being prepared to get dismantled. And then, Marasigan’s voice was heard through the house speakers, which were still on. “Nasa’n si Marcus? Tawagin n’yo si Marcus!” Faint chants of “Marcus! Marcus!” were heard from certain sections of the audience. Ticketless fans have stormed inside the venue and were about to witness spontaneous history. Ely appeared guitarless onstage and confirmed everything on-mic, “Okay— three for the road.” “Wala na ‘to sa set list,” Marasigan I think added. The paying fans rushed back in, and the band did unrehearsed renditions of “Ligaya,” “Sembreak,” and “Toyang”—all of which were previously part of August 2008’s The Reunion. The spontaneity of the thing was marked by Buendia flubbing a song outro. “Ah, tapos na ba?” he asked mock-innocently.

9. “Lumipas ang maraming taon; 'di na tayo nagkita” (The Curtain Call).
The bittersweet thing was the formality with which Ely said, when it was all done, “We are the Eraserheads. Thank you. Good night.” For at least four to five hours that night, they were the Eraserheads. For at least four to five hours that night, it was as though “Sugod” and “Disconnection Notice” haven’t even been written, because we were back at the AS Steps, the Main Library, the Film Center, the Sunken Garden, worrying about physics midterms in the second semester of 1996 and raising our middle finger to fascism while losing our heads in the Eraserheads. They were the Eraserheads that night: we knew it, but hearing it made a universe of difference. They were like ex-spouses who decided to sleep together one last time—okay, sorry, chat and hang out for old time’s sake—before they proceed with their respective current lives. For the sake of the kids, as the movies go. Arms around each other—with Nicolas in tow as “Extra” (with the inverted “E”), as one of his shirts proclaimed that night—they took a bow. Curtain call. I guess that was the group hug. Insert smiley and clapping emoticon. Thank you, guys.

10. “Life's a journey anyway” (The Bonus Track).
Okay, this part didn’t transpire onstage. I talked to three of the guys a couple of days post-show, to gush and drool and shriek like a baby. No, to ask them how it felt saying goodbye this time around. Buddy went, “It’s more of a ‘See you later’ than a ‘Goodbye.’ That’s what you tell your friends when you know you’ve had a good run and have done well. [It was a] good gig!” Ely was in a good, comic mood, saying, “I’ve never taken sole credit for the E-heads’ success, but I did expect people to thank me for breaking up the band. Shockingly, nobody ever did!” He permitted himself a chuckle and added, “I had fun this time, even if it was still tinged with sadness. I hope we made the fans happy. That’s it.” He mysteriously furthered, “Don’t call us—we’ll call you.” Makoy, meanwhile, said with as much mystery, “Four words: ‘huwag mo nang itanong!’"

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