I don’t go to concerts. It’s enough for me to hear music on my headphones without the distractions of having to go to a venue, be with other people, and not be able to see or hear as well as I could with my home audio setup.
But when given the chance to watch “Hitman: David Foster and Friends” at the Araneta Coliseum tonight, I grabbed a couple of tickets in my grubby little paw and hid them in the recesses of my wallet for safekeeping until concert night.
This was the lineup: famed songwriter David Foster and singers Natalie Cole, Charice, Peter Cetera, The Canadian Tenors, and Ruben Studdard. Now doesn’t that send frissons of delight up your spine? Not too long ago I had seen The Canadian Tenors’ performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and was captivated. I would have given anything to hear them sing live – and here the chance was, dumped into my lap not a couple of months later.
One of my closest friends, Adelle Chua, went with me. We didn’t know quite what to expect, not being regular concert-goers. We were disappointed by our first experience – forced baggage check.
There was a long line of people outside trying to get into the venue, and there was a delay because the show’s Manila producer, Ultimate Productions, had not informed the public beforehand that umbrellas and cameras would not be allowed inside the arena and had to be left at a counter beside the gate. They did not have enough people at the items counter, and the few people there did not have any idea how to check things properly and consequently chaos resulted. People were angry and worried that their valuable cameras would be lost. There was a lot of shoving and pushing and waving of tickets in people’s faces as everyone tried to hurry and get in. It was horrible and the producer deserves to be spanked. Hard. Many many times.
Once inside the venue, we were glad that there was powerful airconditioning and that we seated fourteen rows from the stage with a good view of everything. David Foster’s piano-playing was sublime, his patter engaging. “Music is everywhere in Manila,” he said. “It’s in the streets, in the hotels – and here.” He seemed overwhelmed by the audience reaction. “It’s true what they said, people sing along to the songs here,” he marveled. “I’ve never had an entire arena do that before.”
The Canadian Tenors came on and performed three songs. One of them was “Hallelujah” and I was lifted up on wings of sound. They were fantastic. I could have gone home happy at that point, they were magnificent.
Natalie Cole came out next, and she was incomparable. Her voice is silvery light, so sweet, so beautiful. She sang “Unforgettable” along with a recording of her father Nat “King” Cole’s voice, their voices blending together in a magical duet. A smile is perpetually on her face; she beams, her face shining as if it were lit up by the sun, the voice soaring effortlessly higher and ever higher.
At the end of the show, the performers all came out and sang a song David Foster wrote for Michael Jackson – “The Earth Song”. From left, The Canadian Tenors (four of them), Natalie Cole, Charice, Ruben Studdard, Peter Cetera.
Ruben Studdard, said Foster, “fills a gap in genres”, as he does the crooner-type and R&B songs. His voice is deep, rich, sonorous in the tradition of Teddy Pendergrass and Luther Vandross. He has another talent – making up songs on the spot from a line or two given to him. He did admirably with “so many years” from a lady named George (Georgina – the name raised Foster’s eyebrow and gave him a chance to say, “Hi, George, I’m Debbie”), and also with the rather unimaginative “I’ll always be there for you” from a woman also named George (Georgia). By this time Foster thought some collective leg-pulling was going on, and he chuckled.
Foster had another gimmick – going up to people in the audience and having them sing for thirty seconds. A couple were ordinary folks with talent; there were three teenagers who sang a cappella; but then there were professional singers Pilita Corrales (of course she sang “Dahil Sa Iyo”), Randy Santiago (he did “Wildflower”), and Arnel Pineda.
Pilita, our very own diva, still has her vaunted beauty, style, and voice and it was a tremendous pleasure to see and hear her. Randy combined a terrific rendition of one of Foster’s own songs with humor – “I’m so nervous!” he said onstage, as if he were not one of the “concert kings” of the land, and in the last line of the song interjected, “Can I kiss you?” to a piano-playing Foster who laughed and pointed to his cheek. And yes, Randy did lean down to peck the maestro’s cheek, and hugged him before he left the stage.
I’m not sure David knew Pilita and Randy were professionals, but he did recognize Arnel in the audience and convinced him to sing a few lines from the Chicago hit, “Hard Habit to Break” (a song that has painful associations for me, but that’s another story).
Which made a great entrance for Peter Cetera, former lead vocalist of Chicago. Arnel said, “You guys are freakin’ me out!” Being with both his ‘heroes’ on stage was obviously a huge experience for him – he actually knelt in front of Cetera till the latter pulled him up, laughing but clearly flattered.
Cetera’s voice was not in excellent form, but he made up for it with soul and showmanship, singing some of his most popular hits. One of them was “Glory of Love” from the Karate Kid 2 soundtrack, that had everyone singing along.
The show ended with Charice, the petite Pinay powerhouse who is being mentored by Foster and who has improved vastly under his tutelage. Think of it as he being Freddy Roach to her Manny Pacquiao – it’s a mighty combination. She belted out several songs and had the audience on their feet in a standing ovation, cheering themselves hoarse. She did several songs made popular by Celine Dion, one of them “Power of Love”. Charice also did a fantastic rendition of her own hit “Pyramid”.
Foster said Filipinos should be proud “of your little one”, as he clearly was, saying she was in the league of all the women singers he had worked with – Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton. It was a moment of pure elation.
The music was superb, the show was spectacular, the energy was high high high and we left the arena wowed by the performances of the evening.
Once outside, though, I had to get my camera back and the experience was even more dreadful than before. More pushing! More shoving! With more screaming from disgruntled patrons! There still weren’t enough people behind the counter and they had not lined up the umbrellas and the cameras by number or done anything else to arrange the items during the three hours that the concert lasted. They did nothing at all. I was one of the first in line and it still took fifteen minutes before I was given my camera back.
When I finally managed to disengage myself from the melee with much elbowing and leaning and apologizing, my shirt was hanging off my shoulders and my carefully pinned-up hair was a tangled mess. Adelle said, “You look like you’ve been through a war.” And that is indeed how I felt. The people behind Ultimate Productions deserve to be scolded and spanked. Hard, as I mentioned. Many many times, as I said.
The check-in incident was terrible and an ugly start and end to an otherwise wonderful show. It needn’t have happened – there were people who had somehow smuggled in their cameras anyway, as flashes kept popping, and cellphones with cameras were not taken. There was no announcement made at any time before, during, or after the concert that photography or video were forbidden. So why take cameras? And umbrellas? They weren’t wet – it rained during the concert, not before. I asked several people with the events group who the producers were, but they all refused to say. Why? Because they knew this aspect of the event they staged was mucho fail?
That being said, I look forward to another edition of the concert. Foster said that they haven’t left Manila yet but are already planning their return – for Valentine’s Day 2011. Fans of David and Friends, both old and new, can look forward to more music, surprises, and romance from this talented team in just a few more months.