MANILA -- Here in the Philippines, when we hear the word "concert," it’s very seldom that we think of indie artists. Karpos Live challenges that idea with Mix 1.1.
The first event of a planned concert series, Mix 1.1 featured 100% local indie acts Tom’s Story and Reese Lansangan last June 15.
Despite the rainy weather, a crowd came to watch full 90-minute sets of both artists, supported by newcomer Elise Huang at the ABS-CBN Vertis Tent in Quezon City.
Introducing herself as a newcomer, Huang started out timidly, but slowly grew in confidence with each song. Giving context in between songs made for a pleasant experience listening to this singer/songwriter.
Her husky voice made for some easy listening, and I enjoyed the slower parts of her songs the most. "Nights," her only song on Spotify, was a highlight – a catchy song with hints of jazz.
She ended her set with a fun song about wanting to hit the face of your friend’s hurtful ex—a relatable pop-rock ditty.
Tom’s Story’s set started with Gabba Santiago on an acoustic guitar, looping and building the melody of their song "Anchors," with the rest of the band eventually joining in -- Tom Naval on bass, and Christer “Degs” de Guia on drums.
And with that entrance, it was apparent to me that the band has grown leaps from when I first saw them, as the front act for Phoenix in Manila.
There’s a certain showmanship that developed in their 90-minute performance. Naval’s repartees were far and long in between sets, taking the time to take the pick out of his mouth to check if the audience was still with them. They were.
Backlit with screens that changed with every song—from psychedelic colors to flowers to space, the group played most of their set with their heads down, not looking at the crowd. It felt at times that we were looking into a session of musicians performing for themselves, that you were looking into something intimate and special.
And maybe that’s the magic of Tom’s Story.
With the entrance of Manila String Machine, the addition of strings made songs like Seyda Neen and Feathers more nuanced. To the delight of the crowd, Clara Benin also joined the trio to play the haunting song, "Light," with Manila String Machine.
After playing their most popular song, "Mugatu," Tom’s Story’s set culminated into a crescendo of sound with their last song, "Peachtree," that featured full strings, guitars, and two separate drum performances that had the audience clapping along and cheering in awe of the young trio’s musicality.
Indie darling Lansangan poured her heart out into her performance.
A multi-hyphenated individual, this indie-pop singer-songwriter started her set acapella, staring into the crowd before continuing to build her song "Aristophanes" using looping guitar and vocals.
Lansangan was very chatty during her set, expressing her joy in being able to perform for the crowd, dedicating songs, and sharing anecdotes and her thought process on the creation of her songs.
She delighted the crowd with a ukulele portion, singing songs like "Exploration #5" and "Go Online," among others.
Beside her songs, Lansangan’s live vocals should be one of the draws to her gigs. Her voice was whole and strong when she hit higher notes, and wispy and smoky when she finished a line. It was the first time that I’ve seen and heard her perform sans a big crowd (I’ve watched her in Wanderland), and in this kind of quiet venue, I fully appreciate her live vocals.
Her song "Islands" (arranged by Eric Cruz) was one my favorites in her set — as she sang against a recorded track, reminding me of Jhene Aiko.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to have strings with my music,” said Lansangan, as she introduced Manila String Machine onto the stage. And indeed, violins with her wedding song, "Home," made the romantic song even more heartfelt.
The jazzy plucking of the violin and the bass with the song "Creeper" added an Addams Family vibe to the song, which was fun. She also reminded me of folk singer Jewel at this point.
Her song "Wild One," which she dedicated to her family, reduced her to tears, overcome with emotion — jokingly telling the crowd after that she has mastered the art of singing and crying at the same time.
At the latter end of the set, she was joined by a full band that played songs like "Tenderfoot," "Grammar Nazi," Bleed," and finishing with the song "For the Fickle."
Lansangan’s set ended on a joyful note, with her authenticity ringing loud and true.