MANILA -- A few days after Wency Cornejo did the "90s Frontmen (Acousticized)" with fellow rockers Dong Abay, Basti Artadi and Jett Pangan at the Music Museum last January 31 and February 1, he was trying to perfect the hotteok.
Rock musicians are humans too and they need to do other things than performing. Artadi paints and renovates houses, among other profitable diversions. Abay also paints and is an avid cyclist. Pangan acts in musical theater.
For Cornejo outside the concert halls, cooking and baking have always been another passion. When he went on a hiatus from the industry, he used to own and manage a bread and pastry shop named Carmela's in Davao City for seven years.
Now, there have been requests for a repeat of "'90s Frontmen." In a Facebook thread, Lea Salonga requested somewhere in or near the south of Metro Manila, like at BGC's Maybank Theater. Cornejo answered he'll try what he can do about it. "90s Frontmen" was a passion project he co-produced with some friends and he said earlier he didn't care if it earned him his ROI. Or not.
"I'd rather do a nationwide tour first. Sana may mga lumapit na producers" Cornejo told ABS-CBN News in an online conversation. "GenSan, Bacolod, Naga and the list goes on. May mga contacts na kasi ako sa mga lugar na 'yun."
Like in baking the most delicious hotteok in Quezon City, the perfectionist in Cornejo was felt in those two nights, despite the odds.
Cornejo was struck with mild Bell's palsy about 10 days before he did "90's Frontmen." According to Mayo Clinic's website, Bell's palsy, also known as facial palsy, can occur at any age and the exact cause is unknown. It affects one's speech and in Cornejo's case, his singing.
"Siguro nagtataka kayo bakit ako nag-susuot ng eyepatch. A lot of times people forget that as performer we're also human, that we fall into sickness, we age, we get tired. And this is here," he said, pointing to his eye patch sometime in the middle of the show.
"Because last week, nag-Bells' palsy ako. It's such a bad timing but don't worry, right now it's showing everybody who I am at this moment."
There were audience members who shouted in succession: "Love you man!"
"It's a manageable condition. I researched about it. Ang hirap lang kasi. It came at a time when it is very difficult to sing. It's been a week, I'm trying to relearn words para mas maintindihan. I sort of eat my words, even while singing. So pagpasensyahan niyo na, kung ano man kamaliaan ko tonight. I don't wanna say I'm sorry because I am doing my best."
And so the show, as the age-old saying goes, must go on. For Cornejo, it's not just one show but two nights.
We were there on January 31, Friday, the first night of "90s Frontmen" and Cornejo performed as if nothing happened bad about his health. A writer-friend who saw him on the second night even commented Cornejo's skin was glowing.
On Friday night when we watched, we thought Cornejo's eyepatch covering his left eye was part of his act. Heck, he even had a scarf that complemented his glitzy getup reminiscent of Prince and David Bowie in their most creative years.
"Bakit ba ako nag-scarf, parati namang nahuhulog," Cornejo said at one point, in jest. We were unaware of his difficulty until he removed his eyepatch in the latter part of the concert and recounted what happened.
But for those who missed the two-night gigs and for music fans in the cities of Bacolod, Naga and General Santos, here's a sampler of what took place. The title itself, "'90s Frontmen," was an obvious reference to their younger self and nostalgia was all over the nearly three-hour show.
Covers, originals, influences
It began with the four doing cover songs of American bands that dominated the 1990s. The back-up musicians played selected part of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as the four men of the '90s apocalypse gave the audience a sampler of what's to come.
Positioned on the left front side of the stage were the guitarists composed of Victor Nicola (rhythm 1) and Marc Velaso (rhythm 2). Behind them on drums is Gibson Viduya, who Cornejo pointed out was a former member of Afterimage when they regrouped post-1990s rock scene.
On baby grand piano in the middle of the stage was the magnificent Tantan Macalla. Immediately on his right is bassist Jeremiah Descalsota.
In the same vantage point as the rhythm section were the strings. On violin was Jerome Nuñez, on viola was Christine Laron and on cello was Bea Ricana.
The genius behind the musical arrangements was musical director Gigi Viray.
After singing the chorus of "Smell Like Teen Spirit," Artadi remained on stage to give his howling rendition of Stone Temple Pilot's "Plush" and Soundgarden's definitive hit, "Black Hole Sun." We've always viewed Wolfgang as the melding of grunge, heavy metal and '70s Pinoy rock and Artadi channeling the late Scott Weiland and Chris Cornell has the effect of whiskey and rhum on cold days due to northeast moonsoon. Just pure coincidence, Weiland and Cornell are now in rock-and-roll heaven.
With the strings taking over Dean DeLeo and Kim Thayil's guitar solos, respectively, the result is close to Bono's definition of "rock and roll transcendence."
After Artadi left the stage, Pangan re-emerged and did Pearl Jam's "Alive" from their legendary debut "Ten," who many regard as one of the most influential albums in rock music, not only in grunge. Many would think Artadi's vocal range was the nearest to Eddie Vedder's but Pangan was the one who could capture Vedder's raspy baritone voice.
Little did most audience members know but on April 23, 2016, Pangan sang for a one-night-only Pearl Jam tribute at 70s Bistro on Anonas Street. He was accompanied by Wolfgang's bassist Mon Legaspi and Razorback's lead guitarist Manuel "Paul Walker" Legarda. (Can't help it, Pangan kept on calling Legarda as Paul Walker and his guitar works nothing but fast and furious). It was one of those rare bar gigs that should have several repeats.
Abay's piece was Green Day's "Basketcase." Punk may have been one of Abay's influences but Green Day's most popular hit didn't seem to fit his modern-shaman-like persona. We thought Sex Pistols' "Anarchy" or The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" would come closer. Then again they were from the previous decades. Abay, after the lines "I am one of those, melodramatic fools..." may have deliberately forgotten the lyrics and played with the crowd. He kept his eyes on the monitors on the right and left sides of the stage.
Abay got a little help from his friends Pangan, Artadi and Cornejo when they came back on stage to sing the rest of the lyrics: "Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me, it all keeps f___in' up..."
And the rest of the night would highlight much of Abay's rock persona among the middle-aged members of the crowd, now probably CEOs and COOs of their own companies. He has most of the applause in moments you didn't expect people would give a loud cheer as sign of admiration and respect.
After the four exited the stage, flashed on the big screen behind the back-up musicians was Introvoys' US based drummer Paco Arespacochaga. After introducing himself as the video host, he welcomed the crowd to the show and it can be seen there's a drum set behind him.
"Dapat magkakasama kami, kaso sabi nila drummer daw ako eh," Arespacochaga said in jest. "Well, my schedule didn't allow me to fly to the Philippines."
He went on to introduce the next segment, wherein each performer did their own compositions as solo performers.
Artadi did "Last Goodbye," the song he composed after watching the documentary, "Give Up Tomorrow."
"When I first decided writing music on my own, I realized I should have a message, to educate people in the process," Artadi said before singing it.
"It's about a kid back in the 1990s, accused of a crime. For no reason at all, he was forced to live his life in prison. The government said all you have to do is admit you're guilty and we'll let you out. He refuses to admit he's guilty. He said he'd rather die than admit something he didn't do. He's still in prison up to these days."
It was an emotional song that earned resounding applause. The seriousness of Artadi's rock ballad tempered by the next performer.
If Artadi's opus was inspired by the sad fate of a young man in prison, Pangan's recent masterpiece was inspired by a very pretty and popular young woman named Liza Soberano.
"Lipad" was the song he recorded in 2018 for Star Music. In an earlier interview, he said, “When I heard plans for Liza, naging inspiration ‘yun, na para siyang isang unattainable na tao."
Incidentally, in the latter part of 2019 "Lipad" became the official soundtrack of "Code Name: Terrius," a Korean sci-fi comedy drama TV series that was aired on ABS-CBN primetime, dubbed in Tagalog.
But we can't blame Pangan for being inspired by Soberano, who millions regard as one of the most beautiful faces in the world. Soberano's fans like us can relate to Pangan when he sang the lines, "Sa panaginip kong lumilipad ako kasama ka/ Nakikipaglaro ang buwan at araw sa'ting dalawa/ Ang sabi ng langit, sa isang saglit/ Ang puso ko'y sinagip mo sa dilim."
Before singing his ode to Soberano, the legendary vocalist of The Dawn said, "Nagpapasalamat ako sa Star Music at nakapagsulat ako ng kanta as a solo artist. Salamat din sa The Dawn, pinapayagan nila akong ginagawa ng solo project."
"Sa lahat ng nag iibigan, don't forget to wear your face masks," he added in jest.
After Pangan's number, now the shirtless Abay re-emerged from backstage and got a louder cheers. Some audience members were unaware how well-tattooed Abay has been. More so, he has no beer belly. A lady seatmate told her husband beside her, "Talo ka ni Dong Abay, wala syang t'yan." The pot-bellied husband holding his beer only smiled and nodded in agreement.
As if answering for the husband, Abay then performed "Perpekto," a song about one's imperfections and people's tendency to judge. Oh yes, the line goes: "Ano ba ang epekto kung meron kang depekto? Wala naman, wala namang perpektong tao."
Abay went down from the stage and sang to the crowd going up and down the stairs in the audience area. It's as if he's telling a tale and everyone could related to this modern shaman.
Cornejo came in next explaining how performers get energy from the audience.
"The more energy thrown at us, the more energy we give back to you. Napakarami naming frontmen ng '90s at ako 'yung pinakamahilig sa love song at eto 'yung kanta ng pinakanagustuhan ng mga tao," he said before singing "Hanggang."
Like in the 1990s, when Cornejo sings, there'd be lots of segueways and side comments. If there's a contest of being the most engaging, talkative rock vocalist, Cornejo would give Chito Miranda of Parokya Ni Edgar a run for his money. What was usually a three-minute song would stretch to 10 to 15 minutes. Punchlines are delivered in rapid fire motion, in between singing a few lines of a particular song.
"Teka mali ang lyrics mo," Cornejo would tell a female audience member on the front row. How in the world he heard the woman's voice while he's singing is a mystery.
He'd request the audience members to clap in unison so as to keep the tempo before he proceed to the next stanza of a song. Not for a few seconds but a stretch of around five minutes.
"Kailangan may makita akong dumudugong kamay," he'd say before telling them to stop clapping. But he'd follow it up with another request. "OK palakapakan niyo ang mga sarili niyo kung hindi pa masakit mga kamay nyo."
The rest of the night had the four frontmen of the '90s apocalypse doing their signature songs. There was Artadi with "Halik Ni Hudas," Abay with "Banal Na Aso, Santong Kabayo," Cornejo's "Next In Line" and Pangan's "Salamat."
In other segments when they had several costume changes, it's just but expected Cornejo would sing "Habang May Buhay," Abay with "Es-Em," "Senti" and "Tsinelas," Pangan with "Enveloped Ideas," "Iisang Bangka" and "Talaga Naman," and Artadi with "Center of The Sun."
We won't divulge much of what happened next but for sure, "90s Frontmen" was more than nostalgia rock. It's what kids nowadays should experience, if only their titos and titas would bring them the next time these ageless rock mucisians would regroup again.
Cornejo, the co-producer, told ABS-CBN News they are willing to partner with local producers and sponsors in the provinces and abroad to bring the gang, the whole enchilada. He said he might even add a "frontwoman" like his good friend Cookie Chua of Color It Red, or Myra Ruaro of Put3ska, or both.
But we have to mention the most-talked about twist of the two-night shows. They performed, rather, embraced what was considered in the '90s alternative rock scene as sacrilege.
A few days ago, it was revealed by Cornejo and Abay in their official social media accounts that it was Artadi who brought up the brilliant idea of doing this boyband number.
No wonder, it was Artadi who seemed to be most comfortable at the middle of the stage. His body language was also a give-away, reminding and giving instructions to the other three of their cues, or where they have to position themselves in the dance sequence.
At the Music Museum, one of the encores was their version of "I Want It That Way" by Backstreet Boys. There were suggestions of doing another '90s hit from a different boyband. Something milder and tamer wherein they didn't have to kneel and sway their hips.
The "90s Frontmen" soon in the provinces? Cornejo and the gang definitely want it that way.