About a couple of weeks back, I was able to watch Harem Scarem live here in Manila. In an event that was touted as one that fans waited decades to happen, the band flew in for a very memorable gig.
How I happened upon the thing is a very fortunate thing indeed. I’m a quite fan of the band, and in fact the very first guitar instructional video I ever watched featured Pete Lesperance playing snippets from what would be one of my favorite albums of theirs, “Weight Of The World”.
It was around 2003 when heard of this band again, with their last charting song “Honestly” having hit the airwaves back in the early 90’s. I remember I was looking at some stuff to buy from a bootleg CD guy in Shaw MRT, and the owner took me aside to tell me that he has this instructional VCD that featured Pete Lesperance.
Honestly (pun intended), I didn’t know squat about the band but the owner previewed the thing to me and damn, my jaws dropped! From his small ass tv came out a huge guitar sound and this guy shredding and riffing in what was then a quirky, but tasteful manner. Being the young, fledgling band dude I was then, I immediately took interest and bought the thing. That Youtube clip I posted up there is just part of the whole Performance Pit video, the one that I have is longer and included other songs and also had a section with Marty Friedman on it.
In any event, my interest in the band was cemented and I immediately set about looking for their songs. Unfortunately, Imperial Manila had no CD’s of the band available so I did what many would do, and I went pirate, finding and downloading songs where I could. It would be many years before I could get legit digital downloads of their work.
Pete’s fiery guitar work, along with Harry Hess’ immediately recognizable voice lends very well to the band’s sound. Quite unlike their contemporaries like Extreme and Mr. Big, the music isn’t mostly about incredibly technical playing, but rather more of a hard hitting and heavy feel. Of course a lot of the guitar solos are impressive, but the band seems to have made it a point to play a song for the song, and not craft a song with an impossibly hard solo in it.
That instructional CD helped inspire me in the same manner that watching porn would give you a boner. See, most of the time, I’m not the hardworking guitar player honing his chops. Sometimes, I experience a lull in practicing and I have known myself to completely drop my guitars for long periods of time. But whenever I watch these instructional CD’s, I feel like someone is lighting a fire up my ass and I find myself reaching for my guitar and getting back to business.
Fast forward to now, I’ve stopped playing in bands to focus on life at home and my family. However, these songs still rotate heavily on my playlist and they always give me that strange feeling of nostalgia whenever I hear them. It’s like I get transported back to the early 2000’s and all seemingly distant memories suddenly seem like they happened this afternoon. Right after I bought off the VCD from the shop, the owner spoke to me about starting a band and we immediately became friends. In time, I was working the shop with him, and met even more friends. It’s too bad I’d lost contact with almost everyone except the owner. If it wasn’t for this guy, I would not embrace heavy metal and hard rock music as I do now.
Out of the blue sometime mid January, I spotted an FB ad that showed a poster of the band saying they’ve got a show going down at Johnny B Good in Glorietta, which some may recognize as the former Hard Rock Cafe. I immediately checked out the ad because I was under the impression there wasn’t a very big fanbase for the band here in Manila. Most of the people who know the band are also guitar players in bands, but admittedly, they aren’t much more popular than that, which is pretty sad given the amount of good music they have. The whole while I’d been listening to the band, they were only known in a very specific niche. In any event, I checked the ticket prices and was surprised because it was absurdly cheap – Php 1000 or about USD 20. I scoured for more info – no way the whole band will play a gig here with this cheap a ticket price, and with free beer on top of it! But all points indicated that the whole band is coming, and it will be a full on set.
Jesus Christ, there was certainly no way I’ll miss out on this. The last time I spotted a gig this close was when Extreme was here in 2014 – and I only found out about the show after I stepped into the office. I wasn’t able to watch that show, and that is a shame.
On the day of the gig, I dressed up in my usual leather jacket because who the hell goes to such a gig dressed up for Sunday mass right? I also stowed a couple of Sharpie pens, one in black and one in silver. I purposely wore a white shirt for the band to write on because I wasn’t sure if there will be merch on sale then, and if there was, the shirt would most likely be black – which is why the other sharpie is silver.
I drove out with my sister to Glorietta because she is an expert in navigating through Makati, and I figured I do not want trouble today because all I can think of is banging my head so much that my neck will hurt. Traffic was not that heavy given the fact that we left at 1800, and the gates open by 1900. As soon as I got to a parking place where my sister says I would be strategically located, she got off to buy me a ticket in advance so I can find my parking space. As luck would have it, I had to wait about half an hour before I was able to secure a parking spot, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way since I was parked just across the street from the venue. I made my way up, and my sister handed me my ticket.
The whole band is indeed coming and I would be watching their first show here! On the table were various merchs being sold but they mostly had older touring shirts which are sized at XL and XXL – I am a measly M given their sizing. My wife told me to get one for her too, but unfortunately, they had run out of the smaller sizes so I was only able to get one for myself. I headed into the venue, and it was an SRO affair, which was alright – who the hell wants to bang their heads whilst seated? It doesn’t make sense.
I selected a table just across the side of the stage where I figured Pete would be. There was another dude sharing the table with me and we made small talk. He was from Pampanga, and was the same as me – he had laid down his axes to start a family. We were then joined by another dude who happened to be one of the official concert photographers. He happened to live a few blocks from me, and we got to talking about taking photos since I had told him I brought a camera with me but it was in the car. He went “go get it and take photos, this is a very special event”, and I went outside to fetch the camera and change into the Mood Swings II shirt.
When I got back in, we ordered drinks to get things going because there was going to be a couple of opening acts. First up was a solo guy by the name of Gabe Lazaro, who also fronts Opus Weekend. I’d never heard of the guy nor the band, but damn the man could play and sing. It was just him playing and singing with his guitar, and he went through blues and jazz standards. I was so blown away by his playing that when he left the stage and went all fanboy on the guy.
Next up was Trinidad, yet another local heavy metal outfit. These guys were pretty intense with their mix of original and cover songs. Although I’d like to point out that they didn’t sound too good, probably because they were not supported properly by the techs. In any event, they got the crowd worked up and aching to pit our skulls against each other. While I got photos of pretty much everyone in the band, I was not able to get a photo of the drummer because he was crammed into a very dark corner. Maybe I’ll get a photo of him next time.
After Trinidad, I saw Harry take a peek from a sideroom and then headed to the side of the stage to speak with a tech guy. I wanted to go and wrestle him down for an autograph, but I decided to let the man be and focus all my pent-up energy by banging my head all throughout their set.
A few more tense minutes after the last performance, the band was formally introduced and the crowd that was fairly thin a few moments ago suddenly burgeoned into a mass of people who gave up all theirs fucks for the day flocked towards the stage. At this point in time, I gave my place at the table and went towards my pre-determined spot right by the side of the stage, almost at the feet of my hero Pete Lesperance.
The band took the stage and being the polite Canadians, they started thanking the crowd for the turnout. Who the hell thanks the crowd instead of ripping their heads off with hard rockin’ tunes? But as soon as they got acquainted with the stage, they started what they set to do – destroy Manila with an eclectic mix of their much awaited classics, and the new stuff they have now. They also happen to be in town for business, which is to promote their new album “United”.
Admittedly, I didn’t have a copy nor any of the songs off that album. The band must’ve known beforehand that they were catering to a bunch of fans who’d been left slipping below the radar, and proceeded to deliver with their older songs, mostly from the Harem Scarem and Mood Swings album.
I have to say that this band is totally amazing. Not only do they have great vocal blending and generally sounded great live, they also had so much energy to them. These guys are in their late 40’s and may be coming closer to their 50’s, but they seem to have no signs of actually aging as far as their playing goes. Pete was and still an amazing guitar player and hero to many of us, while Harry’s voice sounds almost like it was timewarped from the early 90’s. Darren’s solid drumming propelled the band all night, even singing lead on “Sentimental Blvd”, which is one of my personal favorites. Stan Miczek kept the groove grounded and going, and was also a fine showman on his side of the stage. I was shouting from the side of the stage for them to play “Weight of the World”, which is one of my personal favorites. Pete must’ve heard and proceeded to play the opening chords which drove me nuts, but then transitioned to another song. He smiled back and I swear I would’ve fucking dropped on the spot. The classics were there, and they also played “No Justice” along with Pete’s solo, “Mandy”, which wasn’t so much as solo now as it had been arranged to have the band play behind him.
Yes, of course they played “Honestly”.
But as with all good things, the show had to come to an end. The band came back on though for a couple more songs before finally ending the night. I’m sure we were all looking for more songs from them, however it just couldn’t be the case – at least, not tonight. The band did say they were coming back soon.
They damn better get back here.
Before everyone went home though, it was announced on the PA that the band would like to meet everyone. Amazingly, the queue up for the meet and greet was very organized. Also, I’d like to note that there was no prior announcement about this and it was a really good thing I was able to stuff those Sharpies into my jacket. I fell in line and in a short while, I was in front of the band. I swear, I could not thank them enough for coming all the way here and I was like “Pete, dude, you’re one of my fucking heroes”, and I really wanted to speak with them more, but alas there were other people in line. They also had photos taken of them with the fans, so I present to you one that has me in it.
Damn, I can’t wait for the next time they fly back here to do a show. Until then, their songs will keep pouring out of my aging AT’s because saviors never cry, and there’s no justice in the world.
In case you’re not exactly familiar with the band, here are some suggested listening recommendations. Note that while their biggest hit is a ballad, these guys will knock your socks off.