Ang Bandang Shirley’s bittersweet and triumphant return
by rick olivares
Owel Alvero left the cool air-conditioned confines of a nearby holding room at the Blue Bay Walk Garden. Dressed in a grey t-shirt that read “No album” and shorts that looked that seemed to suggest he was headed either for bed or the beach, the bespectacled singer/songwriter/guitarist of Ang Bandang Shirley headed out to the garden to check out the scene outside. “I hope there are folks who are there to buy our new album (titled “Favorite”) and well, to watch us perform,” he said.
The sight that greeted Alvero saw his expression change from a hopeful one to one that was equal parts a pleasant grin to a smile. You know -- the hopeful smile that people get when they listen to Ang Bandang Shirley’s music.
“Yeah,” was the only thing Alvero could say.
Close to six hundred people lined up in the hot afternoon sun to purchase the band’s third album and line-up all over again to avail of stickers that they could use to design their own cover. “It’s a good way for us fans to say how we feel about the band and their music,” offered one fan who said it took him a grand total of two hours to get everything done.
By the time the sun retreated and the cool air wafting from the bay, the performance grounds swelled a bit more to include the Saturday evening hangers out.
The day had this bittersweet air to it as it was also singer Selena Davis’ last performance with the band. How that affects the music – well.
“Yeah,” muttered Alvero again as he made his way back to the holding room.
Some 45 minutes earlier, in the comfy confines of the holding room, the band ate a late afternoon lunch of siomai and rice along with other dimsum. “The band that eats together,” gleefully noted the band’s other guitarist/singer/songwriter Ean Aguila. He shared that loving look with Davis ate beside him. “Stays together.”
“For now,” segued Davis. And there’s a moment of silence as everyone contemplated that statement.
The band has been around for more than a decade after having been inspired by the Eraserheads’ “Natin 99” album. Members have come and gone but at the heart of the band’s three albums was Alvero, Aguila, Davis, guitarist Joe Fontanilla, and drummer Zig Rabara (as well as sometimes singer Kathy Gener who doubles as the band’s Brian Epstein except she pens the occasional song). “Life”, as Rabara chimed in over lunch, “got in the way.” Nevertheless, the band has become and is family.
“We all have our day jobs,” clarifies Davis, “but the band is our therapy and our happy heartsong.”
There’s a five-year gap between the sophomore effort, “Tama Na Ang Drama” and the new album, “Favorite”. Time aside, the 14-track album finds the band in fine form. Their songwriting – deep and introspective gems of happiness, loss, and well, life…. the lilting melodies and harmonies – has been honed to a fine edge.
If diamonds are forever, then the first two singles – “Umaapaw” and “Siberia” have become instant classics. They are crowd favorites that sure enough during the show later that night, are “sing-songs” for the fans to sing along.
Other tracks such as the title track, “Favorite” and “Alam Mo Ba (Ang Gulo)?” are going to be sure staples of their live performances while the nine-minuter “Ono” could be the penultimate song of a rousing show; one that is highly emotive and showcases Ang Bandang Shirley’s gift for heartfelt melodies and the trademarked harmonies.
They went from Alvero penning most of the songs to a more collective effort that has brought everyone’s personalities and stories – good and bad – into the fore.
When writing songs, the band looks to each other for approval. “We push ourselves,” points out Alvero. “We inspire ourselves.”
Added Aguila, “Selena and I were talking about how the band dynamics have changed. How much we influence and make each other better. At least for me, I know my song is better because Owel critiques it for its betterment and it works vice versa. In making love songs, we try to write without using the usual words and we want each other to come away saying, ‘Kaya mo ba yan gustuhin?’”
There’s one such example on “Favorite” with the “Ono” that was written by both Alvero and Gener. “Ean said, ‘Ang ganda ng mga kanta mo pero lahat 4/4 time. Wala kang odd time.’ Which is why there is a section in “Ono” that is in 3/4 time. It’s a challenge. It’s also fun to know people around you know what you’re good at and know they can push you.”
From the kit kat jam of “Themesongs” to the pensive “Tama Na ang Drama”, “Favorite”, shimmers with the tighter sound that’s different. Mature, if you will. I think, by way of respectful comparison, of the band, Ivy, with their raw jingle jangle of “Realistic” and the finely-tuned pop of “Apartment Life”. Or more of the same, -- from Broken Social Scene’s “You Forgot It In People” to the self-titled album leading all the way to “Forgiveness Rock Record”.
The band, collectively nods in approval.
“That’s a comparison we do not mind and we consider a compliment,” enthused Davis as Aguila smiled in agreement.
The ultimate compliment was that the fans packed the garden of the Blue Bay Walk. They purchased the compact disc, bought t-shirts, patches, and stickers. Fans danced and cheered. A few tears were even shed as Davis’ sang the last note of the night.
“Wow!” exclaimed Davis before the band plunged into their first song of that Saturday night. “Ang dami ninyo. Grabe. Salamat sa inyong pagmamahal and sa pag gusto ninyo ng musika namin.”
And the crowd roared.