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Sisyphus’ Lament

As long as Basti Artadi sings, we’ll never be old

SINGAPORE—I was in the middle of high school when Wolfgang’s self-titled debut album came out in 1995. It became the album I grew up with.

It sounded not quite right. The intense opening guitar riffs and drumbeats of the first track “Arise” seemed recorded from a slight distance. The imperfection added authenticity to the full melodies, ambiguous but intellectual lyrics, and catchy musical ideas.

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Tying this together, from the heavy second track “Halik ni Hudas” to the ending ballad “Darkness Fell,” was Sebastian “Basti” Artadi’s haunting, soulful voice. I still wonder what “There was this king he had no castle or throne / But his horse was great and white / He rode alone and liked it that way” really meant. I cannot get Basti singing this out of my head anyway, and wonder why “Darkness Fell” later disappeared from the live repertoire.

Razorback also released its first album “Hebigat Sounds Vol. 1” in 1995. Standing by the side entrance, I saw Tirso Ripoll walk into the old Xavier School gym with a huge guitar case for the musical chop suey called the annual variety show. He stared at the less than packed hall and griped, “This place is loaded with people.” I decided I liked the guy.

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The me without a driver’s license regrets not going out of my way to see these bands live during Pinoy rock’s golden decade despite buying every album. Maybe it was the trauma of my parents ruining my childhood by forcing me to join a Catholic retreat the weekend Mr. Big played at the Folk Arts Theater in 1994, never to return until 2011.

No one told me about the September 2000 Music Museum concert that became Wolfgang’s live “Acoustica” album, with “Halik ni Hudas” on bongos. By their January 2007 reunion concert, I was studying in a Boston winter.

I was in Singapore when they came for a little publicized acoustic set in March 2009. It instantly sold out. Jenie Gabriel saved my life by e-mailing all the Ateneans and selling me a ticket.

Wolfgang with Tirso walked into the Esplanade, the durian-shaped theater with incredible acoustics. Basti immediately asked why everyone was still sitting down, stunning the Singaporean ushers. An hour later, he announced the promised acoustic set was done. Time to encore with the amps on.

Wolfgang played in February 2010 at Fort Canning Park, where the foot of a hill forms a natural amphitheater. Ecstatic to see hundreds of fans abroad, the band did a long encore of each album’s heaviest song. A good-natured mosh pit formed as “Arise,” “Weightless,” “Sanctified” and “Halik ni Hudas” cut through the hot, humid air.

Razorback and Wolfgang guitarist Manuel Legarda graced Singapore’s March 2011 Mosaic festival. They played for free at the Esplanade’s atmospheric outdoor stage, with the Merlion as a backdrop. Filipinos packed the small venue during the preceding South African band’s set. We clapped politely but went obnoxiously wild when the poor singer announced it was their last song.

An IT manager gushed how he followed the band since high school. Tirso glanced at his two children and frowned, “Pare, huwag mo naman sabihing high school.”

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“Dos Ekkis,” Wolfgang’s 20th anniversary concert in Ateneo in December 2012, began and ended with the first album’s “Cast of Clowns” and “Halik ni Hudas.” It was a double-length show of 31 songs, chosen from each album in order of release. Wolfgang never looked at the clock while having fun, which ended at almost 2 a.m.

They noticed they skipped two songs, even fourth album favorite “Atomica.” Basti rebuked, “T*ngina niyo, ’di ako matanda!” I was beside

Tirso and reminded him of the IT manager.

Impossible traffic can make it easier to see Wolfgang abroad. Their 2013 Holy Week show in Legaspi Village’s Purgatory was a rare Makati appearance. “I like your shirt,” Basti said with a tipsy slur. I was wearing a shirt from “Dos Ekkis” with the first album’s cover. Onstage, he shouted, “I am f*cking younger than Tirso.”

There is something deeply, more sophisticatedly Filipino about Wolfgang that makes them our umbilical while abroad, more than Jollibee or even Inquirer.net. This despite Basti’s “p*tangina” with the thickest conyo twang.

They sang about the Philippines without being obvious about it. Think Basti and Tirso’s 2012 YouTube spoof of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” Basti hated it and turned it into an Alabang boy’s rant after a girl threw up on him while they were driving in Quezon City. “You made blowby! All over me!”

They had subtly abstract themes, not Andres Bonifacio, state university dorms or puppy love. “Atomica’s” social commentary reads: “Pledge allegiance unto Marx / the workers off to war / bonded brothers under red / sickle hammer star.” “Weightless” exuded confidence with: “Let Icarus plummet / as sun melts his wax / gonna touch the sky / much longer than that / with the wings of Eros / I’ll stretch them wide.”

A side of me stops to think before singing Wolfgang lyrics, where another would freely vent the Eraserheads’ “’di ba, t*angina” and “l*cheng pag-ibig ’to.”

Ely Buendia puts on a necktie, but Basti still walks onstage in a T-shirt. Our faulty memory says he looks exactly the same, even though the band sported silly long hair in 1995. “Halik ni Hudas,” “Darkness Fell” and Basti’s arms raised, Christ’s transfigured pose always take us back to the happily controlled chaos of Manila and the naive invincibility of high school.

Basti cannot get old. As long as he sings, we can all say: “I am f*cking younger than Tirso.”

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Basti is fund-raising to treat a benign facial nerve tumor that may stop him from singing. Buy his shirt and CD when orders resume at facebook.com/JeepneyRockStop.

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React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan

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TAGS: band, Basti Artadi, opinion, rock band, Wolfgang
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