The first time I was able to shoot Ely Buendia was when The Purplechickens were called upon to be former Eraserheads frontman’s backup for the Bob Dylan night in Saguijo more than a year ago. I was fortunate enough to attend both a practice session and the performance itself.
It was there that I caught a glimpse of Ely Buendia in two different contexts: the performer and the professional. The latter one comes from the privileged position I held when I was invited to brandish my camera inside a practice studio. There I saw him work out arrangements, interact with his bandmates, throw in ideas, make mistakes, and polish those stumbling blocks into a burning house. He wasn’t in his stage persona, I surmise, because it wasn’t exactly a performance—rather, it was creation and experimentation. He wore no sunglasses nor did he don what anyone would imagine rockstars of his stature wear onstage. In that studio, he was more like somebody’s kuya who just drifted into your band rehearsal to melt your faces off. Days later on showtime, wearing his sunglasses and rockstar apparel, hearts and brains were also melted away.
Which brings me now, more than a year after. Ely Buendia’s solo show was something else, something else from the performer I shot and usually experienced whenever I catch Pupil play. Here is he in his solo show, playing songs from various phases or eras of himself as a man of music: an E-head, the solo artist, his collaboration with Francis M., and his present with Pupil (I don’t recall any song from The Mongols appearing in that gig). He was outside his usual comfort zone during the first set, and it was a refreshing sight to see Ely Buendia performing onstage without a guitar strapped to himself. That night he was a crooner, backed by an ensemble befitting a Vegas-style spectacle (Read Aldus Santos’ article here.) I’m not sure if it was the first time his audiences saw him perform untethered, but I’m sure everybody loved it–every antic, every pseudo-dance move, every flair on every pause. It was that particular scene in Spiderman 3 done right, so right that cringing at it is a sin.
The next set was a more intimate one. It was just him with an acoustic guitar, standing on a platform nearer to the crowd, as if the move to go back to his familiar guitarist-vocalist mode was also a step forward and nearer to his fans.
The third set he went back electric and sent the whole night spiraling into a conclusion of sonic deluge.
My favorite part of the night was that I got to hear songs from his solo album. It should be for most fans, since a live performance of both “Wanted Bedspacer” and “Santo” is as rare as an Ely Buendia solo show. Of course most of the crowd went for the Eraserheads songs arranged especially for that show, and the arrangements of the string and brass sections for well-loved tunes were magnificent and worthy of stating that the Eraserheads should do a concert with an orchestra.