Title: Vertical Horizon and Ed Kowalczyk Live in Manila
Written by: JP Cana
Photos by: Magic Liwanag Photography
I had to dig out my dusty old Vertical Horizon CDs in preparation for their double-bill show with Live’s Ed Kowalczyk at the Araneta Coliseum last Saturday night. Along with a few friends, I went on a long drive out to Pampanga earlier that day and blasted the band’s songs for the most part of the trip. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed their music back in college and during my early years as a young adult trying to find my way out in the real world.
Vertical Horizon is essentially Matt Scannell. The bald frontman had formed the band in the early 90s with a classmate and friend and have kept it going through the years. Best known for their alternative sound, they were at the tail-end of the college rock boom during the 90s and early part of the new millennium. Their very first hit was “Everything You Want,” a sassy, incredibly catchy song about jealousy and the uncomfortable feeling of coveting something (or someone).
The band first came to Manila in December 2007. It was a solo headlining show and I remember the Big Dome was quite full then. Five years later, at about 30 minutes past 8PM, the same venue was nowhere near as packed. Fans of Vertical Horizon may have considerably thinned since the early 2000s, but I had thought the addition of Kowalczyk, who was playing his first ever show in Manila would have been reason enough for more people to fill the seats at the Coliseum.
Still, when the lights dimmed at a few minutes past 9PM, audiences loudly made their presence felt. Scannell and his current bandmates—Steve Fekete on guitars, Ron LaVella on drums and Cedric LeMoyne on bass—started with “Save Me From Myself,” a song from their latest album Burning The Days. The frontman wore an all-black ensemble. From where I was standing, I could make out a necklace and a rosary around his neck.
The band quickly followed up with one of their biggest hits, “You’re A God.” Introducing the next song, “The Lucky One” Scannell said, “When I wrote this song, I kind of hated myself for it.” He explained that it shouldn’t that be that easy to write something that just felt right. By that time, it was obvious that the band sounded just as good as they did when they first made it big years ago. Scannell himself didn’t seem like he aged at all. He endeared himself to the crowd by reciting short Tagalog phrases like “Magandanggabisainyonglahat” (Good evening to you all) and “Gusto baninyokamingbumalik?” (Would you like us to come back?) At one point, he said he thoroughly enjoyed his meal earlier of chicken and pork adobo, to which the reply was enthusiastic screams and applause.
My favorite Vertical Horizon song came next. When you think about it, “Send It Up” doesn’t really make sense. Who knows what Scannell was thinking when he wrote the lyrics “I’m alright/ By the way/ Everyone saves the day/ Sometimes I feel it/ Send it up/ Send it up now.” No matter, the melody more than makes up for the lyrical simplicity. Midway through the song, bouncers allowed audience members to get closer to the stage, and the rush seemed to please the frontman. “Hi!” he said, looking straight at the people in the front row.
Scannell performed two songs solo with an acoustic guitar “Miracle” and ”Echo.” The band came back up to join him on “When You Cry,” fan favorite “Forever,” new song “All Is Said and Done,” radio hit “Best I Ever Had” and “I’m Still Here.” When the frontman started on the opening riff of “Everything You Want,” the crowd was quick to respond. He teased them even more with short strums before fully launching into the song. The band exited the stage but came back quickly to perform the encore “We Are.”
It took stagehands almost 45 minutes to get the set ready for the next act. Reports of Kowalczyk performing in Manila began to circulate as early as last year but it took the ex-vocalist of Live almost a year before finally arriving in these shores. Audiences gave the frontman (also bald, like Scannell), a warm welcome when he materialized onstage singing the Live hit “All Over You.” He was also wearing all-black, as well as a brown scapular around his neck
Beyond inquiries of “Are you guys alright?” directed at the crowd, Kowalczyk, who is of Polish descent, was not as chatty as the Vertical Horizon frontman. He did however move more freely around the stage and even showed off a few dance moves in some of the other numbers. Throughout his set, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a younger, more contemporary incarnation of him. From his look, swagger and vocal stylings, it was more than obvious American Idol alum Chris Daughtry was heavily influenced by Kowalczyk.
The singer also performed songs unfamiliar to all but the most hardcore fans. The 40-year-old father of three released a solo effort called Alive in 2010 soon after his less than amicable split with the other members of Live. He finished the regular set with a new song, “Dolphins Cry,” but came back for a five-song encore. The noisiest howls were reserved, of course, for the biggest hits of his former band: “Selling The Drama,” “Lightning Crashes and the big finale “I Alone,” when fast-aging rock fans let out their inner angst that have undoubtedly laid dormant since they were in high school and college.
Face sweaty and throat hoarse, I made my way out the Big Dome soon after the last drumstick was tossed to the crowd and the last guitar pick was handed out to the ladies out in front. Concert organizer Ovation Productions hit the nail on the head by bringing two bands that still have sizable followings here in Manila. There is much to mine from the 90s if they’re looking for more artists to bring to these shores. Perhaps Goo Goo Dolls next?
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