a night to remember

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*** Photo by Franz de la Fuente

There are five texts, two missed calls, and one FB message at 6:23 p.m. from my sister, who had just scored free tickets to an 8 p.m. show — Snow Patrol’s first ever concert in Manila.

By 6:55 p.m. I’m out the door. It’s the fastest I’ve hauled ass since quitting my job as a reporter.

At 7:49 p.m., I meet my sister and company at the Smart Araneta Coliseum’s main gate, marveling at the audience mix: uber-young kids and grandpas, 20-somethings in backless shirts and forever21 chokers, and the 30-40 YOs in all kinds of casual (Snow Patrol fan shirts included) or straight from work attire.

As we go in, we ignore the T-shirt and CD hawkers (to our detriment, as autographed albums sold fast, and the proceeds pledged to help victims of the monsoon flooding — an opportunity lost).

The late hour is dedicated to scarfing down hotdog and some popcorn, imbibing Coke, while in the background the sound check revs everyone up.

And then finally it’s an explosive opening, with a revolving globe onscreen, flashing lights, and the band’s images reflected in multiples.

Gary Lightbody of the orange pants and spastic gesticulation sparks the crowd with “I wanna hear you laugh like you really mean it / collapse into me / tired with joy” (“Hands Open”).

He is flanked by guitarists Paul Wilson and Nathan Connolly, and backed by drummer Jonny Quinn and keyboardist Tom Simpson — they’re given a turn in the limelight whenever Lightbody focuses the crowd’s attention to each man, usually by getting “inappropriately close.” A tactic he extends to guests as well.

It becomes the theme of the night, with Lightbody reaching out to the crowd with open arms and open hands — a cross between super saiyan offensive maneuver and epileptic bowling — and of course he garners a similarly exuberant response.

Lightbody’s vocals are amazing (enough to cow a Filipino audience that normally needs little encouragement to sing along), his attitude engaging, and his mates exhibit the good nature and technical skill that makes the show a well-orchestrated tour de force.

In the bleachers, a Union Jack is spotlighted, held up by expatriate fans, some sporting flashing bunny ears.

The frenetic audience multitasks with lit sticks and sundry documentary devices, attempting to “Take Back The City” with their hands waving madly in the air.

You’d think that a band known for its moody – often morose – sound would be hard put to keep the energy up, but despite a sometimes shy (awestruck definitely, modest maybe) audience, they manage it. It doesn’t hurt that they’re all good-looking young men, and sympathetic to the Filipinos’ current straits.

Unabashedly expressive, Lightbody addresses the aftermath of the Manila flood with words of reassurance — telling the crowd he has “never been in a place with such grace… such kindness… such triumph…” and capping his compliments with “you are an inspiration to the world” — prior to “This Isn’t Everything You Are.”

The solemnity, interrupted by the occasional scream from a fan or two overcome with excitement, is a reminder that rock concerts are a venue for the “communion” of artists and fans — and the worship can go both ways.

The band then follows through with a series of hits: the popular “Run” (its gut-wrenching pathos contextualized as having been written during a power outage in Glasgow), “In The End” (a rare danceable tune reminiscent of Coldplay, IMHO), the haunting “Set The Fire To The Third Bar” (never fails to give me goosebumps, although the all-male harmonics do not have the same impact as the original duet with Martha Wainwright), and “New York” (a track tackling separation sunk in melancholy).

The energy ebbs and flows, a total of 18 songs are threshed out, the most voluble feedback at the invitation of “Would you lie with me and just forget the world?” (“Chasing Cars,” a crowd-pleasing sing-along moment), and the culmination in encore songs of “Life-ing,” and “Just Say Yes.”

The former is particularly moving, prefaced with a personal anecdote from Lightbody and the dedication: “I’d like to offer this song to you all out of respect for your grace and your humanity and your kindness. Thank you all. I will never forget this!”

Seems like he’s not the only one.

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