Live things: different shades of sunshine at Bandwagon Brunch

Leanne and Naara at the Bandwagon Brunch on 17 March 2018 at Frank and Dean.

I remember seeing that tweet from Coeli. “More brunch things should be a thing,” she said almost two months ago. “Imagine listening to music over waffles, bacon, scrambled eggs and coffee with a little sunlight on your face.”

She did have a point. More often, live music is a domain of the night owl. You go to your favorite place just as most of everybody goes home, gates open at nine, first set starts around ten, the whole thing goes on until around two or three. (I could be wrong. What do I know, after all?) Of course there are opportunities for live music in the daylight hours, but the handful of afternoon gigs aside (like the monthly Common Ground events) you’re devoid of the rush you get from watching a favorite band, or one you have not heard of, thanks to the relative sterility of mall shows.

“What a concept, yes,” Coeli continued. “But I know we can make it happen.”

Niki Colet channeled sophistication during her set at the Bandwagon Brunch.
Niki Colet channeled sophistication during her set at the Bandwagon Brunch.

Seven weeks later, it did happen. The folks at Bandwagon were celebrating three years in the Philippines and they decided to mount three gigs across 17 March. One was a secret all-vinyl gig; the other was an evening gig at 12 Monkeys headlined by Hale and Kjwan. We would’ve loved to go to all three, but then we had things to do from the afternoon onwards – and also, brunch seemed reasonable for me, a morning person, and Shalla, who can just sleep early right after work ends at midnight.

It also helped that I’ve been looking forward to watch the three acts who decided to wake up early to sing some songs. Coeli, of course, was there. Niki Colet, who we’ve been intrigued with for the past year or so, was also there. Leanne and Naara, whose sound is not twee like their name initially suggests, were there, too. Seemed like worth waking up a bit earlier for.

Frank and Dean was an interesting setting for brunch gigs, too: Small enough to be intimate, but the wall-to-floor windows on one side makes things a bit more open, letting the sunshine in. The staff were extra attentive too – they’ve been through this before – although it’s the shame the adobo bowls we got were cold. I imagine the food would be better on a different day, but that was the brunch part of the whole thing, wasn’t it?

Despite battling a bit of a cough, Coeli almost literally brought sunshine to the brunch gig.
Despite battling a bit of a cough, Coeli almost literally brought sunshine to the brunch gig.

Still, watching musicians you’d usually see at night perform in the morning – “what a concept, yes.” And there’s something about the sun shining in that changes the way you perceive these acts. You’re a little more alert; you still have the day ahead of you, and everything has yet to get down. You usually watch gigs as a pick-me-up after a long day. This – and I know I’m starting to sound uncharacteristically positive – feels a bit more uplifting, a last-minute recharge before you go.

Critically, the line-up had subtle differences that meant you weren’t sitting through a slog of the same old across the morning. (Maybe this is an observation I, a professed non-gig-goer, can make.) Niki Colet was up first, a striking figure amidst the hubbub at Frank and Dean: poised, sophisticated, making me doubt my abilities to say hello to the acts at the end. (I never got to.) A week ago Sade released a new song for the A Wrinkle in Time soundtrack; must explain why I had the sophisti-pop movement in my head, and why I easily connected that to Niki’s cool, sneaky voice. We had a chance to hear her upcoming single “You Still Show Up In My Dreams” and, contrary to its heavy title, it was a bit jaunty, perfectly misleading – those dreams can be happy too, after all – until she started dipping her voice at the end. “Oh, it’s still not a good thing he shows up.” I was beguiled.

Coeli wasn’t exactly feeling well when she got to the venue – and she would later lose her voice – but she was beaming with pride when she took the stage. Her tweet started everything, after all. Her set was the uplifting one: there was something about how her voice soars above the din, how she gives it her all (despite the cough), that even the most uncertain of songs on her set – that would be her signature so far, “Magkaibigan O Mag-kaibigan?” – felt like we were gleefully answering what is the most fraught of questions. Also – again, perhaps a non-gig-goer like me can say this – seeing a cello on stage does change things, an extra element we don’t get to hear a lot on the scene. It makes things brighter, I think.

Leanne and Naara closed up the morning affair with their string of deceptively jazzy songs.
Leanne and Naara closed up the morning affair with their string of deceptively jazzy songs.

Of the three acts it’s Leanne and Naara who’s close to reaching critical mass: a Myx Music Awards nomination, a constant presence at Globe stores, the music video for “New York and Back” playing as you wait for your number to flash. I’ve written about them a couple of times, but I am still taken aback at how jazzy they are. Sure, keyboards, but it gives added texture that’s always welcome. I may have also spent a lot of time trying to figure out who was singing high and low: sometimes it’s Leanne, sometimes it’s Naara, all throughout me going, “man, I love these harmonies.” By then it was high noon and perhaps they were more laidback than I expected for the daypart, but whatever. You don’t always seem them this early, and hearing “Again” with all those elements at play just feels more special.

Why can’t we always have brunch gigs?

I mean, why can’t we have these elements at play? Intimacy? Sunshine? Live music, perhaps rightfully, tends to be the night owl’s domain. You can’t really go all out when the sun is still up. (There’s a reason why singer-songwriters are more accepted at these kinds of things.) We tend to think of gigs as a place to catch up with friends after a long day, perhaps with a couple of beers. But, one, that encourages a narrow view of how music should be experienced. Contexts change with settings, and I’m sure I would’ve seen, say, Niki’s music differently at a jazz bar at night. Two, if live music is as great as many people say it is, then why prevent many people from experiencing it, by limiting it to certain venues, at certain hours of the day, with certain kinds of acts? It’s like we’re being blocked from having “the best”, so to speak.

On a normal day I’d be a bit frustrated with those thoughts. But, again, at the risk of sounding treehugger-y, sunshine has changed the way I write that. See what I mean?

All that said, it’s a start. Again, the Bandwagon Brunch isn’t really the first. But may it be another landmark as we truly make music more democratic. Now that’s lofty, but, again… what a concept. [NB]

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