Orange and Lemons’ Comeback Show Is The Beginning Of Something Wonderful

by Rick Olivares
ABS-CBN News / October 2, 2017

That Saturday at Mow’s was a preview. A preview of a certain type of madness that pop music brings. Crashing New Wave Night at the venue last September 23, the crowd gathered and crammed the small space that it was almost impossible to turn around. They hollered, sang, and demanded for more. And after four songs, they quickly exited and vanished into the night. It was a tasty morsel that left one even hungrier.

September 29 seemed so close and yet so far away. And since I referenced U2, here’s an anecdote about the Irish superstars that I recalled while at Mow’s and once more at 70’s Bistro.

I thought back to when Irish band U2 first toured the United States during the release of their debut album, “Boy.” The madness that followed caused Bono to exclaim, “If this is America, I want more.”

And that thought crept back to me after Orange and Lemons’ triumphant official return show at the 70’s Bistro on September 29. Despite being bigger than Mow’s, that granddaddy of band clubs didn’t seem enough. Close to 400 crammed into 70’s Bistro with more outside unable to get inside. And to think some weren’t able to go due to Carmageddon on payday-Friday.

The hottest ticket in town was in a steaming hot venue. Even the bar ran out of cold water bottles to sell.

The venue was chosen for a specific purpose. It was the site of their very last gig before ONL embarked on an American tour. Even during that night, in which I was present, it was all over for this Fabulous but Fighting Four. During that show at 70’s Bistro, they sang the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” and when Clem Castro sang the chorus, “Don’t let me down,” there was extra emphasis; a tinge of anger if you will. And he would look at his erstwhile bandmate Mcoy Fundales with whom he had a testy relationship later in the band’s first career.

Ace del Mundo added, “Dumating ‘yung araw na ang reaksyon ko, ‘may tugtog na naman kami? Magkikita na naman kami? Hindi na siya fun.”

During the comeback show Friday night, I oft would glance at Ace and the band’s close associates Antonette Maniquis and Ace’s wife, Lui Cornelio. Throughout the hour and a half show, Ace smiled so much I deigned to ask if his facial muscles hurt from all the emotion on his face. As for the latter two, it was observing them take in the madness. The smiles too were written all over.

And I thought: “If this is what the comeback is like, then who wouldn’t want more?”

During New Wave acoustic night at Nomixx Retro Grille along Visayas Avenue last June 9, occasional Castro-cohort, Rain Paggao, who is a top musician in his own right, couldn’t believe that the ONL reunion was going down. “Nung una, katuwaan lang. I thought it was a nice joke. But Clem was serious. Dead serious. And now it’s all happening.”

It was a happening. When was the last time the media covered a “small” gig in some old rock club in Quezon City? The show was equal parts concert and karaoke night. Save perhaps for two songs, the 350-plus strong crowd sang along to the songs including the two covers from the band’s influence, The Smiths.

That is a testament to the band’s popularity and superb catalogue of songs that spanned the debut “Love in the Land of Rubber Shoes and Dirty Ice Cream” to “Strike Whilst the Iron is Hot” and “Moonlane Gardens.” They wrote some of the most memorable songs of the first decade of the new millennium. They claimed the throne that was vacated by the Eraserheads and Rivermaya. They were so popular that if they weren’t gigging, they were appearing on television or radio, they were writing commercial jingles. They toured relentlessly and released one hit single after another. And then they went away.

And they are now back.

“Sorry,” apologized Castro after two songs in. “Medyo excited. Three times lang kami nakapag-ensayo.”

Someone shouted back, “Okay lang yun. Nandito na kayo!”

Castro smiled back.

And watching the band 10 years later and despite missing Fundales, their growth as musicians was evident. When they cut “Love in the Land of Rubber Shoes and Dirty Ice Cream,” Ace admitted that he wasn’t happy with his drumming. “I was learning the ropes,” he cheerfully recalled. “It was only by ‘Moonlane Gardens’ that I felt that I got the hang of it.’

Well, racing through their songs, their musicianship is never more solid. Ace is now a beat master and his smile and ease is evident for all to see. Castro has grown into a real frontman after having fronted the Camerawalls and the Dragonfly Collector after ONL’s breakup. JM on the bass is perhaps the one constant. His face is impassive; he’s locked in. Just his performance game face. But he’s stoked. When the show is done, he allowed himself to break out into a smile. That was all you needed to know. And Paggao who was so nervous that he retreated to the solitude of his car before the show to steel himself and listen to ONL songs just to make sure he knows the guitar parts down pat was a wonderful revelation.

“Galing, no?” later said Castro to the live audience while he referred to Rain.

As for the show, it was bloody brilliant warts and all. After ONL ended their set with “Hanggang Kailan,” the crowd begged for more.

This time, ONL didn’t vanish into the night.

Clem put his hands together in a praying position and bowed to offer thanks but also to apologize. Yes, there will be more. They hung out. Posed for photos and accepted well-wishers. And announced their gig sked (hey, there is a tour being planned) that will be released the following day.

If this is the comeback, I can’t wait to see where this goes.