An hour before his legendary band hit the stage, Joey "Pepe" Smith, lead vocalist of Juan de la Cruz Band, was already inside the venue.
He was high-fiving fellow musicians, chatting up friends and the occasional expat and gamely posing with fans.
He seemed at ease and relaxed, a far cry from what I knew was his usual m.o.: arrive very, very late, if at all, euphemistically inebriated out of his skull.
Tonight, he and cohorts Wally Gonzales and Mike Hanopol, would re-create the band's 1975 live album, "Super Session," with the original drummer of that gig, Nides Aranzamendez, who was in town for this reunion.
The story behind the reunion
Nides left for the U.S. shortly after "Super Session" was released and raised a family. In 2009, the foursome played their first reunion concert in the U.S. where the idea of reuniting in the Philippines was first brought up. It was only this year that the schedules of all permitted the show to happen.
The band strode onstage at around the 10:00 p.m.: Mike Hanopol on bass, Wally Gonzales on guitars, Nides on drums, and session player Wowie Posadas on keyboards.
Pepe strode from a front table, strapped on a V-neck guitar, strummed a few chords, and without as much as the opening loop of "Maskara," the band launched into a rock and rolling "Kahit Na Anong Mangyari."
Lean and mean versions
By the fourth song, "Shake Your Brains," the group appeared ready to deliver lean and mean versions of their classic blues rockers.
Then, the familiar riffs of "Nadapa Sa Arina" came around and by the middle of the song, Wally let loose his trademark lead guitar salvos. "Summerwind" followed in which Wally proved he remains the one true Pinoy guitar god.
'No more drugs, okay?'
Before launching into "Rak en Roll sa Mundo," Pepe told the crowd: "No more drugs, okay? They won't give you peace. They won't bring you women. Dispose of them all… through me!"
Juan de la Cruz then roared back to rewiring their heavy 70s sound to the lighter, faster pace of present-day pop and rock. Birthed in the pre-punk era, their oldies now come alive as post-punk curios, alive and kicking nonetheless.
In the middle of "No Touch," two women dressed as Playboy bunnies went onstage and began gyrating, as they flanked Pepe, who did the requisite faces.
Mike introduced "Langit" in honor of the late bassist Dondi Ledesma and drummer Edmund Fortuno. He described the song as an act of contrition, and its glacial Black Sabbath slide made it sound more like a prototypical 90s death metal anthem.
Two hours with no break
The band played 21 songs for almost two hours without break. The entire show came in spurts of heavy and spare moments. It was by turns loud, loose and calm, and most of the audience stayed glued to their seats.
The energy of the performance especially Pepe's nimble moves onstage and Nides's crackling slam on drums was surprising. Both men were in the 60s and Pepe, lean as always, looked in great shape and in a good mood throughout the marathon set. Someone joked that his twenty-something partner has a lot to do with Piyaps's stamina.
Despite the calm, there was no mistaking from the cacophonous epiphanies that Juan de la Cruz enjoyed the session and infected the audience with all-around cool vibes. No verbal exchanges happened between the crowd and performers. Weird!
Bong Sotto and Maria Cafra's Resty Fabunan closed the show with some blues numbers. Kenyo opened with a mish-mash of '90s grunge, reggae and remake of OPM originals.
The show was recorded on video for future release as a digitally enhanced version of the original "Super Sessions" album in 1975.
Intro: "Maskara" Loop
1. Kahit na Anong Mangyari
3. Rak en Roll sa Ulan
4. Shake Your Brains
5. Mamasyal sa Pilipinas
6. Nadapa sa Harina
8. Rak en Roll sa Mundo
11. Great Pinoy Antiquities
12. Sarap ng Buhay
13. Titser's Enemy No. 1
15. No Touch
16. Balong Malalim
17. Wally's Blues
19. Beep Beep
20. Himig Natin
21. Laki sa Layaw