Everyone knows who Rico Blanco is, from his early days as the keyboardist of Rivermaya to being the solo artist behind Your Universe and his newest album, Galactik Fiestamatik.
Some days you can’t go more than a couple of hours in the city without hearing him reminding us, from all the way in the early 2000’s, that “umaaraw, umuulan; ang buhay ay sadyang ganyan,” or more from 2004 that we’ll “be safe here.” Blanco’s been a poprock staple and standard since most of us were in grade school (I can’t believe he’s almost 40!), and personally, the guy’s never failed to deliver. Not a single person batted an eyelash when we heard him singing about getting closer for Close Up, and no one accused him or the band of selling out when they got overplayed on Star World for Balisong. For f*ck’s sake, he’s Rico f*cking Blanco, and he and Rivermaya can do whatever the f*ck they want (pardon the expletives). Generally, we were all just happy that one of the bandas ng bayan finally got to represent us at the MTV Asia Awards.
Things changed a bit, however, when Blanco went solo in 2007. At the time, I had just entered college and was pretty choked that one of the bands that I grew up with wasn’t gonna be the same again. It felt like one less thing I could count on at the time, and I’m sure many of my peers felt the same way. When Rivermaya went on their (overblown) search for a new vocalist, I had given up hope in my fantasized reunion (set to the soundtrack of "Wag na Init Ulo, Baby," para fitting). The next year when Blanco came out with Your Universe, I had abandoned all hope in their old sound ever making a comeback. Personally, I felt the title track was overplayed and honestly, lacked the sincerity and musicality of let’s say, "Table for Two". Sure, it was catchier and won him fans all over Asia (since it was in English and all), something I’m sure Warner Music wasn’t too surprised about, given their track record in turning ex-vocalists into successful solo artists.
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Don’t get me wrong, I loved his first solo album as a whole. As I type this I’m listening to "Ayuz", still wondering how one guy can be so multi-talented (haven’t seen the video? He can dance). Given my prior dissatisfaction (disappointment is too strong a word), I really didn’t have my hopes set high for his newest endeavor. I'm sure most of you thought: "Yeah, okay, Galactik for all those neon lights and the space-themed backdrop, and Fiestamatik for the face paint and feathers. What a cool guy, spelling things with k's instead of c's."
No, it isn't an Asian David Bowie partying in Coachella. I really didn’t know what to expect, especially with the knowledge that he had written, produced, and played every instrument for the album. There’s no question that Blanco is incredibly, almost impossibly, talented, as well an accomplished musician, but the last thing I thought would happen with his latest album was to be blown away. Once you get past the fact that oh, hey, that's Rico Blanco in a feather headdress, it's actually pretty easy to get lost in the world of his alter-ego, Fiesto Bandido. Especially with a track like "Sayaw", the compulsory dance track in every electronica album, which also serves as a giant f*ck you, as well as a massive call to arms for people to drop the bullshit and, well, dance.
Blanco’s new sound is as earthy and gritty as it is modern and glitchy, like going to an ati-atihan while you're on an acid trip. Mr. Congeniality in the eyes of the press flashes the finger to the crowd during his press con/album launch as he says, "People these days talk about music too much. People should stop f*cking talking and start playing."
He doesn’t rely solely on his programming, throwing in the oddness of found instruments, the haunting sound of a melodica, and the understated power of a stripped down drum set together in hodgepodge that is at times discordant and jarring, as in "Chismis", causing long-time friend Chito Miranda to liken him to a mad scientist of music.
The man is a performer through and through, more than once taking the crowd’s breath away with his stellar musical arrangement and only secondly with his stage presence and showmanship. I heard a comment from the crowd, likening him to The Killers, and the thought stayed with me because it was fitting for his single "Amats", a stalker anthem, but despite the new direction of his music Blanco's lyricism has stayed solid and poetic, finding poignancy even in the inventory of everyday items in "Lipat Bahay".
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Needless to say, I was crazyhappy to walk out of Teatrino that evening with a copy of Galactik Fiestamatik cradled in arms still shaking from the sheer joy and adrenaline rush of Rico Blanco's show. It's honestly amazing and quite the ride to watch one of your favorite artists try on different sounds throughout the years, especially when they're this open to experimentation. I'm not quite sure what Blanco's next evolution will be into, but this version of him is pretty damn awesome. At least, in my universe.
*Photos by Mewa Cawad
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