The collaboration between a rock band and an orchestra isn’t new. But an OPM band that does it well, a collaboration that reinvents the band’s songs, and a band that survives through a live concert with a full-piece orchestra? That’s something else in these shores. In Sugarfree Live! Sugarfree and the Manila Symphony Orchestra as conducted by Chino David proves all of these as possible, and becomes a testament to how concerts and CDs like these can be done well.
What it takes is a well-chosen set of songs that are familiar to the fans, and a genius collaboration that allows it to be defamiliarized – made unfamiliar – even to die hard Sugarfree followers. And if opening songs make or break a concert (or CD), then kicking things off with love song “Prom” was the best choice the band could’ve made. Its original allowed for a reinvention that blended seamlessly with the concert’s Overture. Both let the string section of the MPO take center stage – a bright sign of things to come.
And one that doesn’t disappoint. Because from one track to another, Sugarfree Live! proves how good OPM rock can lend itself to orchestra music, and vice versa. Here, Sugarfree’s string of hits become songs renewed, as the band’s instruments seamlessly live it up with the orchestra’s various sections. In “Hari ng Sablay” frontman Ebe Dancel’s voice is sometimes lent to just some string instruments as backdrop, as the band’s drums and the orchestra’s horn section work together the rest of the song. Ditto for the song “Kung Ayaw Mo Na Sa Akin”, where Dancel is allowed to sing acapella in sections, as the rest of the song enjoys reinvention with the orchestra’s violins. The slower song “Kwentuhan” meanwhile not only expectedly highlighted MPO’s string section, but its percussions as well, as it worked perfectly in highlighting the song’s chorus which Dancel belts out.
This kind of build-up towards the more emotional parts of Sugarfree’s songs is what the MPO’s collaboration allows throughout the album, as with the rendering of “Telepono” and many of the sadder songs such as “Kwarto”, “Huling Gabi”, “Unang Araw” and “Burnout”. By the time one begins the second disk of the Sugarfree Live! album (where the last three songs are), one is already familiar with the kind of reinvention that was the point of the whole project.
One also realizes that this was not just any rock concert. Because really, projects like these could fall into the trap of simply imposing an orchestra on a set of original rock songs, and allowing the band to just play with extra instruments in the background. But what Sugarfree Live tells us is that it need not be like this all the time. Here, David and Sugarfree share musical arrangement credits, although frontman Dancel gives all credit to David, who should be the one man for any rock band and orchestra collaboration. This writer caught him and the MPO once before at another CCP gig doing a rendition of “Pinoy Ako” by Bamboo, and it was priceless.
Without a doubt, this concert is a testament to David’s talent, one that’s important if appealing to the younger crowd is the point. It is as well a testament to Sugarfree’s musicality – the fact that they have songs that can be played around with by an orchestra, versus those that are too formula, too simple. More importantly, this highlighted Dancel’s vocal abilities, he whose voice draws you into their songs, which for the first time, sounded poetic to me.
All of these make Sugarfree Live! the album that it is and the concert that it was. Every other OPM band should want to have both in their lifetimes.