Rubberband's User-Friendly CD Review
Sweet Hysteria on a Suburban Block Party
By Pasckie Pascua
All songs written by G. lnocentes
Produced by Rubberband and Steve Rosen
1997 Original Tape: Executive Producer: P.M.P.
2005 Re-Issued On CD: Executive Producer:
THERE’S AN INSISTENT mix of sidestreet laughter, wounded valentines, and subversive romanticism in Gino lnocentes’ songs but these are not the kind that you hear in a nicotine-drowned downtown open mic or on a Friday night AM radio. Despite the accessibility of his tunes’ melodicism, and the illuminating simplicity of his words, this prolific songweaver’s genius doesn’t border on high-handed populist histrionics, but on a very introspective, very intimate, person-to-person musical astuteness and brevity.
Simply put, lnocentes’ music is mass-oriented but not necessarily universal. His songs are not going to coax the world to shake their booties or prod the working class to launch into a maddening growl, but no doubt – these gems of pop-rock sorcery stand more chances at igniting sweet hysteria on a suburban block party, period. It’s all about village-level, basement dalliances on a hot August night. Nothing heavy but it’s pure, unadulterated fun—from dusk till dawn.
Most Popular Pinoy Combo in NY
No buts about it, Rubberband – vocalist/guitarist Gino, bassist Ricky Tarriela, guitarist Warren Daya, and drummer Rommel de Leon – are your straight-down, no-chasers, bottoms-up musical embodiments of Pinoy-in-America community. The infectious Beatles-friendliness of their tunes can easily entice 20 hits an hour at a corner store jukebox, but that’s not the real kick behind this trio of longtime Queens and Staten Island homeboys… Their magic lies on the rough-textured exclusivity, or local-ness, and oft-times aching subjectivity of the songs; deeply personal, unabashedly intimate, but very pleasing to the senses. That’s what matters.
That, I believe, is the foremost reason why Rubberband remains as the most popular, most effective, most sought-after all-originals Pinoy rock combo in New York City and north New Jersey. The ever-growing mass of supporters and fans who troop to their shows definitely expect to boogie-till-they-drop while chanting in ear-splitting unison each syllable and consonant of the songs – all no-holds-barred paeans to immigrant woes, neighborhood camaraderie, “tampuhan ng mag-syota,” and “barkadahan” spicks and specks.
Provocation and Pleasure
Rubberband’s newly-reissued “User Friendly” CD, resurrected from Gino’s basement locker for almost five years—courtesy of executive producer and new manager Ed Sunico—articulates the above reading. This collection of lovable lnocentes originals (except for one) is not for the self-deprecating loner or hard-nosed intellectual; absolutely not a recommended fare for politically-correct, gender-sensitive flag-bearers.
However, that doesn’t mean this package is lacking in new-world humanity or everyday-people sensibility. It could be the most honest, most sincere pop-music journal entries that I’ve encountered in years… beyond Manila, of course.
“User Friendly” is all about connection, straightforward communication link, “tomaan sa tindahan.” These dudes are the kind of kanto boys that harmlessly pester your ears with confectionary mischief, rife with sugary melodies and goosebump-inducing lyricism, at the end of a workday. But that’s okay—I repeat, they’re not heavy, they’re only your brothers…
Where most popsters rely on the oft-exploited albeit very effective Lennon-McCartney school of rock `n roll subtlety, Rubberband’s garage-textured chic and menacing backbeat that approximate raw Manila Sound tease and jerk, and grunge rock mayhem negotiate way beyond Brit-pop atmospherics – into a territory where pop rock can be about sheer provocation and downright pleasure. This triumvirate can easily fake a drunken, stoned-out melodramatic fit and gets away with it though that would make lesser talents sound awfully amateurish, if not silly.
Streetcorner Pop Dirges
Easily, the four most-loved and oft-requested tunes in “User Friendly,” as well as in Rubberband’s club gigs and concert engagements are “Pag-ibig,” “Alam Mo Ba?” “Lagnat,” and “Kupal.” Which effortlessly makes this set a sort of “Greatest Hits” album.
Inocentes’ tuneweaving savvy comes in exquisitely hushed ache, as usual embedded on post-puberty playfulness, in the lilting sonata “Pag-ibig”—effortlessly backstopped by guest musician (and producer) Steve Rosen’s seductive keyboards. “Alam Mo Ba,” featuring Tarriela and de Leon’s hammering tumbling-dice rhythm section – counterpointing Gino’s mischievous singing – usually kickstarts the band’s sing-along fervor on their gigs. The crowd pretty much knows what’s next…
What’s next is, of course, the unmistakably naughty flair and punchy vocal chorus of “Lagnat.” Then there goes “Kupal,” a punk-rock anthem ably swooned by Rosen’s beautifully skewed wah wah guitar and Tarriela’s robust bass grooves.
The rest of the songs are characteristically lnocentes' chuckle and groove, flailing streetcorner pop dirges that somehow gave voice to, say, Queens and Staten Island’s Pinoy youths of this synthetic generation of iPods, balikbayan boxes, and low-riders. Rubberband isn’t going to wax Shakesperean over lost loves and stuff but they do have corny dreams, too, that manage to hit target, as Gino moons (“Gusto na kitang pakasalan, sabi mo, tiis muna…“) in “Kampana ng Ice Cream.” Believe it or not, that line works pretty good… even in downtown Manhattan on an unforgiving winter night. While their past Manila counterparts, The Eraserheads, made cussing a subliminal jab versus conformity, Rubberband makes fun of that flailing punch with sheer adolescent mischief, especially in “Kumustahan” (“Kumusta na ang tropa, madalas pa ba kayong humihitit ng marihuana? Kung ako ay okay lang, may combo kasi akong mapaglilibangan…”). You don’t castigate kids who speak to you like that… you just leave them alone, they’re allright.
Almost all of the more significant Pinoy rockers in New York City have somehow graced or grooved—or participated—in one way or the other in many a-Rubberband or lnocentes' recording foray or neighborhood gig. For “User Friendly,” it was Bong Magaso’s (his skittering riff gave color and hues to Rosen’s wah-wah ministrations in “Kupal”) and Daisy Chain’s Ted Cacanindin’s (backup vocal chores to at least three cuts) turn to jam in.
“User Friendly’s” ten cuts were written eleven years ago. At that time, lnocentes has already penned more than 150 songs.