MANILA -- The mood inside 12 Monkeys at El Pueblo in Pasig City for Sugar Hiccup’s show was a dizzying mix of emotions.
For many of the folks who packed the rock club, there was elation and excitement as many of them have not seen the band in a few years, if not their heyday in the late 1990s. Word wafted around that this was the band’s last show but some hoped this was a mere rumor.
The clues, however, where there -- the show was on the penultimate day of the old year and the band’s new album was ominously titled "Closure."
The show was, in fact, a microcosm of the band’s career. In the post-Eraserheads explosion of the 1990s where bands left and right emerged with record deals, Sugar Hiccup slipped in like the day giving into the night. The power of their shows spread via word of mouth – of this Cocteau Twins-inspired quartet, yet with a frontwoman whose vocal alternated between the gossamer, spiraling, and operatic, and yet, gave way at times to a baritone counterpart that resulted in lovely and beautifully painful songs. That was Sugar Hiccup – an entrancing voice in the ether.
Sugar Hiccup brought a very British, 4 A.D. records feel to the “eksena” as it was called in the vernacular. Yet after two critically acclaimed albums, "Oracle" and "Womb" that took you to Neverland, to the stars, and to east of the sun and west of the moon, lead vocalist Melody Del Mundo left for the United States and the band was in a void.
Then like a welcome cool breeze on a hot summer day, Sugar Hiccup re-emerged with a new singer in Bea Alcala who brought an elfin charm to the new album, "Of Tongues and Thoughts." Just when it seemed like the journeys to imagination had been rejoined the band once more wafted into the ether.
The return of Del Mundo to the line-up, this time with new bassist, Iman Leonardo from free-form rockers Prank Sinatra, and a new album, generated excitement.
Around 8:30 p.m. on the night of December 30, only singer-guitarist Czandro Pollack hung around 12 Monkeys. Leonardo went home to pick up his wife. Panganiban went to a nearby eatery to meet up with some friends.
“I hope people show up,” hoped Pollack. It was the yearend and there were concerns if people who show up. There were still holiday parties to attend and the long Christmas vacation meant many people were out of town.
Then people started to trickle in past 9 p.m. including an off-duty San Juan policeman who had been a fan of the band for a while now and even performed with his own punk rock band in Manila-area clubs.
“This is history,” remarked the cop named Maverick who found his words somewhat ironic. “After this, they’ll be history.”
Many brought with them their old compact discs and cassettes.
It wasn’t merely that generation of alterna-kids who watched and grooved to the scene in the 1990s. There was a 25-year old who impressed Pollack outside the parking lot before the show when he produced cassettes of "Oracle" and "Womb" that he bought – sealed – from some shop a few years ago. He was a decade and change late but Sugar Hiccup had enthralled him.
When the opening acts – Dayaw, Alyana Lea Carmela, and Veronica and I (Prank Sinatra closed the show after Sugar Hiccup -- took the stage, 12 Monkeys was rocking. By the time Sugar Hiccup took the stage close to midnight, the venue was full to bursting.
Some of those '90s alternative scene luminaries – Sandwich’s Myrene Academia, Fatal Posporos and Cambio lead singer Kris Gorra, Sonnet 58’s Dale Marquez (now with US-based dream pop act Some Gorgeous Accident), Club Dredd owner Patrick Reidenbach, Prettier Than Pink’s Lei Bautista, and writer and massive music fan Erwin Romulo to name a few -- were present to witness the final show. Other musicians outside the front and encore acts spotted included We Are Imaginary lead singer Ahmad Tanji and Up Dharma Down bassist Paul Yap.
During the show, Del Mundo was hard-pressed to sing owing to a flu that robbed her of her usual energy after a quick jaunt to Hong Kong. Drummer Mervin Panganiban was likewise under the weather.
Yet the band gave it their best. They performed eight of the 10 songs from the new album and sang some old favorites. with Del Mundo only struggling to hit the high notes for the carrier single of "Closure," “Saturnine Nevermore,” and “Awa,” the first of the two-song encore. However, Del Mundo ended the 15-song and close to 80-minute show with a powerful performance on “Womb.”
And that was it.
No posing in front of the stage for a victory lap. No mournful soliloquy. After all, this isn’t a band that is given to sentiment. They performed the music they wanted, not to please anyone because it was what moved them. They recorded music as they wrote it and not because it was dictated to them by any record label. It was what they listened to when they were first putting up their bands.
As fan queued to a table for Del Mundo to sign their albums and merchandise, one asked the singer point-blank if this was indeed closure. The singer nodded with a pained smile.
They had their picture taken and the fan stepped out into the quiet morn. It was the last day of the old year and he has seen the last show of his favorite band.
Then the fan said, “Then this is closure for me too.”