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Return to the stage: Live music makes a comeback

By Karen Racelis Published Dec 24, 2021 5:00 am

When I review my diary entries over the past two years, I see a recurring theme: missing.

I miss people, places, and I am beginning to learn that I miss feelings as well. Among the sensations I have missed most is the pure adrenaline of jumping around in a concert hall and singing as loud as my lungs permit.

This year, music finally came back in live performances around the world. From behind my screen, I felt at one with each audience. We held our breath in sync as the percussion started up. We sang the lyrics. Together, we watched the stage lights dawn.

Now, ‘tis the season to look back at the wonderful gifts of music that graced the stage over the past year. Here are the four musical performances that I will look back to when I think of 2021 and the songs that came back on stage.

Best opener: Watermelon Sugar, Harry Styles

There are a handful of things I look for in an opener: the set, the lights, the vocals, and Harry Styles delivered it all for us on the 14th of March. Styles kicked off the 63rd Grammy Awards with a shimmering jazz rendition of Watermelon Sugar. The track comes from his 2019 album “Fine Line” which fetched nods for Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Pop Solo Performance, and Best Music Video.

As the stage lights flashed, I found myself back in sixth grade, when One Direction was just beginning to rise to fame. A decade later, I watched Harry command his first Grammy stage. Maybe growing up isn’t all bad, I remember thinking. Several elements made this the perfect opener, but let’s talk about that interlude! In the middle of his number, Harry grooved across the stage to the backdrop of Dev Hynes’ bass solo, generating understandably explosive reactions across Twitter.

Last, but definitely not least, we cannot mention this performance without talking about that vintage Gucci moment. A leather suit never looked so sharp, and I doubt I’ll be able to imagine Harry without that green feather boa any time soon.

Glow-Up of the Year: All Too Well (10 Minute Version), Taylor Swift

November was the busiest month of Sad Girl Autumn 2021. For Swifties, the month was particularly eventful. The release of “Red (Taylor’s Version)” kicked off a series of surprises as Taylor Swift hopped from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to Late Night with Seth Meyers, and finally to Saturday Night Live where she sang All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor's Version) (From The Vault). Never having been a single, the song is one of those rare pieces that climb the charts by the sheer power of the fans who anoint their favorite.

The evolution of All Too Well is made apparent by juxtaposition. This track’s five-and-a-half-minute cut got its debut performance back in 2013 during The Red Tour. Swifties would observe Taylor in tears at the piano, singing the bridge. Eight years ago, this track was a song of tragedy being sung by a girl still reeling from the crash. Flash forward eight years later to the SNL stage. We find Taylor, armed with her burning red guitar and standing with her band, singing the whole story with a triumphant smile.

My personal favorite bit happened just past the eight-minute mark as stage snow fell to mark the gorgeous imagery of “I still remember the first fall of snow and how it glistened as it fell.” Noting for future reference: perhaps one day, I will be able to tell my whole story too, and maybe even well.

Most kilig-worthy: Make You Feel My Love, Adele

That same November gave us Adele’s One Night Only concert and fourth studio album “30.” The tracklist from One Night Only was a mix of songs old and new. In the list was my all-time favorite Someone Like You and the debut performance of Easy on Me, but amid the glamour of a star-studded audience and a literal stargazing venue, the highlight of the evening revolved around two people whose lives would change forever. Here’s how that went down.

There is no better time to pull out all the stops than during a proposal. A champ named Quentin Brunson did exactly that, enlisting no less than Adele for his proposal to girlfriend of seven years Ashleigh Mann. As the stars climbed, Quentin knelt, declaring: “There is absolutely nothing you cannot do, and I know that you’re gonna be an amazing mother to our kids one day... I love you, and I will continue to love you forever,” before popping the big question.

Excuse me while I sob! Ashleigh said yes to thunderous applause from the audience, and Adele came out of the dark to sing her cover of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love. The newly engaged couple sat front row to hear Adele’s earth-shattering vocals, setting quite a standard for proposals here on out. Amid global tragedy, music found a way to mark this declaration of hope for the future.

Favorite holiday feels: Pasalubong, Ben&Ben ft. Moira dela Torre

Back home, we ended the year with the Ben&Ben online concert Kuwaderno. Filmed at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, the December concert took the lineup that source album “Pebble House Vol 1: Kuwaderno” boasted. As a Ben&Ben x Moira Dela Torre fan, my favorite part was the performance of Pasalubong.

The song’s allusions to distance translated themselves into that set. Mimicking our cooler pre-Christmas air, the stage turned blue and pink. The stream zoomed out to reveal the band spread out on the ground and Moira on that makeshift balcony — Juliet-esque, with vocals to match a humble elegance. Their lyrics painted images of that delicate line between friends and more-than-friends.

Yours truly, ever the resident romantic, just had to sway along to “Kaibigan o kaya bang mag-ibigan? Kung kapiling ka na, hindi na sasayangin pa. Aaminin ko na...” from my dim bedroom. I still missed the crowd, the heat, and the deafening screams accompanying the final bow, yet as I sang along, an odd determination began pacing in my mind. It whispered that I must keep my strength until I experience the magic of live music in person again.

That promise is one that I find myself holding on to, so here is where I sign off. To you who are reading this, may you keep singing the songs that your heart sings and may the season bring you your deepest hopes and wishes.