“Approved na yung budget, walang revisions,” President Aquino was overheard telling some Cabinet members after having dinner at Rasa and Sachi restaurant, a few minutes before he entered Smart Araneta Coliseum to watch singer Dionne Warwick’s concert on Tuesday night.
Whatever “budget” okayed without alterations he was referring to, Aquino was a picture of ebullience—smiling and chatting with his companions but with no date as he stepped outside the restaurant to have a smoke after a dinner of sukiyaki, ebi tempura, tuna sashimi, eel and US tenderloin steak.
Inside Rasa and Sachi—which is owned by the Araneta clan—sat Interior Secretary Mar Roxas with a group of friends. At a nearby table were other Cabinet officials including Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles. Also spotted were Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman.
Most of them likewise accompanied the President the last time he went to the Big Dome in October 2012 to catch the gig of 1970s group America.
Security was tight inside the restaurant, although a few diners, like Jacqueline Inductivo, daughter of former Social Security System Senior Deputy Administrator Hector Inductivo, and ophthalmologist Noel Jusay Lacsamana, managed to have their photos taken with the President.
Only a day before, Aquino delivered his nearly two-hour fourth State of the Nation Address and was apparently stealing a few hours chilling out.
At Smart Araneta Coliseum, Aquino occupied one of the seats at Lower Box 201, the section usually reserved for VIPs who want to enjoy a show without attracting attention since it is located at the back rows on the opposite side of the stage.
The show opened with Tavares, an American R&B/soul group that scored a number of hit singles in the 1970s. Originally composed of six brothers and now down to four members, Tavares nonetheless had the crowd cheering its repertoire, a mix of disco and soul ballads: “More Than a Woman,” “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel,” “Hardcore Poetry.”
Classic soul act
The group’s energy was infectious—its song-and-dance routine recalling the classic soul act of the 1960s—never mind if it performed only with a minus-one (prerecorded backing tracks).
There was hushed silence when Warwick walked onstage. She had difficulty speaking, her voice sounding gruff like that of Louis Armstrong. She stroked her throat after opening her show with “Heartbreaker,” obviously trying to explain why she seemed to be in bad shape.
Brushing aside whatever worries the audience might have at that point, Warwick avoided making an apology and instead remarked, in proud diva fashion: “I’m gonna give every ounce of what I can give that you deserve…”
But what followed were rather lame versions of “Wave,” “Waters of March” and other samba songs—the five-piece band deliberately playing softly to avoid drowning out Warwick’s weak vocals.
Say a little prayer
The band—John Robert Shrock (piano), Renato Pereira (percussion), Dan DeMorales (bass), William Hunter (keyboards), and Jeffrey Lewis (drums)—was actually Warwick’s saving grace. Faced with the enormous challenge of backing up a singer who could embarrass herself by going out of tune at any given moment, the guys anchored every song with grace and elegance, allowing Warwick to sail through them without much effort.
It was almost pathetic to hear her rapping some of the lyrics to “Do You Know the Way to San Jose”; and her jazz improvisation on “I Say a Little Prayer for You” was a bit inappropriate.
But the heavens, which had been pouring out a steady rainfall all day, must have taken pity on Warwick, because her voice started regaining some of its legendary silkiness and texture in the rest of the numbers.
The audience swooned as she sang “Alfie,” “Walk on By,” “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and other immortal hits that the Burt Bacharach-Hal David songwriting team composed for her.
There were moments when Warwick let the crowd sing lead vocals, perhaps out of fear that she would lose her breath.
It turned out that she had spent the previous night partying at Bonifacio Global City to celebrate the birthday of one of her musicians, according to a source who had direct knowledge of the occasion. “Wala pang tulog ’yan (She hasn’t had enough sleep),” the source added.
At age 72, Warwick is not exactly a superwoman who can party all night and still be in excellent shape to sing 17 songs in concert. She almost made us cringe, although there were flashes of the old, brilliant Dionne that the world adores.
Yet, Aquino and company obviously had fun, as they applauded heartily when the house lights went on after the show.