JUNE 10, 2019

Shut Up and Dance


From Good Charlotte to The 1975, live shows at Ayala Malls have defined a generation, becoming staples of the coming-of-age experience.

Every once in a while, I like to tell people that I once saw The 1975 perform live while I was having a cheeseburger.

It was in the outdoor area of Market! Market!, next to the tiangge and the animal-shaped topiary and the kid-sized ferris wheel. Only a couple hundred people had shown up, and my friends and I had been let into the barricaded area without passes. We bumped shoulders and sang along to “Heart Out” and I waved my hands in the air, one of them still holding my late lunch.

It was the beginning of summer, my last one as a teenager. The crowd was energetic and the band was incredible, yet there was actually room to dance and take a breath. There was an ease to it that I would never associate with a concert. Thinking back on it now, that cheeseburger, and Matty Healy strutting onstage to “Girls,” it’s almost surreal.

But then again, so is every other memory I have of an Ayala Malls concert.

I had just begun attending high school when free mall shows for artists like Vanessa Carlton and Colbie Caillat started taking place around Metro Manila — but I wasn’t aware of them until a friend invited me to the Boys Like Girls show in TriNoma. They happened often enough that they became unlikely markers of a specific era in my life, of those days when Fridays meant going to the mall after school to hang out at Timezone, or see the latest Harry Potter movie, or try new toppings on frozen yogurt. It’s just that sometimes, you just happened to catch Hellogoodbye performing their hit “Here (In Your Arms)” live at the activity center, and it felt like the most normal thing in the world.

When senior year rolled around, it proved to be a turning point, and not just in terms of things like growing up and carving out a future. I was at an age where the idea of music saving lives was more truth than hyperbole, and the bands you listened to became part of your identity. That summer — don’t laugh — I watched starry-eyed and breathless as Cobra Starship, at the time one of my top-five favorites, took the stage in TriNoma.

Later that year, my life bisected into before and after when the Ayala Malls LIV3 Tour took place, and I found myself 20 feet away from The Maine, whose then-latest album Black and White had pretty much been a soundtrack of my coming-of-age. It was because of this band that I had met strangers online who quickly became true-life companions. That was nine years ago, and over time these virtual buddies and I went from becoming friends because we loved the same things, to loving the same things because we’re very best friends. We’re not just keeping in touch — we’re in each others’ lives.

“…we were together, these once-in-a-lifetime moments tying us to each other for life, the way nothing else can and nobody else would understand. “

There would be more mall tours as the years passed. When I remember them, they take on a cinematic quality, like something out of Almost Famous: collecting drumsticks, setlists, and guitar picks; randomly running into band members at Glorietta; selling pins we’d made at a Good Charlotte show (and getting in trouble for it). Always, always, we were together, these once-in-a-lifetime moments tying us to each other for life, the way nothing else can and nobody else would understand.

It always felt a little strange, a little empty when the bands were gone and it was all over. “On the ride home I started to get sad,” I’d written in my journal the day after I saw The 1975. “I always do when great moments end and I get preemptively nostalgic.” Five years have passed since then, and while the nostalgia sometimes grows so big I can barely contain it, I’ve also done some growing of my own and I’ve figured out how to carry it just fine.

Things are different these days. I don’t listen to the same bands, of course. The mall tours don’t happen as often, or maybe that’s just because I don’t pay them as much attention as I used to. My friends and I like to joke that we’re “retired,” that we’ve outgrown it. But sometimes there would be mall shows for an artist I like, or at least one I’ve heard of, like Walk the Moon and Coin. And I’d come see them, because why not? It’s free, and the mall is right there.

I’d stand outside the barricades, and I wouldn’t scream or sing along quite as loudly as I did when I was younger, but I’d feel that specific, unnameable energy all the same — the anticipation, the rush of it. The insistent pulsing and certainty that always accompanied the guitars, and the feedback from the microphone, and the thousands of people who have gathered to share our voices and our elation and this experience that’s bigger than all of us.