Sat, 11 Nov 2000

'Rockestra' concert adds new dimension to music

By Helly Minarti

JAKARTA (JP): Three super rock groups were given the same chance: forty five minutes onstage, an orchestra of 85 musicians and Erwin Gutawa, the arranger with the special touch who developed the idea.

Titled Rockestra, the event was staged at a glitzy venue, the Plenary Hall of the Jakarta Convention Center, and was packed with teenagers -- sometimes accompanied by their elders -- who spent Rp 80,000 to Rp 175,000 on a ticket.

The three -- Dewa, Slank and GIGI -- have been around for years on Indonesia's music scene and, between them, have recorded bags of hits.

"That's one of the reasons I chose them," said Erwin, who was inspired by Michael Kamen's orchestral treatment of Metallica concerts. Fundamentally, Erwin saw the trio as having a solid musical character -- something that comes with attitude.

"It has been proved to be the case. I really enjoyed working with them. They knew what they really wanted," he added, disproving the skeptical view that the rockers' egos could get in the way of the realization of his venture.

However, each band treated the opportunity differently as indicated by the end result onstage which probably reflected what was going on offstage.

GIGI, who performed last, lavished themselves with an comprehensive repertoire. They combined jam sessions and featured a mixture of their experimental numbers, such as Garis Lini with Acehnese rampai music, and some of their "mainstream hits" such as Janji and Terbang, bravely skipping their regulars like the sweet Yang T'lah Berlalu (Nirwana).

Their opening act was a hardcore number Basa Basi -- which rarely surfaces in their gigs -- taken from their early album. Lead singer Armand Maulana persisted with his overacting style (you can either like it or be appalled by it) and carried it off well.

Slank was a real surprise. They rode roughshod over the time limitation by featuring some songs in medley format. The result was that while the other two groups only managed to belt out less than 10 songs, Slank succeeded in singing at least a dozen of their long ones.

As the only group performing that night that has never used orchestras in their albums, Slank sounded rock-solid, applying their jamming concept where electric guitars collided in a musical conversation with the orchestra's violins and trumpets.

Their fanatical fans, Slankers -- who had earlier shown some signs of wanting to cause trouble -- responded to the group's lead singer Kaka's offbeat, down-to-earth stage act with tame head-banging, "piss" signs in the air (their trademark pun for "peace") and by dancing around the floor in a long row imitating a children "snake" game. Initially worried that their devoted "Slankers" would feel uncomfortable seeing their heroes in an air-conditioned hall, Slank seemed relieved to see that their fans remained laid-back, spontaneous and funky.

Kaka's rhetorical performance -- by cleverly engaging the audience in a word-playing game using one of the refrains from their song Pak Tani -- added to their reputation as a band with a distinct character.

These two groups did well, but Dewa -- the first act -- was puzzlingly disappointing. Churning out most of the new hits from their latest album, Bintang Lima, it turned out to be an echo of their promo tour.

With almost the same arrangement -- the orchestra only contained more musicians compared to their album version that was highlighted by only 12 string players -- their live sound was exactly the same as their records. No surprises. Not a real kick- off.

"We didn't have time to rehearse," said Dhani Ahmad of Dewa, surprisingly defensive. "Our touring schedule is tight and we were informed only 1 1/2 months ago," he added. Dhani is obviously trying to deal with a number of things at the moment -- a new album played by a new formation that ended a long drama in the media chronicling the band's comings and goings tainted by drug problems.

One of the new, key members is Michael Elfonda (Once), the frontman, who has to work hard building a new image as well as winning over Baladewa - the band's fans - after the departure of Ari Lasso, the original vocalist whose voice characterized Dewa's identity. Being whisked from gigs both in and out of town and video clip shooting, Dewa failed to use Rockestra as a showcase of their rock prowess.

It was such a waste given that Dewa could have presented a rich repertoire -- like the other two bands -- chronicling their years-long musical journey. Old hits such as Siti Nurbaya or Restu Bumi would guarantee a sneak peek at Erwin's occasional quirky touch on arrangement as shown when he handled Chrisye's or Harvey's special concerts. But it didn't happen.

Erwin said the two songs were in his first proposal to the group. "But Dhani said that they now have a concept of performing the way they sing in records. It's fine with me since I did want each band to carry an image of the way they project themselves, so that they could play happily."

But the bottom line was that it was simply Dhani being predictably practical, and still displaying his notoriously casual arrogance.

"Next time it should be Dewa performing alone. Now the most important thing is breaking the one million sales (of new albums) barrier in six months as we just did," he said.

So much for an attitude. It cost Rp 2 billion for Indocitra Satriasena, the promoter, to run Rockestra the way it did -- complete with lighting that went along with every song the way it is supposed to be. That figure was justified by the performances which were backed up by the acts of Achmad Albar, the keyboard duo of Rony Harahap and Jockie Suryoprayogo, and Nicky Astria -- rockers from 1970s and 80s. The three bands also composed a song together during rehearsals, Satu Cinta, Satu Bendera (One Love, One Flag -- the title was decided on after the show), and swarmed onto the stage to belt out the new tune.