‘The Grandma Tour’ marks Unique Salonga’s coming of age

Emil Hofileña

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‘The Grandma Tour’ marks Unique Salonga’s coming of age
The 18-year-old singer-songwriter follows a strong debut album with a no-nonsense first concert, showcasing his musicianship and his penchant for mystery.

The major takeaway from Unique Salonga’s first solo concert, held on September 29 at the Kia Theatre, is that the boy is here to work. 

The 18-year-old musician’s path to stardom has been quick and dramatic, but he made it clear during his Saturday night show that he doesn’t want us to think about his age or his split from his last band, IV of Spades. Throughout his hour-long set, Unique left little room for banter or theatrics, focusing on playing all 12 songs from his debut album, Grandma, plus a couple of surprise additions. All he really needed to do that night was play some good music, and he succeeded.

Unique has proven himself a serious, professional artist with conviction and something to say.

But before anything else: it’s good that the young singer-songwriter’s set was actually good because fans were made to wait until around 10 PM (two hours after the time indicated in the concert’s promotional materials) before being able to see Unique on stage.

Prior to his performance, the event had become an unexpectedly lengthy affair, with obligatory giveaways from the show’s sponsors, and three opening acts. To their credit, the featured artists all offered something interesting as well. Folk-pop musician Rice Lucido, blue-eyed soul singer Earl Generao, and pop-punk band Bita and the Botflies collectively represented their label, O/C Records — to which Unique is also signed — as a place for talents who might not necessarily be interested in making traditionally radio-friendly music.

With such a diverse lineup, it becomes disappointing in retrospect to consider how The Grandma Tour was marketed so heavily as just a showcase for Unique, with barely any mention of the other artists. It also becomes strange to see how often director GB Sampedro shared the marquee for the concert, given how nonexistent his direction was throughout the set.

Sure, there were lighting cues and visuals projected onto the screens behind Unique, but none of it felt necessary.

Several cryptic videos played at the beginning, featuring eerie images and Unique’s voice, also didn’t do much to set the stage for the concert to come. All of these flourishes were ultimately little more than distractions obscuring an artist who seems wholly uninterested in excess and mythmaking.

Photo courtesy of O/C Records

Unique finally emerged at 10 PM — sporting shoulder-length hair and a suit and tie — and began his set with the tracks “M,” “Cha-Ching!” “I’ll Break Your Little Heart,” and “Jules.”

This was a strong opening salvo that showed off the musician’s control, with consistent falsettos and vocal runs mirroring the master recordings on Grandma almost perfectly. This wasn’t the kind of concert for wildly different interpretations and arrangements of songs; Unique’s album had just come out two months prior, after all, and the songs are still fresh as they are.

This night was all about Unique proving his chops live.

Anyone who had gone to a IV of Spades gig (back when Unique was its frontman) knows that the guy can live up to his recordings. But what many fans at the Kia Theatre might not have expected was how much softer and introspective a solo Unique concert would turn out to be.

As he continued with “Paalala:” “Goodnight Prayer,” and “OZONE (Itulak ang Pinto),” the concert really began to take a tone of its own. There was little space to dance during the performance, even as “OZONE” saw the emergence of a disco ball with a Halloween pumpkin-like smile etched into it. This music, simply put, serves a different purpose. It’s more intimate, and Unique had somehow managed to make Kia Theatre feel much smaller.

After performing a cover of The Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog,” and “Apoy ng Kandila,” the concert took an emotional turn during Unique’s performance of “My Old Friend.” Generally perceived by fans as a sort of breakup song between Unique and his former bandmates, it adopted a decidedly less bitter tone this time around. If one could remember, at the very beginning of the concert, during one of the aforementioned cryptic videos, Unique could be heard describing the album as a product of anger that has since simmered down. So “My Old Friend,” one of the more pointed songs on Grandma, felt just a little sadder than usual.

Unique himself made no verbal confirmation of the song’s meaning, but he did something infinitely better: from the ending of “My Old Friend,” he transitioned straight into a solo acoustic rendition of IV of Spades’ “Mundo,” arguably the band’s most popular song.

Amid the audience’s screams and singing along, this version of “Mundo” felt like the furthest thing from an act of pettiness or resentment. Standing alone under a spotlight, Unique seemed to be affirming his roots, paying respect to both the group that got him on his feet, and the fans who have kept him standing, even after everything.

Still, even with this tender moment (followed by equally tender performances of “Sino” and lead single “Midnight Sky”), Unique wasn’t about to end the concert on a sentimental note. Toward the end of his final song — the dark and ominous “We Know,” which ends with the lyric “We know there’s something wrong” — he stumbled over his electric guitar’s cord, which clattered to the floor. The backing band still playing, Unique bent down to plug his instrument back in, then played the song’s final lick.

And without so much as a nod to the audience, he laid the guitar down and walked off stage.

Photo courtesy of O/C Records

The Grandma Tour was many things: a showcase of O/C Records’ various talents, a statement of independence from Unique, and a clarification of his intentions as recorded in the lyrics of Grandma. But it wasn’t meant to have a definitive or perfectly satisfying conclusion.

With a final note of uncertainty in the air, Unique let us know that his story is far from finished—and we’re excited to hear more of it. – Rappler.com

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