IN PHOTOS: Cody Simpson live in Manila 2015
MANILA, Philippines – Unshackled from the industry giants, Cody Simpson, the former teen idol is like an artist reborn – finally Free. The manufactured pop star is gone, and the raw and edgy singer-songwriter is in.
Cody’s new album Free – independently produced under his very own label, Coast House/Bananabeat Records – reflects a very different side of him. He told Rappler in an email interview, “Now that I am sailing my own ship, I’m a lot more confident in the music I am bringing into the world. It’s a lot more of myself.” (READ: Interview: Cody Simpson on music for change, John Mayer, PH show)
The soundscapes on Free are evocative – bringing to mind images of various far-flung but almost-familiar places: the beaches of Malibu or his native Gold Coast, the ragged American countryside, or whatever relaxed place comes to mind.
Cody described his music to Billboard as “acoustic rock, basically,” akin to his self-professed idols like John Mayer (who even acted as a sounding board on Free). He added, “It's mellow rock and obviously has tinges of reggae and tinges of western sort of spruced on top.”
Fresh off the release of his new album, Cody Simpson’s August 13 Manila concert felt like a breezy jamming session as he strummed his laid-back but gritty tunes on his guitar. Cody’s set was eclectic: he had his lighthearted serenades but also his eco-conscious statements. The show itself was no-frills; he just led his 4-piece band for a night of some fine rock ‘n’ roll, just as he promised.
Here are some moments that stuck with us:
1. Cody wasted no time to show off his brand new sound
From the get-go, Cody spared no time to brandish his revamped sound with a slew of tracks from Free.
Cody kicked the show off with the album’s eponymous single, which vividly represented his new direction. He told MTV it was about a girl he saw on Venice Beach who inspired something in him, “I [wanted] to write a song about a girl like that… about a girl who’s just so free and does whatever she wants.”
His entire set was mostly a showcase for Free, from which he sang fan favorites such as the lead single “Flower” and the show finale “New Problems.” But no other track than “Driftwood” has better described the new phase in his artistic career, “I gotta free my soul from the troubles of lately / Follow my heart wherever it takes me/ Let it flow on by like a piece of driftwood.”
2. Cody showed his nature-loving side
“When I write my music, I’m usually very much inspired by the world around me – the environment around me,” shared Cody.
Cody grew up surfing choice waves on the Gold Coast, one of Australia’s most biodiverse regions, so it seemed natural to hear Cody speaking passionately about the environment. He even told Rappler that he looks up to activist/songwriter Neil Young, who recently came out with a concept album lambasting the GMO corporation, Monsanto. “That really inspired me to create music to evoke change,” said Cody.
He shared that the seemingly playful “ABC,” apart from being an obvious Jackson 5 homage, has a conscious message behind it. A bee was circling around when he was just sitting on a hilltop in Malibu, California, and he thought, “I wonder what life would be like as that little bee right there.” It seemed silly and mundane at first, but there was an element of curiosity to it, as he said, “[I] did my research and realized that we actually wouldn’t survive on this Earth without the bees.”
The fans attentively listened as he shared the advocacy of his song “Wilderness,” his lament about the disastrous 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, whose effects are seen more than 40 years later. “I teamed up with the Surfrider Foundation to help raise awareness about clean up efforts – to help raise donations and all that. I think music is the best way on Earth to spread the message,” said Cody.
He urged the crowd, “I’d like to help further plant some sort of seed in your minds, before you leave tonight, about doing what you can every now and then – just doing the bare minimum to help […] preserve our beautiful earth.”
Cody drove his call to action further with a rendition of Bob Marley’s political anthem “Redemption Song.” Here, it could mean mustering the willpower to make a change. Fear nothing, as the song goes, “None but ourselves can free our minds.”
3. Cody serenaded the fans with his older songs
After Cody had performed several songs from Free, longtime fans appreciated the throwbacks to his early career.
The crowd was thrilled when Cody started singing “Sinkin’ In” from his sophomore album Surfer Paradise, but they were stirred up even more when he serenaded them with his Justin Bieber collab, “Home to Mama.”
4. Cody unleashed his inner Elvis Presley
Cody promised Manila a “rock ‘n’ roll show.” However, we didn’t expect that to literally mean a tribute to the heydays of the genre. We should’ve taken his t-shirt with an Elvis Presley print as a clue.
He twisted his hips, strutted the stage, and rocked on his guitar – channeling the cool and swagger of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. He did great justice to a medley of Blues standards: “Baby What You Want Me To Do,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” and “Hound Dog.”
5. Keeping it simple
Take it as a good sign when the artist is so deeply engrossed in playing his music, what seemed like sheer theatrics aren’t ostentatious at all.
Cody kept it simple. There were no embellishments or distractions. It was just he and his guitar, against a starry night-like backdrop.
He gave in to several flights of spontaneity. He showed off his guitar chops with his wailing-and-shredding solos. He splayed himself on the wide stage floor, knelt before his microphone stand, and closed his eyes – basking himself in the moment and losing himself to the soundscapes he created.
Were you at the concert? Let us know in the comments below. – Rappler.com
Paolo Abad is a film/television editor and motion graphic designer. He is also a self-confessed concert junkie. Follow his Instagram for live music @outoftunephoto