“Limang dekada pa!” That was the battle cry of Boboy Garovillo and Jim Paredes, better known as the Apo Hiking Society, during the opening number of the group’s 50th anniversary concert on Nov. 25, 2023 in Tambuli Seaside Resort and Spa.
The show kicked off with an opening scroll in the LED screen summarizing the history of Apo while the live band performed an instrumental medley of its songs. Boboy and Jim then entered the room pushed in wheelchairs and into a skit that poked fun at their age.
In just their second song “Ewan,” the crowd immediately lit up with smiles on their faces and phones up in the air to capture the moment, as the entire ballroom sang along to the famous chorus lines of “mahal kita / mahal kita / hindi ’to bola.” More familiar hit songs elicited the same enthusiastic audience approval and participation including “Blue Jeans,” “Yakap Sa Dilim,” “Batang-bata Ka Pa,” “Panalangin,” “When I Met You” and “Nakapagtataka,” to name a few.
Carrying on as a duo sans the late Danny Javier must have been a daunting task for Apo, especially in a Cebu setting. After all, the Bisaya-speaking Javier had deep Cebu ties, having studied here. Moreover, Javier was universally recognized to be the funniest one of the trio. Yet, the duo pulled it off and won the Cebuano audience. They tastefully navigated Javier’s absence by dedicating “Awit Ng Barkada” to him, as his images flashed on the screen.
Drawing from his maternal roots, Boboy would sometimes speak in Bisaya while repeatedly referring to Cebu as Apo’s “second home.”
To the surprise and delight of the appreciative crowd, Apo dusted off a rarity “Softly.” It was introduced as the song the Cebuanos embraced the most when the group first performed here in 1974. Five decades on, the song still drew a tremendous applause. Another special treat audiences got was “Tuloy Na Tuloy Pa Rin Ang Pasko,” in celebration of the Christmas season.
Host venue Tambuli, a SunStar Best of Cebu winner, definitely under-promised on pre-show cocktails and over-delivered with a heavy buffet of gastronomic choices. Freshly grilled shawarmas, mini-pizzas, shrimp cocktails, pulled-pork sandwiches and chocolate-dipped churros were just some of the culinary delights available to be paired with free-flowing fruit punch and red wine. With their stomachs full, the concert-goers were now in an ideal mood to be receptive to the music and stories of Apo.
Part of the charm of an Apo concert had always been the storytelling and humor between songs. Boboy and Jim delivered in spades to an engaged and attentive crowd. Even the musicians onstage were captivated by Apo’s rapport with their audience as they were caught laughing at the jokes and even taking photos and videos with their phones from the stage.
As the pioneers of OPM (Original Pinoy Music), Apo are generally resistant to playing other people’s songs. They made an exception by performing a broken version of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” that served as their comedic take on the evolution of music formats and its deficiencies, such as: the pop of a vinyl record, the time anomalies of warped cassette tapes, the skips of a compact disc and the digitization of songs. All those sounds were recreated live by the onstage musicians.
There were other memorable musical numbers. The audience was left mesmerized when Apo performed a one-minute sped-up medley summary of all the songs they had done up to that point of the show just to give a recap to the concert latecomers. A laugh trip was elicited when a song was performed with so many breaks and missed bars to recreate a choppy, mute-to-unmute effect of experiencing music from a revolving door.
Traditional Filipino folk songs were done to the melody of contemporary Western pop songs. Then after an absurd back-and-forth on what constitutes a medley, Apo went on to sing a medley of their famous hits that they could not perform in full during the show.
The intricate musical arrangements which included seamless medleys, music breaks and countless tempo changes were an indication of the preparation, practice and professionalism put in by the backing band led by the creative genius of musical director Bond Samson, who also played main keyboards.
Apo expressed its gratitude to their musical entourage who the group individually introduced: drummer Lawrence Nolan, guitarist Noel Santiago, bassist Colby dela Calzada, keyboardist Jay Agustin, and backup singers Camille Johnson and Juliene Mendoza. These musicians definitely earned and deserved their props.
Boboy teased that it would not be an Apo concert without a political statement. Jim had been known to be the most politically vocal but in recent years his choices did not align with that of the election results in Cebu. Given that there were also politicians in the crowd, Apo may have been mindful to carefully navigate this part of their show.
So instead of bringing up a political skit or monologue, Apo said they will deliver their statement through their song “Tanggapin Mo Kung Gusto Mo,” which is somewhat about staying true to oneself and one’s convictions. It was a universally acceptable premise regardless of where one belongs in the political spectrum.
As the concert was winding down, Apo greeted an audience member who was celebrating her 86th birthday. They proceeded to ask for a show of hands on who were “Apo virgins” seeing them for the first time. Among the young hands that went up was that of my wife, Crystal.
“I really enjoyed it because their music represents the Filipino voice. They write and sing about our cultural identity, traditions, stories, and social issues that connect us on a deep level, young or old, new fan or not,” said Crystal after this, her first Apo show.
After renewing their mutual love affair with their Cebu audience, Apo continues to grow its multi-generational fan base 50 years into its career. Their battle cry of “limang dekada pa!” that kicked off its show is not that far-fetched after all. Its music and legacy may go beyond that and outlive everyone.