“This is more than intimate,” said Cynthia Alexander before taking a second to tune her guitar in the middle of a set. Over the course of the night, she would repeatedly ask people what song they wanted to hear, a question that was often met with pleas for her to play her whole catalog.
The crowd was large and the rain failed as a deterrent. The cramped space that was filled to fire hazard levels was Conspiracy Cafe, a tucked-away venue that seemed more suited for a wedding reception than a performance space for a gig of such magnitude. Conspiracy couldn’t hold the entire audience; a chunk of the crowd hung out at the adjoining garden, finding solace in occasional peeks at the stage and the surplus sound that escaped through the walls. (Alexander asked people to move out to the garden and let unfortunate souls in after the first set, but nobody really wanted to give up their spot.)
The show for the night was a tentative farewell to Alexander, a touchstone of musical taste for everyone from dreadlock-wearing rastas to corporate types who experimented beyond love ballads in college. Her three albums, 1997’s
“Insomnia and Other Lullabyes,” 2000’s “Rippingyarns,” and 2005’s “Comet’s Tail,” are collections of artful songs that have gone unnoticed with mainstream audiences but are beloved by discerning listeners.
“Cynthia’s words and music have won the hearts and minds of a very loyal fan base, as you see, and that will continue to grow. Her powers as a singer-songwriter and musician are phenomenal,” said Johnny Alegre, Alexander’s band mate in eclectic supergroup Humanfolk. Alexander will continue recording with Humanfolk from afar and the band will schedule “milestone” gigs whenever she comes home for visits.
Set list with surprises
Alexander, who received a US visa through the recommendation of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the National Commission on the Culture and the Arts, will be moving to America’s primary location for flannel and overpriced coffee, Seattle, Washington. The gig, the second show in what has been dubbed “The Send-Off Series,” featured a career-spanning set list with a few surprises sprinkled in.
Lest there be a revolt, the hits were present. Alexander’s most recognizable song, “Comfort In Your Strangeness,” remains as charming as it was when it first came out in 1997. Jaunty numbers “You and I” and “Insomnia,” both fan favorites from long ago, brought to mind large outdoor gigs where Alexander would share the bill with popular nu metal bands (the word combination “popular” and “nu metal” is now as extinct as the dodo). Alexander also played a cover of the Beatles song “Blackbird,” a rendition that eased the pain caused by countless bastardized coffee shop versions.
Joey Ayala, Alexander’s brother, made an appearance as one-half of a duet on “Dumaan Ako.” The scene is how most imagine a lazy afternoon in the Ayala household would play out; a guitar rings with beautiful chords as vocal melodies permeate with love and loss.
Send-offs have a way of making one evaluate years in a span of time that is never enough. All anyone can ask for is that it would be more than intimate.