Editor’s Note: The following are the liner notes for the limited-edition vinyl release of “The Jerks Live” (Backspacer Records), which sold out almost immediately after it was issued last year. (A 45-rpm single of early original songs was also quickly snapped up by local analog addicts.) To celebrate the band’s 44th anniversary, a more affordable CD version of “The Jerks Live” has since been released.
To catch lightning in a bottle, sometimes you just have to cross your fingers, raise your arms to the heavens, and hope for the best.
Gary Granada had the right idea when he decided to record the Jerks—the quintessential journeyman Pinoy rock & roll band—performing live during their regular Friday-night residency at the ’Bistro.
“The Jerks Live,” the resulting 1994 cassette-only release on Granada’s own Backdoor Records imprint, was for the longest time the only extant evidence of the band’s stage brilliance on record.
In some ways, it’s still the best, because onstage, in front of a raucous, engaged, mildly inebriated audience of true believers, was where the band really came alive.
“Once I get onstage, everything becomes a blur and I’m just playing,” Jerks frontman Alfredo “Chickoy” Pura Jr. would later reflect. “You have to be on your toes. It’s always touch and go.”
It’s this spontaneity, being totally in tune with the moment, the raw flame, the live wire, that made the Jerks’ club sets so incandescent.
At the peak
It doesn’t hurt that “The Jerks Live” captures the band at the peak of their powers.
By 1994, the Jerks had been on the road for 15 years, having started in 1979 as punk rock began to assault the local airwaves. Over the ensuing years, they honed their chops to a razor edge in a series of residencies including the legendary On disco, Olongapo City, and even Japan.
By the time the Jerks returned to Manila, they were battle-hardened rock & roll veterans.
Then as now, the band’s club sets consisted mostly of their interpretations of songs by the Rolling Stones, Joe Jackson, Steely Dan. But Pura had also begun to explore topical songwriting. His first essays in original composition, the singles “Romantic Kill” and “Big Deal,” were such short bursts of punk energy that dzRJ’s resident iconoclast, Howlin’ Dave, lost no time blasting them into the airwaves.
In 1989, the Jerks were invited to be part of Lokal Brown, a studio “supergroup.” Pura’s vocals took center stage on “This Is Not America,” the lead single of the debut album “This Is Lokal Brown.”
In the wake of the disillusionment that followed the 1986 Edsa revolt’s short-lived euphoria, however, his concerns turned increasingly toward the political.
Pura attended songwriting workshops by protest singers Jess Santiago and Granada, and joined Musicians for Peace, a human rights advocacy group. He contributed “Warning” to the landmark “Karapatang Pantao” compilation produced by the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace.
He also wrote “Reklamo ng Reklamo,” a sardonic putdown of the lingering colonial mindset that soon became a standard on the band’s live sets.
By this time, the Jerks were figureheads for the nascent alternative music scene, inspiring younger bands with their independent-mindedness and fierce work ethic.
“We were the link between the old guard of Pinoy rock and the alternative generation,” says Pura. “We kept the continuity.”
When Granada started recording them, the Jerks had already begun their decades-long residencies at Mayric’s and ‘70s Bistro. Though still playing covers, they began to liberally salt their sets with a brace of original compositions in both Tagalog and English, including a couple that, in a perfect world, would have been radio hits: “Reklamo ng Reklamo” and “Sayaw sa Bubog.”
In 1997, the Jerks were finally enticed into a proper recording studio by major label Star Records. The resulting album, “Haligi ng Maynila,” yielded another classic Pura composition in “Rage” and won best album in that year’s NU Rock Awards.
But the true spirit of the Jerks—rough edges, raw energy, warts and all—remains with “The Jerks Live.”
Fittingly, it is this crucial document that you are now holding in your hands, resurrected in a pristine vinyl pressing painstakingly overseen by the good folks at Backspacer Records.
And just in time for the Jerks’ 43rd anniversary, making them the longest continuously performing band in the country.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since “The Jerks Live” was first recorded. The band has weathered some storms: Adriano’s departure, Pura’s ongoing struggle with T-cell lymphoma, and, on top of it all, a global pandemic that has halted live performance for going on two years now.
Still, the Jerks soldier on.
As Pura so often sings, he won’t go gently into the night, but rage until the lightning strikes.
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