While not filled to the brim with mystery as last time, the lineup at this edition of The GoMad Festival was interesting and so was the approach the organizers had decided to take. This time bands had one-hour slots with half-hour soundchecks between performances! As the morning chill dissipated slightly on Day 1 with the arrival of the tardy and patchy sun, the festival kicked off with the rather interesting band from Chennai.
The F16s were a perfect pick-me-up for people who made it to their set at the Blubaloo stage at 11 a.m. While we weren’t surprised that they claim to gain influence from bands like The Black Keys, The Arctic Monkeys, Jet and The Strokes they do manage to make it interesting. ‘Nuke’ was played early on in the set and while it is one of their lesser catchy tunes, it served well as a prelude to the sort of sound we were to hear and boy, were we impressed. They went through their set with ease and minimal banter and the smattering of a crowd was visibly enjoying. ‘My Shallow Lover’ is a real body jerker, by which we mean it makes you twitch in time with its cutesy rhythm and slightly incomprehensible lyrics – a requirement in this sort of musical corner, we think. ‘Light bulbs’ is a really interesting song as well and all in all we were the better for staying throughout the band’s set that morning. They were our dark horse for the day. What a great start!
In our elephantine memory, Girish and the Chronicles has never disappointed and if they ever manage to in the future, it’ll be a dark day indeed. They were the first band on the Calaloo stage and they set the bar real high. The weather and everything synced to create a wonderful atmosphere that the band thrived in – playing originals and covers with very apparent ease. Girish did jokingly comment that he was reluctant to play his own originals because they were “too hard to sing”. Led Zep and AC/DC covered to perfection on a beautiful Friday morning at a hill station – you couldn’t ask for much more.
The Down Troddence, Bangalore/Kerala based Groove metal band, the first metal band of the festival of the six lined up in total, took the Blubaloo stage next. The festival , which had just one metal act (Kryptos) last year, had decided to cater better to metalheads by adding more metal bands to the roster. We believe that listening to some great metal in the morning is the best way to wake up and stay awake, and TDT delivered in spades. With tracks like ‘KFC’ and ‘Muck Fun Mohan’ (go back and read that again), they set the foundation for what was to be an amazing day. One song that stood out in particular was ‘Naagavalli’, a track named after Malayalam actress Shobana’s titular character from the thriller Manichitratazhu. Incidentally, Shobana and her dance troupe would be the last act we would see at the Festival. TDT ended their set with crowd favorite ‘Shiva’ and we hastily made our way through the woods to catch De’Sat who up next at the Calaloo.
Though it was still quite early in the day for heavy music, De’Sat, Bangalore-based Prog metal group, did not seem to show that in the least bit, brimming with energy from the first track ‘Run Too’, an arabesque tune with generous helpings of heavy guitar riffs. Another track that stood out was ‘Power’, which had Srikiran doing some amazing work behind the drums. Their set also included a well-executed cover of Lamb of God’s ‘Laid to Rest’.
Meanwhile, Blubaloo was occupied by Sean Roldan and Friends. They are yet another act emerging out of Chennai that has a folksy Tamil soul with generous dollops of western instrumentalization layered on top. The music’s infectious, likeable and something that can easily be a crowd puller. Their set though, was fairly early, and at the outset didn’t have much of a crowd to really build the kind of madness that one has come to expect from them. The jazzy, funky, basswork of Mani fits in brilliantly with Praveen’s percussive section and provided a solid rhythm section for improvisation on the slide as well as Sean aka Raghavendra’s impressive vocals. An attempt to infuse some rap into proceedings began interestingly but ended up crowding the sound and messing the vibe up. ’Mayakura Poovasam’, probably their most popular song was by far the pick of the setlist with an encore being performed once the crowd had built up. Other picks for this writer included ‘Inbai Velai’ and ‘Mandira’, which had a nice old Tamil film song vibe to it. All in all, it was an interesting setlist that could have used a little more energy from the performers as well as the audience.
There were more amazing riffs to be unleashed at the Calaloo as Blind Image, a Chennai-based Groove metal band, was up after De’Sat. They got right into it with ‘Paroxysm’, a track which shows off frontman Noble Luke’s ability to growl almost endlessly. They were very tight and were performing as one unit, which did not come as a surprise really. ‘Glitch in the System’, a socio-political number, saw Noble using the delay on his vocals to great effect, aided by Siva on bass wielding a Spector bass. Our usual metalhead refrain of ‘Needs more double bass and guitar solos’ didn’t apply because we just didn’t feel that way with Blind Image. They felt just right. For the next track, ‘More Than Human’, Noble showed us that he could actually sing clean vocals quite well. As you may gather from the title this track was about Transhumanism (the first time we are ever using this word), quite a deep subject, and had some great lyrics as well.
Over at the Blubaloo, Clown with a Frown were all set to be a whirlwind of energy. Their energetic vocalist can pack a punch with her voice and her onstage presence. They made a slumbering audience rise and march to the frontlines unasked and it was all thanks to Abby who was pushy enough to be cute and didn’t overdo it. CWAF played it old school. They played their hearts out and the audience automatically gravitated towards the front. They had a four-piece brass section playing with them and that only served to enhance their already sharp, tight sound. OCs ‘Cool Machine’, ‘Escape’ and ‘Dirty Paradise’ warmed the crowd up plenty and just when another original, ‘Dreams’, was getting interesting, the sound cut out. The band continued playing and earned several esteem points because they didn’t miss a beat. The vocalist even got the crowd to sing along! ‘Groove Machine’ is by far their most entertaining song; the chorus hits the nail on the head and the well-timed break before the catchy bassline really shows practiced timing and a genuine interest in being entertaining. They ended with a couple of covers – Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ and James Brown’s ‘I Feel Good’.
Blues Conscience were over at Calaloo. Dressed in dapper matching suits with top-hats to boot, the Chennai-based band were the first blues band to grace Calaloo on Day 1. Their set was a mixture of blues standards and originals, mostly taken from their debut album Down and Dirty (and were mostly about sex). They played a cover of ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ with some improv’d lyrics about drummer Neil Smith thrown in for good measure. ‘Morning After’, a song about well…the morning after, was next. Vocalist Anek claimed that people usually had sex after watching a BC gig, though empirical data from this writer suggests otherwise. Their OCs revisited standard blues tropes but they did so with some panache and verve. Cream’s ‘Strange Brew‘ segued into a Buddy Guy song before they performed the not-so-subtle ‘Big Bamboo’ which was about what you’d usually see in your email’s spam folder. The song was choc-a-block with bad euphemisms but provided the crowd a chance to giggle at the groan-worthy anatomical references. Anek even walked amongst the audience making impromptu verse about a few male members’ (no pun here) shortcomings. Innuendo!
Parvaaz is a band that is quickly becoming the talk of town. Their brand of Kashmiri/Urdu psychedelia has found several followers and for good reason. At the Blubaloo right after CWAF, Parvaaz began with a longish sound check (as did several other acts to be honest). Vocalist Khalid’s power was apparent right at the outset with ‘Marika’. A constant throughout Parvaaz’s set was Fidel’s understated, steady and solid bass playing that fit in tightly with Sachin’s kick drum. Crowd favourite ‘Itne Arse ke Baad’ followed with quite a few people singing along. The sound mixing was horrible though (to be fair, the mixing was off the mark for most of the acts), and Sachin’s delicate touches on the otherwise excellent ‘Long Song’ were barely audible. Parvaaz’s shortish set list ended with a song off of their upcoming album. All in all, Parvaaz have been evolving with every gig we’ve seen, and the rhythm section is particularly strong. While the textures added by Kashif’s bluesy guitar playing and other ambient guitar sounds are interesting, a strong sound system, probably aided by a sound dude at the console who understands the intricacies of Parvaaz’s sound may just do the trick in the future.
A neat little coincidence – Blues Conscience had an ad-libbed verse in ‘Big Bamboo’ (yes, that song) about a ‘lady in black’ in the crowd. She happened to be the gorgeous Tanya Nambiar who was the vocalist of Delhi-based alt rockers – Gravy Train, the next band on stage. Ironically they began their set with a song called ‘I Don’t Want to Be Here’. GT played a couple of covers as well – a sultry version of The Police hit ‘Roxanne’ as well as a misfired rendition of Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ during which the guitars were totally off. ‘Money Man’ – an original, lead to some self-effacing humour and Delhi jokes from the bassist Akshay. One noticeable aspect of the band was that their live act seemed manufactured which also, in our opinion, contributed to the lack of “tightness” of their sound. They played a few more lackluster originals to close out their set. Fizzle.
“All the good bands are from Chennai, man!” – overheard at MAD. One wouldn’t disagree after Grey Shack’s powerful performance. This 4-piece from Chennai turned it up all the way to 11 in their noisy set at Blubaloo. Drawing from influences such as AC/DC and Jet, Grey Shack believe in pure, unadulterated rock. Driven by Vikram Vivekanand’s riffs, GS bought the house down with great arena-rock originals such as ‘She Bites’, the Hunter S Thompson inspired ‘Gonzo’ and also ‘Beautiful Man’, which had a neat little reggae bridge. Beyond the halfway mark, their songs did get repetitive with similar sounding chord structures and vocal lines. Their set infused some energy, which the audience carried forward till the night’s end. I hope no whammy bars and wah-wah pedals were harmed during this gig.
After the success of their single ’You Say’, Black Letters, an energetic post punk/alternative band from Kerala has generated a lot of attention and curiosity. The sun had already set a few minutes ago, and the early dusk was rife with anticipation. The band seemed to already have garnered a large following, and these fans were cheering right from the start of the short set. Black Letters’ music is distinctly new American, with vocals delivered in flawless style, true to their chosen genre. The sound, however, was below par, but they managed to do a tight and entertaining set. Watch out for their album launch, which they claim is around the corner.
Of all the acts on Day 1, the most incongruous was probably 1001 Ways. Helmed by an a kindly looking gentleman named Tobias Huber with impressively tweaked facial hair and an almost incomprehensible accent, we didn’t know what to expect when he came onstage at the Blubaloo. Sean Roldan and Friends and were playing with him and that tempered things for the positive slightly but all that went away quickly. To expect technical proficiency from this bad – or lyrical prowess for that matter – is folly. You could tell from Tobias’s beatific smile that this band was more about the message – spreading peace, love and (non-musical) harmony – than the music. To be fair, it did make for an eclectic mix of the tabla, the drumset and the layering of the violin over it, not to mention some very interesting plaintive violin solos. The song ‘Gandhi’ boasts a backing track of the Mahatma’s voice and had some nice elements of world music as did the other songs but the simplistic lyrics, unimpressive singing and seemingly roughshod effect overall fell short of pleasing as much as the rest of the performances in the day. Especially when the raucous sounds of what appeared to be unadulterated fun found its way over from Live Banned‘s set at the Calaloo.
Live Banned has quickly become one of the more entertaining acts on the scene and for good reason – especially at a music festival with a large-ish, fairly ‘happy’ crowd. Taking over the reins on the Calaloo stage at a fairly prime slot, Live Banned had the crowd grooving in no time. Their mix of infectious poprockmetalbollywood, terribly funny lyrics and abysmally brilliant costumes (complete this time with Pandava style ‘kiritas’) is a fairly well-oiled machine and didn’t fail to elicit a smile and a guffaw or two (to say the least). Their set was especially energetic, with an emphasis on their ‘social issue’ themed originals. Large swathes of the crowd were jumping up and down throughout their set and first-time listeners lapped their act up with glee. Highlights of the set were their originals ‘Auto Tune’ and ‘Hey Mama’ as well as the usual multi-genre mashup to close out proceedings. While there tends be a bit of sameness once you’ve seen Live Banned a couple of times, they justified their slot and billing this time around.
The last act on the Calaloo stage on day 1 was Amayama, a Spanish quartet showcasing some Spanish and North African folk music. The crowd was at the pinnacle of excitement at the end of a long day of nice music. Amayama’s set should have been scheduled earlier during the day when the audience were in a better frame of mind to appreciate the nuances of an outlandish music genre. As things transpired, they played a beautiful set to a fast thinning audience.
Closing out the proceedings on Day 1 at the Blubaloo and having the job of following a truly mad set by Live Banned, Sabelo Mthembu was the polar opposite of the dance-mosh madness that everyone had just witnessed. Hailing from South Africa, singer-songwriter Sabelo performed his Afro-Soul compositions as the day drew to a close. Singing in Zulu as well as English, Sabelo has this incredible calming texture in his voice. He, along with his backing band, performed originals like – ‘Lay Me Under’ and ‘Darling Why’. The songwriting was simple and pure without any unwanted embellishments. One could see the influence of Gospel music in the lyrics as well as the instrumentation. They covered the Tom Petty classic, ‘Free Fallin’ and got the appreciative audience to sing along as the dwindling crowd slowly made their way back to the their tents in the Ooty cold (oh lord, it was cold!), retrospecting Day 1 and shivering from the cold and anticipation of Day 2.