Sunday the 7th of August was a cloudy, drizzly evening that had me trudging up the road leading to Legends of Rock, Koramangala. I entered to find the place packed and was told that I might have to stand to listen to the band playing. Legends of Rock seemed like THE place to unwind after a week of hard work at the office; it was also the place to be to share space with a smoking hot band, rather literally considering its cramped and smoke-filled interiors.
I somehow found a seat just in front of the bar and settled down to enjoy an evening of music with Bourbon Street. I was looking forward to hear them play, having sampled their music online, but was a little apprehensive: recording music in a controlled environment is quite different from how you carry yourself in front of an audience.
The band consists of Jerome Mascarenhas (Vocals/Harmonica), Chester Pereira (lead guitars), Fidel D’Souza (bass), Bharath Kumar (Keyboards), Sudhakar Prabhu (Drums) and Ian Castelino (Djembe). The band is often joined by Carnatic violinist Dr. Sangeetha, who performs with the band for the fusion set.
Bourbon Street opened their gig with a rendition of John Scofield’s ‘A go-go’, an instrumental which lent a jazzy feel to the evening. I was glad they didn’t start off with something heavy, having come across artists who’re too eager to please by playing stuff that upsets the mood of the place. This pleasant number was soon followed by Roy Buchanan’s ‘Roy’s Bluz’. Chester doubled up by lending vocals to this song.
Starting off with jazz, Bourbon Street slipped into the comforting sounds of the blues. Chester’s waspy vocals were accompanied by their vocalist Jerome performing harmonica duties. I found myself cheerfully tapping my feet to the music, and I wasn’t alone. The place was suddenly transported back in time and there was no looking back: the audience was hooked.
‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ followed next, with Jerome taking charge of the vocals. Bold and empowering, this song was a little heavier than the previous two songs. By this time we’d understood that this band was going to surprise us with every new number.
Just when we thought the event was going to be a one-sided affair with the band doing all the hard work, Jerome asked the crowd if they were sober enough to follow their music. Dave Brubeck’s ‘Unsquare Dance’ followed, with the audience clapping in tandem with the beat. It proved to be quite a challenge keeping up with a tune on a 7/4 and quite a few members of the audience falling out of rhythm before long. But was great fun to be part of the magic of the band.
Bourbon Street’s version of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Chameleon’ followed next, as the crowd grooved to the snappy funky solos that each member of the band churned out with an ease that made it seem like they were in their element.
After playing a flurry of covers during the first set, the second set opened with an original composition ‘Opulence’. Opulence is a progressive instrumental track written by Chester, making use of an odd meter sequence from 7/8 , 6/8 to 5/8 + 4/8. This number was also shortlisted at the Yamaha Asian Beats 2011 contest. This number took a myriad of turns, one blending seamlessly into another, taking me through a mesmerizing trip. ‘Opulence‘ certainly brought out the best in each of the band members.
The song that followed took us all by surprise. What started off with funky guitar and harmonica riffs ended up being Dr. Rajkumar’s ‘If you come today (tick tick tick)’. Now it takes courage to belt out a Kannada film number at a bar called Legends of Rock, but Bourbon Street pulled it off and got the crowd shouting out for more. An excited Ashish, (of LOR) took stage and commended the band for flawlessly syncing their genre with a Kannada number. My verdict- Incredibly ingenious!
‘Got my Mojo Working’ was the next track, and boy did they get the crowd’s mojo working! Much heavier than the numbers played before, the rhythm and drums in perfect sync, this Muddy Waters cover got the audience singing/screaming/shouting out what they could of the chorus with Jerome. They also moved on to cover Doobie Brothers’ ‘Long train runnin’ which kept up the crescendo that was built up through the show.
Bourbon Street wrapped the evening with Santana’s ‘Black Magic Woman’. A familiar number to most on the floor, it was the perfect way to end a show that was sure to leave a lasting impression on everyone who was there that night.
I was lucky enough to get some time with the band once their gig ended, thanks to Jerome’s invitation to have a chat with the band. The first question I had was whether they were comfortable playing at a small venue like LOR, with the band members seemingly jostling for space on the tiny stage. “We performed here the first time LOR reopened for live music after the whole ban thing.” said drummer Sudhakar, who’d been obscured from view for the most part of the evening. “We like the place and are comfortable with playing here since the crowd is very responsive as they’re seated quite close to the stage.”
On asking Jerome, where Bourbon Street stood among blues bands in Bangalore, he replied with a smile, “In this city, there are bands that play the blues, there are bands that play jazz, bands that play fusion and then there’s Bourbon Street which plays a bit of jazz, a bit of blues, Carnatic fusion and a lot more. It’s a mix of genres packed into one show.”
On being asked as to why they chose to play cover versions for most of the evening, Sudhakar said, “None of the covers sound like the original. In fact we lend in our own touch to every cover that we perform, so you’d never find two shows sounding the same”. A soft spoken Chester added that they’d like to expose the public to a broader spectrum of music primarily from the older days. The artistes of that period, he said, performed with such passion that it puts many of the contemporary artistes to shame.
The gig went well apart from uncomfortable seating and an annoying light that kept shining into the audience’s eyes. I wrapped up my conversation with the band thanking them for the chat, making a mental note to catch them live again next time.