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Three Wheels Nine Lives by Thermal And A Quarter

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If the city of Bangalore ever masqueraded in the sonic dimension, it would probably be heard in a TAAQ album. Three Wheels Nine Lives (3W9L) is a guaranteed bumpy ride through the city on that black-and-yellow mean machine.

3W9L impresses right from the album art, the inner sleeves, and the humungous poster with caricatures of the trio.

‘Surrender’ opens up a funky first disc with a lot of hooks and sing-alongs. The wah-wah croaks and sniggers around Bruce’s Hendrix-y casual vocals. The title track ‘Meter Mele One and a Half’ is in 11/8 time or 5.5/8, which comes from the title (meter -4, mele– plus 1 ½ =5 ½). Despite the complex time, the song’s still got addictive chorus lines.

The auto takes a break as Bruce and friends relax with mellower tones that seem to paint sonic pictures of Lalbagh. ‘In the Middle’, ‘Birthday’ and ‘Bangalore Flowers’ have the best lyrics on the album. While ‘In the Middle’ has a reference to John Coltrane, ‘Birthday’ outrageously imagines the possibilities of time being space. ‘Bangalore Flowers’ is the pick of disc one, which lyrics that Bangalore-lovers(lovers of Bangalore and lovers in Bangalore) can relate to and a brilliant much-awaited-on-disc-1 Bruce Lee Mani guitar solo.

‘If Them Blues’ fuses Chennai’s local dabbankuthu genre (the beat, the whistle) with Hendrix’s ‘Jam back at the house’ (Woodstock ’69). The jazzy guitar-vocals duet in ‘Sad Moon’ featuring Priya Mendens on haunting vocals closes disc one.

‘For the Cat’ retains some of disc-one’s Saturday-afternoon-in-your-armchair-sipping-coffee feel of tracks like ‘Bangalore Flowers’ and ‘Billboard Bride’ but slowly moves into a tighter blues groove before returning back to the armchair. ‘Ho-hum (instrumental)’ is a brisk walk between auto-stands, while ‘Chameleon’ and ‘Dangerous Mind’ are the two dark-hard tracks of the album.

Saturday afternoon moves into night with the ponderous ‘Who Do We Have Sex With?’ and the fizzy ‘Won’t Stop’. The bluegrass-y bonus track ‘Something You Said’ closes out disc two in a fashion similar to disc one – mellow and haunting.

The singles and live disc has its own gems –‘Simply Be’ a quirky eccentric track with a cracking bass solo, ‘Mighty Strange’ and ‘One Small Love’ have fluttery sax and a husky flute with the latter being in 10/8 time embroidered with a very Dire Strait-ish guitar work. ‘Grab Me’ is the best song on the disc, a 12/8 slow burning blues with lovely solos and the anti-corruption anthem ‘Kickbackistan’ completes the auto journey.

In 3W9L, TAAQ have brewed a perfect concoction of laid-back bluesy tracks and brisk rock n’ roll. The environs are unmistakable – Bangalore with its street-side chat shops and the large malls, the IT folk and the parks and yet it never gets up-market at any point in the album.

If you’re a guitarist you want Bruce’s amp and if you’re a vocalist you want his everyman Bangalorean casual approach to singing parts in complex time. His solos are sophisticated yet expressive. The rhythms section of TAAQ (Prakash KN on bass, Rajeev Rajagopal on drums) keeps the grooves tight and interesting through the winding time signatures.

While many bands in the country are opting for a native and desi feel with Carnatic, Hindustani or folk-ish sounds to spice things up and express themselves succinctly, TAAQ use the time-tested palette of jazz-infused blues, and aptly so, for the urban Bangalore vibe is precisely what they want to conjure.

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Purushotham Kaushik

Purushotham Kaushik is a freakish-blues guy with a Carnatic frame of mind and surreal poetic sensibilities.

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The Explosive TAAQ Sizzles The BFlat Bar, Bangalore

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Thermal and a Quarter is arguably one of India’s most successful and talented bands. Success of course doesn’t come without hard work and boy does this band work hard! Bruce and the gang who recently got back from their Singapore/US tour are recording their new album called Three Wheels Nine Lives and are playing explosive gigs such as the one in BFlat on 16 June 2012. I must say that I was one of the privileged few to have experienced such a mind blowing performance. I ran into Ramanan Chandramouli, LA Music Academy graduate and a faculty at Taaqademy, who acknowledged that this was the best Thermal gig he had witnessed in recent times. The sound at BFlat was marvellous as always and beautifully complimented the band’s technical versatility.

As I was sitting at the bar counter waiting for the gig to start, I saw Bruce Lee Mani get up on stage armed with his guitar and ready to belt out a tune all by himself. The floor was jam packed with TAAQ fans eagerly waiting for the show to begin. Bruce dedicated the first song ‘Terrible Trouble’ to his wife who was among the audience. The song was about his father-in-law, who belongs to a very different cultural and religious background from Bruce. The lyrics were funny and showcased Bruce’s tasteful song writing skills. The amazing Prakash K.N and the dexterous Rajeev Rajagopal joined Bruce and the mighty Thermal and a Quarter took stage. They played a mix of old and new tunes such as ‘For the Cat’‘De-Arranged’‘Mighty Strange’‘Aerodynamic’ and ‘Billboard Bride’. The band had performed ‘For the Cat’ (a tribute to Cat Stevens) and ‘Billboard Bride’ ’last November when they had played at this venue and one gets a feeling that each time these songs sound even better. The number of people in The BFlat Bar seemed to be exponentially increasing and every single one of them found themselves grooving to the irresistible Bangalore Rock sound of TAAQ.

Next up was ‘If Them Blues’, a song which was preceded by an amazing guitar and bass jam. Then, Thermal belted out their rendition of the classic‘Roxanne’. The breaks in this song were particularly noteworthy showcasing the fascinating tightness the band is famous for. ‘Chainese Item’ was up next and the band started the song very differently as compared to the studio version. The breathtaking stacatto solo was backed by immensely powerful drumming. After this song, Bruce wished all the people who were celebrating their birthdays before launching into the next tune, ‘Birthday’. The rhythm section during the guitar solo section of this song was particularly interesting as Prakash played chords on his 6-string bass guitar remarkably complementing Bruce. It was interesting to note that the audience consisted of people from varying age groups ranging from college kids who were standing right in front of the stage to 50 year olds who were comfortably seated in sofas.

By the time the band started ‘Jupiter Cafe’, the crowd was in full swing getting steadily high on Thermal. TAAQ plays ‘Jupiter Cafe’ differently each time they play it and I strongly feel that this was by far the best performance of the song by the band. The trio started the song with an elaborate jam session with Prakash playing a lot of harmonics on his bass while Rajeev displayed some very clever use of cymbals. The crowd sang the entire song, including the solo section, along with Bruce. Next up was ‘Meter Mele One and a Half’, a song whose opening lines were “three wheels and nine lives”. This song with a dangerously catchy chorus is about auto rickshaws in Bangalore. The versatile use of the cowbell by Rajeev impressed the audience and Bruce’s stegatto solo in this song was par excellence.

Thermal’s music cuts across boundaries and reaches across to a vast audience creating a cross cultural connection. The band has received tremendous success during their US tour making them one of India’s very few acts to have won accolades overseas. The band proceeded to finish the set with ‘Won’t stop’‘In the Middle’ and ‘Dangerous Mind’. I must say there were a couple of awkward pauses in the last song which gave one a feeling that somebody had messed up something but the trio quickly covered up their mistakes.

When it was finally time for the band to call it a day, the crowd did not let Thermal leave the stage. After a few minutes of loud persuasion, the band finally gave in and played ‘Chameleon’, the last song of the night. The gig was an exhilarating experience which will linger in my head for a long time. Long live Bangalore Rock!

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Anand Kumar

Anand Kumar plays bass guitar with a few Bangalore bands on and off. He is a coordinator with Songbound - a music outreach initiative that uses singing to reach out to India’s most impoverished children via collaborative projects with schools, choirs and professional musicians worldwide. His other interests include discovering new music on YouTube and computer programming.

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Thermal And A Quarter at The BFlat Bar, Bangalore

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Before reaching The BFlat Bar on 29th of October 2011, where Thermal And A Quarter were set to play that evening, I was on a different kind of high having witnessed an exhilarating football match. I caught up with TAAQ’s vocalist/guitarist/frontman Bruce Lee Mani who acknowledged BFlat as one of TAAQ’s favourite venues. There was a slight uncertainty about drummer Rajeev Rajagopal’s whereabouts near the start of the gig and naturally, manager Divya Joseph appeared a tad concerned. However, after numerous sightings of Rajeev which could now be confirmed as positive, TAAQ took to the stage with Bruce surrounded with an arsenal of three lovely guitars, the “little guy” Prakash who did a quick tune-check of his bass and Rajeev behind the drums. There were no supporting artists to assist the trio this time, so it was an evening of pure, unadulterated TAAQ.

The band started off with a new number, ‘De-Arranged’ while a crowd gathered right in front of my table and I had to stand for greater parts of the show to actually see the band. The song had a groovy interlude and pithy lyrics which has become an integral part of TAAQ’s songwriting process. Before their second number, Bruce brought into context all those people in Delhi who were robbed of the Metallica show, a day before. That second number, ‘Sorry for Me’ had a fantastic guitar solo and the band expertly demonstrated their signature tightness. The sound was perfect and had few differences from the sound in their recent studio releases.

Thermal And A Quarter at The BFlat Bar, Bangalore

After the warm up, Thermal belted out another new number ‘Meter Mele One and a Half’, one of the standout songs of the evening. I would give it a 11 on 10 for songwriting simply because the band brought to the fore through their music, most of the emotions related to the titular quote that Bangalore rickshaw drivers use. A chorus in 6/4, a solo with a sporadic burst of notes and an absolutely amazing drum solo were the hallmark of the song. And some cowbell! This song is dangerously catchy however, and you should be well-warned to resist singing this while actually travelling in a rickshaw.

By this time, I noticed that TAAQ’s songs have brilliant chord transitions and an expert usage of multiple scales. The amazing fact is that there is very little similarity that you could find between TAAQ’s music and that of any mainstream western band. The music is unique and very Bangalorean indeed. The band showed great volume and tempo control using them effectively to convey a message. Rajeev’s drumming was crisp and his use of the right sounds to complement the rest of the band is worth a mention. The band was a tight unit and also sounded full with just three members. This is a testament to Prakash K.N’s surreal bass fills and his superb ability at keeping the pulse of the song running.

Thermal And A Quarter at The BFlat Bar, Bangalore

And then there was Bruce Lee Mani who isn’t just one of India’s greatest guitarists, but also a superb vocalist. His voice is an essential component of TAAQ’s sound. He belted out a brief falsetto in their next song, a Beatles cover, ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ which had elements of reggae in it. Another standout song of the evening which had received a roar of approval from the now-packed BFlat, was ‘Bangalore Flowers’ dedicated to the women of Bangalore. The crescendo towards the end of the song got everyone to their feet and cheering!

After a song in 6/8 blues, TAAQ went on to cover Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. Bruce ornamented the song with a Mayer-style fingerpicking intro and Prakash contributed with some slap bass in the interlude. The band improvised around the “I Know, I Know” line and Bruce even indulged in some twinning, scatting as he played the notes on the guitar! Prakash followed that up with a stylish bass solo of his own. ‘Billboard Bride’ was up next for which Bruce played a surreal legato solo with his Gibson Les Paul.

Thermal And A Quarter at The BFlat Bar, Bangalore

The evening progressed with numbers like ‘Birthday’ and ‘For The Cat’, the latter being a tribute to Cat Stevens. One of the last numbers was ‘Holy Jose’, a funky number which was probably the longest song of the set. Bruce used his whammy bar to support a bass solo by Prakash and Rajeev rounded off the song in a drum solo that included a run at the double bass pedals! And some cowbell! TAAQ strangely went on to cover Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’, but I’m glad that they did it like TAAQ while retaining some of the essential grunge elements of the song.

TAAQ ended the evening with ‘Bend the World’, ‘Galacktiqua’, ‘Paper Puli’ and ‘Hey Jude’. Towards the end, Bruce seemed to ease into the songs while also letting the crowd handle some of the lyrics. He duly acknowledged the crowd’s rapturous response at the end of these songs.The band left the stage to a thunderous applause that lasted quite a while. If not already, the band has further cemented their position as one of the premier and most unique rock bands of the country. I could safely conclude that this was the ONLY thing that could have eclipsed the high I was talking about at the start.

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Ganesh Viswanathan

Ganesh Viswanathan is a musician, a designer and sometimes both at the same time. Caffeine is known to derive its energising properties from him. Nobody knows the exact moment when he dismantles an idle mobile phone or steals food from another plate.

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