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Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

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Skeptics became admirers, admirers became lovers and lovers became fanatics. All that in only a couple of days at the 2014 edition of the annual Mahindra Blues Festival at the fabled Mehboob Studios in Mumbai. After raising the bar for music festivals held in India, three times with three highly successful Blues festivals starting 2011, the Mahindra group had set its sight on doing just that for its 4th edition.

Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

The build-up was immense, accentuated heavily by the line-up for this year – Grammy awardees Tedeschi Trucks Band and Jimmie Vaughan, Blues stalwarts Zac Harmon and Li’l Ed and the Blues Imperials and India’s crème de la crème Soulmate and BlackStratBlues. Even the heavens had opened up to lull a city that was dreading the impending summer heat, with a pleasant chill. It was still ninety minutes to go before the start of the event, yet the crowd that had gathered at the venue could feel it in the air that they are in for a very special night indeed.

Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

Less is More

Stage 1 was where the event had started, right on schedule. BlackStratBlues, the solo project of acclaimed Indian guitarist and producer Warren Mendonsa took the stage along with versatile drummer Jai Row Kavi and precocious talents like Adi Mistry and Beven Fonseca on the bass and the keys respectively. The set predominantly featured songs like ‘Anandamide’, ‘Renaissance Mission’, ‘The Universe has a strange sense of humour’ and ‘Folkish Three’ from his eagerly anticipated third album while also sating the crowd’s requests for classics like ‘Blues for Gary’ and ‘Ode to a Sunny Day’ from his first two albums.

Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

Armed with a fat, monstrous tone that he derives from an arsenal of Fender Stratocasters, Warren’s incredible ability to base simple yet poignant melodies on rhythms derived from his surroundings – like the beat of a duff-dhol at a typical Indian procession or the muffled thud of a techno-beat – cements his position as one of India’s most unique composers. His phrasing and explorations of his head phrases were thorough making him a terrific live act. Although, the music wasn’t your conventional Blues music, the raw feeling that characterizes the Blues is still retained by phrases filtered through a lot of apparent contemplation. The sole focus of the artiste was to emote and the crowd made no secret of their appreciation by the end of his set.

Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

Jai Row Kavi throughout the set was a perfect foil to Warren’s guitar playing, highlighting phrases wherever perfect and never once overplaying. Adi Mistry tactfully employed a range of sounds from the bass, especially the powerful thumps in ‘Renaissance Mission’. Beven Fonseca neatly filled in the pockets that are often created by Warren’s unselfish playing. The standout track was ‘Ode to a Sunny Day’ where Warren, joined on stage by Kolkata-based multi-instrumentalist Tajdar Junaid on the acoustic guitar, absolutely caressed the composition to a dreamy ambience, bringing his set to a close.

Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

The Zac Attack

While Warren’s outlet to the Blues was in the form of simple expressions in an urbane, contemporary sound, Zac Harmon’s response to the Blues, on the other hand was simply this – if you’re feeling the Blues, come to me and I’ll show you a good time. The second act of the evening exploded into a funky blues start on Stage 1 and the towering frontman from Jackson, Mississippi was an absolute livewire throughout, so much that his energy on stage should have been illegal for someone half his age. Zac on the vocals and the guitar was supported by the adventurous Corey Lacy on the keyboard, the stylish Buthel Burns on the bass and the groovy-as-hell drummer Cedric Goodman all of whom were incredible backing vocalists too, giving the band its unique, expansive sound.

Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

Segueing seamlessly from a funky 4-4 beat to a 6-8 conventional blues beat where the band played the BB King’s classic ‘Rock Me Baby’, back again to a straight 4-4 groove to their next number where a sweet Blues interlude by Zac bridged over to another song in an altogether different key. In all these transitions, the band never lost its continuity, but thankfully just when the noise and the energy were threatening to take the roof apart, Zac seized the opportunity to slow it down with a gospel-like Blues number where he played a heartfelt solo with enough breathing space to let the crowd taste every note in the air.

Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

The band was an excellent mix of tasteful Mississippi Blues and a very strong rapport with the crowd. Behind the sheer rawness of the music, the sections were very well-structured and every sound emanating from the stage was calculated for effect; not a single note was wasted. Zac’s vocals were powerful and endured in the air long after songs. A frantic set that had compositions like ‘Blue Pill Thrill’ from the band’s new album Music is Medicine along with the band’s own versions of classics like Bob Dylan’s ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’, Muddy Waters’ ‘Got my Mojo Workin’  got the crowd screaming for an encore and they complied by rounding it off with a neat cover of Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’.

Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

Run over by Tedeschi Trucks

Despite their reputation, the Tedeschi Trucks Band found themselves in an unenviable position of taking the stage after two blockbuster sets by the preceding acts. The challenge was made tougher as the final acts of both days were scheduled in the more roomy Stage 3. The Tedeschi Trucks Band however, would go on to blow that challenge out of the water.

A huge cheer greeted the band as the 11-member big band blues ensemble from Jacksonville, Florida took the stage and wasted little time to get going; their first number ‘Don’t Let Me Slide’ from their Grammy-award winning album Revelator, breathing ample freshness into the expansive indoor arena. The band went on to render the funky title track and the waltzy ‘Do I Look Worried?’ from their recently released second studio album Made Up Mind, a resounding cheer greeting the air tight ending that had culminated an explosive slide guitar solo from virtuoso Derek Trucks.

Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

After the contemplative slow-pop number ‘It’s So Heavy’, wherein Susan Tedeschi’s effortless adaptability to soul came to the fore, vocalist Mike Mattison took centre stage to croon their next piece ‘I Know’ which featured a spirited trumpet solo by Maurice Brown. Special guest Doyle Bramhall II walked in, like a boss, for the band’s own version of the Blues classic ‘St. James Infirmary’ and his deep voice evoked plenty a gasp from the euphoric crowd. Despite there being three guitarists on the stage, it did not take long to point out, even with your eyes closed, who’s playing what, such was the sheer uniqueness of their guitar playing – Doyle’s inverted bends and tremolo-picking on his right handed guitar played left-handed, Derek’s thick slide guitar voice, played with fingers and Susan’s conventional, voice-driven style. A carnival-like mid-section with Doyle and Susan exchanging solos and Derek’s glib licks made the classic one of the stand-out pieces of the night. A folky flute intro by Kofi Burbridge opened up ‘All That I Need’ and the song’s rhythmic hook provided the backdrop for a phenomenal Derek Trucks solo incorporating myriad styles, some Indian influences very apparent.

Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

The band went on to play ‘Part Of Me’ and this featured a neat duet Susan’s powerful and trombonist Saunders Sermons’ quirky high-pitched voice that gave the song its character. A Freddie King classic ‘Palace of the King’ was followed by a swamp raga intro by Derek Trucks supported by Mike Mattison on an acoustic guitar. The intro built enough tension in the air as the crowd awaited the next bit of magic from Trucks who by then was certified unpredictable and he seamlessly transitioned to the riff of ‘Midnight in Harlem’. This was again one of those many songs in the set where the backing vocalists Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers shone and the song took a romantic touch as Derek’s sweet slide solo appeared to serenade Susan, who beamed appreciatively.

Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

The band’s decision to allocate the longer solos to most of the Revelator songs like ‘Bound For Glory’ worked strongly in their favour and by the middle of the show, they already had enough momentum to let anything ruin an already fabulous gig. In the middle of a Derek Trucks solo set to a tribal rhythm, a guitar string snapped and Kofi grabbed the opportunity to mesmerise the audience with a surreal flute solo while Derek sat on stage to change his strings, like a boss. And then once he was done, Derek casually continued the brilliant solo without breaking stride. Just as Master Oogway said -There are no accidents.

Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

The band exited the stage only to come back on and oblige the deafening requests for an encore. When the band started the the groovy ‘Love has something to say’ after yours truly at the front of the crowd screamed his lungs out for it, Susan pointed at me with her guitar. SUSAN TEDESCHI POINTED AT ME!

*recovers*

The final piece featured an out-of-control solo by the tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams before normal service was resumed and the entire band with Doyle Bramhall II upped the energy to set up a grandstand finish.

Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

Summing it up, as a front-woman, Susan Tedeschi with her magical, unerring voice and her charisma had the entire crowd adoring her, worshipping her even (I know I was). Derek Trucks took on the silent and often under-appreciated role of orchestrating the large band with nods to move sections, while also enthralling the crowd with his unparalleled musicianship. Doyle Bramhall II added a unique dimension each time, with his voice, his finesse on the guitar and his radiance. Despite the size of the band, they were always a tight unit responding accurately to every signal that Derek gave.

Plenty of Hues at Day 1 of The Mahindra Blues

Special mention goes to the organisation of the festival; the acoustics of both stages were of an extremely high standard and the lighting, camera work and F&B was superbly handled. Moreover, all the acts started on time and the artistes even had the freedom to walk among the fans to pose for photographs. All eyes on Day 2!

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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Bombay Bassment at CounterCulture, Bangalore

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Dev Ambardekar

Dev is a music photographer based out of Bangalore. He has been documenting the music scene actively for almost two years during which he has shot several Indian bands and a handful international acts. His expertise ranges from multi-day music festivals to pub shows. While he is not behind the camera, Dev is an Architect and occasional writer. You can follow him at @DevAmbardekar.

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Bombay Bassment: Tribute to Bob Marley: 25th July, 2013

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Bombay Bassment is a 4 piece eclectic band from Bombay, India formed in 2010. The lineup consists of MC/Rapper Bobkat (Robert Bob Omulo), Drummer Levin Mendes, Bassist Ruell Barretto and Chandu (Chandrashekar Kunder) on Samples. Their music is an upbeat blend of Hip-Hop, Rap, Reggae/Dub, Funk & Drum n Bass. Each member has varied influences and backgrounds making the sound of the band very unique.
 Bob is a veteran MC and DJ originally from Kenya, his destiny led him onto the Mumbai scene over 12 years ago. Formulating his lyrics and sound around the rhythms of his life, Bob brings a distinctive flavor to the dance-floor. Levin and Ruell are the original founders of Bombay Bassment and have been active on the Indie scene for the past 8 years! With 15 years of experience, Chandu started off as a resident DJ at landmark clubs in Mumbai and is currently the co-producer of Bombay Bassment along with Deep, founder of Indiaudio (an Independent music label).
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Day 1 of Indigo & Blues – International Jazz and Blues Festival at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

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May 2012 will be remembered as the month when Bangalore had a much needed overdose of the Blues. The ten-day Ode to the Blues Festival with film screenings, busking and concerts conducted all around the city was followed by the (unimaginatively titled) Puravankara Indigo & Blues International Jazz and Blues Festival a week later. The line-up looked quite delicious, with the likes of Van Wilks, Bobby Whitlock and Blackstratblues promising to dish out a surfeit of sweet blues music that is music to the soul.

Day One of the festival featured The Chronic Blues Circus, Groove #3, Overdrive Trio and The Van Wilks Band. The arrangements at the venue were replete with blue Nilkamal chairs, tables with spotless white tablecloths, uniformed stewards and ofcourse, the stage! The stage was nothing spectacular, so to speak, and the lighting arrangements were leaning towards Spartan (for an event of this magnitude). I was lurking around in the hour before twilight, looking for artists doing their last minute sound checks, but could find none. What came as a pleasant surprise was that the proceedings started a few minutes after 6 p.m., just as promised! This was a novel experience, but the downside of it was that the crowd had not yet poured in as expected. Perhaps they assumed that the show would start at least an hour late, as is usually the case at music festivals.

Day 1 of Indigo & Blues - International Jazz and Blues Festival at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

Chronic Blues Circus was the first band to take to the stage. The band is headed by, as described by a friend, the “Amitabh Bachchan of the Indian Blues Scene”, Mr.Peter Isaac on the harp, guitar and vocals. They opened the proceedings with an upbeat instrumental version of John Mayall’s ‘So Hard to Share’. The 7-note bass cycle served its purpose of hooking the (still sparse) audience into a lull. This was followed by their own ‘Indian Blues’ with Miriam on the vocals and then Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Killing Floor’ which was opened by a rasping rally call of ‘Let’s Go’ by Peter. Ananth Menon and Venkatesh Subramaniyam (Venky) took turns to show us what they could do with their six strings, through the protracted complementing licks.

Day 1 of Indigo & Blues - International Jazz and Blues Festival at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

Venky then went on to introduce the next song, called ‘Woman’, written by Peter way back in ’93. The song was appropriately wistful and cynical in places and this was confirmed somehow with the two part vocal harmony. Another original, ‘Sweet Nicotine’ followed, which seemed to fit better with a theme of love-making and heartbreak rather than having anything to do with tobacco. I say this with due respect and a hat tip each to Ananth and Venky for their wailing, perfectly tremolo-ed leads. Owen Bosen, the otherwise self-restrained bassist took over the vocals for the next song, and just when I was thinking whether anyone else in the band could also sing, first Venky and then Ananth polished off one verse each.

Despite being wowed by the band members’ singing prowess, one could not help but notice the fluctuating vocal levels. This was the only distraction, the sore tooth in an otherwise perfect little set. True, managing sound for a band which has five lead vocalists is a challenge, but for an event of this magnitude, it should be easily doable. Palace Grounds is an open green area and is bound to have a swarm of mosquitoes in the evenings, something that could have been avoided by probably sanitizing the area before the show.

Day 1 of Indigo & Blues - International Jazz and Blues Festival at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

Owen was back on the vocals for ‘Money Talks’, with his Knopfler-esque nonchalance, that beguiles the talent and experience that stand behind it. Ananth Menon’s pearl-blue guitar told many stories that evening, and really stood out as something that would be remembered for a long time to come. The songs that followed were ‘Win n’ Lose Blues’ and ‘Ulsoor Lake Blues’, both originals. The latter is, obviously about Ulsoor Lake and what it stands for in Bangalore’s past and present.

The refrain call of ‘Stop giving me waste’ was sort of half-wasted, considering the audience was only half-full. This was my favourite from the set, both for the message that it carried and for the classy execution. Mukut Chakravarthy was quite the demon on the keys, wincing and jumping off his seat in time to the magically achieved coda. Despite the overly booming bass levels and the fluctuating vocal levels, The Chronic Blues Circus, for their part, managed beautifully to present one melodious blues sound.

Day 1 of Indigo & Blues - International Jazz and Blues Festival at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

Groove #3 was the next, and I was impressed all over again with the promptness hardly five minutes after the previous band had vacated the stage, the next set was kicked off in style! May 18th incidentally marked the Chennai-based band’s first anniversary, and hopes were high for something special that evening. After the opening instrumental, frontman Benny Dayal appeared on stage in his curious wool cap and introduced the band to us. The first song was an original called ‘Baby You Got Me’. The sheer capacity and range of the vocals hit me almost immediately. It is very rare one comes across a vocalist who has got so many things right, even down to the showmanship. Napier Naveen Kumar’s slap bass for this ditty rightly justified the “Groove” in Groove #3.

Bob Marley’s ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ was up next, but it took a while for the audience to identify the song. This was thanks to the long lead and bass intro, and it wasn’t until Benny started with the lyrics that anyone could’ve guessed the song. Old jazz standard ‘Summertime’ followed, but this time in the funk/jazz style. This rendition by Groove #3 has become rather a phenomenon on YouTube but I have my reservations about tampering with the jazz standards. Yes, I am a purist, guilty as accused. If I were to imagine this to be some other song, then I would say I was rather impressed with the meaty groove and the arpeggio-ridden bass line. If I were to put the feeling in words, well, on one side, this version sounds rather “happy” for ‘Summertime’. On the other side, I was impressed by the walking bass line, the staggering guitar licks, the slippery keys and the brutal snare-belting. I was sold when Benny pulled a kazoo out of his pocket and let it rip for a few bars.

Day 1 of Indigo & Blues - International Jazz and Blues Festival at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

The next song was an original called ‘Nowhere to Run’, purportedly about “getting trapped in love”. The staccato one-note introspective soliloquy, that forms most of the verse, did not impress, nor did the unimaginative chorus. The song really was saved by the breaks – the chunky chord work on the keys and the guitar lead caused the song to finally admit to the remorseful, regret-filled lyrical content. Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ was up next, which, curiously, had Leon James playing the slap bass on the keyboard and Napier just playing the semi-muted root notes on the bass guitar. The meat of the song was rather like a quick march, and the break-aways were the 80s style organ sweeps and Benny wailing in full belt, causing the happy marriage of “soul” and “groove”.

Another original called ‘Don’t Let Go’ was up next. The perfectly timed rests were enriched with music, and the song urged the audience to “stay funky, keep it right”. From the whole set, this song really stood out as the essence of Groove #3’s funk/jazz sound. This would’ve been the last song on the set, but the crowd clearly wanted more. After confirming with organizers, the band agreed to give us one more song. Just as I was beginning to jump with joy, I realized they were going to repeat the only lackluster track from their set, ‘Nowhere to Run’. This unfortunate choice for the encore was my cue to scuttle off to indulge in the sumptuous free snacks that were on offer. I must pause here to give two thumbs up to the organizers and my compliments to the chef.

Day 1 of Indigo & Blues - International Jazz and Blues Festival at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

Mumbai-based Overdrive Trio took the stage next, with Adrian D’Souza on the drums, Vibhas Patil on the bass and Sunny D’Souza on the guitar and vocals. This time, however, there was a slight delay allowing for Adrian to set up his own drum kit. I tried to get a peek at it, but it was mysteriously hidden behind a mountain of stage amps. The band opened with an original, ‘You’ve Got Me Tripping’. With its minimal lyrics and maximum overdrive, the song sent the audience tripping. The sound guy was still struggling to get the bass levels right, but I suppose we had just decided to give it up for a lost cause. Another original, ‘Long Distance Blues’ followed. Sunny’s guitar patch for this one sounded so fuzzy that it had an almost organ-like tone. Adrian D’Souza has been one of my favourite drummers and he surely didn’t disappoint. The 2-minute drum solo with the rumbling toms was as impressive as any other and one could spy members in the audience intelligently trying to keep time with the abstract clashes and thumps.

Day 1 of Indigo & Blues - International Jazz and Blues Festival at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

A quick change of tuning, and the band played another original titled ‘The Mid Life Blues’. Sunny’s vocals and guitar lead spewed desperation and anger as did Adrian’s drum rolls. Vibhas’ bass line walked all over the choppity-chop-chop guitar riffs to present an excellent and gratifying listening experience. At one point, Adrian jumped clear off the drum thrown HALFWAY through the roll, which itself then went the other way to emphasize the angst and the helplessness that was intended for the song. Richie Kotzen’s exquisitely crafted ballad ‘Remember’ was lined up next. This version was slowed down even more than the original, with longer wails emanating from Sunny’s guitar, giving the song an almost Gary Moore-like sound, creating an active, engaging conversation between the vocalist and the guitar.

Next in the set was Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’. I have never heard a version like this one before. The original song was all about swagger, but Overdrive Trio’s rendition had so much more tear-jerking soul in it. I will carry that coda in my heart for a long, long time to come. Just as Sunny announced that this was the last song from them, and was saying his thanks, the crowd went wild with cries for more. Even I had forgotten that Van Wilks was playing next, and would have had Overdrive Trio play forever. A quick nod from the organizers, and then they did oblige the crowd with a rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’. My first witnessing of the Overdrive Trio had left me in an admiring daze, and I was already making promises to never miss another show by them. What is it with Mumbai and blues trios? Overdrive Trio’s positively incandescent performance would be complemented the next day by another blues trio from Mumbai, the Blackstratblues. But more on that in the Day 2 review.

Day 1 of Indigo & Blues - International Jazz and Blues Festival at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

Santosh Gnanakan, popularly known as RJ Saggy took the stage next to introduce the headlining Van Wilks Band, and also to do some justified promotion for Radio Indigo. Saggy also helpfully pointed out some members of the Bobby Whitlock Band and Coco Carmel, who were rubbing shoulders with the audience and drinking in the blues stupefaction. Also in the crowd were the boys from Blackstratblues.

Van Wilks strutted on to the stage with two friends in tow: Dave Ray on the bass and Nico Leophonte on the drums. Van Wilks is a world-renowned blues guitarist from Austin, Texas. He carries the Texan swagger and an easy humour with him. Seeing this easy-going natural stage baby, one could hardly guess that he is a cancer survivor, an inductee into the ‘Texas Music Hall of Fame’ and has a state wide official ‘Van Wilks Day’ celebrated every November 6 in Texas. It was clear that sparks were going to fly that evening in Palace Grounds, despite the problems with the sound and the mosquitoes, both of which were hurriedly brushed under the mental carpet in order to drink in the experience fully.

Day 1 of Indigo & Blues - International Jazz and Blues Festival at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

The opening song was ‘Secret’ which won the crowd over from the very start with its cheeky lyrics. Van’s fretwork for this song set the expectations quite high for the rest of the set. Another thing that stood out was the amount of fun the three boys were having on stage. Sadly, this failed to transfer completely to the audience, who were too comfortable in their Nilkamal chairs and too busy munching hors d’oeuvres. Sure, there was this small number of revelers who were dancing unabashedly right in front of the stage. The next song was ‘Stone Cold Day’ which incorporated hammer-on overdrive tones with a groovy bass line to create an exciting blues song.

‘Mama Talk’ followed with its heavy, almost hard rock intro. The faithful crowd in the front went berserk for this one. The experience would have been perfect with some nice stagelights, but sadly this was not to be. The lead section had Van Wilks affectionately patting the guitar with his strumming hand which produced an unholy beautiful sound while Dave’s bass licks kept the song on its burning track. The next song was ‘Temporary Love Affair’ with Van Wilks introducing the song as: “I may not be a lawyer but I can damn sure get you off with this one.” The song is an honest and not-too-humble confession of the singer’s love for beautiful women.

Day 1 of Indigo & Blues - International Jazz and Blues Festival at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

‘Dialtone Blues’ was a high reverb dreamy song with a spaced out lead and cleverly disguised bass and drums that created an aura of a lucid dream with eerie sounds. The shocking, crashing coda with the fast strumming bass (something I had never seen before) snapped us out of the reverie and ready for the next song. ‘I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More)’ was a regulation Texas blues song with a 4/4 time and a catchy meaty riff. The lead had lightning fast licks and squeals that reached high up to the Heaven. ‘Goin’ to See My Baby’ had the “on-the-road-so-long” theme which is one of the favourites among blues song writers. This song, however, also incorporated the Texan swagger and thus created a nice stylish little ditty.

The next song was ‘Without a Word’, a blues ballad. This is my favourite kind of blues music, and I was rather looking forward to the trip. I wasn’t let down. That could have been BB King playing on stage. Only, it was the smiling Texan, Van Wilks playing the guitar lead and transforming it again into a Blackmore-esque squall. This song sent me tripping! There was a big green praying mantis on a chair next to mine, and it seemed to be swaying with the music. The two of us probably made a circuit of Saturn and Jupiter while Dave took over on the bass lead which was played in the higher frets. The sound was exactly like the guitar lead, except in lower octaves. This could go on forever, everything else forgotten, just the sweet sweet music washing down all around us. Sadly, the end was inevitable, a song has to be time-bound, and therefore, come to a halt.

Day 1 of Indigo & Blues - International Jazz and Blues Festival at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

The next song was a complete paradigm shift into a pumping fast British Blues style number called ‘Stiletto Blues’. All hands were in the air in answer to the booming bass drum, and finally, the audience forgot about the chairs and the snacks and were on their feet, dancing. At the end of the song, Van said that he had “beaten the guitar out of tune”, so had to change it. The band then wrapped up with ‘Bleedin’ for You’ and ‘Boystown’. The latter offered a Texas-Mexico mish-mash sound that somehow gelled very well together. If you’ve heard anything by the band Tito and Tarantula you will get my drift. However, these two songs were somehow not half as impressive as the previous ones. Or perhaps I was still tripping from ‘Without a Word’, so failed to notice anything going on. The band looked justifiably exhausted after their adrenaline splashing set, and so, the music had to stop.

Van Wilks and his band had exceeded all expectations. One can only hope for more tours to India, with more of that healing, uplifting Texas Blues. I got a chance to meet Mr.Wilks backstage and I asked him about the experience of playing in front of an Indian crowd, to which he said, “It is not very different from playing back home. Music is the same language in Texas as in Bangalore.” Hats off to the man for having tackled my childish question with an unassailable truth!

Day 1 of Indigo & Blues - International Jazz and Blues Festival at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

And so, Day One of the Puravankara Indigo and Blues International Jazz and Blues Festival had come to a close. All around, one could see people walking around in a daze that can only be caused by an overdose of the Blues. I reminded myself that there would be more awesomeness to follow the next day with Adil and Vasundhara, The Saturday Night Blues Band, The Blackstrat Blues and Bobby Whitlock and CoCo Carmel. This indeed proved to be the “unadulterated blues rock experience” as promised by the organizers.

Rohan Arthur

Rohan Arthur is a Photographer + Writer at What's the Scene who enjoys all music that does not involve growling/vomiting into the microphone. Rohan is the vocalist of a blues rock band and also manages another folk rock band. At every given chance, he runs away to the jungles, which he believes are his home.

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Swastika: Tribute to Bob Marley at Hard Rock Cafe, Pune

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Sourav Kumar Das

Sourav Kumar Das is a photographer from Pune who loves to click people and weddings. When he is not clicking, he is either playing his guitar, web designing or writing code!

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Harley Rock Riders – TAAQ and Half Step Down at Kyra, Bangalore

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It’s not often that you get to see a bass guitarist steal the band’s thunder (had to slip in a vague Harley reference there), but the Bangalore leg of the Harley Rock Riders gig at the revamped Kyra bore witness to this. The line-up at the concert included the Delhi-based Half Step Down, local favorites Thermal and a Quarter and a host of Harleys making up the supporting cast. Swarathma’s Jishnu was on stage in an unfamiliar emcee role and had traded his usual garb for a Harley Davidson jacket!

Half Step Down, led by vocalist Dhaval Mudgal (who happens to be Shubha Mudgal’s son) was the first band on stage and boy, did they kill it! Working in a few tidy covers into their set, HSD were full o’ flair and their reggae-influenced-rock instantly struck a chord with the audience. Guitarist Alvaro Lopez expertly handled the breaking of not one but two strings during HSD’s cover of ‘Hush’ and managed to play out a reasonable solo without missing a beat. Bassist Carl Abraham shone through the HSD originals like ‘Working Hour’ and ‘Rabbit Hole’. His finger-picking technique and sense of groove were impeccable and HSD maintained a fun and energetic vibe throughout their set. As a testament to their reggae roots they performed a tight cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’. HSD’s debut self-titled album has a few stand-out tracks but one song that doesn’t feature on the album titled ‘Mojo’ is only played live, for a reason! The song, possibly the best one of the gig, HAS to be heard live. HSD rounded their set off with a cover of Jet’s ‘Are you Gonna Be My Girl’ and one of their own compositions as the crowd appreciatively clapped for these capital fellows. (Although I could swear I heard a stray “play Coldplay” shout-out from the crowd!)

Thermal and a Quarter took to the stage and opened their set with their unreleased track ‘Simply Be’. I’ve never been disappointed at a TAAQ show and this was no exception as Bruce Lee Mani and Co, and I’m quoting HSD’s facebook page here, were a masterclass on stage. ‘Galacktiqua’, an angry song about loud billboards and neon signs and possibly the band’s loudest song was next on their setlist. A person in the audience even contrived to break his glass just as Bruce sang the lyric “Don’t lose your grip on that wine glass.”

TAAQ proceeded to do a rather surprising, Paul Anka-ish cover of Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’ which they followed up with their dedication to Christ College (faux Mallu accent and all) ‘Holy Jose’. One can argue that even the previous song was a sly dedication to their Christ college roots. TAAQ then played the instrumental track ‘Hoedown’, a traditional American folk track made most famous by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. It is this sort of eclectism that makes Thermal such an admired and respected band within the local music scene. The crowd, which consisted largely of Harley owners (and some large Harley owners) wasn’t familiar with TAAQ’s oeuvre and unfortunately never really warmed up to the terrific music on display. (this time I DID hear a “play Coldplay” shout-out from the crowd.)

The show ended with a soulful cover of Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and their most popular composition ‘Paper Puli’. Prakash was virtuoso on the bass as he effortlessly kept up with Bruce’s fancy guitar chops, even managing to overshadow him on one of his solos. Rajeev on the drums was tight as ever as TAAQ pulled off yet another impeccable show. During a trivia Q & A session during the interval, I even managed to win a pair of Sennheiser earphones! Honestly, I have only good things to say about this concert as it was the right mix of fun, high energy and really good music. Here’s hoping that Harley fans who love the trademark low-rumbling double potato sound of their bikes took a liking to the awesome sound of Indian Rock Music.

Sohan Maheshwar

Jack of all tirades, total shirk-off. Follow Sohan on twitter! @soganmageshwar

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The Bicycle Days at The BFlat Bar, Bangalore

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Dreadlocks, a leather beret and a familiar Floyd note was all The Bicycle Days gave us as an intro to their unique brand of psychedelic rock music. The Bangalore-based band performed at BFlat, Indiranagar, on Friday, 28th Oct. It was their new bassist Abhishek’s debut on home ground. The 8 p.m. gig started out with an experimental reggae-trance sound, making the 5-member band seem like an acquired taste. By the end of the evening, TBD settled into racier Radiohead-influenced material, which pleased their head-banging, foot-tapping fans.

The band’s opening number, ‘27′, had the much-required, shiver-down-your-spine effect on their early-bird audience. Taken off their 2010 debut EP 42, the song was first reminiscent of Pink Floyd before it suddenly sprouted alien sounds and drummed itself into something halfway melodic!

The second song, ‘Zorbing in Space’, confirmed the band’s non-conformity with the basic rules of song-writing. It gave us a glimpse of lead singer Karthik’s Marley phase. Following the half-hearted applause from the audience, they decide to talk to us about their third song. “This is Something Human”, said guitarist Rahul Ranganath, “It’s about humans.” Who needs long intros when the songs speak for themselves?

Around the time the Delhi-Metallica fiasco started dampening spirits at our table, The Bicycle Days kicked in with ‘Tele Drug Zombies’. It reminded us of Incubus with a slight jazz undertone. A hand full of die-hard TBD fans were lingering at the bar, mouthing the lyrics of the very aptly named ‘Fevered Ego Circus’ and bouncing up and down to the more upbeat ‘Something Human’. Little did they know that Karthik Basker had listed this song as ‘Something Gay’ on his tissue paper setlist that we managed to acquire post the show!

I like a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously and chills out with the audience more for the love of music than for the love of themselves! The Bicycle Days weren’t trying to be cute or charming. They didn’t play to the audience, but they did encourage applause. “We want more energy, Bangalore! Get drunk!” instructed Karthik just before their 5-minute timeout. “Awesome guys!” cheered the front row tables.

Our table, barely ten feet from the stage, was filled with half-empty beer bottles and Kung Pao potato. We were surrounded by the usual chilled-out Bangalore crowd, who just wanted to escape the Diwali bang-bang, which seems to be the only music we’ve been forced to hear over the past week! By the time we had soaked in the smells and sights of the tastefully decorated pub, the band had subtly returned with their sixth song ‘In This Moment’. It was the only song with a hint of Indian classical instruments, but it retained the band’s mysterious experimental tone. On their MySpace page, the band categorizes their genre as ‘Alternative / Experimental / Indie’ music. But I think the word ‘Alternative’ is the only one that truly captures their essence.

Seventh on that night’s setlist, ‘Radio Song’ was slow and enchanting. Maybe not as a much of a ear-pleaser, it had the energy to captivate listeners. Finally I could place Bicycle Days in the same zone as alternative rock band Radiohead’s OK Computer album. The band thanked the audience for the heartfelt applause that followed.

Mostly instrumental, ‘No Battery’ started off with dripping-water sounds and progressed into squeaky echoes of a child’s voice. Karthik had his arms folded across his chest and he randomly threw in some awkward hand gestures, which perfectly matched the song. The Bicycle Days had escaped into a world of its own. I sensed an element of disconnect, because of the lack of eye contact and verbal communication among band members. But more experienced TBD fans seemed to disagree. “Tonight the band is very ‘in-sync’ with each other. They’ve tremendously improved since the last time I saw them,” said Shruti Naik, who had attended TBD’s December 2010 gig at Xtreme Sports Bar, Bannerghatta.

As the night progressed, the 6-year-old video-gamer behind us fell asleep in his father’s arms. This didn’t stop his rocker-dad from head-banging and air-guitaring to ‘Circles’, the most popular song of the night. ‘Circles’ was the encore and came to be my favourite as well. The stick-in-your head guitar riffs caught my attention and sustained it through indecipherable lyrics. Considering I was a first-timer to a Bicycle Days gig and to B Flat, I couldn’t afford to be biased. But being a wordsmith, the absence of meaningful lyrics was my only pet peeve for the night.

The show met a ‘Sober Death’, which the band had strategically saved as the last song on their setlist. Throughout the gig, I was dying to ask the bassist, Abhishek, about the psychedelic stickers on his guitar but had to contend with staring at the equally psychedelic Dylan poster on the B Flat wall. Overall, I came away with an acquired sense of appreciation for the band’s music and a strong desire to see them live more often.

Parnika Reys Gamat

Parnika believes every song is a living person in an alternate universe she'd like to visit someday. You'll hardly ever see her without her headphones. Her other interests include travel, photography and poetry.

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Phoenix at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

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This review isn’t going to be a long drawn out affair because, frankly, I’m not a fan of prolonging the agony. The Phoenix gig at HRC Bangalore, showed promise because they followed Thursday night acts that have been in more than a few good books. In the current musical atmosphere – the Indian music scene blossoming as it is with bands attempting to re-invent themselves with each album, it’s difficult to appreciate or even stomach the thought of a band sustaining itself with a cover-oriented approach. But there’s a silver lining to everything, I assume.

Phoenix at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

Phoenix is a crew of five – singer Ruben, bassist Lokhi, percussionist Badri, guitarist Keith and Ankita who sings and plays the keys.

The band started out with a few Marley numbers (‘Redemption Song’ being the most notable performance). Ruben’s reedy vocals suit the dreadlocked artist’s music in specific. But no one can pull off Marley like Marley; with the second song, I was looking for a change. Welcome or not, it came in the form of The Police’s ‘Roxanne’ – an average performance that served more as a gentle reminder of the song than a powerful rendition. The only cover that I appreciated for its unique quality was their mash up of ‘Zombie’ and ‘Numb’; though it had its weak moments with the harmonies being frightfully off. YouTubing led me to a similar arrangement here. Phoenix’s version was definitely better than this. Bill Withers’ classic ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ was shaky in places. But they pulled it off with a quirky air to it. You could tell they’re better with the endearingly lazy styling of a reggae band than classic rock.

The band thereafter went through a riot of songs and artists, including Marley’s ‘Is This Love’, Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’, Guns n’ Roses, ‘Use Somebody’ by the Kings of Leon, Adele’s supremely popular ‘Rolling in the Deep’, ZZ Top’s ‘La Range’, Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’, The Doors and even a very low rendition of AC/DC and Ozzy.

Phoenix at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

I know I run the risk of sounding too close to an American Idol judge for comfort after this statement, but song choice was a huge issue; it seems to have been based more on the popularity of the song than the actual capability of the vocalists. Ankita’s voice has a beautiful tone to it but it’s not enough of a powerhouse to carry off Adele without glaring flaws and coming off as more Karaoke than Cover. Slowing the song down, adding an out-of-way instrument or doing a reggae version would’ve taken the pressure of Ankita to perform as well as the original artist.

Phoenix at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

Guitarist Keith shone throughout the performance. He whipped out a mean looking guitar just before the cover of Ozzy’s ‘Crazy Train’ and had the audience in a tizzy with his skill thereafter. Drummer Badri, hidden in the far corner of the raised stage, went about his business holding it together with as little ado as possible as did bassist Lokhi – whose dry sense of humour came across when he admitted to being “the old guy”.

All in all, I wasn’t too impressed with the band. It’s a tough business; however talented you are individually, you need to work creativity into your arrangements as a band to stand out from the crowd.

Sharanya Nair

Sharanya is a 'writer' and an 'editor'. You know the type. She loves her music too much to share.

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Mob Marley at Hard Rock Cafe, Delhi

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There is nothing I can write that will possibly justify the kaleidoscope of emotions that every single person present at Hard Rock Café went through at the Bob Marley tribute show. I am still undecided as to why they call themselves Mob Marley; the unmistakable trance-like ska tunes of those legendary Marley songs invariably invoke a sense of unity and peace and could well thwart any mob in the making.

Having arrived a little late, I did miss a song or two, but that also meant that I swam right into the groove. Frontman, Chintan’s very own description of the band: “We are Mob Marley and we have a friend here, a friend there, a friend way over there and a friend back there”. Indeed, what a night among friends that was! Chintan Kalra was in one of his many effervescent avatars, though not armed with his bass guitar this time as you would normally see him, be it with Parikrama or Think Floyd. On the contrary, he took up the role of the Rastaman himself, complete with the undeniable Jamaican accent and Marley’s signature presence.

People seated behind had no option but to stand up and take notice. Musically, the show was most enjoyable, for the lack of a better word. The distinct sound of a reggae song, the offbeat rhythms were carried out well by Raghav Dang of SkaVengers. Though I think his rhythms did go off a couple of times, overall it did not hamper the performance. Songs like ‘Buffalo Soldier’, ‘Exodus’ and ‘No Woman No Cry’ were spot on. The enthralled audience stood as if in a trance as the band rolled out super hits like ‘Could You Be Loved’ and ‘You’re So Fine’. Nikhil Vasudevan on the drums was spectacular. His subtle underplay and impeccable timing perfectly accentuated what we know as reggae. At no point did he go overboard, yet the one-off rolls hit the sweet spot flawlessly. His lazy demeanour and lazier playing style was probably custom-made for the genre.

After the mandatory break at HRC, Mob Marley again rekindled their magic with songs like ‘I Shot The Sheriff’, ‘Jamrock’, ‘Red Light’, ‘Zion’ and the likes. They did pepper the show with a few Damien Marley songs that were accompanied by some insane rapping by some Frenchman who just appeared out of the crowd. The crowd (if I must call it one) went berserk and understandably so. I for one haven’t heard anything like that before and frankly I thought it was mind blowing. Rohit Kulkarni’s mesmerizing Fender sound was very distinct – a treat to the ears. He took on the ‘Redemption Song’ solo with calm and simplicity, the essence of reggae. Even though it isn’t the most complex, to deliver that ethereal feel is imperative and Rohit did it with much élan. Sid Mathur, standing on the other side of the stage was having a good time with his bass guitar. The groovy licks sounded just right and the prominent bass lines and relentless rhythm with occasional moments of magic thrown in did wonders to hold together the Jamaican sound.

Overall, I think Mob Marley would have definitely made Bob proud. I’ll end this narrative with one of my favourite quotes by the Man, the Legend, our very own Rastaman, Bob Marley.

“Free speech carries with it some freedom to listen”

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