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Interview with Rzhude David

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Rudy David aka Rzhude is a Bangalore-based singer-songwriter, studio owner, sound engineer and producer. He is also a founder member of Thermal And A Quarter (TAAQ) with numerous singles, albums and tours to his credit. Currently, he’s a session bass player for Dr. L Subramaniam Global Fusion Group, Lucky Ali, The Raghu Dixit Project among other fusion and rock groups.

WTS: If someone were to give you an unlimited budget, what bass gear would you buy and why?

Rzhude: Well, once the stuff between your ears and your fingers are practiced, then the next point is the instrument. In an unlimited situation, I’d get the NS Design CR Series 4-String Electric Double Bass and the Warwick Infinity Bass Neck-Through 5-String. Sure there are more expensive made to order possibilities but these are off the rack instruments that make the grade quite nicely. SWR Classic Series SM-1500 1500W Bass Amp Head, SWR Goliath Senior IV 6X10 Bass Speaker Cabinet for amplification duties.

Once the signal leaves the guitar, I’d want a really good cable. I’m not so hot on active pickups, but what I really like is passive pick-ups with an active EQ. I’m not into fx processors either but the Eden WTDI World Tour Direct Box and Bass Preamp and the Roland VB-99 V-Bass System could be thrown in for fun.

WTS: What would u prefer – 4/5/6-string?

Rzhude: For me it’s the middle path again, the 5-string completes the range for me. I’m not so much of a high solo-ing kind of a person, I’m a groove-oriented bass player. It’s more like it opens up enough positions using that 5th string itself. For a time, when I started out, probably 12 years back, when I switched from 4 to 5, it took some getting used to. The B string turned out to be a nice place to rest your thumb! Once you get used to it, then you find it pretty handy, although I know that there are some bass players, including a friend of mine who says “If you can’t play it with four, you can’t play it with more”.

WTS: Do you use a signature ‘tone’ for each song or each style of music? How do you get your tones, i.e. tweaking the amp/tweaking the EQ on the bass/using a pedal or all of the above?

Rzhude: If I’m doing session work then it depends on the song. I’d most likely set it up from my Bass pre-amp head and keep it set for the session. If I’m going into a recording situation, with a ‘post effects’ scenario, I go cleaner from the amp and if required, tweak the tone and add fx at the mixing stage. But live its usually just one tone because once I’m set with the sound I like, I don’t fiddle with the amp – I might just move finger position from the bridge to the neck and maybe the mid frequencies. I flip the pick-up mix for soloing and boost the mids a notch with a parametric EQ.

WTS: Do you think a basic knowledge of sound engineering is a requisite when you set up for a gig, or can one get away by going with “what sounds best”?

Rzhude: It’s useful to know these things but I don’t think it’s essential. It will help to know what a sound person has to deal with – that is the most important job at a live gig and high-pressure as it gets. If you’re used to a sound engineer then he knows what you want so you get a good mix of everything coming back to you and it helps to know what’s going on out there and not be unrealistic about your sound demands. I think “what sounds best” is best left to a sound engineer (or two!). Because there’s one doing your front of house mix, which you aren’t going to be able to hear anyway, and there’s one doing your monitor mix which is really crucial to you. My tone I get from the amp and the instrument EQ and the level of the amp should be set according the balance coming off stage and that’s a call for the FOH engineer directly and not as loud as most guitar players want it (you can have more on your monitors!)

WTS: In your opinion, what does it take for a band to make it big in today’s scenario? Also, how do manage to keep things together for a long enough time, like TAAQ?

Rzhude: It means working out your differences and sticking together for what makes sense to you – the music and the right reasons. Keeping a band together is not an easy thing to do – first of all, even getting a band together is not a simple task. There are different definitions of success – I know bands that have been together for 20 years and are quite happy being as they are, not really bothered about who thinks what of their music, or even if anyone is listening to them. They’re probably happy to just meet up now and then and have fun playing their own stuff! If you look at a different context, where it has to make commercial sense to you, then you have to look at what kind of music you plan to play, who your target audience is and how you plan to reach them.

The 11 odd years with TAAQ involved a LOT of practice. What it does give you is chops a-plenty, you have time to work things out with guys who will accommodate you, as opposed to coming in ‘fresh’ to a session, where you have a few hours to work out a set-list. Keeping a band together means working out your personal and musical differences. The joy of being in a band itself is the camaraderie, sharing more than just music with the guys – sharing personal ups and downs. You have to take your songs out in the open in any live format. You have to grow your audience, and the only way to do that is to play, play and play. And once you break through the idea and glamour of ‘being a rockstar’ you realize it isn’t so, and it involves a lot of hard work.

On another note, in today scenario with the kind of recording gear and software we have, it’s much easier to put down your sound and cut a demo than it was, say 10 years ago. A lot of new bands get noticed this way – put up your music and a video on YouTube, if you get a couple of lakh hits, then you get more and more gigs and can command your price for the next gig!

There’s nothing like actually going out and finding that feeling of playing – you are entertaining and more than anything else if you can focus on expressing yourself with this sound and being a part of a group – that’s important and a lot of people forget that. If you are able to get into that zone where you just connect with your instrument and the music and each note at your finger- that is the zone you want to be in, like a meditative state of music. That’s what I look for now, getting into that zone and simply playing the moment.

WTS: How important is sight reading in today’s music scene?

Rzhude: Again, it depends on the kind of music you are playing and the group you are playing it with. For the most part it’s not that important, especially if you are just starting out, you could get away with knowing some theory without knowing how to read or write it. But at some point of time it does come across as the base of music itself, because it is a universal language. For a long time, the only way I could get my music out was by playing the guitar or using a recorder. If you look at any ‘literate’ musician, they don’t need an instrument. When you do that formal education, what it does for you is make you aware of a lot more than just your instrument and you can immediately start writing out different sections on your own.

But over the last few years, using technology like ProTools and Sibelius, I’ve been able to notate much faster – the computer takes that learning curve from you and does a lot of the memory work. I would say it is very important if you are getting serious about your music, if you want to just have fun, then you let the music play you.

WTS: Which artists and bands have had the most significant influence on your playing?

Rzhude: I’d say my single biggest influence, as a singer-songwriter would be James Taylor. Back in the late 80sI was completely floored by his ability to sing and write those songs and amazing production of albums like Never Die Young and Hourglass in the 90s. If I had to list them out, I’d say – James Taylor, The Beatles, Sting and Steely Dan. Today it’s much wider with singers like Abida Parveen and Dhafer Youssuf in the fray on my playlists. As a genre of music, I’m more into acoustic folk. Indian folk music, which is something I grew up listening to, has also had a big influence. As a bass player I haven’t been influenced by anyone in particular.

WTS: Which is your favourite genre for bass playing and why?

Rzhude: I’ve been playing all kinds of music, but now I prefer what you would call ‘fusion’ music. I’ve always had an inclination towards Indian (Carnatic) music which I’ve studied enough to be able to translate some of that learning into my guitar playing and from that onto my bass playing.

‘Fusion’ is such a huge space with so much to do! With this genre of music, if you are lucky you will meet maybe just once before a gig, and most likely you’ll be really working it out on stage. A lot of it is very spontaneous and that is what I like now- because you have no choice but to go into that zone where you really connect with your instrument and the musicians that you are working with. It’s like jazz, in that you have a standard format, but then you count on your musicianship to be able to break that open and make something new out of it.

WTS: Are you a bass player who composes or a composer who plays bass?

Rzhude: The myth to be busted here is that I’m known as a bass player because I’ve been associated with the instrument in a band for many years and although I completely love playing the bass, I see myself as being much broader than a bass player.

So I’d have to say the latter, because I’ve been composing since I was in school, and the way I took up bass was by default – I went to listen to a band in Chennai called Grasshopper Green, where a friend of mine was the bass player, he stopped coming soon after, and his bass was just lying there. So I was asked to play, and had fun playing the instrument, after which these guys said “Hold on to it, keep playing!” So I’d say bass is something I play because of the experience that I’ve had playing it.

My only influence as a bass player would probably be Keith Peters, since he was the bass player in my acoustic band back in 1994!

WTS: The question everyone is asking – why did you break away from TAAQ?

Rzhude: 11 years with one band was about as much as I could take, which was restrictive in the sense that I have a lot more than just one type of music to do. From both the band’s perspective and mine, it made sense – it got to be a lot more serious along the way, and fun is where it stopped for me. Personally I didn’t enjoy playing the pub-scene any more, and those were the main ‘bread and butter’ kind of gigs we were dragging ass around for. Besides, I had also crossed a certain age barrier, where I’d decided on more time for my personal life. It’s been a good thing for me and I know the band will move in a new direction too. I’m still open to session playing with TAAQ – which has happened happily enough on more than one occasion.

WTS: What are the current projects you are working on/involved in?

Rzhude: I’ve been associated more recently with artists like Dr. L Subramaniam and Kavita Krishnamurthy among a host of other great musicians in the Indian Music and Fusion scene. In the last 2 years I’ve played some of the best gigs in my life – touring places like Brazil, Africa and Europe. Besides this, I’ve been active as a producer and engineer – doing a wide variety of albums and demos across different styles and aesthetic. I run my own project studio here in Bangalore with a niche Brand and Sound Identity design service that I’m enjoying. I’m involved in projects that involve Music Education, technology, retail and production – so I’m keeping the mix busy and open to new possibilities.

WTS: What have been the major highlights in your musical career till date?

Rzhude: My first album – produced by Paul Jacob and John Anthony in Chennai 1994 – recorded on 16 track tape. Sharing stage with Deep Purple and Jethro Tull. The last album with TAAQ produced at A.R Rahman’s AM studios with Jeff Peters on the mix – this is as good as it gets anywhere in the world. Also, setting up my own studio and producing music for both TAAQ and other artists since and touring Brazil and Europe.

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Galeej Gurus at Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad

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Galeej Gurus

Named as one of India’s “hottest bands” according to Rolling Stones in 2010, the opening act for bands like Mr. Big, Deep Purple, Bryan Adams;  and having played in Dubai Dessert Rock Festival alongside bands like Velvet Revolver, Korn, Killswitch Engage, As I Lay Dying, Galeej Gurus is a force to reckon with. Their growing fan club in Hyderabad couldn’t wait to listen to them yet again and could barelty contain their excitement. Formed in the year 2000, the Galeej Gurus have been in the music scene for over a decade with over 500 gigs in their kitty. Their line-up includes Nathan Harris on vocals, Naveen Thomas on the guitars, Ananth Menon on guitars and vocals, Matthew Harris on the bass and Kishan Balaji on the drums.

Galeej Gurus at Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad

As a band, their influences are Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Eric Clapton, Steve Vai and Deep Purple. However individually, Nathan’s influences include Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Guns n Roses, Robbie Williams, Prince etc., while Ananth tips towards blues and rock and roll. Matthew draws his inspiration from modern guitar funk and rock, for Naveen Thomas, who is considered the “most technically proficient” musician in the band, it is more of progressive influences like Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation, Tool, Killswitch Engage etc. , and Kishan is inspired by “freestyle improvisation” and jazz. A blend of their individuality is the essence of their band. Galeej Gurus’ music, according to them, is a bit of Alternative, Funk, Blues-Rock, Progressive and Grunge put together; whereas critics classify them as Indie Rock.

Galeej Gurus at Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad

Their set list for the day was a mix of their compositions and covers. The band opened with their own composition ‘Believe in Tomorrow’, to warm up the crowd. Picking up pace, their OCs ‘She’s Mine’, ‘Play On’, Jet’s ‘Cold Hard B*tch’ got the crowd pumped up.  Ananth’s bluesy voice was perfect for the cover of Eric Clapton’s ‘Before You Accuse Me’. ‘Blind’, ‘Make some Noise’,’ Dark Hungry Eyes’ were the rest of their OCs for the first half of the evening. By the second half of the gig, the crowd grew bigger and the energy grew higher. This second set included 3 Doors Down’s ‘Loser’ along with Maroon 5’s ‘Move like Jagger’ and another composition ‘Flyaway’. The crowd sang along during Foo Fighter’s ‘Rope’ and King’s of Leon’s ‘Use Somebody’, while the band continued on with their other compositions ‘Breathe’ and ‘Physiological Breakdown’. The finale was a medley of three rock legends – Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole lotta love’, Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ and Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Are you gonna go my way’ leading to ‘Full meals’  by The Wayside. They threw in a few amazing guitar and bass solos and pulled in Baba – Native Tongue’s  frontman and a good friend of the band for one of the numbers, which added to the overall flavour.

Galeej Gurus at Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad

Every composition of theirs has a bit of Alternative and Progressive while most of them were groovy. Nathan’s versatile vocals, Naveen Thomas and Ananth’s skills on the guitar, crazy bass riffs by Matthew and Kishan’s tight drumming put together, makes a perfectly wrapped package of good music.

The sound was decent with very few glitches and there were quite a good number of people for a weekday evening. As the front man, Nathan knew how to keep the crowd engaged throughout the gig.  The energy of the entire band was so contagious, they crowd couldn’t contain themselves. Everyone was high on music (also on booze, but mostly music) till the end.

Galeej Gurus at Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad

Galeej Gurus claim that they are “a bunch of crazy ass rockers who don’t understand the meaning of ‘keep it quiet!’” and they sure kept their word! After a week of rain and traffic jams, an evening with Galeej Gurus at Hard Rock Café was the perfect way to unwind.

Vini Lilian

Vini works with an ad agency. She's a metalhead who can't play metal so she writes about it. She loves tattoos!

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Bhoomi, Caesar’s Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

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First things first – What a venue! The open air amphitheater with the UB City tower looming majestically in the background, and its big bright blue horse logo looking down upon us was quite an amazing sight! And what’s more – for a city perpetually stuck in traffic jams, its habba started dot on time.

The line-up on this particular evening comprised of metal aficionados Bhoomi, the multi-genre, Bangalore based Caesar’s Palace and Bangalore rockers Thermal and a Quarter who made a surprise entry later. All three of them, veterans of the Bangalore rock scene, took to the stage with the promise of a great Saturday evening and they sure lived up to it.

Bhoomi, Caesar's Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

First up was Bhoomi, one of Bangalore’s oldest and best metal acts. They started the evening with their renditions of rock classics like AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’, and smoothly drifted into Deep Purple land with Jason Zachariah belting out the keyboard solo to Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’ and then Tony Das belting out the guitar solo from ‘Burn’, both playing them absolutely perfectly. Though I’m a fan of bands covering songs their own way rather than playing it exactly like it is, I have to admit that Bhoomi’s version of ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ did seem a tad out of place and unnecessarily heavy. Tony Das sang the next song ‘Burn it Down’, a very bluesy number with some great guitar licks. This was followed by another cover, Mr. Big’s ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy’.

They finally went into their originals, starting with ‘Inside Story’, a song about the press today and its obsession with the personal lives and affairs of celebrities. It had some great harmonies between Tony and Jason and ended with a really cool guitar-hero solo from the former. Next they played ‘Uncultured’, a song about riots with some really powerful vocals. It had a great vibe and had me replaying “Come help us fight…War without reason” in my head even after they finished. Their last song was ‘The Game’, a song about playing music live (I loved how Sujay bonded with the audience by explaining each song before playing it. Tony thought the better alternative was to chug some beer before each song. I loved that too!) The final track had a great riff, fierce drumming from Kishan Balaji and very eerie vocal harmonies, a powerful song to end their performance.

The band announced their new album set to release later this year, which is being produced by Neil Kernon, of Queensryche and Nevermore fame. When asked if this is the next big step for Indian bands i.e., to have internationally produced and marketed albums, frontman Sujay replies, “Definitely. It’s already happening. Not only international producers, but there are also many Indian producers with very good technical skills. In a few years, the Indian rock scene will be self-sufficient and we won’t have to look to the west for everything.”

Bhoomi, Caesar's Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

Next up were Caesar’s Palace   a rock/funk/blues/soul/jazz/disco/phew! band from Bangalore. They played a very groovy, almost dance-y set of songs. They started with a cover of RHCP’s ‘Readymade’ and soon went into originals starting with ‘3 hour love affair’. The bassist Kenneth Wilson’s getup with his hood and shades (at 8:00 in the night) looked exponentially less pretentious with each note he played as he got them grooves going. ‘Stare’ had some funny lyrics about the cliche` of thinking deeper. Unni, the frontman then announced that they were going to cover Bappi Lahiri and frankly, I was disappointed to know that it was a joke. This is one band that could actually pull it off! They did come close to it though as they played a very 80s disco style original called ‘Get Your Mojo On’. By this time, Kishan Balaji had begun to look like some medieval war hero (read madman) behind his drums. He and Jason Zachariah had battled and conquered every style from heavy metal to funk and now even disco, both of them having played for both Bhoomi and Caesar’s palace.

They continued their brand of funk with a sense of humour with ‘Wol Chod’, which had some cool slap bass and screeching wah. ‘Dreams’ had a groove that got the entire amphitheater swinging their heads from side to side and had some interesting guitar and bass harmonies. The song ended with a great keyboard solo. They then went into a very well done medley of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ and ‘Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough’ followed by Tenacious D’s ‘Tribute’ that ended with the outro of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ which Unni pulled off perfectly. It was great to see how open minded they are to different genres of music, and not just open minded, but also technically proficient enough to pull off all these varied styles.

Bhoomi, Caesar's Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

The highlight of their performance was ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ by Ray Charles, done in a modern John Mayer style. It ended with a jugalbandi of sorts between the guitar and keys. Jason then played a beautiful piano solo that quietly blended into ‘Swim’, a lovely ballad. They ended with ‘Bittersweet Mind’, a typical 12-bar blues song but with some exciting odd-time signature twists to it.

The night was already going on a high when Unni announced that Thermal and a Quarter was going to take to the stage next and caught everyone by surprise. Thermal and a Quarter or TAAQ , as they are popularly known, consists of Bruce Lee Mani on vocals/guitar, Rajeev Rajagopal on drums and Prakash K.N on bass who happen to be Bangalore’s favourite power trio. This was proven by the fact that despite the fact that it was getting late and terribly cold in the open air amphitheater, the audience didn’t seem to want to be anywhere else.

Bhoomi, Caesar's Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

The trio kick-started their set with ‘Can you fly’, a typical TAAQ song with jazzy guitar playing, great vocals and a powerful rhythm section. Their second song was ‘Meter Mele One and a Half’, about the auto-rickshaw drivers in Bangalore. As Bruce Lee Mani sang about the woes of the average Bangalorean, I couldn’t help thinking that the band’s music IS indeed the sound of urban Bangalore. They do sound like UB City at night, like the traffic jams, like Masala Dosas, like an auto-rickshaw’s faulty meter, like Cubbon Park, IT parks and all things Bangalorean.

They continued in the same spirit with some “tapang-blues” with ‘If Them’ and ‘For the Cat’ which got few audience members even doing some tapang moves in the front row, as Bruce himself cheered them on! Quite impressive on the part of the dancers I’d say, considering the fact that ‘For the Cat’ had many time meter changes.

Their next song ‘Birthday’  was dedicated to Rajeev’s mother as it was the eve of her birthday. And apparently it’s no ordinary birthday song. As Bruce explained, “It’s about wanting my birthday to be a space and not a time. Very deep…very deep!” This was followed by one of my personal favourites – TAAQ’s rendition of ‘Hey Jude’. It amazed me to see how they could take a classic as popular as ‘Hey Jude’, turn it upside down and change it around completely and still maintain the feel of the original. TAAQ’s version of the song has to be heard to be believed! Their last song ‘Chainese Item’ sounded like the theme song to a spy movie where everyone’s running behind a plate of chow mein, for some reason. Or maybe the ridiculously cold breeze was finally getting to me!

Thermal and a Quarter were undoubtedly the heroes of the evening, captivating the audience with their distinct sound and energetic performance. Overall, a great gig and a perfect Saturday evening, all three bands providing three different versions of that rock and roll sound we all love.

The moral of the story at the Habba’s rock fest seemed to be that rock fests no longer mean copying the west. As the three veterans showed us, rock music in Bangalore today is more about ourselves and all the things that affect us in our lives. It’s more personal and easy to relate to than ever. I think it’s this quality of the music that made it so enjoyable and is making an increasing number of people turn up for concerts like these.

Abhishek Prakash

Abhishek Prakash is a Bangalore based guitarist and is a third of local act Groove Chutney. He loves jazz, street food, Woody Allen movies and often pretends to be a writer.

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Girish and The Chronicles at The Kyra Theatre, Bangalore

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It was a lazy Saturday evening with uncharacteristically empty roads in Bangalore, thanks to an extended holiday week. I had decided to attend the performance of a band that would be playing classic and ’80s rock. A quick check on Facebook about the band’s profile and some of their originals got me quite excited for the performance.

The gig was scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. and I was there by 8, not wanting to miss any part of the show. I got the chance to interact with the band’s manager, Ujjwal just before the show started and managed to get some interesting bits of information about the music scene in the North East.

The band came on stage a bit later than the scheduled start. After a brief jam and introduction session, they started off with The Eagles’ ‘New Kid in Town’. There was a small cheer from a section of the crowd as the familiar intro to the song started. Girish’s mellow vocals, although not a faithful reproduction of Glenn Frey’s, perfectly captured the melancholy of the fleeting nature of fame that The Eagles showcased in this song.

Next up was ‘Proud Mary’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival, another gem from the stable of classic rock. The band’s version of this song had a slight hard rock edge, understandably so, considering their influences and genre. Suraz set the stage ablaze with the brief but amazing solo; Girish carried off the raspy vocals in the style of John Fogerty quite well, just enough to retain the charm of the original in the signature “Rollin’…” chorus.

The band quickly shifted gears to the all-time Rock n’ Roll classic, ‘Johnny B. Goode’ by Chuck Berry. The high-energy song had the people on their feet soon enough and Suraz did complete justice to the legend’s solo.

Our expectations were already sky-high after three back to back perfectly executed classic rock songs but nothing had prepared us for the next one. Nagen and Yogesh started a sonic assault on the audience and soon Suraz and Girish joined in with a rocking riff and a high-pitched scream. The real rock-lovers in the audience were blown away. It was ‘Rock n’ Roll’ by Led Zeppelin! The performance was electrifying and raw, true to the style of Led Zeppelin. Bonzo would have been proud of the drumming. It would have been difficult to say if it was Plant or Girish on the stage if your eyes were closed. Suraz was impeccable. Not many bands dare play Led Zeppelin live but the quartet present in front of us matched the other legendary quartet in every aspect. The drum roll at the end of this song was icing on the cake.

By now, the band had everyone captivated and no one was going anywhere. Perhaps realizing that there is something as too much awesomeness, the band brought down the tempo a bit with another song by The Eagles, ‘Get Over It’. Suraz started off with an ear-melting solo. As the song progressed, it was clear that this was not a replica band. A distinct Judas Priest influence in the riffs and drums could be detected which made this classic even more enjoyable.

I was told earlier that Sebastian Bach of Skid Row was a fan of Girish’s vocal prowess. After this performance, I could understand why – the band performed the super-hit ballad by Skid Row from the 80s, ‘18 and Life’ which had Bach himself on the vocals. Girish had us mesmerized with his vocal range that’s a hallmark of this ballad. You have to listen to it to realize how difficult it can be to sing. Suraz was again at the top with a solo that captured the nostalgia of power ballads from the 80s era.

As the ballad faded out, we were greeted with what is perhaps the most famous riff in the history of rock music. ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple was next in line. Girish had demonstrated an uncanny ability to sound similar to quite a few legendary vocalists by now and this one was no exception. The bassist had a nice slap tone for the sound and it seemed like Suraz would set the fret board on fire with a well-replicated solo.

I had barely recovered from the crescendo that Girish’s voice reached at the end of ‘Smoke on the Water’ and I could already recognize the badass intro sequence from ‘Highway Star’ (Deep Purple again) drifting into my ears. The quartet was blasting out this classic with the same raw intensity as they had displayed with ‘Rock n’ Roll’ by Zeppelin. The fact that no one felt the absence of the organ solo in this song says a lot about the tight and technically-accurate performance. The night just kept getting better.

Taking pity on the audience who were delirious with the mind-numbing performances put forth, the band switched to one of their originals called ‘Angel’. It is a power ballad with a very 80s feel to it, complete with a powerful build-up and a wailing guitar solo in the middle. Some were holding up candles and waving them as they sang along. It might have been as well a scene from a Def Leppard show with a signature power ballad track.

It was time for some old-school progressive rock as the band started with the high energy intro to ‘Rock Bottom’ by UFO. This was just an indicator of the versatility of the band with respect to the genres that they play. Suraz did an excellent job playing the intricate solos that form the major part of the song. This was perhaps the first time I have ever seen an Indian band perform a song from the lesser known yet legendary bands like UFO.

The band quickly progressed from ‘Rock Bottom’ to ‘Black Night’ by Deep Purple. They were turning out to be quite the Deep Purple followers! The drumming was exceptional, to say the least and was reminiscent of Neil Peart’s style in a few places.

After lulling the audience with a bluesy piece, the band decided to take the energy levels in Kyra to another level by playing two back to back AC/DC super-hits, ‘Back in Black’ and ‘Highway to Hell’. Girish’s vocals seemed a bit tired out by the time he reached the latter but then, playing such a long set with demanding vocals like that of Bon Scott can take a toll on anyone.

The band was now taking requests from the audience – along came the perfectly executed ‘Cryin’ by Aerosmith which got everyone in the audience singing along. It was time for some Led Zeppelin again with ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The band outdid themselves in this piece. It reminded me of Led Zeppelin’s performance of the same song in 1975 at Madison Square Garden. The intro to the song was simple captivating. Girish pulled off a Plant-esque stage persona with the latter’s famously generous use of “baby” in most live renditions of their songs. The highlight of the performance though was the solo by Suraz. It wasn’t a faithful reproduction of the original but that made it even the more enjoyable as we got to see his creativity in full flow.

Another request came in. This time it was ‘The Trooper’ by Iron Maiden. Girish did mention something about the band not having practiced this well enough, but it certainly didn’t seem like it when they started playing. A few people were seen headbanging to this heavy metal classic.

Sweet Child of Mine’ was their last song of the night. The song started out a bit slow compared to the original with the band taking a while to build up the tempo, but once they got into the groove it was paradise city for those who stayed back till the end.

Once the band got off stage, I could finally take my eyes off them and take in the reactions of the people around me. Folks who were in there for some good old Rock n’ Roll had got their money’s worth and the incredulous looks on their faces said it all. With bands like Girish and The Chronicles around, we don’t have to worry about good music dying out.

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Mihir Joshi’s The Bombay Rock Project at Inorbit Mall, Mumbai

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The Bombay Rock Project, although being a new entrant into Mumbai’s music scene, comprises a line-up of musicians who are well established in their own right, each of whom plays for a number of city bands. The gig they were playing today was at a mall, and I didn’t really know what to expect from them in terms of music, or the venue’s sound setup.

It was a typically windy and rainy June evening in Vashi, as the band set themselves up in the Inorbit Mall compound, close to the entrance. The place was sheltered by an unusually psychedelic looking ceiling way above, and kept out most of the rain. There was a sparse crowd present, as you’d expect in a mall, most of who were either known to the band, or curious passers-by.

A quick chat with one of the band members told me that I was to expect covers of classic Bollywood songs, with a twist, and maybe a couple of English songs thrown in as well. This surprised me, given the kind of music that I’ve heard each of these musicians play before with other bands.

So finally after a long drawn out sound check, the band was good to go. On lead guitar was Sanju Aguiar of Devoid, on bass was Ishaan Krishna of The Hoodwink Circle, on drums was Agnnelo Picaardo of Dischordian, on keyboards and saxophone was Nigel Rajaratnam of Dischordian, and spearheading the project was The Works’ vocalist, Mihir Joshi.

The first song was an upbeat cover of the title track of the Amitabh Bacchan starrer, Don, and set the stage for an energetic set list. The next was a cover of ‘Janu Meri Jaan’, from the 1980 classic, Shaan. At this point, I must admit I didn’t quite know what to make of the band. It felt a little bit indulgent, and more like they were playing to the masses, and not to a more discerning audience.

The band seemed tight and the overall sound was fairly good, given the windy conditions and that the location was for all practical purposes, a driveway. Ishaan had broken the top string of his bass guitar at the end of the second song, but to everyone’s bewilderment, nonchalantly proceeded to continue without it.

The next one was a rather crowd-pleasing mash-up medley of ‘Summer of ’69’, ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’, and ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’. The songs were blended together quite well, but essentially stayed true to the originals. This was followed by another two hindi covers of the songs ‘Dekha Na’ and ‘Jawani Janeman’. So far, I had no complaints about the performance itself, but given the set list, it felt a little like we were watching an Amitabh Bacchan tribute gig.

Things started picking up with the next song, an interesting jazz-like cover of  ‘Dum Maaro Dum’ with a nice drum solo from Agnnelo and a piano solo by Nigel. Things got even more interesting with a reggae mash-up of John Mayer’s ‘Your Body Is A WonderLand’ and Lucky Ali’s ‘O Sanam’, scoring highly on the creativity scale.

The next two songs were covers of ‘Saara Zamaana’ and ‘Aap Jaisa Koi’, both of which had a distinct classic rock feel to them, and were followed by ‘Inteha Ho Gayi’ (yet again featuring the Big B) and was for me the best song so far, with Nigel switching to the saxophone towards the end.

Tossing in another English track, the band did an unusual take on the David Guetta house sensation, ‘Love Is Gone’, before moving back into hindi mode with a cover of the title track of the movie ‘Rock On’ as Mihir went into the crowd and got people to sing along with the chorus.

In response to the crowd’s request for another fast song, Mihir belted out ‘Dance Dance’, probably not my favourite of the evening, but there was a lot of energy in the performance, and some nice guitaring by Sanju. The list concluded with ‘Om Shanti Om’ and a cover of Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke On The Water’.

The performance overall was very entertaining. Agnnelo was solid as ever on drums, Nigel was creative with his keyboard, Ishaan was quite flawless despite playing with only three strings, and Sanju’s guitar riffs were excellent. Mihir was clearly the life of the band and though his vocals were at times a little bit pitchy, more than made up for it with some incredible showmanship and stage presence.

I’ve always found it interesting to see the name of a band qualified with the word ‘Project’. It indicates a certain lack of pretence, a degree of experimentation, and to some extent, an organised approach, all of which, The Bombay Rock Project at first glance seemed to fulfill in fair measure.

The band appears to be well prepared to take on the music scene. Their costumes and logo look to be steps towards creating a solid identity. Their performance looked tight and well rehearsed, and the members appeared relaxed and were enjoying themselves. The musicianship was of excellent quality and had a balanced sound. All in all, they appear to be unabashedly, a hindi cover band, and clearly look to be taking the commercial route by introducing rock music to the masses.

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Where’s all the new music going?

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It’s 2011. Yes, over a decade since the big Y2K thing that was meant to represent the future. It’s a beautiful year and technology in all directions is doing bigger leaps everyday – Bangalore may even get decent 3G and a rail system 50ft above the ground!

So why is it then, that at almost every pub and restaurant, every new band is doing covers, and our beloved radio station, is completely obsessed with the 60s – 80s? Yes it was an awesome time for music; it was a revolution. But we’ve grown since then. Our lives are different, our pains, our joys, all stem from an understanding of what has passed and from a hope for a less bleak future.

Yet, walk into most any bar, and you’ll hear Mr. Big, Deep Purple, Bob Marley, The Beatles, Dylan, The Stones, and maybe, if they’re adventurous they may encroach on the nineties with some Aerosmith or Chili Peppers. Don’t get me wrong. I do love these bands dearly and am a giant fan of the era, but it is still the past. It’s before our time and therefore not written for us. It talks beautifully of universal things like love and philosophy, but is received more as a story handed down than a representation of where we are. It’s art after all, and art is nothing without context.

So, where is this rant headed? It’s not a stretch to reason that this stuff is played so much because it’s recognizable and people want to hear it. At the same time, big money is putting their weight behind easy-to-digest pop that most everyone hates, but accepts as an inescapable result of commercialism. This means we have a generation of people that seemingly have no one expressing their emotions, being led by a past of hardship that isn’t theirs, ironically often singing about individuality and empowerment: fighting a forgotten war with no opposition.

It’s the adult version of teenage angst. Sadly, you’ll see this spread past just music. It’s a much larger scale problem. It means we don’t actually know what we want; we’re disaffected but don’t really know why. And as a result, support or oppose things like Anna Hazare’s dictatorship proposition without weighing final outcomes. We’re a middle-class who listen to Lennon cry for peace, love and freedom, but will back a totalitarian regime if it’s packaged tidily and pushes the right buttons. We’re not invested in the world around us, because we don’t relate to it directly. It’s not just music. Think of your top 10 painters; your top 10 (non-Hollywood) movies; comic characters, recipes, clothing styles, authors, how many are from the last 5 years?

The last few big concerts I remember hearing about were Cold Player, Foreigner, Bryan Adams, Led Zepplica, Prodigy, Michael Learns to Rock, Lamb of God, the list goes on. It’s not flattering and we happily joke about India being on the ‘retirement tour’. Nobody new comes down because, when they do, nobody turns up – because nobody’s heard of them, because nobody has been sitting comfy in the sixties, unaware that the world is happy now.

We’ve come to grips with the destructive species that we are, and are fighting to save ourselves, not just say there’s a problem. Go out of your way, find music that speaks to you where you are now; you’ll learn about yourself and believe in the universe more. We can hope you’ll be happier, and maybe honk less and smile more.

Note: Prodigy did do Invaders Must Die, which I adore, in 2009. But the publicity, and the big reason people went was Smack My Bitch Up (The Fat of The Land, 1997). Even then, it was far from packed.

Ashim D'Silva

Ashim D'Silva is a grinner. He's a lover. And a sinner. He plays his music in the sun. He daylights as a web designer, bicycles everywhere, and bought his first real shirt last year. You should bring him a sandwich. With bacon, and avocado.

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The Luke Kenny Mojo Jukebox at The Blue Frog

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I love the Blues. I’ve been very recently, completely immersing my self in regular doses of Buddy Guy, SRV, Hendrix and Phil Sayce. So to say I was looking forward to watching the musicians in The Luke Kenny Mojo Jukebox really is an understatement.

Having already had a long day, I was eager to get to my favorite live music venue, The Blue Frog and sit back and soak in some long bends and cold brews. I managed to convince my famous Mallu friend Sujit to accompany me and so we caught a slow train from Malad station, party packs in our bags.

We entered just as the band was starting up. I quickly spied around and saw several usual suspects around the bar and quite a sizeable crowd. Denzil Mathais was on alone showing off his super sounding custom hollowbody guitar, wailing out some warm fuzz which suspiciously sounded like Beethoven’s Symphony No.5. Vinayak Pol and Chirayu Wedekar on drums and bass joined him to start off the song with a bang which turned out to be ‘Roll over Beethoven’. Luke walked out next to a warm welcome and danced the song out. It was a bit funny to see the whole band with scarves on; guess it was some kinda style statement that I don’t get.

After a couple of songs and a Willie Nixon cover, Luke eloquently invited his first guest out, Mahesh Naidu on blues harp, while giving us a serious face and a small history on the next song. The first few notes out of the harp assured me that we were finally getting down to business and doing a real blues number. Muddy Waters’ ‘Hootchie Cootchie Man’ tumbled out and had the crowd grooving immediately. The harp solo was off time for some reason, but the guitar solo really made up with long sweet bends and super vibrato by Denzil. Mahesh just didn’t find his groove as he spat out some odd sounding notes during the next song on the steel flute. I don’t remember what song it was but it didn’t go well, Luke’s dancing didn’t help much.

Next up was Shilpa Rao and I was really hoping the bar would now shift upwards from the ground. She looked a little nervous to begin with but when she started singing she displayed undeniable power there. ‘Nature boy’ was the first song I think, but the impressive singing came only in the next song which was an original. ‘Romeo was in love with me’ is a cool ditty although the solo interludes were basically just Denzil bailing them out. Nice work by the band.

The next song had Luke back on vocals for a nice cover of Dire Straits’ ‘Money for Nothing’ although it still didn’t qualify as blues. I saw a couple of women jiving in front and they stole my attention. Luke decided to not care about pitching anymore in this song.

The funk version of Queen’s ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ was marred by a little sloppy bass playing by the young Chirayu Wedekar and completely off key vocals. The ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ line that Denzil injected a couple of times really didn’t work. Nice tone in the guitar solo though. ‘Baby you can drive my Car’ was dismal. Tight drumming but ironically the only song about driving that night just crashed and died.

Next up was Vasuda Sharma and her Loop station. Nifty device and she managed really well creating a whole section of percussion and backing vocals in all her songs which got the crowd clapping along. Although she had pitch perfect vocals, they were a bit uninspiring. All songs had the loop station build up but she apparently decided that passing off covers of folk and country songs as the blues were good enough as long as she sang some blues notes at the end. I must mention that Neil Gomes who joined her later on ‘These boots were made for walking’ has improved a lot on the violin. The Sax playing was not upto the same mark though. The version of ‘Roadhouse Blues’ really made me sad. They ended with a shoo-be-do version of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ but I guess I was alone in my opinion because the end of her set brought on loud applause from everyone else. My friend Sujit remarked how she reminded him of singers in Goan restaurants with minus one tracks.

The next set saw Trumpet player Paul Rodrigues on a killer version of Prince’s ‘Kiss’. Great wah tone on the guitar, nice vibrato on the long trumpet notes. Tight song. Luke’s next offering was an original that made me wonder if I was fooled into thinking this was a blues gig. It was more of a soft rock song where he sang about how he always confides in his feelings.

I was really not looking forward to Sunidhi Chauhan. I mean anytime you hear a Hindi playback singer attempting blues is bound to make you gag. But boy did she prove me wrong! She looked HOT and she sang with amazing power, soul and feel. ‘Cry me a river’ was a lovely jazz blues number with a nice time signature change inserted a couple of times. It finally seemed like the gig was warming up. Then she blew the roof of the place with Dhruv Ghanekar joining the band onstage for the best performance of the evening. Janis Joplin’s ‘Piece of my heart’ was a great version that displayed some lusty and on purpose off time vocals and super guitar work by Dhruv.

Dhruv then stepped upto the mic to sing a Gary Moore classic, ‘Still got the blues’. I had never heard him sing before but that’s just as well as his singing was nothing to write home about, sounded like he had a bit of a cold maybe. The guitar tone had a nice delay wailing after his solos. Listening to him was a treat until he suddenly started shredding all over the place.

Luke was back after Dhruv exited the stage with a chunky riffed original called ‘Hard Loving Woman’. Very Deep Purple sounding and the band was tight. Great drumming by Vinayak. The last song of the night was Should I stay or should I go,’ a cover of The Clash’s punk anthem. The song had decent vocals and a killer solo courtesy of Dhruv who joined the band again for the last song of the night. Highlight of the song was the conversation between Denzil and Dhruv’s guitar. Denzil managed to more than hold his own displaying for the first time that blues band leader mentality, easily conducting the band as they jammed the song out.

All in all it was a disappointing night of music only because I felt we were served small portions of what was promised as the main course. The musicians on stage were all great and Luke’s band is pretty entertaining. I had earlier asked Rishu Singh whether Luke was a good singer and he mentioned that he has his good and bad nights. I hope this was a bad one.

 

Howard Pereira

Howard is a guitarist with Mumbai based bands, Dischordian and Overhung. His other interests include drinking, comic books and occasional writing.

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