Tag Archives: Fix You

Penn Masala at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore


The term ‘boy band’ is dismissively used and abused as shorthand for everything that’s wrong with the music industry – whether personality-free meat puppets heeding their Machiavellian producers, or guile-less manipulation, or a general lack of character, integrity, and quality in the product itself. By ‘product’, I mean the music, but that’s the sort of word the puppet masters are supposed to use to describe something as elemental as music – a product to be hawked. However, often lost in this monetary maelstrom is that product – the songs are frequently frighteningly good. They’re appealing, catchy earworms that are even, summoning my forces of Carnatic music clichés, mellifluous. 

When Penn Masala took the stage at a packed Hard Rock Café on the 10th of January, the first impression was that they were a boy band. Eleven young lads trooping onto the roof of the bar made me marvel at the structural integrity of the stage, and these gents had no instruments – they had no names either, apart from the one alumnus who joined them for a couple of tunes. The rest didn’t introduce themselves, reduced to being marked only by their quirks of appearance under their uniform colour-coded attire – that one in the waistcoat, the one who looked like a cross between Vir Das and Ranbir Kapoor, the one who looked like a lost brother of Joaquin Phoenix (See also: ‘that white guy in the brown group’), and so on.

Penn Masala, hailing from the University of Pennsylvania, are billed as one of the world’s preeminent Hindi a capella bands. A capella, Italian for ‘in the manner of the church/chapel’, has come to mean singing without any/minimal backing instrumentation. ‘Voice only’, one might say. In other words, Penn Masala were very much on friendly turf – a capella is hard coded into every Indian’s genetic makeup by that bane of school excursion buses everywhere: Antakshari.

They kicked off their first set with Outlandish’s version of ‘Aicha’, and two things were immediately apparent – that they had solid backing arrangements and that their lead vocalists were hit-and-miss, some sounding a little off key. It took a while to get warmed up, but the crowd really got going, in brazen defiance of the prevailing political climate, when Penn dove into Atif Aslam’s ‘Woh Lamhe’, with the band almost being drowned out by the crowd for most of the song.

That exuberance was a sight to behold for the rest of the gig. Penn Masala took a break shortly after, and when they returned for their second set, most of the songs (‘Tu Aashiqui Hai’, ‘She Will Be Loved’ and especially ‘Fix You’) were raucously matched by the crowd – that’s the benefit of singing popular songs that the crowd had been weaned on, or perhaps the benefit of allowing more alcohol to be imbibed.


The night’s setlist was as close to (discounting Real McCoy’s ‘Another Night’) a list of modern standards as you can get – Atif Aslam, Maroon 5, Coldplay, but as stated earlier, the quality of the singing itself was variable to an extent I wouldn’t have expected from a band that’s been around for fifteen years and released seven albums. But then I realized that Penn Masala is indeed a boy band, in the conceptual sense of the term – they aren’t a band per se, but more a brand with a revolving door of members (thanks to that annoying college conceit called ‘graduation’). I say that not as a slight, but to gain a measure of understanding. While ‘Penn Masala’ have been around for fifteen years, as too some of the arrangements used, the singers themselves are relatively wet behind the ears. Keeping that in mind, the band actually did a remarkable job of supporting each other, often adapting their harmonizing to the key of the vocalist.

Yes, Penn Masala is a boy band – literally as well, for a group of women I met before the concert told me (facetiously, of course… I hope) that they’d come to scout prospective grooms from this buffet of eligible gujju (I checked – they’re not all gujju) boys. Though not without their faults, the liveliness, charm, and the sheer energy of the crowd and band in tandem won over pretty much everyone in attendance.

On the other hand, I must mention that there was one gent who grumbled that all the people who were cheering off-key singing were a blight on humanity. It takes all kinds to make the world.

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Varun Rajiv

Varun Rajiv has tinnitus. The first band he adored with all his heart was Boyzone.


Coldplayer live at UB City,Bangalore





Being a fan of Coldplay, this was an evening I certainly didn’t want to miss. By the end of it, I was convinced that even if I wasn’t a fan, I still would’ve loved it. The start of the show was delayed by nearly an hour, which was a real turn off, especially for those who’d shown up on time. Now I don’t know whether to blame the organisation, or Bangalore’s audience, which is normally known to be late. The crowd poured in very slowly for the first hour, either hoping to skip the opening act, or because they were stuck in traffic, and eventually the late audience and the late beginning turned out to be perfectly in sync with each other.

The opening act was a solo artist, Thom Chacon. He is currently promoting his latest album Featherweight Fighter, produced by the legendary Perry Margouleff. Thom played an impressive set, with completely original material. He captivated the audience with nothing but his guitar, his harmonica and his voice. His set was very reminiscent of American-Folk, yet I won’t venture as far as putting him into such a tight box, because his style was nonetheless unique. Between his tracks, he would talk to the audience, and share stories, like a true story-teller. His style reminded me of the legendary story-tellers, Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. Some of the more memorable numbers included, ‘She Ain’t The One’, ‘The Devil You Know’ and ‘Innocent Man’. But I think the unequivocal winner on his set was ‘Crazy Pills’. I simply loved this song! The lyrics were simple, yet reflected Thom’s depth as a songwriter.

There wasn’t much of a wait after Thom Chacon went off stage. ColdPlayer made a dramatic entrance, with a darkened stage and a powerful introduction by the MC. Then suddenly, the lights, the band, and the sound exploded spectacularly into the night. This entrance got the crowd very excited after the long wait. The band looked every bit like what everyone was expecting. From the way they dressed to the way they sounded to the way they moved around on stage, everything was so authentic! It was an uncanny first couple of minutes where I had to keep telling myself that I wasn’t watching Coldplay themselves. The sound of the band was so rich and full. It was very evident that they had put in a lot of work as a band and crew to form the complete Coldplay experience.

The entire band was dressed in a grungy ‘Viva la Vida’ style, complete with French Revolution coats, and hats and Converse shoes. The vocalist went even further with his hand-bands and plastic rings, emulating Chris Martin. The way he romanced the mike, the way he would sit at the piano, the way he would look away into the distance and sing, everything was such a brilliant imitation.

They played most of the popular ColdPlay tracks and even interspersed it with some of the lesser known tracks, but the Bangalore audience kept up throughout the set! I couldn’t believe my ears when the audience were singing along to every single track for the entire two-hour set! The band looked quite impressed with the audience too. I saw them on many occasions looking at each other, completely stumped by how much the audience knew. I spoke to them later, and it transpired that they had been told to expect maniacal metal fans in Bangalore. It took them completely by surprise when Bangalore was singing Coldplay, word for word.

The band let the crowd do parts of many of the tracks, like ‘In My Place’, ‘Fix You’, ‘Politik’, ‘Yellow’ and ‘Trouble’. The crowd went berserk when asked to sing. They even sang along in tune, and in time! Hats off to everyone there! You were awesome.

The first set was one of very very high energy levels with tracks like ‘Speed of Sound’ and ‘In My Place’. To add to the ColdPlay act, in the middle of ‘Yellow’, a lot of yellow balloons were released into the air. This added to the authenticity of the evening. The crowd was having a blast throwing the big balloons around, sometimes even throwing the balloons onto the stage. The band would promptly throw the balloons back into the crowd. The band was having so much fun, jumping off the drummer’s stage, and running around that they tired themselves out after a while. The drummer and bassist took a break while the vocalist and guitarist kept the crowd swaying to some of the mellow numbers, like, ‘Green Eyes’ and ‘Trouble’. When the entire band got back together on-stage, they went wild with another powerful set.

Replicating the stage antics of Coldplay, they even brought out a bat and ball towards the end of their set and batted some balls to the crowd. Right at the end they even gave away the bat, a hat and a couple of guitar picks. The crowd loved them so much that they repeatedly kept asking for an encore. The by-now-exhausted band took on a couple of encore tracks, and finally ended with ‘Yellow’, sung mostly by the crowd. It was the perfect end to a fantastic evening.

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Bharath Kumar

Bharath Kumar, besides being a full-time geek, is a keyboard player and music producer. He runs his own studio, Minim Sound Labs www.minimsoundlabs.com, and is an active volunteer in various charities.