After another dreary day at work, I was looking forward to Hard Rock Café and the Thursday gig featuring Agam, a Bangalore based ‘Carnatic Rock’ band. I’d heard a bit about the band, mostly good things but hadn’t actually seen them perform in the flesh before and was looking forward to listening to a fresh sound.
In the melee, I happened to catch up with a friend, let’s call him Mamooty for the remainder of this review, since the boys from Agam had a particular fondness for Kerala, seeing as some of them are from Kerala. As the band took the stage, Mamooty was in the middle of devouring a burger after another presumably dreary work day too. The band kicked things off with ‘Brahma’s Dance‘, which included a shloka recitation, invoking Lord Ganesh, getting the crowd in on the action. The start was attention grabbing and while the band still seemed to be getting used to the stage sound and warming up to the crowd, they sounded tight and the show promised to be interesting.
The band followed this up with ‘Saramathi Blues‘, and while Agam were living up to their billing of being a ‘Contemporary Carnatic rock’ act, I was still not entirely convinced. The band seemed to be Carnatic at times and Rock otherwise, but I wasn’t yet sold on the Carnatic Rock bit. Neither was Mamooty, still devouring his burger. The band then dropped into their rendition of ‘Geetha Dhuniku‘, a Thillana in Raga Dhanashree; a piece I was familiar with, a-not-so-easy thillana to be performing as a rock band. Mamooty’s attention went from devouring said burger to said band. Agam kicked some serious backside on this one, and the confluence of classical and rock seemed absolutely natural. The complexity of the song with respect to the vocals, rhythm and melody was captured with aplomb, and the band drew some wild applause. They followed it up with another of their originals, ‘Path of Aspirations‘, tight and crisp, with a nice funky bass intro by Vignesh.
They then drove into ‘The Boat Song‘, dedicated to Keralites, which my friend Mamooty thought was apt. The song began with gusto, I thought it had a great intro with the guitars kicking in, all in all a good, high energy song. Rahman’s ‘Muqammal‘, their next song, highlighted the guitar section quite nicely and Harish’s vocals really shone through. This was followed by a dedication to their alma mater, BITS Pilani, featuring a great aalap, although I would’ve liked to see a stronger ending. Next up, ‘Rudra‘, one of the band’s heavier songs, began with a nice metallish start, although I would’ve liked the djentlemen on the guitar, Praveen and Suraj, to get a little more into the song with their stage antics. A slightly disappointing aspect of some of Agam’s songs is the predictable ending after some creative aalaps, and blazing guitar and violin solos and strong, tight drums and bass. The band proceeded to take a break and Mamooty proceeded to indulge me in a discussion about Carnatic music, life, the universe and everything.
The first song after the break, had an intro very reminiscent of Rush’s ‘YYZ‘, with a complex rhythm structure and an interesting choice of raga. Up until this song, I’d barely noticed the bassist coming in with harmonies, but the level on the PA was quite low and the harmonies sounded a touch weak. Frontman Harish, proved himself an adept salesman by ranting about how Agam is a really sucky cover band and then followed it up with a couple of stunning Rahman covers. ‘Hamma Hamma‘ and ‘Dil Se‘ were bang on the money, with the entire band rising to the occasion brilliantly. Another couple of notable Rahman covers included the band’s rendition of ‘Maa Tujhe Salaam‘ and what to me was the highlight of the evening, a ballsy cover of ‘Aaromale‘ from Vinnaithandi Varuvaya. Harish’s vocals absolutely rose to the occasion on this cover, with a brilliant aalap and the band pulled off a cover I suspect Alphonse Joseph and the maestro, Rahman himself would be proud of. At this point, my only gripe was that they didn’t sing the Tamil versions of some of the Rahman covers. Koothu Over Coffee was well, more Koothu over beer, and even more fun. The crowd was definitely having a blast and clamouring for what was supposed to be the highlight of their previous Hard Rock Café Hyderabad gig, Malhaar Jam. And the band didn’t disappoint. They seemed to loosen up a little more and seemed less self-conscious than the first half and it was great to see them have a blast on stage as well.
A few things; Harish was outstanding as a vocalist and a violinist and did a good job as a frontman. I would’ve liked to see a bit more energy from the rest of the band though. At times the guitar levels were all over the place with some of the solos being drowned out by the other guitar, interchangeably so between the two guitarists. Praveen is a talented soloist and Vignesh on the bass kept things nice and tight, despite the odd fumble here and there. Ganesh on the drums did a good, crisp job with the drums, and made for a tight rhythm section along with Vignesh, pulling off complex time signatures with aplomb. I must mention here though, that the acoustics at HRC, Hyderabad are pretty ordinary and there isn’t much a band can do about it when the sound isn’t helping your cause. The apparent disconnect between Carnatic and rock crept up at the odd moment here and there, but overall, I must admit, Agam’s sound is refreshing. They certainly had the crowd’s undivided attention for the majority of their set and even got them to sing along and have a blast while at it!
All in all, I thought it was a super fun gig to be at and would definitely catch these guys again.Hyderabad has been seeing some good, innovative and fun acts over the last year. Vocalist and violinist, Harish, could alternately look to get himself to perform at the hallowed Music Academy in Chennai or Chowdaiah Memorial in Bangalore in the capacity of a proper Carnatic musician. That being said, a fresh sound is always a welcome change. With that, Mamooty left the building, and so did the rest of us.