Tag Archives: Jai Row Kavi

Mahindra Blues Festival 2015 – Day 1 at Mehboob Studio, Mumbai

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Black Gives Way To Blues

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It must not be easy being a blues instrumentalist in India. But then Warren Mendonsa, the brains (and fingers) behind Blackstratblues (BSB), has not exactly trodden the beaten path. As a bright young spark on the Indian rock landscape, his band Zero (with Sidd Coutto, Bobby Talwar and Rajiv Talwar) released two albums and an EP between 1998 and 2005 and was a big part of the resurgence of the “scene” in that same period. A two-year hiatus to New Zealand followed during which time Warren put together some solo instrumental material that eventually got released as a free-to-download digital album Nights in Shining Karma (2007).

Black Gives Way To Blues

Named after the Mumbai-born guitarist’s favourite weapon of choice, Blackstratblues have released a couple of albums since then and continue to be a big part of the local live music scene. With Jai Row Kavi on drums, Adi Mistry on bass and Bevan Fonseca on keyboards, this instrumental-only band played at Pune’s High Spirits Café on a muggy Saturday in May to a packed house. The gig started on time and I walked in, surprised at how many people were already there to watch. The High Spirits is a small place, with high tables interspersed in an open-air verandah facing a smallish stage with a bar at the back, and it was nice to see hordes of young people of both genders enjoying themselves and the music. Pune has been experiencing some pre-monsoon showers and ‘Bombay Rain’, with a solid bassline complementing the sweet blues melody, felt really right to set the mood for me.

Black Gives Way To Blues

Clearly, Warren attracts a loyal fanbase, and with good reason. The eponymous black Stratocaster is wielded as an instrument of delicate subtlety rather than out-and-out-shredding, and the audience reacts rather well to this approach. Warren is the consummate bluesman, content to chop and lick his way melodically into the listener’s heart rather than adopt the arpeggios-at-the speed-of-light approach popularized by so many guitar virtuosos since the ‘90s. If you’re looking for a wannabe Vai or Malmsteen, sorry- you’ve come to the wrong gig. But if Eric Johnson or Dickey Betts is more of your style, then maybe you’ll enjoy Blackstratblues. I sure did.

Black Gives Way To Blues

The set was short, around 90 minutes end to end, and there wasn’t too much time-wasting or attempts at crowd-pleasing (often the same thing!)  in between. Original followed original in quick succession and, though the tempo of each song varied, I began to drift a bit and used the opportunity to focus on each of the individual performers. What struck me first was that the band seemed to be composed of thorough professionals who seem to enjoy playing together. I noted with surprise that the usually supremely-composed Jai Row Kavi (Indus Creed, Tough on Tobacco) seemed to struggle through a few songs, triggering a suspicion that perhaps blues is just not his genre…or maybe he was just having an off day. Warren and bassist Adi Mistry share an easy musical camaraderie that shows in their jamming but the levels on the bass were set up a little too high for my liking, giving it an overall boomy sound.

Black Gives Way To Blues

 

The keyboard player was used mostly for fills and intros, though he came into his own on one or two of the band’s originals where Warren was content to just play chords and riffs, a rare sight! Fun factoid: in a 2012 interview to Rolling Stone, Mendonsa revealed that the “black” Strat after whom the band is named was originally gold in colour: it was painted black in Auckland after a band member taunted him about it! In any case, the black guitar made way for a sunburst Strat later in the show, with a much fatter bluesy tone.  It struck me that Warren prefers this tone, more associated with a Gibson Les Paul/Marshall amp combination than the traditional ‘thin’ Strat tone. His pedal train may have something to do with that though, to be honest, I didn’t get a close look at it and the information on the official BSB webpage seems to be obsolete.

Black Gives Way To Blues

A gig composed entirely of blues instrumentals can get a bit heavy for the audience and it was nice that the band interspersed a couple of covers to liven up the mix. The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Mood’, played in a very original manner replete with fat chops, was refreshing. ‘Jessica’, an Allman Brothers Band staple, and more popularly known as the Top Gear theme, was played faithful to the original pretty much. As a purist, I appreciated that! I thought the gig ended early but later learned that a couple of songs had to be cut from the original setlist, so am assuming they were forced to vacate the stage by 11 p.m. as is customary- oh when will this country wise up?

Black Gives Way To Blues

All in all an evening well-spent. The crowd composed of diehard fans who seemed familiar with the music- it would be a stretch to say they “sang along” since there wasn’t much singing to do- which is always a nice feeling for an Indian band. There didn’t seem to be any sound glitches or co-ordination issues. Maybe the setlist could also incorporate some acoustic stuff going forward.  As someone who is not intimately familiar with the band’s work, I still came away impressed. 10/10 will watch again!

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An Ode To The Blues at CounterCulture, Bangalore

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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!

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Indus Creed at The Blue Frog, Mumbai

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An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

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“Remember, these people are not your friends. They will buy you drugs, make you meet girls…but they are not your friends. And remember, it’s all happening.” –Almost Famous

My first attempt to cover a music festival made me feel like William Miller from the movie Almost Famous, though I realized soon that the comparison was too glorified. This wasn’t going to be a window into the dark secrets of the bands but just a platform that would put forward an experience at Escape. I had been to the Escape Festival two years ago and I remember the experience fondly. It was the perfect ambience, well organized and the music was selectively good. I was looking forward to going back to rediscover what it feels to be in the arms of music for three whole days.

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

Like all events, this one was no exception with regard to the lack of organization. It probably went a step ahead. The venue did greet us with a spectacular scenic vision and a remarkable stage but almost everyone complained of waiting endlessly for a room – even the artists. We were tired, hungry and without a roof for hours and it was only after several outbursts from artists, visitors and media alike that things seemed to be sorted. Almost everyone complained about the lack of organization and vacant stares from the people responsible. But when the music started, everyone just shut up.

Let me throw some light on what the festival was about – there were over 17 bands performing amidst a brilliant sound and stage, aptly named Soul Garden,  there were film screenings, artists displaying their work and a second elaborate stage called the Magic Forest  for electronic music and an impressive list of artists.

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

The evening of the 24th started with Delhi Roots (apparently with no one from Delhi in it), whose genre is defined as Latin Reggae. A last minute addition to the list of performers, I particularly enjoyed Sergio, the bassist’s performance. It was the first appearance of Shirish Malhotra on the Saxophone (and then on the flute), in the festival. Vocalist/Guitarist Antone was a huge support to Sergio not just with music but also stage presence.  For me, the band didn’t do much musically, though they did lift up the crowd’s spirit.

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

Next up was Atul Ahuja with a host of accompanists. The accompanists included Shirish Malhotra (Saxophone), Anirban Ghosh (Bass), Nikhil Vasudevan (Drums) and Stefan Kaye (Keyboards), who apart from a few unintended mistakes made Atul look good. This was the perhaps the only act to do all covers on stage, and popular ones at that. Stefan’s stage antics amused the crowd and the artists alike.

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

And then the band that I had been waiting for came and stole the show! Thermal and a Quarter kept the crowd going with their popular songs and did some songs from their new album. Bruce was and is a treat to watch. The relatively quiet duo- Rajeev Rajagopal (Drums) and Leslie Charles (Bass and backing vocals) – helped the band belt out some of the best songs of the evening. Not only is their legacy of over 15 years as a band commendable but the fact that they dish out something new also is.

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

The evening ended with Faridkot who started on an impressive note with great sound but ended as a band that sounded monotonous. The band that calls itself “confused pop” had an eclectic mix of blues, soulful harmonies, slick guitar riffs and powerful vocals, but unfortunately after a point it sounded like they were playing the same songs. I did enjoy the harmonic melodies of IP Singh and Sonam though! The first day was hectic and it had nothing to do with the stage acts, just the management, but I was glad it ended well.

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

From the looks of it, the second day had a lot to offer at Escape. Against the backdrop of the peaceful lake, where I could find people jumping in and boating, there were movie screenings. No one seemed to have a clue about them and I found a lot of people coming up to me and asking the clichéd question “So, What’s The Scene?”  It was unfortunate that people missed out on the movies and music only out of lack of information passed on to them. I am not a huge fan of electronic music but I was pleasantly surprised by the music served at the Magic Forest because I expected straight up electronic, but it was experimental.

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

Fuzz Culture stood out but I think that had more to do with my preference than strictly about electronic music. The act consists of  Arsh Sharma (guitarist/vocalist of The  Circus)  and Sri Mahajan (Drummer Parikrama). People were looking forward to Vachan Chinnappa and Waga Waga (Aeroplane Records, UK) but a brutal stop was put by the cops during Vachan’s act. So the acts that did perform were Frame/Frame, Loopbaba. Fuzz Culture, Tarqeeb, Ez Riser and Buffa Pirate (who performed the next day morning to no audience instead of their scheduled Saturday night performance).

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

Soul Garden started with what was called the “Square Root Sessions”, which featured upcoming bands. Out of the three bands which performed, Pilgrim Tree HousePrateek Kuhad Collective and Gravy Train, Prateek was my pick. The evening sun was about to set so the acoustic works of Pilgrim Tree House and strums of Prateek’s guitar were a perfect mood setter. Just when I thought the strumming of Prateek’s guitar was becoming monotonous, Vir Singh Brar’s Jambi (a musical instrument that I hadn’t heard before) set the music apart. I didn’t quite enjoy the Hindi compositions for the mere fact that they didn’t offer anything new.

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

While I understand the popularity of Gravy Train coming from their act and interactions on stage, I would hope they concentrate on music as much. Akshay Johar’s bass stood out for me in the band. Gravy Train features Tanya Nambiar (Vocals), Akshay Johar (Bass), Karan Malhotra (Guitar) and Bhairav Gupta (Drums).

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

The amateurs set the mood and now it was the turn of the popular bands to carry the shiny beacon which pretty much flickered till the end. Sanchal Malhar of Indigo Children fame and Toshar Singh Nongbet of India’s Got Talent fame kept the crowd going. It was good to see the crowd enjoying Toshar’s opera style!

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

Bertie Da Silva and Amyt Datta were the opening act to Skinny Alley’s tribute. They had the fellow musicians up in applause and the crowd enjoying every moment of their performance.  The evening belonged to Skinny Alley who paid a tribute to the great Gyan Singh. More than a performance that has to be subjected to scrutiny as a musician, it was an emotional drive. It was good to see Bruce (from Thermal and a Quarter) joining in the tribute that lasted for quite some time and kept the crowd going. Jayshree’s vocals didn’t seem to fade till the last song and the applause from other musicians was endearing. More than musically enriching the second day for me was an emotional roller coaster (of the good kind).

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

And then came the third day and I was reminded why I had come to Escape and stuck around the chaos. The Magic Forest offered a treat to the interested souls as the artists played well into the wee hours of the morning. The featured acts were Shantam, Vial, Dirty Saffi (who unfortunately did not play), KT, Tadayan, White Wizzard, Arjuna, Al Psummetrix, Technical Hitch and Post Modern Pundit. From the description and the buzz created, I wanted to listen to Post Modern Pundit and Dirty Saffi, but I was hooked on to Blackstratblues who were playing around the same time. Amongst the bands performing in the Square Root Sessions, The Cham Chams didn’t perform. No Thoroughfare and Raunak Maiti started the evening and Run! It’s the kid set the pace.

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

Unfortunately, I missed No Thoroughfare’s performance as I was drawn to watching a movie (which was brilliant). Raunak Maiti had Prateek Kuhad joining him for a few songs as all his songs were acoustic compositions. I did not enjoy his compositions on the keyboard as they sounded incomplete. It seemed the two artists from Mumbai had quite a support though in the audience. Dhruv Bhola (Backing Vocals/Guitar) and Shantanu Pandit (Vocals) from Run! It’s the kid helped gradually shift the music from acoustic to Folk/Reggae sounds. The Ukulele added the much needed zest. Most of the bands featured in the early part of the two days were acoustic or Reggae.

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

Beneath the star studded sky, breezy intoxicated air and the tremendous sound and stage, Blackstratblues began to mesmerize. Warren Mendonsa wielded his weapon and dedicated songs to the sunny evening, the rainy days and Zeppelin (his dog). Jai Row Kavi (Drums) joined Warren and made the shift to blues pretty effortlessly. This was one of the moments when I was reminded why this festival was worth coming to!

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

Tough on Tobacco was again high on reggae and quite predictably, Sidd kept the crowd going. A band that starts to describe itself “as a 6-piece progressive disco dance metal bhojpuri act from Outer Mongolia” is indeed a humor tinged pop-reggae band. I was particularly intrigued by the photo of the band on the schedule brochure and their music seemed to explain it! The band features Sidd Coutto (vocals/guitar), Gaurav Gupta (guitar/vocals), Pozy Dhar (guitar), Neil Gomes (violin/sax/flute/vocals) , Johan Pais (bass) and Jai Row Kavi (drums/vocals).

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

The evening ended with Ska Vengers, another act that was sought after in the fest. The eight-piece band made the crowd stand up and dance to their tunes. Vir Singh Brar got on the stage to join them, this time acknowledging the band by dancing. It was the first time I was listening to them and they came across as a modern twist (the twist being interspersing various genres of music) to Jamaican music. Shirish played with the first band in the 3-day festival and then played with the last as well. There isn’t any musical significance to this but it sure is a fun fact! The lineup includes Samara C. (vocals), Delhi Sultanate (vocals), Stefan Kaye (organ/percussion), Raghav Dang (guitar), Tony Guinard (bass), Nikhil Vasudevan (drums), Rie Ona (alto saxophone) and Shirish Malhotra (tenor saxophone). The electronica stage was thumping simultaneously, which made me feel torn between the two stages. However people who were clear about their agenda must have enjoyed to the fullest!

An Escape to Naukuchiatal – The Escape Festival 2013

My first impression of Escape (from two years ago) was that everyone finds his space – a space that is personal and oblivious to fun as defined by others. This time I found an invasion of my space mostly by the mismanagement and lack of information. Escape for me was never about getting high on anything other than music and the ambience, and I found myself meeting people who thought otherwise. But the effort of bringing so many creative minds under one roof is indeed commendable; if only the fest had been managed well, it would have left a lasting impression on my mind.

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Tough on Tobacco’s Big Big Joke album launch at The Blue Frog, Mumbai

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On the 15th of May, somewhere in Mumbai a bunch of doctors successfully performed a rare heart operation, construction work came to halt, and Mahesh Bhatt noticed that Sanjay Dutt had been crying. Away from all of this, within the stylistic confines of The Blue Frog, a hundred or so people grooved as if in a trance. Mumbai based band, Tough on Tobacco had transported its audience from the usual laptrap of the city, into the world of funk, reggae, rock and eccentricity.

The band was launching their second album Big Big Joke with a gig at the Frog that night and they started off their set with ‘College of Life’. The catchy intro on rhythm proved to be the perfect crowd puller and by the time the band moved on to their next song ‘Come On Down’, the crowd really had come down. The only setback was the backing vox which could hardly be heard through the mix. The reggae, funk styled song had most of the house on their feet.

The band then moved on to ‘Rock N Roll Party’. The chirpy upbeat tempo alternating with a headbang-worthy beat proved to be a rare treat for the audience. The crowd jumped and nodded their heads to the unabashed rhythm of this energy avalanche and appreciated it with a generous amount of hooting. This was followed by the song ‘Dog’ that saw Jai Row Kavi go crazy on his drum-set and ‘Door’ with Gaurav Gupta on vocals for the intro.

“This is a song about you”, said Sidd Coutto before beginning with the band’s next song, ‘Wonder’. The song was magic combined with the effect of the blue gobo-filtered lights and caught the audience spellbound. It was the perfect build-up required to play ‘Happy’ which seemed to completely consume the audience in a sort of musical hug. The first half was given the perfect end with the song ‘Alone’, which was a crowd favourite.

Sidd Coutto finally took a break from his robo-hipster influenced stage antics and got down to talking about their new album. ToT’s second album was being launched after a hiatus of four years, he said. The projection screens started to drop down as the band announced “Watch this video about the making of the album and the album art.”

What ensued was an absolute cracker. The people in the audience were beside themselves with laughter as they saw Jai(aunty) pointing disgustedly with an “eeee” at her daughter(Johan Pais) as she(he) spitted food out. The video captured this being repeated around four times in order to capture the perfect shot.  Jai(aunty), was clearly the crowd’s favourite for the night with a stride and pitch that was very much stereotypically lady-like and actions that were not at all. The video was a piece of marketing wizardry with five humorous lads/band mates/family members trying to tickle every bone in your body.

Then video ended, the screen was lifted up and ToT dived straight into the first song from their new album, ‘Do What You Gotta Do.’ It’s not really new material since the band has been playing songs from its second album before official release since 2010. The song, ‘Yahweh’, came next and like its predecessor saw many in the audience singing along with the chorus. The third song from Big Big Joke was ‘Follow Your Dreams’. Sidd Coutto is perhaps one of the few front men out there who don’t look down upon their audience from above stage. Whether he is singing about following your dreams or singing about how happy it has made him to do so, the lyrics can be seen reflected on his face as emotions. Raw and real, just as he is. It’s probably this very quality that enables Coutto to engage a viewer and truly be able to move them.

Songs ‘Ordinary’, with Gaurav on the lead vocals and ‘Big Big Joke’, the title track, were played in quick succession. The soft mellow tunes were like a sweet balm, add to this Pozy Dhar’s sweeping solos, and you have a very happy audience. Rock ballad ‘Love Love Love’ followed by ‘Blow Yourself Away’ were the highlights of the night in terms of Coutto’s dramatics. The band members were grinning playfully at each other and making comical faces. They seemed to be really enjoying themselves on stage.  Midway through ‘Blow Yourself Away’, Coutto introduced the band in his typical sing-song manner.

The set, as usual, was ended with a hot favourite ‘Smoke Some Ganja’ with a guest appearance by Tracy Pais, wife of Johan Pais. Coutto called her on stage to celebrate her birthday. Jai Row Kavi is handed a mic and Tracy and him work out a funny on-the-spot Marathi improvisation laced with nonsensical exclamations and animated voices that has the audience rolling on the floor, laughing. Then the song reached its climax and the audience and band members went crazy in unison jumping and dancing to the upbeat second half of ‘Smoke Some Ganja’. The song ended too soon and the band was already packing up as Sidd thanked the audience and briefly explained where one can get access to the download codes.

Among the audience that seemed to be coping with what looked like withdrawal symptoms after having consumed some very addictive tunes, one could see many celebrities from the Indian independent music scene. There was Vishal Dadlani, Karsh Kale, Gino Banks, Vinayak Pol, Warren Mendonsa , Bobby Talwar, Rohit  Pereira, Akshay Rajpurohit to name a few. As the show concluded, they all had one thing in common as did everyone else in Blue Frog.  Smiles of contentment.

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The Jack Daniels Rock Awards 2013

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The eighth edition of the annual Jack Daniels Rock awards was held on the 22nd of February at Mehboob Studio amidst little hype and no fanfare. The invite-only event hosted by Sameer Malhotra and The P-Man (Rohit Pereira) saw successful rock bands from the scene, across genres, being feted for their musical efforts over the past one year, by people who had little or nothing to do with the scene.

Bombay punk rockers, Blek kick-started the evening performing songs from their debut album, Hexes + Drama & Other Reasons for Evacuation to an audience of around 100 people. Their half hour long set included some of their popular songs like ‘Minus the Makeup’ and ‘Fog + Strobe’ which was also nominated in the best song category. Blek’s set was followed by the first set of awards which saw Shantanu Hudalikar win the best producer award. Advaita’s The Silent Sea and Swarathma’s Topiwalleh shared honours for the best album art while The Blue Frog, Mumbai was adjudged the best live music venue.  The emcee then made Michele Obama’s virtual presence at the Oscars seem less random by calling upon a Bollywood designer along with an eye-candy model to give away the next set of awards – Blek were back on stage to collect their award, after being declared the best emerging band of 2012. The next award handed out was for the best keyboardist which was shared by Jason Zachariah (Jason Zac Band) and Zubin Balaporia (Indus Creed). The designer-model duo then gave a priceless tip of advice in fashion to the musicians gathered (who, judging by the vibes, couldn’t care less), before handing over the best drummer award to Jai Row Kavi (Indus Creed). Bombay Jam band Something Relevant was up next on stage, playing a half hour long medley of songs from their second album, We Could Be Dreaming which was released last year.

Actor Suchitra Pillai was then accompanied on stage by Ken Ghosh (Bollywood director) to give away the next set of awards – Tony Guinard of the Ska Vengers tipped my personal favourite Roop Thomas of Blakc to win the best bassist award. Thermal and a Quarter frontman Bruce Lee Mani deservingly bagged the coveted best guitarist award, having being nominated alongside other stalwarts like Keshav Dhar, Baiju Dharmarajan and Mahesh Tinaikar. A clueless Mandira Bedi then walked onto stage to hand over the awards for best male and female vocalists – Vivienne Pocha won the award for the best female vocalist scoring over equally good singers Samara C (Ska Vengers) and Suman Sridhar (Sridhar/Thayil), while Angaraag “Papon” Mahanta overpowered the likes of Uday Benegal, Rabbi Shergill, Bruce Lee Mani, Gareth D’mello and Vasu Dixit in a star studded list of nominations for the best male vocalist.

The Rolling Stone all-star jam that followed, showcased artists from bands like Something Relevant, Split, Goddess Gagged and Colour Compound, recreate the magic of some of India’s most popular rock songs  – from Siddharth Basrur and Gareth D’mello’s duet take on Them Clones’s ‘Zephyretta’  to Rachel Varghese’s cover of Junkyard Groove’s ‘Imagine’, Saba Azad’s cover of  Orange Street’s ‘Candywalk’ to  Gareth’s beautiful delivery of ‘Lucy’ by Zero, Suman Sridhar’s horror screams and deafening screeches on Workshop’s ‘Pudhe Sarka’ to Rachel Varghese’s rendering of ‘Trapped’ by Indus Creed,  the wonderfully selected set list for the jam had something for everyone’s taste and gave the attendees a lot to cheer about.

The Rolling Stone jam session was ensued by the last set of awards that saw Keshav Dhar’s Skyharbor bag the recently introduced – best metal band award before Papon made it two for the night after ‘Boitha Maro Re’ was adjudicated the best song, overshadowing some splendid tracks like ‘Maeva’ (Skyharbor), ‘Fog + Strobe’ (Blek), ‘Dissolve’ (Indus Creed) and ‘For the Cat’ (TAAQ). Former Miss India, Yukta Mookhey was then called out of oblivion to hand over the last couple of awards – Advaita’s ‘The Silent Sea’ won the top honours bagging the best album award, however it was Indus Creed who won the bragging rights and took home the 5 lakh rupees prize money after being adjudged the best Indian band for the year 2012.

Despite oddities of the award presenters, a no-show by most winners and a kitty cat on the loose, the award show at large went off smoothly, thanks (largely) to the free flowing Jack at the event.

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Indus Creed at CounterCulture, Bangalore

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