Something that I have learnt over the years about Indian musical events, especially those that have live music, is that they never seem to start off at the scheduled hour. I walked in at 10:30 sharp, on that lazy Saturday morning, into the Big Junction Jam Festival arena in Palace Grounds and was greeted by Swarathma, at work on their sound check. A quick round of introduction with Karan Karthik (from The Live Gig) revealed that their sound check started an hour back. Well, it continued for the next hour or so, while I lazily roamed around the place.
After what seemed like an eternity (but was really a couple of hours), Bangalore based Old School Rebels got on the stage & kicked off the festival. Playing an extremely short set (which almost every band, that followed them, did over the course of the fest) of four tracks, they played two of their originals, covering Audioslaves ‘Revelations’ & Velvet Revolvers ‘Slither’. Maybe it was the lack of a sizeable audience, the set never made quite an impression by the time it ended.
Local Bangalore based jazz-fusion jam act Bourbon Street were up next, with Fidel from Old School Rebels on the bass again. Bourbon Street is fronted by Jerome Mascarenhas, who was missing from the action this time around. In his place was a thin lad named Ganesh, whom I hadnt seen play with them before. I was told this wasnt his first gig with them, which was evident from the way he was on the stage. Playing originals as well as covering old songs like Bobby Hebbs ‘Sunny’, & Phishs ‘Free’, their set was cut short as well, and was plagued by sound glitches, the booming bass & the inaudible-at-times lead guitars. One noticeable cover was that of ‘Nature Boy’, a poem, originally performed by Nat King Cole.
The all-Infy band Joos followed Bourbon Street for their set. Playing an original ‘Float’ with three covers that included Elviss ‘Heartbreak Hotel’; this was a decent set, although the vocals were a bit of a disappointment!
Black Sun, a 3 piece blues-rock act from Bangalore came in next. Not having heard of the band earlier, I had absolute zero expectations from them, and was pleasantly surprised to see three young lads climb the stage. Playing a real tight but short set, that included a self-composition oddly titled ‘Old Monk’, they were probably the only act of the day that asked for a couple of minutes for an extra song, and the organizers obliged. Closing off with a neat cover of Hendrixs ‘Voodoo Child’, they were well received by the limited audience that had gathered by now.
By the time I had got my share of chicken wings (Plan B had a counter in there!) and a couple of beers to wash them down, Mad Orange Fireworks had set up and were halfway into their first song. With Michael Dias fronting the band, it was difficult to miss the TAAQ/Bengaluru Rock flavor this bands music has. Also, the fact that the first gig these guys played together was just couple of months back wasnt really evident, with original compositions taking preference over covers for the majority. Their tremendous energy throughout their set wasnt lost on the audience either.
Towards the end of the afternoon, a decent number had turned up and The Indian Blues and Khalihan got to perform before the event was interrupted by rain. The Indian Blues seemed to make an impression with the presence of a sarod and a santoor on stage; however Khalihan failed to create much of an impact.
When I had read the schedule for the festival, one thing that caught my eye was Live Banned, the only act mentioned sans the genre of music they played. Imagine the shock when they got on stage. Forget the black metal bands with corpse paint or GWAR with whatever they wear; these guys had the most insanely funny outfits I have seen a desi band sport. Still no hints on what theyd play though. I did not see what was coming my way. A Tamil movie song is what the guy next to me says. Okay. Wait! Baazigars ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen’? Crossed with Maidens ‘Fear Of The Dark’? Was I drunk or was that the Swat Cats theme? The Terminator? The most entertaining act of the day till then, Live Banned had everyone up on their feet and close to the stage in no time. Hope this act lasts, entertaining audiences in the days to come, and I hope their gags on stage do not repeat either.
Mumbai based raga rock act Paradigm Shift were a surprise entry among the headliners, and their beautiful set left no doubts that they deserved the spot. Their seamless blend of Indian classical music & rock n roll was vibrant enough to draw us closer to the stage and pay attention to them. With a violinist in the fold, the sound was very different from what we had expected of them. Vocalist Kaushik who, we later learnt had no formal training in classical music, has very soothing sufi-esque vocals. The track ‘Dhuan’ was the highlight of their set, probably the most polished song of them all. They paid a tribute to A.R Rahman covering the title track of the movie Roja.
The only progressive yet melodic hard-rock act of the day, Evergreen from Kochi took stage as the Sun went down. The traces of metal in Evergreens music, if not abundant, are evident. Fresh from the release of their latest video (City Blocks), their set was probably the longest of the day. Playing regulars like ‘From Here To Clarity’ and ‘Vengeance’, their DT/Rush influenced song writing, if not as prolific as either, was a breath of fresh, though heavier air from the rest of acts. Though the audience reception wasnt very warm, they were the perfect openers for the rest of the headlining acts that followed.
Carnatic rock aficionados Agam came on at the far end of the first day of the Big Junction Jam, right into slots reserved for headlining acts. After a short and uneventful sound check (as opposed to the longer ones audiences had to endure prior to the bona fide professionals grabbing the stage), Agams Harish Sivaramakrishnan introduced their first song Brahma’s dance; he sure had to make time for a hat tipping to the organizers and the crowd which was a nice little touch. Despite its down-tempo beginning, Brahmas Dance had the band off to a strong start. It took the first few bars of the song for Harish to settle into his vocals, a minor flub we heartily ignored. A strong point toward the middle of the song is an amber-toned shot glass of Harishs special brand of rock Carnatic vocal thats come to be the quintessential Agam flavour. A rising crescendo with an abrupt end had the crowd sighing with relief at the arrival of one of the few refined bands of the day! Raag Dhanashree was up next and began strong on the tabla and electric guitar; the violin nosed its way in after Harishs mike, toning it down just enough to meld with the song rather than overshadow it. And lo and behold, there was a sudden crowd in the front stark contrast to the motley crew that had populated the area so far mostly photographers, who ambled around looking like stragglers at an after party.
A flurry of well-rounded musical scales in the interim and the band was already halfway through the four-song set! Lakshya Padhyai or Path of Aspirations, the next song, had a notable jazzy bass guitar face off – so short, you could miss it that is a highlight of the song for this jazz lover. Beautifully light violin notes lead into the bridge and on into the end of the song. Raaga was up next with the first Hindi lyrics of the set and a heavier sound justifying their rock tag. With its short staccato stabs of guitar playing, the song was the first to get the crowd going in what seems like forever! It even brought Harish down to his knees making photographers scramble to capture it! Malhar jam, usually the best kind of crowd-pleaser, was up next, but the band was cut off by the organisers. Harish made a valiant attempt at a last song but he was shot down.
Parvaaz, Bangalore-based psychedelic/blues outfit was up next. Having seen them win the Unmaad gig in IIM-B earlier this year, and then play at Fireflies as well, and the level of commitment they have shown at each and every gig, the only grudge I have against them, if I were to nitpick, is the lyrical content, which just doesnt seem to match up with the music they play. Either that, or I dont get it at all. Probably the latter. The show was running late as it is and musical sharks Swarathma and the percussion masters Beat Gurus waited patiently in the wings, waiting to do justice to the stage.
Enter Beat Gurus & the crowd that had pretty much settled down for a short break was back, up against the stage barricades in a minute. This decade old percussion-only group is a familiar name amongst namma Bengaluru music aficionados. The octet got on stage, a quick sound check was followed by a quick exit and a quick return in colorful kurtas. Well, the quick part about their stage act showed up in the length of their set as well. Two songs were all they got time to play. The seasoned performers they are, the audience was clapping along in no time cheering them on. Almost everyone, including the band, wanted this to last a bit longer, but time was running out and the biggest act of the day was gearing up to close the night.
Swarathma, arguably the biggest folk rock act India has seen in recent times, finally took the stage at quarter past ten. After a second and thankfully shorter sound-check, they started off the proceedings with ‘E Bhoomi’. Crowd favorites like ‘Yeshu, Allah aur Krishna’ shortly followed up. Swarathma are a treat to watch live, despite the relentless touring they seem to be on nowadays. Be it Vasu Dixits humor on the stage, his word-play with Jishnu, or Varun Muralis flawless guitar playing, they have something for everyone in the audience, be it the musician or the ones who are in for the fun. Vasu was off the stage in the middle of the song and before you knew it he was dancing on the thela right in the middle of the crowd, urging everyone who had waited patiently for them to be a part of the act. It was nearing eleven already and even Swarathma ended up with just a four song set at the end of the day. I rue the fact that their sound-check in the morning lasted long enough to eat up into the length of their own set, not counting the bands that didnt get a chance to play at all.
Despite the good music, the food and the beer, the number of people who attended was lower than expected. We finally left the venue, a little disappointed, but secretly hoping that the scene would improve on the second day of the festival.