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The Big Junction Jam Festival- Day 1

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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 Audioslave’s ‘Revelations’ & Velvet Revolver’s ‘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 hadn’t seen play with them before. I was told this wasn’t 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 Hebb’s ‘Sunny’, & Phish’s ‘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 Elvis’s ‘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 Hendrix’s ‘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 band’s music has. Also, the fact that the first gig these guys played together was just couple of months back wasn’t really evident, with original compositions taking preference over covers for the majority. Their tremendous energy throughout their set wasn’t 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 they’d 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! Baazigar’s ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen’? Crossed with Maiden’s ‘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 Evergreen’s 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 wasn’t 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), Agam’s 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, ‘Brahma’s 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 Harish’s special brand of rock Carnatic vocal that’s 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 Harish’s 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 doesn’t seem to match up with the music they play. Either that, or I don’t 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 Dixit’s humor on the stage, his word-play with Jishnu, or Varun Murali’s 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 didn’t 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.

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Sharanya Nair

Sharanya is a 'writer' and an 'editor'. You know the type. She loves her music too much to share.

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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.

 

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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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