I have fond, yet fuzzy memories of the first time I had heard Sridhar and Thayil play live. It was an insanely crowded, power-packed sauna-like atmosphere at a predominantly punk-oriented night at B69, and they were up next after a brilliant performance by Zero. Unfortunately, that is all I remember of that night.
My curiosity was piqued by the few songs of theirs that I’d listened to online before heading for the gig, and I felt that the Blue Frog sound system and ambience would certainly do justice to their brand of music.
I settled in quite early, but the duo arrived on stage only at about a quarter past ten. Gigs often start later than usual at a lot of places and I’ve never been quite sure whether it’s more of a rock star thing or just a venue quirk.
Jeet Thayil held a guitar and was dressed in a dark, spotted shirt and what looked like a black lungi, while Suman Sridhar was decked out in a dark colored dress with shiny embellishments on it. They looked impressively distinct, and their stage presence was undeniable.
The list started off slow, with a song called ‘Single and Preying’, as Jeet clarified that the word prey here was spelt with an ‘e’ and not an ‘a’, and was followed up by a song called ‘Bring Me Rain’, which had some beautifully soothing vocals by Suman Sridhar.
Jeet moved over to the keyboards for the next one, called ‘Double Trible’, and for the first time that evening, introduced the crowd to some of his characteristic ‘spoken word’ verses. After overcoming a few sound issues and restarting the song, the duo livened up the evening considerably with the next track, called ‘This Be The Beat’. With its unique jungle-like thumping bass and a rap jugalbandi, this one definitely got the crowd moving.
Up next was a song that I didn’t particularly like, called ‘Time is a Bomb’, the combination of a trip-hop feel, together with Jeet growling into the microphone sounded a little bit cacophonic towards the latter half.
To add a little spice to this already intriguing cocktail of sound, the duo called up trumpet player Kishore Sodha to join them for the next song and the inclusion created a wonderful jazz vibe on ‘The Drowning Song’.
The music so far had been heady, complex, and at times, even confusing. Suman Sridhar’s vocals were absolutely sublime, with a predominantly smooth jazz-blues influence, and that very special seasoning of Hindustani classical emerging from time to time. Jeet Thayil’s restrained spoken word and occasional growling stood out in stark contrast, and the combination produced a very interesting effect that would take a bit of getting used to.
After a brief gap (in which Pravvy Prav kept the crowd entertained with a drum solo, and Suman left the stage for a costume change), Jeet broke out some well-written lines about the country and the general state of affairs, on ‘One Damn Nation’, while Suman followed it up with the lively ‘Beeru Venuma’, singing in Tamil for the first time that night.
The upbeat ‘Molasses’ was next, after which Suman played a beautiful, soulful solo at the piano, called ‘Rumors of Light’. The high pointof the evening, however, came from a song, called ‘Revolution’. Starting off with some nice blues guitaring, Jeet went on to engage the crowd and create a wonderfully charged atmosphere, with some very relevant and powerful verses about the travails of daily life, definitely touching a sensitive chord with the working population in the audience.
Kishore Sodha was back on the trumpet now, and played with the duo on the next two songs as well. ‘Punk Bhajan’, played a little differently from the recording, had a trip-hop, jazz feel to it and was definitely one of the better songs of the night. ‘I’m the One’ was, as Suman declared, a song for love from a woman to a woman. Interesting.
The list wound up with ‘Here in the Morning’, and ‘Red Wine’, Suman giving it a big finish with her big voice, but lacking in punch overall. It was an early finish to the gig, and I was rather disappointed to be heading back at a little past eleven thirty.
I’d have loved to have seen a little more blues guitar from Jeet. The bassist Kenneth Rebello and the drummer Pravvy Prav were stellar. Without being intrusive, they complimented the lead duo perfectly, and held their own throughout. Suman’s playful histrionics were engaging and raised the performance bar considerably.
The music of Sridhar and Thayil is complicated, and I’d say that their recordings are probably better than their live performances. It will undoubtedly take time for the larger section of listeners to imbibe their brand of music, but all in all, I’d definitely recommend giving them a listen.