Tag Archives: She will be loved

Penn Masala at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore


The term ‘boy band’ is dismissively used and abused as shorthand for everything that’s wrong with the music industry – whether personality-free meat puppets heeding their Machiavellian producers, or guile-less manipulation, or a general lack of character, integrity, and quality in the product itself. By ‘product’, I mean the music, but that’s the sort of word the puppet masters are supposed to use to describe something as elemental as music – a product to be hawked. However, often lost in this monetary maelstrom is that product – the songs are frequently frighteningly good. They’re appealing, catchy earworms that are even, summoning my forces of Carnatic music clichés, mellifluous. 

When Penn Masala took the stage at a packed Hard Rock Café on the 10th of January, the first impression was that they were a boy band. Eleven young lads trooping onto the roof of the bar made me marvel at the structural integrity of the stage, and these gents had no instruments – they had no names either, apart from the one alumnus who joined them for a couple of tunes. The rest didn’t introduce themselves, reduced to being marked only by their quirks of appearance under their uniform colour-coded attire – that one in the waistcoat, the one who looked like a cross between Vir Das and Ranbir Kapoor, the one who looked like a lost brother of Joaquin Phoenix (See also: ‘that white guy in the brown group’), and so on.

Penn Masala, hailing from the University of Pennsylvania, are billed as one of the world’s preeminent Hindi a capella bands. A capella, Italian for ‘in the manner of the church/chapel’, has come to mean singing without any/minimal backing instrumentation. ‘Voice only’, one might say. In other words, Penn Masala were very much on friendly turf – a capella is hard coded into every Indian’s genetic makeup by that bane of school excursion buses everywhere: Antakshari.

They kicked off their first set with Outlandish’s version of ‘Aicha’, and two things were immediately apparent – that they had solid backing arrangements and that their lead vocalists were hit-and-miss, some sounding a little off key. It took a while to get warmed up, but the crowd really got going, in brazen defiance of the prevailing political climate, when Penn dove into Atif Aslam’s ‘Woh Lamhe’, with the band almost being drowned out by the crowd for most of the song.

That exuberance was a sight to behold for the rest of the gig. Penn Masala took a break shortly after, and when they returned for their second set, most of the songs (‘Tu Aashiqui Hai’, ‘She Will Be Loved’ and especially ‘Fix You’) were raucously matched by the crowd – that’s the benefit of singing popular songs that the crowd had been weaned on, or perhaps the benefit of allowing more alcohol to be imbibed.


The night’s setlist was as close to (discounting Real McCoy’s ‘Another Night’) a list of modern standards as you can get – Atif Aslam, Maroon 5, Coldplay, but as stated earlier, the quality of the singing itself was variable to an extent I wouldn’t have expected from a band that’s been around for fifteen years and released seven albums. But then I realized that Penn Masala is indeed a boy band, in the conceptual sense of the term – they aren’t a band per se, but more a brand with a revolving door of members (thanks to that annoying college conceit called ‘graduation’). I say that not as a slight, but to gain a measure of understanding. While ‘Penn Masala’ have been around for fifteen years, as too some of the arrangements used, the singers themselves are relatively wet behind the ears. Keeping that in mind, the band actually did a remarkable job of supporting each other, often adapting their harmonizing to the key of the vocalist.

Yes, Penn Masala is a boy band – literally as well, for a group of women I met before the concert told me (facetiously, of course… I hope) that they’d come to scout prospective grooms from this buffet of eligible gujju (I checked – they’re not all gujju) boys. Though not without their faults, the liveliness, charm, and the sheer energy of the crowd and band in tandem won over pretty much everyone in attendance.

On the other hand, I must mention that there was one gent who grumbled that all the people who were cheering off-key singing were a blight on humanity. It takes all kinds to make the world.

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Varun Rajiv

Varun Rajiv has tinnitus. The first band he adored with all his heart was Boyzone.


The Beatroute – Live at Pizza By The Bay


They say the ‘routes’ of music lie in the ‘beats’ of sound, and that’s what the emerging Bombay based band,The Beatroute adheres to. The Beatroute, that comprises of ex Vayu drummer Gopal Dutta, Vignesh on guitar, Biswajeet on bass, Eeshan on keyboards, and Greg on lead vocals, recently played a gig at ‘Pizza by the Bay’, previously known as ‘Not Just Jazz by the Bay’.  This new and upcoming band performed a wide array of songs ranging from their originals, to covers of U2, Coldplay and the sensational Michael Jackson.

Despite the fact that they are new to the world of live performances, their music seemed to stir our attention. With a professional like Gopal in the band who has had years of experience and other band members full of enthusiasm and zeal, they kickstarted the show with Wolf Mother’s ‘Joker and the Thief’, which was very well done. In  their second song which was a cover of U2’s ‘Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me’, we saw a very focused Eeshan almost magically produce a techno sound through the motion-sensing interface on his keyboard, as if he was talking to it with his fingers!

Then came one of their originals called ‘Nine to five’, about the working class people in the city. The song was a tad shaky here and there and a little monotonous, but a good attempt at an original nonetheless. Next up was another U2 song, ‘Where the streets have no name’ followed by another original called ‘Glow’, which again seemed to lack the punch and vigor of ‘Nine to five’.

Next up, The Beatroute went into a wonderfully done medley of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ and Maroon 5’s ‘She Will Be Loved’. Subsequently, they played another cover of ‘Smooth Criminal’ by Michael Jackson, which was completely off beat and too fast a version of that song to be sung. It sounded like a cacophony of sound, with a mix of different instruments and bad timing. Next up, they broke out into another one of their originals called, ‘This Is Bound To Happen’, which had an electronica feel to it, making it a good listen.

Then came Eeshan’s solo performance on the keyboard, with an assortment of ‘Chariots Of Fire’, ‘The Godfather Theme’ and ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’. Immediately after which, out of the blue, I heard Greg screaming out happy birthday to someone, with Eeshan hastily filling in a 2 minute happy birthday tune on his keyboard.

Later on, Gopal Dutta played a 15 minute drum solo, which was astounding, highlighting his prowess as one of the most technically skilled musicians in the band. The best cover the band played was ‘Sunday Morning’ by Maroon 5; it proved that they have an umpteen amount of potential in them, considering that they’ve only been playing live for a few months. ‘Clocks’ was one song where they couldn’t get their timing right however, and towards the end of this Coldplay number, everyone in the band seemed to be a little perplexed.

Amidst this ambience of good music and dim lights, a man came up to the microphone and proposed to a woman, on stage, while Greg retreated into the background. Apparently, this wasn’t a prank, but the real deal. In so many years of having attended gigs, this certainly was a first!

After this unusual saga, the band played a rather flat version of Porcupine Tree’s ‘Lazarus’ and a soothing version of Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ which made everyone in the house sing along and come together for that moment. They proceeded to play an impressive rendition of ‘Drive’ by Incubus, followed by ‘Slither’ by Velvet Revolver that had a good solo by Vignesh. All in all, a band heavily inspired by Coldplay and U2, The Beatroute will probably go a long way.