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Fireflies Festival of Music 2013, Bangalore

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Perhaps the bar was set too high by the previous instalments of the Fireflies Festival of Music, but this year the festival seemed slightly less successful. It was probably because everyone went into a state of panic as the clocks neared 10 o’clock, rushing the last few bands and generally leaving everyone feeling a little confused. As the festival was for a much shorter duration this time, there were fewer people this year and the line-up lacked the big names of previous years. However, the line up of artists was, if anything, more eclectic and more esoteric than ever.

This year’s event, which took place on the 10th of February, started about three hours late, which is sort of in keeping with the record set in 2012. For the longest time, there was a sizeable crowd left waiting with nothing to do but eat and smoke. Yes, we did have a few gripes with the festival this time but the music and the ambience more than made up for it. Despite the public whine that the festival was not an overnight affair anymore, Fireflies Festival of Music remains a much-anticipated event. The magical setting of the Pipal tree at the center of the amphitheatre promised a host of profound and stirring experiences, and one wasn’t really let down.

This year too, the event was hosted by Akshat Jitendranath, who has become the face of the festival. The first act on stage was Sangeet Sadhana – a Hindustani troupe. Anindita Mukherjee kicked off proceedings with her rendition of ‘Bhor Bhayee’, which rang many bells in the audience because of a certain Bollywood adaptation. This was followed by a duet in Raga Basant Bahar, and by the popular Rajasthani Mand ‘Kesariya Balam’, performed by Poulomi Dutt. There was then a surprise: a Rabindra Sangeet in Dadra style fused with Raga Bageshri to produce a magical duet – the soaring male vocals on this one hit the spot.

‘Ka Karoon Sajni, Aaye na Balam’ in Raga Sindhu Bhairavi was next. As fans of the thumris, this rendition did not let us down. The violin embellishments were delicious. ‘Ghir Ghir Aaye Kari Badariya’ in Raga Pilu was next, followed by a tarana in Raga Darbari. The male duet, culminating in a tabla-tabla jugalbandi was a happy inclusion in the short set! Ritesh’s silk smooth vocals stole the show, as did Anindita Mukherjee’s unique style of delivery.

The second act on stage was supposed to be ‘Vedanth and Bindu’, but to our surprise, the band seemed to be missing one half of the band – Bindu! ‘Vedanth and Bindu’ was quickly changed to ‘Vedant and Ananth’ as Bindu could not attend because of reasons not made known to us.  This Fireflies regular teamed up with old friend Ananth Menon – yes, Ananth Menon of Galeej Gurus and By 2 Blues fame – to produce an eclectic set of modern day blues, pop and Kabir hymns. Vedant and Bindu are a Chennai based duo that specializes in Bhakti music and Anant Menon is a blues guitarist and vocalist but this odd mixture did produce some pleasant surprises.

The first surprise was the sound check, ‘O Come, O Come Emannuel’ in two part harmony. With the sun shining bright, Vedanth went on to sing a few hymns by Sant Kabir. This is where we shamefully admit that we were not very knowledgeable about Sant Kabir’s hymns so Vedanth’s explanations helped. The first hymn, as he explained, was about a young newly wed pining for her husband, which he followed up with a Malvi version of another Kabir hymn describing the temple that is the human body. In this mix of Kabir songs, Vedanth quite unexpectedly sang a cover of ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’ – a Bob Dylan classic. The performance was lackluster, perhaps due to the fact that one guitar and one voice was trying to hold the attention of hundreds of people for a span of four songs

Ananth then joined Vedanth on stage to belt out ‘Pride and Joy’ by Stevie Ray Vaughan, followed by ‘Jheeni Chadariya’, this time embellished with Ananth’s blues lead guitar. Never before have we heard ‘Kabir Blues’, but we’re not complaining! ‘He was my Brother’ – a Simon and Garfunkel cover, followed this. They closed the short half-delightful set with a blues rendition of a keertan – ‘Bhajo Re Bhaiya Ram Govind Hare’.

Sufi and Qawali singers from Kutch were up next and they were the epitome of humility. Brought to the festival by an NGO working for the empowerment of women in the Kutch region, the joy of being in Bangalore and playing their music in front of a large gathering of city folk was evident on their faces. The band manager of this six-member group was more than happy to explain every song and his enthusiasm was highly infectious. Each song was tinged with melancholia and sadness and was beautiful, even though most of us did not understand any of the lyrics. The most memorable moment of their set was when one of them decided to play the double flute. Completely novel, passionate and intricate; the performance of the flautist got a standing ovation and rightly so.

After a high energy and thoroughly enjoyable closing song by the artists from Kutch, came the Irish band – Bahh Band, who had waited three long years to get to Fireflies. Probably one of the better artists of the night, they brought with them an unconventional yet pleasantly surprising set of songs that were a mix of Indian classical and Irish folk. Throughout their performance, their uber-charming sarod player – Mattu, kept up a great rapport with the audience. They started the set with ‘Spirit Gift’ – a song dedicated to the festival and the Pipal tree. The track started with an unhurried sarod dominated intro and progressed languidly as the percussions kicked in without being too overwhelming.

They moved onto their version of ‘Face of Love’, originally sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Eddie Vedder. Although the overzealous smoke machines fogged up the stage and the vocalist was barely audible, nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the band and the execution of the track was spot-on. Following some more chit-chat with the audience where they took a dig at one of the most famous exports from Ireland – Snow Patrol, they decided to play some lively Irish folk songs – although slightly Indian-ised versions of them.  ‘Sexy Leprechaun’ was probably one of their best songs of night as their percussionist – Brain Fleming, was absolutely riveting on the Bodhrán – a handheld Irish drum. Fireflies was a great learning experience for any music lover – first we heard the double flute and then the Bodhrán!

Filled with intricate and enthralling Bodhrán solos, the song was a treat for the ears and the eyes. Between songs, Mattu managed to advertise their CD and impress the audience with a few Tamil words that he had picked up. As the sun set and the Pipal tree was lit up with colourful lights, the Bahh Band performed their final song – an Irish folk song called ‘Blacksmith’, where the vocalist managed to channel Enya and give us all an ethereal performance.

Floyd Fernandes took the stage next with two other musicians from Mumbai. As one of the best Jazz guitarists in India; his set was flawless and thoroughly entertaining. Although fatigue had set in and most in the audience were visibly tired, they had no problems grooving to smooth jazz, funk and blues that Floyd was belting out. They even danced along during Floyd’s rendition of Bobby Hebb’s ‘Sunny’ – which thankfully sounded nothing like the Boney M cover!

Talavattam was the next band to take the stage but hunger and fatigue took over and we were forced to skip their performance to get some much needed refreshments. Although we were missing from the amphitheatre, judging from the loud cheers and shrieks from the crowd – they were definitely one of the most popular bands with the audience at the festival.

What happened next was probably the lowest point of the whole night. Emam and Friends – a bunch of world musicians from – well unsurprisingly – all over the world, took to the stage after what seemed like an eternity to set up. With utter miscommunication between the artists and the sound tech team, problems escalated and some comical diva behaviour ensued. Finally, they began with ‘Guru Mantram’ and it would have been memorable in a good way if the vocalists were absent. Not only did they distract from the talent of the percussionist and sarod player, but their amateur singing of powerful shlokas, bhajans and kirtans and the accompanying jig were very unsettling. The only high point in their performance was when Brian Fleming from the Bahh Band joined them and Emam and he went crazy with the bongos and Bodhrán respectively.

Midway through their performance, they were informed that their set had to be cut short due to time constraints – and Emam went full on diva on the crowd and organizers demanding why the ”headlining act” was being treated so badly. We all seemed to have missed the memo about them being the headlining act – awkward! They sulkily ended their set with some badly sung kirtans and left the stage with barely concealed rage. No matter how much Emam thanked the wonderful audience, his disappointment with the organizers was very evident.

The last band on stage was Dutch Jazz group and another Fireflies regular – Spinifex. Their style of jazz fused with metal was so loud that they must have definitely blown out some eardrums and woken up slumbering citizens miles away. Given – the music was quite outstanding with a few hiccups and the venue was absolutely magical. However, we could not help wishing for the glory days of the Fireflies Festival of Music as we walked away from the ashram.

Anusmita Datta

Anusmita Datta is an ardent day-dreamer, music lover, die-hard foodie and occasional writer. Her obsession with pandas is sometimes disturbing and she can be often found lusting after momos!

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Goldspot at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

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On their second coming to Bangalore, and after the much-acclaimed first and second albums, it was only expected that Goldspot were up for a super-gig this time around. And what happened was as uplifting as it was exciting. The incredible energy, top-notch performance, and astonishing fan-frenzy, added up to create a fantastic atmosphere. I had come across a description of Goldspot somewhere that said “This is where The Beatles meet the Golden Oldies of Bollywood” – and that is exactly what a lot of us got to witness that evening.

Goldspot has been around since 2001, and has gathered a lot of international following and critical acclaim over the years. The band has produced two studio albums and a third is in the making. Their songs have been featured on many popularity charts, television shows, commercials, movie trailers, and OSTs.

Goldspot at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

January 2012 saw Goldspot’s third coming to India, after their visit in February 2008 and 2009. This time their tour kicked off at IIM Lucknow after which they performed in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad, before they finally landed in Bangalore. Before the show began, I spoke to a few people and figured that not all of them were aware of Goldspot’s work – only a few of them knew about Goldspot’s earlier albums and famous singles. I’m guessing it was only later that their real fans arrived, because once the gig started, I could hear people singing along and there were constant requests for popular songs by the band.

In the past few days, I have heard both of the band’s albums thoroughly, and I came there expecting a performance that would hardly go any heavier than soft-rock, although I didn’t rule out the possibility of it drifting treacherously close to pop. However, Siddhartha Khosla (vocals), Jacob Owen (guitar and keyboard), James Gabbie II (lead guitar), Adam Chilenski (bass) and Darren Beckett (drums), created an experience that any rock concert-goer would appreciate.

Goldspot at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

Here’s the thing about their songs – western arrangements which may remind you of artistes such as The Beatles, REM, Coldplay, Snow Patrol are subtly combined with Kishore Kumar, Paul McCartney-style singing, and Shankar-Jaikishan, S.D. Burman-esque sensitivities and melodies (and these happen to be just a few of the influences).

Rewind’ and ‘Friday’ are two of the most popular songs by the band, and they chose to open the gig with the former, and sign off with the latter. The songs were emotionally intricate, while the tunes were still light. But then again, that is the case with most Goldspot’s songs. ‘Rewind’ also happens to be the track that has featured on How I Met Your Mother (Season 5, Episode 2). ‘Friday’ has been done in both English and Hindi and Sid performed an expected medley of the two versions.

Goldspot at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

‘Call Center Girl’ and ‘Paperboats’ were up next and despite the fact that the show was only three songs down, the crowd was already immersed in the band’s music, bouncing about and swaying their hands.

Emily’ has the spark and hope of youth with a wonderful level-headedness. The lyrics range from something as innocent as “a pair of fourteen year olds holding hands”, and as mature as “if we can be wise we’ll part with the pride set our egos aside”.

Goldspot at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

One Year Anniversary’ and ‘Tale of a Fish’ reminded me of heartaches and heartbreaks. ‘One Year Anniversary’, which posed the unanswered question “Why is this damn life so hard?” was kept light-hearted with spirited guitar work and a catchy tune.

Grocery Store’ brought cheer not just because of the xylophone notes or because of the fact that it is a lively song by nature, but also because of the repetitive “Pum pa ra ra ra” (strongly reminiscent of Kishore/Burman/The Beatles) something that Sid seemed to find a lot of joy singing and the audience found equal joy dancing to!

Goldspot at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

What’s Under the House’ and ‘It’s Getting Old’ followed next. ‘It’s Getting Old’ didn’t seem to move me as much as the other songs did, and in my opinion, just seemed to act as filler material. For ‘What’s Under the House’ saw Sid dancing with the people in the audience, with child-like effervescence. This is the typical rock-n-roll track, built on 2/4 beats, but only more flamboyantly arranged.

If they were running short on time, ‘It’s Getting Old’ could well have been avoided, and Sid could have obliged the screaming audience’s pleas for ‘Miss Johnson‘ but he didn’t. When the show ended, this resulted in a lot of complaints from heartbroken female fans who almost wept saying, “They didn’t play my favourite song!”

Goldspot at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

Clap Clap’ is a song you might recognize from the Apple iPad’s guided  tour video  (at the 00:20-00:53 mark). This, as it seems to me, is a lighthearted take on heartbreak and the subsequent moving on. Darren with his drums was undoubtedly the star for this track, as the outro for the song was made super-entertaining with his thunderous drumming, something that’s not heard on the album version.

The surprise of the evening came with ‘Jaane Kahaan Gaye Woh Din‘, from Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker. Sid showed us how with a capo on third fret, and some simple chords, a timeless classic can be brought back with a lot of psychedelic quality to it. A heart-wrenching song but a deliciously trippy cover!

Goldspot at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

By this time, the sound system at the venue that seemed to be delivering well beyond 3000 watts started to seem insufficient as the crowd’s screams were getting stronger with every song that was played. Increasing volume levels on the PA wasn’t the wisest solution, as the feedback that occurred was not exactly what one would expect from a place like Hard Rock Café, Bangalore. At many points this was also a problem for the band members who seemed dissatisfied with the on-stage monitors right from the start. When Sid went down dancing on the bar counter, and on the floor with the audience, it wasn’t unexpected that he’d lose track of either the beats or the key for his vocals – which almost happened when they played ‘What’s Under the House’, and finally did end up happening during ‘Ina Mina Dika’.

Goldspot at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

Before signing off, Sid gave a sneak peek on the upcoming album with ‘The Abyss’ and the show concluded with the much awaited ‘Friday’. Thanks again to the PA installed, I could not decipher most of the lyrics from ‘The Abyss’.

Goldspot has managed its espousing of genres pretty well, while still not bastardising the output. They have created a sound that we can recognize, and which is not a potpourri of confused genres. Their music deserves, and has the ability to charm an audience much larger than a packed house at a pub.

Gaurrav Tiwari

Drummer at DIARCHY, and HR Manager at Genpact

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Ken Stringfellow, Tough on Tobacco and Punk Ass Orifus at Blue Frog, Mumbai

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January is a month of pleasant weather for the Mumbaikars. One could not hope for better weather on a day when a musical evening like this was following! The 18th of January was a special day for Mumbai – an event featuring Ken Stringfellow, a maestro in his own right, was slated for the evening in Mumbai’s Blue Frog. American guitarist Ken has been associated with biggies like R.E.M., Neil Young, Snow Patrol and Big Star for several years of his career. We could bet that an opening set from him was sure to be a true reflection of his portfolio.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there was more – we have all heard Sidd Coutto’s Tough on Tobacco before, but we were wondering how they would sound when Ken’s strings would be strumming along. Stunned? Yes, so were we, when we heard that Tough on Tobacco was slated to join in on Ken’s later performances. It was sure going to be fun!

Ken Stringfellow, Tough on Tobacco and Punk Ass Orifus at Blue Frog, Mumbai

Ken Stringfellow commenced the event at Blue Frog with a crowd of listeners cheering for him. His first sounds were quite conservative, just as it suited the mood. There was pin-drop silence at the venue, and just a minimalist guitar could be heard with Ken’s suave voice. As the chords fluctuated, Ken’s voice responded likewise. Most of the songs that he performed were his own, but he threw in a cover by The Long Winters. How he mingled with the audience was a delight in itself. His jocular mood and remarks, which were occasionally offbeat too, were befitting the kind of ambiance he had created.

By the time Ken wrapped up with his set, one could sense a commotion in the audience. It appeared as if Ken’s set had charged everyone. The hands had begun to sway, and the smiles were widening. A surprise had been shot at the audience! Four young men dressed in formals had taken over the stage. They called themselves Punk Ass Orifus and before the onlookers could recover from the abrupt entry, the ‘men in black’ had set in action! Sidd Coutto took care of the rhythm guitar and vocals. Gaurav Gupta donned the role of the lead guitarist. Johan Pais managed the bass guitar, and Zorran Mendonsa stood behind the drums.

They played a short set, but it was enough to pour life into the audiences. What they played could easily qualify as Punk, Hard Rock, or Reggae. Their energy was never down for a second and they kept the audience engaged throughout. ‘The World will carry on’, ‘Bad Feeling’ and ‘Matter’ are some of the prominent tracks that they played.

Ken Stringfellow, Tough on Tobacco and Punk Ass Orifus at Blue Frog, Mumbai

After a short while, Bobby Talwar of Zero fame reached the stage, and much to our amazement took on the Djembe, instead of his customary bass guitar. It was difficult to believe that his hands were not accustomed to the Djembe, for he played it surprisingly well! The audience grooved along with him – these sudden surprises proved quite effective. However, they were far from over!

Warren Mendonsa was yet to join! He came to the stage to deliver the final song, and chose to play his Black Strat to ‘Mayan Song’, in his distinguished style. His solo performance on this song was a treat to the senses. The evening had shaped up really well! Sidd Coutto appeared once again, and had some fun moments with his kit. He cracked some light-hearted jokes and we caught a glimpse of his jokester side! Perhaps that is what won him the loud screams of “We love you Sidd Coutto!” from the lovely ladies in the crowd.

Ken Stringfellow, Tough on Tobacco and Punk Ass Orifus at Blue Frog, Mumbai

And then there was a pause… For the first time, one could feel some inaction on the stage, but that was tolerable. The evening had been good and quite active by far. After about 10 minutes, the groomed men of Punk Ass Orifus were nowhere to be seen. They were replaced by Tough on Tobacco, who had switched to the informal attire. Jai Row Kavi took to the drums, and Pozy Dhar managed the guitar. What do you know? Some more fun was lined up for Mumbai!

They opened their share with their signature song ‘Happy’. Tough on Tobacco chose most of the songs from its new album, and borrowed some songs from the first album too. Many more tracks were served to the delight of the listeners. The bigger a canvas is, the freer a painter’s strokes are. That is just what was happening at Blue Frog. Song after song, their canvas was expanding, and the genres kept adding up. By the end of several spontaneous performances, Tough on Tobacco had played a wide range of genres, and with an ease that left the listeners in awe. ’Yellow Tops’ and ‘Washing Powder Nirma’ were some spectacular songs that Tough on Tobacco made up.

Ken Stringfellow, Tough on Tobacco and Punk Ass Orifus at Blue Frog, Mumbai

The evening had been fantastic! The audience had enjoyed it to the fullest. What was promised at the beginning, however, was yet to be seen. Ken Stringfellow and Tough on Tobacco were yet to jam together. Right then, Ken returned to the stage, and jammed to the lovely blues song ‘Crack Whores’ along with the band. The evening was now complete.

It was a wonderful moment that Mumbai witnessed on the evening of 18th of January. To those who could not make it this time, I’d say that sometimes wonders happen twice! Make sure you don’t miss out on the next one!

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St. Patrick’s Day – at the Hard Rock Cafe

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St.Patrick’s Day (17th March) came alive at Hard Rock Café, New Delhi. A lot of people showed up to celebrate it, since one of Delhi’s greatest bands “Cyanide” was playing, not to mention the Beer Drinking Competition that was to be held! The show started at 10:30pm with Cyanide’s cover of U2’s Vertigo. The band covered a lot of Irish bands like U2The CorrsThe Cranberries, and Snow Patrol, given that St.Patrick’s Day is an Irish Festival. Although they played a new original Money the band mainly concentrated on playing covers.

Finally, it was time for the main attraction of the night, the beer drinking festival. The members of Cyanide started off by downing their glasses real quick. After they were done the five teams were called right onto the stage amidst a lot of cheering from the vast numbers of people who’d thronged to witness the competition.

Cyanide took over the stage again post competition with a cover of Yellow by Coldplay, and dedicated it to the disaster stricken people of Japan. This was followed by Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol and the gig closed with Elevation by U2. Rohan Solomon was at his energetic best and his on-stage presence left everyone wanting more!! Sound at Hard Rock Café, New Delhi is never good, and testament to this fast was that when Rohan was singing ‘Vertigo’, the acoustics were relatively ok but problems arose with the twin guitar sound, proving to be a total killjoy.

This problem should be fixed ASAP; bands need good sound, period!

Overall, a memorable evening of music with Cyanide!

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