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Anathema, Bevar Sea, Heretic, Family Cheese, Clown with a Frown at IIT-M’s Saarang 2013

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At 5 PM on the 12th of January, finding my way through the forested IIT Madras campus during their fest Saarang to attend the rock show, it occurred to me that the one phrase I should definitely not use is ‘rumble in the jungle’. When I reached the venue, the fest was in full swing with stalls hawking bags to deodorant to scooters, making people debase themselves for trinkets. In the midst of this melee could be heard a dull sound emanating from the Open Air Theatre (nobody calls it that – it’s always the OAT) that most people chose to ignore. I headed there.

Clown with a Frown were already on stage – gleaned only upon entrance. They’ve been on a roll recently, winning, inter alia, Strawberry Fields (the NLSIU rock show), a slot at NH7 Weekender’s Bangalore edition, and now at Saarang. I caught only the end of their set, but was nonetheless impressed at their improving dynamic with each passing gig. There’s an infectious delight to their music, and it’s clear that there’s an unbridled energy and sense of fun while they’re playing, even when to a paltry crowd. Neither necessarily means their music is any good, but it’s not bad, and they have the trumpet-y thing going that yields the priceless ‘more brass on my monitors, please.’

Next, the first of the billed bands, were The Family Cheese. They had an interesting sound, but technical issues – ‘plagued’ is the word for it – never really let them get started. They had the musical chops, but also a tendency towards self-indulgence, though it’d be unfair pass judgment based on this staccato set. One thing must be noted – they were playing to a measly crowd who couldn’t make up their minds whether to applaud or boo, but the biggest cheer was for their last song: ‘Comfortably Numb’. Engineering students, I tell you. They spent the downtime between the Family Cheese and the next band cheering a sexually-charged advertisement on the stage screen. Engineering students, indeed.

Around when The Family Cheese finished, the sun had started to shrink away and I looked behind me to see a sight that warms the black, filthy, withered cockles of any band – a legion of black t-shirted masses, perched at the sides of the amphitheatre, roosting together in an impromptu The Birds-themed flash mob. The students had left their halls for the OAT.       

Heretic rode this black tide with elan, rousing the crowd with their nu-metal (I don’t mean that as a slight) inflected high-energy hard rock. The singer was particularly adept at varying between growling and smooth vocals, and they’re definitely one to catch live. Reliably, the partisan crowd displayed their highest regards when the band cut into an interlude of ‘Urvashi’ from Kadhalan.

Bevar Sea was my highlight of the night. Their viscous riffage sounds fantastic when unleashed on a large stage, and it brought a giddy grin to my face when the crowd sang along to ‘Abhistu’. Also, the number of people in Bevar Sea t-shirts far outnumbered any other band, including the headliners. Their set, curtailed by time constraints and consisting of just three songs, reminded me of a quip: Did you hear about the one-hour King Crimson gig? Yeah, they played half a song. As vocalist Ganesh put it, they are bevarsea, and so are you.

After they cleared out, the headlining act (predictably) took the stage. Anathema has been around for over twenty years, and I quote their Wikipedia page: “Beginning as pioneers of the death/doom sub-genre, their later albums have been associated with genres such as alternative rock, progressive rock, art rock, new prog, and post-rock.” Tellingly, there is a flag saying additional citations needed for verification.

When Anathema started up (with ‘Untouchable I’ and ‘Untouchable II’), my jaw dropped. This band was full of love and no blackness! They were crammed to their gills with inner nobility of character. They spouted Tamil and flashed the V-sign instead of the Devil’s Horns, and not in the British sense of ‘up yours’. You could practically feel Vince Cavanagh, their lead singer, reaching out to comfortingly embrace you.To sum up, if Anathema were a Captain Planet element, they’d be Heart.

Still, the crowd was into it. I’d ventured up to the cheap seats and was watching the now-sizable crowd bounce in unison when something spectacularly hypnotic was wrought from the depths of this fiery love – a mosh pit of group hugs. It looked like the oscillating mouth of a sea anemone. But everyone was just jumping up and down and having an oh-so-good time.

I headed back to front and centre, still reckoning this band with suspicion. I don’t think it’s solely a question of proximity, but when up close, it was really quite moving. Their older tracks were just better, and when Cavanagh emotes while singing, it felt like he was speaking to me, and simultaneously to every other person there. This was either the single most emotional performance I had the privilege of attending, or the stupidest thing I’d ever seen. Probably both.

Curiously, the mood of the crowd turned. They’d already befuddled the band with an incessant chant of ‘Haska lakala laka laka laka OOH AAH OOH AAH’ (a common motivational mantra heard during cricket matches at Chepauk stadium) – one that started as a voice of appreciation, but soon veered into boorish impoliteness, breaking out even between songs, and then morphed into a downright rude chant of ‘We want Meh-Tuhl’.

The band, to its credit, ignored it and chugged on, which was a practical application of their entire state of existence. They sang of numbed emotion (‘The Storm Before the Calm’) and showing the way (‘The Beginning and the End’), and by the end of it, hitting the home stretch with ‘Empty’, ‘One Last Goodbye’ and‘Fragile Dreams’, the crowd had been won over once more, proving decisively the power of love and letting the credits roll while the band were freeze-framed in victory.

Life can be simple.

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