The folks at BFlat organized a fantastic evening with the extremely talented Alexis on 27th September. I will be honest, I wasnt the most excited. I love rock and RNB never particularly fascinated me except for a couple of tracks, but enter Alexis DSouza with her powerful voice and my misgivings were silenced.
Alexis selling point is their subtlety. Even their most powerful tracks ooze simplicity. Their biggest strengths are the leading ladys vocals and their hard hitting lyrics. For the most part, in my head I was screaming Oh My God! Her voice! My only complaint is that they had more covers than originals. They did however try to ensure that they added some of their own elements to a couple of covers. I must tell you about the bands camaraderie on stage. It honestly looked like they were just jamming on stage. No big deal.
The evening began with their original Back to the Start. A definitive bass line courtesy of Kaushik Kumar, a subtle solo and the band looking like they were drunk on music – if that doesnt set the tone for the rest of the gig, I dont know what does! No Matter Where You Are had beautiful guitar riffs, quite John Mayer-y if you will. Also, Srijayanth Sridhar (Keys and Synth) was caught singing along while losing himself completely to the music. Deepa Jacobs (Backing Vocals) and DSouzas voices meshed together so perfectly in this one. My favourite song of theirs has to be Hurt too Much, which was the perfect blend of minimal instruments and a very catchy melody line. Alexis also debuted a new single at the gig, You Wouldnt Like Me. Ramanan Chandramoulis (Lead Guitar) brilliant guitar solo, the girls powerful vocals (Im saying that a lot, arent I?) made this one, one of their best tracks yet. Forgive Me was another track in which DSouza, the lyricist shined. Unfortunately she went off key in a couple of places but Burn saw the vocalist take command. The vocals were the star of the show and the instruments added to them.
Their best cover was Talking Heads ‘Psycho Killer. They made it their song. Talking Heads fans, dont hate me for saying this but I loved their cover more than the original. Seriously, give their cover a listen. Kumars bass and Deepak Raghus drums stole the limelight! Jacob took the lead for their cover of Mayer Hawthorne‘s No Strings Attached and pulled off the single effortlessly. Their cover of Love will tear us apart by Joy Division is another track where their love for subtlety simply shines. Their cover was so uncluttered in comparison to the original. However in Corinne Bailey Rays ‘Closer and Justin Timberlakes ‘Pusher Lover Girl, the vocals slipped off pitch at a couple of places.
They wrapped the gig up with Make love to me, an original. They even got the audience to sing along and before we knew it, the gig came to its close. Alexis made sure that along with the audience, they had fun too. The fun included an impromptu performance of Happy Birthday for a member of the audience. The band looked a little cramped on stage but nonetheless they made it a great Saturday night for everyone who showed up.
Peepal Tree isnt just a band. Its a supergroup of sorts. I mean, you have some of the best musicians in the independent music scene coming together to make great music. Their very first gig at The BFlat Bar saw them performing to mostly friends and a whole bunch of music lovers. The bands biggest achievement? Getting Tony Das (Lead guitar and Backing Vocals) to sing in Kannada and Hindi! announced vocalist Sujay Harthi.
Let us go back in history to the beginning of Peepal Tree. It isnt all that far back though. Harthi and Praveen Biligiri (Bass Guitar and Backing Vocals) coughed up a couple of great tracks together but didnt know what to do with it. Voila! Willy Demoz (Drums) enters the picture insisting that they croon these numbers and entrance audiences. Das is summoned to work his magic on these tracks and thus the fellowship is born! They revealed their project to the world on the 8th of August with the help of the good folks at BFlat.
Lets get down to business now. As a bunch of established musicians youd expect them to work mostly originals and they did not disappoint. They successfully proved that language is no barrier in enjoying great music. They opened with Chetana which had a very haunting melody line. There were strong Red Hot Chilli Peppers influences on a couple of their tracks. Bayake in particular was very RHCP meets Bisi Bele Bhath. Laugh all you want, but its true. Biligiris bass in Anubhava and People Tree was unbelievable. It was the strong yet silent force that drove those songs to greater heights. His backing vocals were equally mesmerising. Das clearly had a lot of fans in the room and for good reason. His riffs in Anubhava drove the crowd to frenzy. His wielding of the guitar was exceptional but unfortunately his singing went off pitch in a few places. Kanasu and Konavaregu were tracks in which Demozs drumming was truly amazing. Its not always you get such pitch perfect classical singing with heavy riffs but Harthi managed to pull it off. Yes, there were very slight issues with the pitch at one or two places but they were easily forgotten.
The covers they had picked werent a walk in the park. Their cover of Govinda by Kula Shekar was so good that it seemed to heighten the beauty of the instruments and vocals. It was one of their best covers. But their cover of Khuda by Spyro Gyra was a little disappointing with Harthi going off pitch in some places. They did, however render near perfect covers of Nitin Sawhneys Nadia and Minds without Fear by Imogen Heap/Vishal. The latter was the perfect amalgamation of vocals and interesting instrumentals.
Their original People Tree was one of their best with a haunting chorus and intense instrumentals. They did, nonetheless save their very best for last. Thangi was the perfect end to a great start. Filled with great loops and a brilliant guitar solo, Thangi left everyone wanting more but sadly it was time for us to say our goodbyes as they took their final bow. On the whole, Peepal Trees performance was extraordinary. They made sure to talk to the audience and keep the atmosphere light and friendly between tracks with Harthi offering to give fans Das contact information. The crowd too was extremely happy to be so close to great music. People were struggling to stay in their seats as all everyone wanted to do was forget their troubles and sway to Peepal Trees tunes. An outstanding first gig that is how wed put it. Heres looking forward for more terrific performances!
Refuge is embarking on a 3-city tour, starting on the 12th of June 2014. Performed by a quartet and drawing on jazz, classical and folk music from various parts of the world, Refuge is a set of musical themes with unity at its focus. The music is composed and arranged by pianist Aman Mahajan. Written over the last decade, and equal parts structured and improvised, the music is imagined as an underscore to the journey were all making together. Coming from varying mixtures of musical backgrounds, the musicians all share a love of improvising and as a result, every performance promises to be spontaneously different. Be sure to attend this one!
Aman Mahajan – piano
Matt Littlewood – saxophones
Mishko M’ba – bass guitar
Jeoraj George – drumset
12/6 Pune: Shisha Jazz Cafe, ABC Farms
13/6 Hyderabad: Vidyaranya School Auditorium
14/6 Bangalore: The Bflat Bar, Indiranagar
Thermal and a Quarter have never been ones to rest on their laurels. They were the first in India to release a concept album, they released an album on a custom user-license modeled on Creative Commons and then not-so-long-ago launched their most ambitious effort yet – a triple album. They then decided to raise the bar higher. TAAQ played the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – the world’s largest arts festival, in 2013. If playing 26 nights back-to-back wasn’t impressive enough, they also won the Spirit of The Fringe award.
“Maybe someday, we’ll find plan B in a hit movie” – This is it, TAAQ (2008)
It was indeed serendipitous when frontman Bruce Lee Mani sang these lines just before the screening of their ‘hit movie’ – TAAQ had filmed their experiences at The Fringe and subsequently the Edinburgh Mela Festival and made a movie that they chose to call ‘WFW/DFD’. They premiered it at BFlat last Saturday as friends and fans congregated to witness TAAQ’s latest experiment. TAAQ also held a unique gig to accompany the premiere of the 40-minute movie where they paid homage to some of the eclectic acts that have influenced them over the years.
Dont worry, Bruce. Its just a movie, came a voice from the crowd when frontman Bruce Lee Mani, expressed his nervousness about the screening. Perhaps thats what most of us expected a clichéd documentary about the band. Thermal and a Quarter caught us off guard once again. From the moment images from the movie flickered on the screen, through the next 40 minutes, right until the band got on stage again and took a bow, most of us just sat there transfixed, too moved to even stand up and applaud. Not only are they pretty darn good at making music, they are pretty darn good at almost everything they do!
Quite evidently, TAAQ has poured their heart into the making of WFW/DFD and this is probably as intimate a fan can possibly get with his/her local heroes. In 40 minutes, TAAQ answered all questions about who they are, what they do, what it has taken to get where they are and what it takes to continue doing what they do. Without giving out the juicy details, let’s just say that the best thing about the movie is how it is not just about the band, but also about us and every known/obscure artist in the world who is on a constant quest to perfect his/her art.
WFW/DFD is the perfect reality check, not for a dreamer but for all the corporate smugs in secure jobs who are living under the false impression that theyre doing something worthwhile with their lives. A special mention to Rajeev Rajagopal for the brilliant script and of course Bruce Lee Mani for breathing life into every word of it. D.I.Y or Die.
While we reeled from the after-effects of the movie, TAAQ continued the proceedings with the killer setlist they had planned for the evening. Featuring guest Ramanan Chandramouli on guitar, they started off with a Blood, Sweat and Tears cover called ‘Nuclear Blues’ followed by a slightly obscure Sting song called ‘Love is Stronger Than Justice’. The choice of non-popular songs of famous artists was intentional. If anything, listening to these songs gave the audience, a blueprint of Thermal’s influences over the past two decades. Some of these tracks might even fit right into the TAAQ canon. What followed was an Indian indie (specifically Bangalorean) fans’ wet dream. TAAQ launched into their homage to Lounge Piranha‘s ‘The Gun Song’. While the song stayed true to the original, right down to the e-bow that was used for the wailing solo, one could see Bruce use his trademark spider-y chords to give the song the signature TAAQ style. Taaq also covered their contemporaries and alma-mater (IIRC) Zebediah Plush‘s ‘Journey to Gondolin’. Sidenote: If you haven’t already done so, do check out ZP’s ‘Afterlaughs’ – an Indian indie classic in our opinion!
They closed out the gig with a Gilbert O’ Sullivan ditty, John Scofield’s jazzy ‘Green Tea’ and Steely Dan’s ‘Jack of Speed’. They’d also managed to sneak in a few of their originals (‘Wishing for Magic’, ‘For The Cat’, ‘Hot Day’, ‘Mighty Strange’, ‘This is It’) into their extended set which was possible thanks to the new 1 am deadline (Hallelujah!) for pubs in Bangalore. What was fascinating was that the songs, especially the older ones still sounded fresh after so many years. Its the attention to their craft that really is the secret to TAAQ’s longevity and there is no doubt that they will continue to make great music and raise the bar even higher in the years to come.