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Thrashfest at Hotel United 21, Mumbai

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“I’m astounded whenever I finish something. Astounded and distressed. My perfectionist instinct should inhibit me from finishing; it should inhibit me from even beginning. But I get distracted and start doing something. What I achieve is not the product of an act of my will but of my will’s surrender. I begin because I don’t have the strength to think; I finish because I don’t have the courage to quit. This book is my cowardice.” –  The Book of Disquiet , Fernando Pessoa

Anyone who has read Pessoa will have enjoyed the pleasure of indulgence, of reading a work that speaks to one so profoundly and consoles them of all their inactivity in life by being a reflection of the same. Well, it speaks to me too, and this review, and in fact everything I have ever written is my cowardice.

If there were no deadlines, I would never write. Perfectionism leads to procrastination and here is my excuse for a review over a month later than it was due. Of course this has nothing to do with Thrashfest. Thrashfest is the very opposite of passive reclusion from society. It is made of people who believe in movement, in the active participation in change to bring change. I am just a journalist, here to observe, to complain, to criticise, to abuse deadlines and to tell.

Thrashfest at Hotel United 21, Mumbai

Organised on the 9th of February 2014, in Hotel United 21 by Kunal Choksi, Thrashfest’s tagline says that it is one of a kind. While the line up had some really good bands and some not so much, it still managed to hold true to the tagline. When I reached the venue, at about 4:00 p.m, I was greeted with a lobby full of sweaty fans. Sushant Shetty(vocalist/keyboardist of Cosmic Infusion) put it pretty aptly “I haven’t had to wait in such a long queue for a metal gig after the Rang Bhavan gigs at I-rock”. The show saw an attendance of about 270 metalheads. Let us hold back speculations of whether Kunal Choksi is championing the return of those good old times for now, and celebrate the making of a dedicated fan base for a 10-hour long show outside the city.

Thrashfest at Hotel United 21, Mumbai

Sceptre, Threinody, Halahkuh, Albatross, Chaos and Devoid were the better bands in the line up. That was to be expected. It was the first time I got to see Halahkuh live, and they were mind-blowing. If my word doesn’t mean a thing to you, you should probably look at the set of gigs they have done within the span of February. The exhaustion, typical of a long show, was forgotten during their set.  Men were colliding against one another with delightful abandon. So much so that it almost ended up damaging the equipment on stage. Seldom are the ripples of the moshers’ activity, felt in the front lines of the crowd. This was one of those times.  Bassist and vocalist Prakhar Soni had to request the crowd to hold their excitement and channel it in a method that did not involve vandalism.

Thrashfest at Hotel United 21, Mumbai

The band had some issues with the sound and took a longish break at the end of their first song. They took their time till they were comfortable with the sound even though the audience was getting impatient. Prakhar Soni did some impromptu bass tapping out of boredom and then onwards I was looking forward to the rest of their set. I personally loved the drummer, regretting for most of the set that I couldn’t see much of him owing to my small stature. Their music has more melody than thrash bands are commonly known to have, but as long as it means that they get to play more, I don’t care whether they are rightly categorized.

Two extremely professional bands on the bill that night were Sceptre and Threinody. Sceptre was celebrating their 15th anniversary and Threinody is four years younger than me. Thrashfest saw them both prove that a head full of grey hair can headbang better.

Thrashfest at Hotel United 21, Mumbai

Sceptre came after Systemhouse33, Deadbolt and Armament, all relatively their infants. It was a welcome change to see a seasoned set of musicians take the stage. Two minutes into their set and they had a circular pit going at a hurricane’s pace. A few casualties with some men falling into the console, were promptly prevented by the scene giant, Pritesh Prabhune chucking them back into the pit with one hand. The drums sounded so much better, and the guitar tone, especially in the song ‘Fatal Delay’ was absolute win.

Thrashfest at Hotel United 21, Mumbai

Threinody’s stage act was much like Sceptre’s, practiced control on stage, dictating chaos in the audience. Theirs was the sixth band that night and they came up at around 9:30 p.m, right on time for dinner. This was rather unfortunate because they had to end up playing to an audience that had thinned down to half its earlier strength. They still managed to incite an aggressive energy that reached its climax with their last song ‘Whiplash,’ a cover of Metallica’s song by the same name.  It was absolute debauchery for 30 minutes that left a mosher with broken spectacles and the audience as a whole, exhausted.

Thrashfest at Hotel United 21, Mumbai

The first band on the bill, Systemhouse33 went up at 4:30, an hour or so later than the scheduled time. I’ve heard multiple reasons for why the delay was caused, some say the sound arrived late, some say there was a problem with a member of  the organizing committee. In any case, Thrashfest should look like nothing less than an organizer’s nightmare. Most people complained about how the bill could have had a different lineup schedule. Many said that Systemhouse 33 should have gone on a bit later into the concert. They were a decent band, going for a professional look on stage, the musicians stood in the middle of two standees on stage. They unfortunately did not know how to work with the sound, and their set looked like a work of rushed up sound check with unsure artists, even so, they were the perfect band to rev up the audience before the party could take off. The headlining bands were a funny sight in the greenroom, sleeping off as they waited for their turn. Trying to keep the energy up by practicing and re-practicing, or by going out to grab a drink and have a smoke.

Thrashfest at Hotel United 21, Mumbai

The most conveniently placed band that night, was Albatross. They came on at about 10:15 p.m, playing to a dedicated fan base in their home ground, they had a good show. They played ‘Tornado of Souls‘ to celebrate the coming of Megadeth the coming weekend. It is not a song they haven’t played earlier, and the band’s little Marty Friedman along with Vignesh Iyer, more than make up for any sloppy playing by the others. They played a new song – ‘Children of the Clouds‘ which was pretty well received. Except for that I have reviewed the band on other occasions and my views about them remain the same. They are one of the better bands in the scene with lyrics that come from a well read background and guitars that come with immense talent.

Thrashfest at Hotel United 21, Mumbai

By the time Chaos came on, the crowd was suitably exhausted and the moshpit was made of a group of some 5-7 intoxicated people with the organizers joining in. Not Kunal Choksi, of course, he like a good old school metalhead stood back and watched on with his hands folded.

From the minute they started playing you could tell that this was a tight band. I’ll be very frank and confess that I don’t remember all the nitty-gritties of their set but my show notes are filled with “oh my god this solo!” everywhere, so much so that I can’t make out which song I was talking about anymore. If you are of the opinion that the band sounds a lot like their Bay Area Thrash metal idols then I beg to differ. The guitars are definitely a product of careful study of the pioneers of American thrash metal as is the delightfully incoherent style of vocal delivery dripping with the American accent. But Chaos is one of those bands that picks up from its influences to create its own sound.

Thrashfest at Hotel United 21, Mumbai

Armament was the third band to perform that night and the minute they came up on stage and announced “Mumbai the film city! Are you ready for some world class metal?” I let out an involuntary sigh of despair. How very unoriginal an ice breaker that was. Of course, no one found anything wrong with it and enthusiastically replied “Yeah!” Their set was much like their greeting from on-stage. Pleasant and unoriginal. I like the band’s music but that is because they sound like a Kreator tribute band when they are not sounding like a Slayer tribute band. Their stated concept in interviews sound very interesting but their shows do nothing to portray these ideologies. I would be very interested in seeing them perform again if they did something about that.

Thrashfest at Hotel United 21, Mumbai

Deadbolt was definitely the lowest point for the show. Their gimmicks and stage presence saved the day for them but their cover-ridden setlist and its execution is something I don’t wish to waste too much space for.

Thrashfest at Hotel United 21, Mumbai

Devoid was great. I could catch only two of their songs because it was quite late by the time they came on.  However, I can tell from the little I heard that they got the best sound of the night. I’m guessing it has something to do with the number of times the sound engineer for that night has done sound for them.  Except for that Devoid had some innovative chanting sessions that Arun Iyer created in order to replace the usual MC-BC slogans. They played a cover of Exodus’s ‘Riot Act‘ which reportedly, most of the audience failed to recognize, and in general did everything typical to the metal elite in Mumbai. I am not going to read them the riot act for that because their music is good, and the past few shows they have managed to bag this year is enough proof of that.

Thrashfest at Hotel United 21, Mumbai

Except for the bands, the gig saw some high points. A staff from the venue bought a Devoid T-shirt which was selling like hot cakes anyway. The security guard standing on the mezzanine was head banging through-out most of Halahkuh’s set. Metalhead Narayanan Haridas, shared the mic with Sceptre and then Albatross momentarily. Arun Iyer was found giving a heartfelt sermon to the Halahkuh boys that started with something like “You are the next rock stars” following which he and Prakash Soni exchanged band T-shirts. Even before the gig had properly started off, as people were still entering, a mosh pit started to form near the gates. A very happy looking Dushyant Dubey sprinted outside to the lobby that was filled with ticket holders and started yelling “In a line everybody!” of course no one in their right mind is going to question that buff dude. The end of Devoid’s set saw Kunal Choksi get up on the stage and give a very bashful speech and a number of thank you’s.

And that is it.

Drashti Thakkar

Drashti Thakkar is a Mumbai based writer, a freelance drummer and loves working with lights for live gigs. Her idea of an epiphany is anything that gets through while reading the IPC. Her idea of a good time is a ride on the bike. No, She don't drive.

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Da High Tribute to U2 by The Beatroute at High Spirits, Pune

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It’s not often that you get to enjoy 80s music these days. The once ubiquitous rock pub where you could sip a leisurely beer while tripping on Mr. Mister and Culture Club on loop is fast being replaced by live gig joints: not that I’m complaining! However, when news broke that a U2 tribute night was being organized at a nice alfresco bar not too far from home, we thought: why not? It’s probably too early to be paying tribute to a band still going strong, but given the bleak possibility of the aging rebels from Dublin ever making it to Indian shores, this would be the next best thing.

Da High Tribute to U2 by The Beatroute at High Spirits, Pune

I’d never heard The Beatroute before. According to their Facebook and Reverbnation pages, they’re a Mumbai-based Alternative Groove Rock band that started off by playing covers of songs by bands ranging from U2 and Incubus to Maroon5, Coldplay, Wolfmother, etc. They’ve recently started composing and playing original music, which they will be releasing soon. However, we’re always all ears when it comes to new acts on the scene so, after a lazy Sunday afternoon siesta, we took off towards the High Spirits pub at Koregaon Park – a nice enough venue for live music, but just a trifle small and unsuited for large turnouts.

Da High Tribute to U2 by The Beatroute at High Spirits, Pune

We needn’t have worried. For quite a while, it seemed as if The Beatroute’s active audience would not cross the dozen mark, though a bunch of late entrants did fill the place to some extent. The band started off bang on schedule which I liked, and without the prolonged and annoying sound checks that are the bane of any paying audience they launched effortlessly into ‘Elevation’ and surprised many, including myself, with their tight sound. A fairly decent attempt at covering a band that often sounds deceptively easy. The good feeling persisted a few songs later, with an unexpected original called ‘Roll the Dice’ in which the rhythm section came into its own, with a sprightly drum solo tossed in to boot!

Da High Tribute to U2 by The Beatroute at High Spirits, Pune

The Beatroute, formed in late 2010, is still young as bands go, but you wouldn’t know it from the ease with which vocalist Greg Sarma hit the high notes that Bono is much loved for; or from Vignesh Iyer’s neat ‘The Edge’ imitation (woolen cap and all), his red PRS and Boss GT10 weaving a loop of nice chorus-y delays that characterize the Irish band’s sound. The show-stealer however, was Eeshan Tripathi, the talented, classically trained pianist who played his Roland Fantom G6 with a nonchalant ease that was a joy to behold. The “long-haired freak on the bass” (Biswajit Chakroborty) and a replacement drummer (Toobloo, really?) standing in for founding member Gopal Dutta who, with Tripathi, branched out from regional-rockers Arth to form The Beatroute, complete the lineup.

Da High Tribute to U2 by The Beatroute at High Spirits, Pune

There were glitches, sure – the guitars were barely audible on the left speakers for a lot of the songs. The Beatroute would be well served with a full-time sound guy on board, a role currently being moonlighted, one understands, by their manager. But on a lot of songs, the band’s love for the material shone through. I was particularly looking forward to my favourite U2 number ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ and there was an awkward “Oh no!” moment when Greg started the verse two bars too early but the rest of the gang caught up quickly and it was smooth sailing right till the beautifully executed arpeggio outro. I, for one, was happy though it was becoming increasingly clear that the audience members weren’t exactly die-hard U2 admirers.

Da High Tribute to U2 by The Beatroute at High Spirits, Pune

The next track, a groovy, funky love song called ‘Glow’, was carried effortlessly by the talented Eeshan and extremely well-received by the audience. The band seemed rather thrilled by the fact that the crowd was enjoying their originals more than the U2 covers they were ostensibly there to watch!

Next up, a rather ordinary cover of an extraordinary song: ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ from U2’s Grammy-winning Joshua Tree album. Everything was wrong: the guitars were turned too low, the vocals seemed off, the band didn’t seem to feel the song at all. Sensing a low, they quickly launched into a piano piece that morphed seamlessly into the jivey ‘Sweetest Thing’. Now I’ll be the first to confess that this is NOT my favourite U2 track by any stretch of imagination, not in the least because Boyzone is singing the chorus! However, surprisingly for me, this was the rendition of the evening – beautifully done, with the audience swaying and singing along.

Da High Tribute to U2 by The Beatroute at High Spirits, Pune

The band seemed to grow massively in confidence after that, playing ‘One’ with panache. If only that acoustic guitar patch had been set up correctly for the vocalist! He did his best, sure, but there was something wrong with the way it was sounding, and Vignesh caught it right away when he traded in the PRS for the Walden acoustic for the next number, a jazz-funk original that was most enjoyable. I found myself marveling at these youngsters who delivered original material with such élan. In the 80s and 90s, any “good” band that dared inject so many “OC’s” into a tribute set would surely be booed off. Times have changed, it seems, and for the better!

Da High Tribute to U2 by The Beatroute at High Spirits, Pune

Another original, ‘9 to 5′ featured in the set between excellent covers of two songs straddling opposite ends of the band’s oeuvre; the haunting ‘With Or Without You’ and ‘Hold Me,Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me’ (from the Batman Forever soundtrack). With the former, the guitarist finally found his perfect sound, and it couldn’t have come at a better time! The latter kicked off with a host of keyboard runs and scratchy record effects, which set up the track rather nicely.

Da High Tribute to U2 by The Beatroute at High Spirits, Pune

I must confess I had a great time overall. The show ended rather abruptly at ten thirty, with an aborted version of ‘Vertigo’ and one of the rare moments on the show when the band’s lack of maturity in handling live situations coming to the fore (the other was at the beginning when an over-excited Greg yelled out “How we doin’, Pune?” to a deafened and rather amused audience). The best takeaway for me that night was the fact that all the material was enjoyable, including the original stuff that we hadn’t even expected to be brought to the table.

With a better sound guy and some more flying hours, this band could wind up quite the live act to watch out for. They certainly had us in high spirits as we left the venue. More power The Beatroute!

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