Archive | March, 2014

Chick Corea: The Vigil

31 Mar

Chick Corea is one of the few giants still left in jazz, and The Vigil shows no signs of him slowing down. It’s been quite a while since his time on In A Silent Way or Bitches’ Brew or his time with Return to Forever, but even at 72, he can still put out an exceptional jazz album.

The Vigil is his first recorded album with his new group after years of performing live together, and their time together shows. Intricate solos intertwine effortlessly, especially in the live “Hot House”. The music remains clever after many listens and manages to maintain that intelligence over an eclectic and varied track list. Fusion, modal and Latin and Spanish tinged jazz all find their place and mesh excellently over the course of the album. The entire album benefits greatly from the touches of Spain. “Pledge For Peace” in particular is very Olé Coltrane-esque.

A few missteps keep this from truly being a masterpiece. The vocals in Outside of Space mar an otherwise excellent song and the album is a touch predictable in places. Nevertheless, this is an excellent jazz album and showcases a highly talented group from whom I hope more is soon to come.

@murthynikhil

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Indie March Night at Counter Culture, Bangalore (22/3/2014)

29 Mar

The month of March was a great time to visit Counter Culture, an excellent, aesthetic live music venue in the bustling Bangalore suburb of Whitefield. March 8 fielded an eclectic and wholly excellent bevy of women artists in honor of Women’s Day; this weekend features Avial, Agam and Lagori in a delicious palette of modern Indian music. But last weekend was truly the centerpiece of the whole mad March extravaganza: five gifted, exciting bands that form a rough outline of where Indian indie is today and where it has the potential to go.

First on the billing at the Indie March night on March 22nd was the intriguingly-named post-rock Bangalore act Space Behind the Yellow Room. This was the first time I’d heard them, and the little that I did hear that night was magical: the ethereal, frenetic music setting the tone for the night that was just unfolding. Interspersed throughout their mostly instrumental pieces were some rather unfathomable, but wholly enjoyable shrieks and screams from the drummer (we’ll never know if they were parts of the composition, or in-situ improvisation). Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons including Bangalore traffic and unfashionable lateness, I only managed to catch a few snippets of their music, but it definitely made a great first impression. And raised questions, too: what is behind the yellow room?

 

Which space? Why yellow?

Which space? Why yellow?

Space Behind the Yellow Room was followed by Until We Last, another post-rock band from Bangalore. From what I could gather, there were two different impressions that people had about Until We Last following Space Behind the Yellow Room. Some, like myself, thought it wasn’t the smartest of lineups: post-rock is great for quiet introspection and expensive headphones, but by this time, most people had had a drink or three in them and wanted, well, dance music.

Until We Last

They were dancing, but in a more post-rock way.

Others disagreed. Another Top Five member found the band to be top-notch, and arguably one of the centerpieces of the music that evening. Either way, though, Until We Last definitely did not disappoint. I had first seen them at the Bangalore Weekender last year, where they completely transformed a lawn on a bright Bangalore morning into a dreamlike, almost ethereal space. Here, too, they brought the same ethos, but perhaps their music is more suited for the aforementioned bright mornings: a few hundred tipsy twenty-somethings aren’t the best vessels of contemplation. Special note must be given, though, to their track “Water” as well as the way they signed off: “We are Until We Last.” Think about it. It’s pretty deep.

Like I said, two post-rock bands back-to-back wasn’t the greatest of ideas. In essence, the atmospheric drama carefully draped over the crowd by these two bands was ripped apart the second the F16s took to the stage. The young Chennai indie rock band were coming off of strong wins at IIT Madras, JD Rock Awards, Hornbill and pretty much anywhere else they went. It only took a few minutes into their tight, spotless set to realize that they deserve every damn one of those awards. The F16s have really got it all together: the suaveness, the confidence, the professionalism and, yeah, the hair.

The F16s

For me, one of the greatest moments of the night was when they broke into an absolutely perfect cover of “Mansard Roof” by Vampire Weekend. And these guys really are real rock stars. Of the five bands that played at Counter Culture that night, the F16s were the only band that had the audience singing along to every one of their tracks: the beautifully executed “Light Bulbs” was a particular stand-out. Last month at the JD Rock Awards, the F16s won “Best Emerging Band” and I have to say, Rolling Stone pretty much got that one exactly right.

After an amazing one-hour set, the F16s handed over the stage to Skrat, their fellow indie rockers from Chennai. Theatrical and energetic, Skrat are quintessential entertainers, led by the instantly likeable Sriram TT. The clock was ticking around midnight at that point (Whaddup, extended Bangalore curfew!) and most people in the venue were quite well sloshed. The crowd basically went wild during Skrat’s well-known and well-loved tracks like “Samurai Badass” and “Tin Can Man”, but things reached a different level of pandemonium when the band proclaimed their love of motorbikes and immediately got a guy to ride a motorbike to the front of the stage. Unfortunately, I don’t have photos to prove it, but I assure you it was awesome.

Shortly before the motorcycle arrived.

Shortly before the motorcycle arrived.

Most people didn’t really get over the F16s-Skrat double blast, which meant that the final band of the night, Parvaaz, unfortunately didn’t get the audience it deserved. The few people who remained sober until the end claimed that Parvaaz was pretty good too, and that they boasted of a heady mix of technical competence and soaring Urdu vocals. Apologies for our inability to verify that claim.

Parvaaz

Clocking at a little under six hours, Indie March Night was a mini-festival in itself, and a really great way to spend a Saturday evening/night.

Words, photos and video by Neeharika Palaka and Subhayan Mukerjee

A Very Horrific ‘Maut’ Indeed…

22 Mar

Courtesy their Wiki page.

I cannot do a Top Five list for this band, so don’t expect that. I cannot genre-limit them or compare them to other bands, so don’t expect that either. As part of a pentagram of bands, Bhayanak Maut (BM) has come to define my Indian metal experience along with Scribe, Demonic Resurrection, Skyharbor & Bevar Sea (eclectic, I know). So I thought it would be a great opportunity to educate you sheep about Metchul, specifically about the Indian metal scene (not that I need a reason, but I might as well ramble on).

I confess I’m quite bad at defining said genres, as are most people. Nevertheless, for the uninitiated, one could try to define BM as a heavily deathcore-inclined band with obvious inspiration from grindcore and groove metal. Some would argue they can afford to experiment beyond their comfort zone, while some would say they should hang onto tradition; I couldn’t possibly comment.

Now into two full albums, two (rather brilliant) EPs and knee-deep in their third full release, BM have been around long enough to be called Mumbai-scene veterans. Despite a low-key start and early influence of gateway bands of the wicked West, they have snuggled into a dark independent pit of their own and created their own signature oft-interspersed with a strong Indian flavour (“MNS Messenger” and “Ranti Nasha” hooks always get me) which has predictably translated into a loyal Indian fan-base.  One should listen and compare their exploratory first album Hell Is All People to their watershed Malignant EP (“Elcit Set Nois Rot”, “Boiled.Unwound.Filatured”, “PICA” and “Phlegm Blot Technik”…which is basically all the songs in that EP) to better understand their stylistic shift. Following their phenomenal sophomore Untitled album (“Ungentle” and “You’re Perfect Now Change”: oh, the feels!), I personally think their latest Metastasis EP is an ominous sign of great things to come.

The first thing that hits you about BM is the goosebumps-inducing dual vocals style, followed closely by a dam-burst of bone-crunching riffs and mesmerizing blast beats. It’s obviously not a new concept, but rarely have I seen such synergy between two vocalists: Vinay’s (Vinay Venkatesh) death gutturals are perfectly complemented by Sunny’s (Sunneith Revankar) fry screams, creating a dichotomous clamour that comes together perfectly at crescendos. This swadesi juggernaut is driven by Baba (R. Venkatraman) and Aditya on guitars, while drums by Rahul Hariharan have bound this band together and given them the deathcore-with-no-breakdowns flavour I have so come to cherish. Their bass did tend to get masked in some acts; but they have a new bassist in Ishaan Krishna who joined last year from NerveRek / Modern Mafia, and has fit right into their demolition-derbyesque live acts.

I remember their performance in 2010 at BITS Pilani. Between all the headbanging, moshing and punching (!) in the front row, one image stuck in my head, of both these behemoths standing one-foot-on-monitor and belting out earache in quick and brutal succession (listen to “Blasted Beyond Belief” if you don’t believe me, you philistine!).

I was fortunate to see them live again at the 2012 NH7 Weekender in Delhi and they picked up where they left off in Pilani, which was basically to “tear you a new one”. They are a dying breed, a band which thrives on live performances and is never afraid to improvise. Vinay, his beard, Sunny and Baba are a stage act to admire, and keep every performance volatile and unpredictable. I guess their onstage antics are only surpassed by our beloved clowns at Scribe.

It was hence rather unsurprising that BM successfully owned national rock pilgrimages such as GIR, Deccan Rock and Independence Rock Fest, apart from regularly featuring in NH7 Weekenders and various college fests. They also stepped into hallowed grounds when they followed Demonic Resurrection, Undying Inc. and Scribe in playing at the Inferno Festival in Oslo, Norway. BM is peaking right now, and it’s safe to say they are a source of inspiration for the countless fledgling metal acts that are stumbling around to find their identity and niche in this dank basement that is the Indian scene.

Bhayanak Maut played at Blue Frog’s Metal Night on March 2 (after a year-long hiatus) and it seems like they will play again only next year, so I’ll just go back to my headphones now and wait for their third full-length [storyline-based] (http:/facialdiscrimination.tumblr.com/) album.

– Samarth Hegde

PS: On a related note, connoisseurs of a more extreme experience should check out ‘Demonstealer’ Makhija and Vinay Venkatesh’s brutal-death metal outfit, Reptilian Death. Oh, also check out Sunneith’s groove metal ex-supergroup Providence if that’s your thing.

Top Five Pick-Me-Ups for a Dreary Wednesday Morning

19 Mar

CoffeeIt is said that Mondays are the dreariest days of the workweek, but we think it’s actually Wednesdays: that doldrum of restlessness and ennui in the middle of a seemingly never-ending workweek. But let’s think positively. When life gives you lemons, there’s nothing like a perky new song to brighten up your day. Give our top five a shot and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

5. “Cups” by Anna Kendrick

Originally recorded by the Carter Family in 1931, this song was revived in 2009 by the band Lulu and the Lampshades, followed by Anna Burden in 2011, when it went viral thanks to the combination of the cup game with the song.  Anna Kendrick performed it in 2012 on the soundtrack of Pitch Perfect.

The song starts with a bunch of beats that may seem unusual at first; that is, until you realise they’re being generated by cups and handclaps. Soon after, Anna Kendrick’s melodic voice floats into your cerebral cortex, tingling your ears as she keeps reminding you that you’re going to miss her when she’s gone.

It’s a perfect pep up song for an escape. Tired of routine? Need a change of lifestyle? Maybe just a shift in perspective? Pick yourself up sugar, they’re going to miss you when you’re gone.

4. “Good Life” by One Republic

If you ever need a song to get someone in the mood to just get up and show up, this is your best bet. A subtle reminder of the fact that day turns to night, night turns to whatever we want, this song generates the perfect vibes to gently lift your mood while still being easy on the ears. The video’s a bit artsy, the band’s a bit quirky, the song takes you over and in the end you find your head swaying and shoulders bobbing to the realization that this could really be a good life.

It also makes your insides fuzzy, but maybe that’s just me.

3. “New Shoes” by Paolo Nutini

The song starts with a cool beat, and builds up to what I’d call a mellow high. Paolo Nutini is at his catchy best with “New Shoes” on his debut album These Streets, which was featured on a 2007 international ad campaign by Puma AG. Coupled with an upbeat video, Nutini’s soothing voice puts your mind at ease and is a pick-me-up in itself. It’s the kind of song I want to start my day with when I really want to kick some ass, and I don’t need an excuse, ‘cause I’m wearing my brand new shoes.

2. “Dust Clears” by Clean Bandit

On a slightly more serious note, we arrive at “Dust Clears”, by Clean Bandit. It’s rather easy to relate to, as it’s abstract to the point where it seems to fit any life situation. But as you listen to the song, the dust clears and it all starts to disappear. The visualization shows the stark difference between living lives and merely existing and the song makes one feel like picking up the pieces and getting back out there. The violin solo in the middle of the song defines a whole new level of awesomeness, as does the music production on the whole.

1. “Wake Me Up” by Avicii

It would be unfair to say that American soul singer Aloe Blacc is the star of the song that has been described as the ‘summer anthem’ this year. Avicii does his usual mix, creating a divine composition of magic in music, which is enough to make anyone feel buoyant and positive. The lyrics are beautiful and responsible for giving gravity to the song, which, complimented by the foot-tapping beat in the music, create an exquisite sensation.

Honorable Mention: “I Love to Singa” by Owl Jolson

Thank God for online search engines, or I’d have spent my life trying to figure out the name of my favourite song in childhood. Originally released in 1936, the song is an eight-minute long Merrie Melodies animated cartoon, its story being a tribute to Al Jolson’s film, The Jazz Singer. Owl Jolson is a class act, and you can’t help but smile as you watch him do the Creole, singing his song in perfect contentment. It’s a heart-melting, ‘aww’-inducing production that makes your day just a little bit better.

–  Ayeesha Khanna

De La Soul at Yoshi’s, San Francisco (7/3/2014)

16 Mar

De La Soul is one of those bands that could have defined hip-hop. Their debut album 3 Feet High and Rising, now 25 years old, was widely considered one of the best of its year and achieved commercial success. That album could have brought about the Daisy Age of hip-hop. For better or worse, that didn’t happen. Nevertheless, De La Soul is one of the pillars of old-school hip-hop and their live show more than justifies that respect.

This is the first old-school hip-hop concert that I’ve ever been to and I never realized how much space is in those old songs for audience participation. The choruses all seemed to have been designed for the audience to shout along with. You haven’t heard any of their music properly until you’ve been in a mob all singing it out together.

Their crowd skills were incredible. They talked and joked constantly and the audience response was intense. They brought a forest of hands up from the beginning of the concert and that forest was not felled until the concert finished. It was quite the intense performance and the crowd showed the energy that deserved. Also many points for the constant San Francisco shout-outs.

The show went over much of their stable of hits, including Me, Myself and I, Oodles of Os, Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey), A Roller Skating Jam Named “Saturdays” and Oooh. There were a few missteps in their performance, but that was just part of the charm. This was three guys who have been around since the beginning of hip-hop and never forgotten how much fun it is supposed to be. They wanted everyone to enjoy the show and delivered enough that anything else was impossible.

@murthynikhil

Wolfmother at BITS, Hyderabad (8/3/2014)

13 Mar

Wolfmother probably isn’t one of those bands that you can become a die-hard fan of, swear by, and get tattoos done on your forearms to show your unflinching support for. Unless you’re Australian. In which case, apologies, mate.

Because, let’s face it, as the generic rock lover in each of us progresses in age and taste, Wolfmother resides in but a tiny corner of our music collections – coming up now and then in rock mixes and playlists, giving us a substantial amount to headbang to while it lasts and then innocuously disappearing again until its next appearance. Even their Grammy winning single, for example, is largely unheard of in rock circles around and above the Equator.

But all said and done, it’s not every day that a band that can actually boast a Grammy to their name comes down to your town to do a gig. And when they do, you’d certainly be a fool to not give them a chance.

Wolfmother, live.

If you’ve correctly gauged my opinions about Wolfmother till now, you’d figure out that I wasn’t exactly slobbering over the thought of seeing them live, but the fact that I’ve listened to “Joker and the Thief” since my school days gave me enough reason to look forward to them. The fact that the venue was the sister campus of my own college only made things rosier.

When they kicked off on the fine Saturday evening, it was difficult to not observe the amount of energy the trio packed into their performance. Nevertheless, as the minutes rolled by, it was also difficult to not observe the dearth of variety in their songs. Sure, for the first half an hour or so, while they dished out singles from their two studio albums, they had everyone – from the rabid headbanger to the passive-aggressive bystander – tapping their feet and shaking their heads, but after a while, the music became a tad too repetitive for my taste. I did keep my head shaking and feet tapping though, lest I be booed at by the music connoisseurs around me, but the only reason I was still interested was the fact that they were yet to play “Joker and the Thief”. And that’s that.

But don’t let my biases and limited previous exposure to Wolfmother downplay the commendable workmanship of the band. Andrew Stockdale’s vocals, soaring and clean, fit in just fine to complement his heavy, down-tuned guitar riffs and the swanky occasional solo. However, Ian Peres, who divided his time between the bass and the keyboard, left a greater impression with his hairdo than he did with either instrument. (But that’s not because his music wasn’t any good, but because his dreadlocks and general enthusiasm on stage were.) To be fair though, he did his job pretty well. Lastly, Vin Steele, who was in charge of drums, was really the one who kept the energy in the music flowing right till the end, with his pounding beats and driving rhythm.

Wild.

Wild.

Their set list comprised of songs from both their studio albums: their eponymous debut from 2005 (which included songs like “Dimension”, “Apple Tree”, “Mind’s Eye” and “Love Train”) and Cosmic Egg from 2009 (“New Moon Rising”, “California Queen”). However, since both these albums largely fit into the hard rock/neo-psychedelia genre, it was difficult to find many stylistic differences during their live gig as well. Adding to this melee of heavy riffs and pummeling beats was their Grammy winning single “Woman”, which received a lot of cheer and got many a head oscillating with much rapidity. When, however, they left the stage without performing “Joker and the Thief”, the one song that the teeming majority of the throng had come to see them perform, the public cheer gave way to something that bordered on fury and mutiny. This turned out to be a rather cheap ruse, because they returned thirty seconds later, playing that instantly recognizable riff that elicited twice as much cheer and near-maddening popular excitement. Needless to say, their execution was spot on.

Wolfmother at BITS, Hyderabad

In hindsight, it was definitely a good gig. They had the right energy, the right talent, and the right set list as well. But, at a personal level, the band did leave a lot to be desired. They never really connected with me, nor, I would wager, with the average Joe who was present there as well. In fact, had they really walked off without performing “Joker and the Thief”, I wonder whether I would have rated them highly at all.

But yes, it was fun while it lasted. I shook my head, tapped my feet, and had a good time. But would I go for another gig if they come down to play again? I doubt it.

Words and pictures by @wrahool

Janelle Monáe at the Justin Herman Plaza, San Francisco (7/3/2014)

10 Mar

As I have said multiple times before, I really like Janelle Monáe. She’s smart, imaginative and energetic. Her music is rarely short of excellent. Also, her live performances are incredible. So, when salesforce.com sponsored a free show of hers to celebrate their 15th anniversary and accompanying food drive, I jumped at the chance to see her live again.

This may have been a free show, but it was certainly treated like any other. It opened with an overture leading into her entrance onstage in a straightjacket to follow the Palace of the Dogs narrative that she’s spent the better part of the last decade setting up. From there, she jumped straight into a solo “Givin’ Em What They Want” that never seemed to miss Prince at all. Janelle Monáe was clearly able to supply everything anyone could need all by herself.

The show was a mixture of hits from all over her discography. “Dance Apocalyptic” led into “Sincerely, Jane” flawlessly. “Electric Lady” saw her moonwalk across the entire stage, and was followed with covers of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and “ABC”. “Q.U.E.E.N” saw her do both her own and Erykah Badu’s parts of the song, but sadly “Tightrope” did not include a stab at Big Boi’s rap. As ever, the show closed with a very extended “Come Alive” jam.

Janelle Monáe is one of my favorite people to see live. Her sincerity and enthusiasm are absolutely unparalleled. Her shows are meticulously produced and her stage presence is staggering. There are very few performers with her talent working today. She sets quite the high bar for her competition and shows like this one consistently do the impossible. They push that bar higher.

@murthynikhil

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