Second Sight – The Violet Hour Tour

24 Nov

I’ve always been apprehensive of house gigs. My earliest memories of living room shows in high school have been of parents and relatives mixed in with friends, and a whole lot of “wait hang on let me start over”s. Until recently I hadn’t exactly been convinced by the most recent wave of professional house gigs put on by Indian bands looking to find an escape from the festival and pub circuits. I understand the motivation (pubs are exploitative and no one likes playing over the dinner rush, festivals are exploitative and no one wants a Saturday 3PM slot), but it seemed like more of a fad trying to stem the stagnation in the non-electronic Indie circuit. My opinions have radically changed in the past 48 hours, however, thanks to Second Sight’s The Violet Hour Tour, organised by LVNG.

Anusha Ramasubramoney and Pushkar Srivatsal are a Civil Wars-inspired duo that have put together a 45 minute acoustic set that makes the house gig concept work on a level I’ve not seen before. It’s magical, it’s captivating, and (based on my experience at their tour’s first leg in Delhi) definitely worth your time. The show was organised by LVNG, an indie-r version of Sofar Sounds. They’re young and hungry (their Delhi gig was their 43rd overall and 6th in the city), but that only works in their favour. The lack of distance between the organisation and the audience/performers made the whole process that much more authentic and less corporatised, and the limited resources they used to set up the space arguably upped their creativity. The first 15 minutes of the evening weren’t exactly convincing, of course. The Vasant Kunj apartment that served as the makeshift venue was nice enough, but the combination of me being late, sober, and a complete stranger to the mostly friends-and-family crowd meant a lot of awkward standing around and trying to think of interesting answers to the question “so how did you end up here?” Then the music started, and everything fell into place.

Andrew Sabu, the founder of LVNG, served as the singer-songwriter opening act. He’s a more-than-competent singer, with a strong voice that was underserved by his constant self-deprecating commentary on his music. I’m a fan of less-is-more guitarists, but that sort of performance requires you to really lean into and accept it for what it is, which didn’t happen. There are enough elements that hint at greatness, though, so here’s hoping that his eventual musical output matches the promise I could see. As an opening act though, it was pretty much spot on: enough to whet our appetites and set the mood for the music to come.

A short break later, and Second Sight took to the “stage” (read: two stools, a guitar and some mic stands). And then the magic happened. Second Sight normally play with drums and a bass but their absence in this gig only strengthened their performance. Melodies and rhythms were instead provided throughout the night by guitar (played by both Pushkar and Anusha alternately) and finger clicking (provided by the audience), with additional support on occasion by electric guitar stand-in Vignesh. This stripped down set-up meant that their best assets (harmonies, strong songcraft, and live performing energy) could be displayed to full effect.

Take their first song of the night, “Little Plastic Raincoats.” I first heard the song as part of Patio Unplugged’s video series, but this stripped down version worked so much better in the DIY aesthetic of the living room gig. You couldn’t help but be drawn into the story Anusha and Pushkar were trying to tell.

“Blood,” the first song they played from the Violet Hour EP (and incidentally my favourite from the list) is an even better example. The EP version is haunting enough, but taking away the strings and ambient sounds really helped to highlight the fact that the duo have substance to back the style they’re pushing. They keep talking about their Civil Wars influences, but I could (consciously or unconsciously) detect some hints of Beirut and Kings of Convenience creeping in too.

Strong writing and music is just one part of a good live performance, though; thankfully, Anusha seems to be a master at the second part, i.e. audience engagement. They owned that audience, letting us peek behind the curtain with anecdotes about the songwriting process and their influences, and infusing us with an energy that you don’t often see in live gigs. I’m still humming the little back-and-forth they had us singing for their last song, the bolero-style “La Hermoza Tristeza” (I’ll let you Google the double- entendre).

One of the best aspects of the night, ironically, were the little flubs and mistakes and sound issues that crept in. A perfectly orchestrated live show is fine enough, but often the best moments come when something goes wrong and performers have to adapt. The same held true here: every little hiccup served to highlight just how amazing it was to be so close to a performance. At one point Vignesh’s switchboard shorted, but you could still hear the twangs from his electric guitar at the back of the room. That was the moment that sold me entirely on this whole format.

It’s always gratifying to get in on the ground floor of something that you just know is going to explode and that’s what I felt at the end of the night.

Second Sight have two more nights left in their tour (one in Pune and one in Bombay), so go see them if you can still score tickets. Also buy their CD, which has some beautiful artwork, inserts, and stickers: I’m a sucker for bands that go that little extra mile with stuff like these.

– Karthik

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