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Guns N’ Roses – “Not in this lifetime” – live at East Rutherford, 23rd August, 2016

27 Aug

Fewer band-break-ups had broken more hearts around the world than Guns N’ Roses’ infamous split back in 1996. It wasn’t surprising when it happened. There was no denying that back in the day, they were the most combustible band in the world – a boiling concoction of rag-tag junkies, contraband substances, and one massive ego, barely held together by a brand of music that was almost as lethal and explosive as they were themselves.

The split was therefore completely understandable. The fact that Axl Rose and Slash, arguably the most iconic on-stage pairing of the time would never be seen on the same stage again, caused many a tear to be shed. The story of Gn’R became this almost poetic narrative of the life of a rock n roll band that had risen from anonymity, exploded on to the global stage as an almost overnight success, and then imploded as spectacularly within a very short span of time. Of course, the name Gn’R would continue to live on, and Axl would continue to perform with his new band members till as late as 2011 – but for all practical purposes, the real Guns N’ Roses – would be history. Given the bitterness of the split, and the rancor that existed between Axl and the rest, a reunion seemed impossible.

Fast forward 2015. Rumours of an improbable reunion of the classic Guns N’ Roses had begun doing the rounds on social media. Towards the end of 2015, the official Guns N’ Roses website verified the rumours, and teased a historic “Not in a lifetime tour”. The entire classic line-up wouldn’t be involved: but Axl and Slash would be. What more, they’d be joined by the original bassist, Duff McKagan, and keyboardist Dizzy Reed (who had stuck by Axl for the entire duration of the split). If everything went according to plan, this would possibly be the greatest, most historic reunion in music history ever. An LA based marketing expert even predicted, “… the band only need to do a year on the road and would never have to worry about money again in their lives.”

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Thus when the tour did get underway, it was fitting that Top Five Records would be there to attend one of the concerts. Thus, on a warmish summer evening in New Jersey, I found myself perched atop a seat in the massive MetLife Stadium – a stadium of a size that truly reflected the immensity of the act that was about to unfold.

The opening artist of the night, Lenny Kravitz got the music underway with his brand of R&B and soul, and played out an entertaining one hour set. But it wasn’t going to be until late in the night that the crowd would get a glimpse of those who they had really come to see. It started out with a recorded version of the Looney Tunes theme (that has become a staple in this tour), and then yet another recorded track – Harry Gregson-Williams’ The Equalizer, which eventually transitioned into the first song on their set-list – It’s So Easy – as the crew exploded on the stage in a dramatic manner. The collective cheer that erupted around the stadium was quite unlike any audience I had heard in my life. These were people – almost rabid fans – who had waited for two decades to see one of the most iconic groups perform live, and here they were being treated to just that.

The set list that followed would have left no fan unsatisfied. In all fairness, their discography isn’t really massive – just the four “classic” albums – that had catapulted them up billboards around the world, and then a fifth in 2007. And the concert was thus, nothing short of a tour-de-force, that explored their entire oeuvre right from their legendary debut Appetite For Destruction, through the epic double Use Your Illusion, a smattering of covers, and some select numbers from Chinese Democracy.

The 80000 capacity MetLife stadium

The 80000 capacity MetLife stadium

It’s So Easy was followed by one of their more groovier songs – Mr Brownstone. The title track from Chinese Democracy came next, and then they embarked on one of their biggest hits Welcome To The Jungle, the same song that had announced their arrival to the world back in 1987. The moment when Axl screamed “Do you know where the f*** you are? You’re in a jungle baby. Time to die!” will perhaps live on in my memory for the rest of my life. That, followed by Slash’s instantly recognizable riffs set the stage for what would be one of the greatest performances that evening. Axl dispelled all doubts about his vocal prowess that some fans might have harboured, given his age. His voice reached the same raspy zeniths as it did plummet the lowest of depths with great aplomb. Coupled with his electrifying on-stage presence it not just a memorable act, but one that also felt visceral. Slash, with his iconic Les Paul and his even more iconic swagger kept the riffs flowing effortlessly. Hit after hit followed – from the outrightly dirty Double Talkin’ Jive to the more mellow Live and Let Die and everything in between. They did all of their classics including Estranged, Civil War, Sweet Child O’ Mine (of course), and the author’s personal favourite, November Rain. November Rain saw Axl take his seat at the piano, and the recreation of what is arguably one of the greatest rock-ballads ever written left nothing to be desired. The emotion in Slash’s solos was palpable – one could almost taste it in the air. Of the various covers they did that evening, the guitar-only cover of Wish You Were Here stood out. For that, Slash was joined by Richard Fortus, and the pair constructed an absolutely ethereal guitar duet of the Pink Floyd classic. Other covers in the main setlist included the Love theme from the Godfather, and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, which Axl urged the entire stadium to sing along with him to. Finally when they concluded with one of their all-time classics – Nighttrain – the 55000 strong audience wouldn’t be silent – just yet. Thus, when the band returned on the stage for the encore, the applause that greeted them back, was absolutely deafening.

 

Slash and his Les Paul

Axl Rose

 

Slash and his Les Paul

Slash and his Les Paul

 

Duff McKagan

Duff McKagan

The encore consisted of one of their most soulful, acoustic, and soft numbers – Patience, which got the whole crowd singing along. This was followed by a very entertaining cover of The Seeker, and for the final act of the day the band put together a rendition of one of their most loved hits – and an absolute classic of the “stadium rock” genre – Paradise City. The anthemic chorus got the crowd worked up in a frenzy, and Slash’s dizzyingly fast riffs enraptured the fans. Coupled with a spectacular show of fireworks, Paradise City left many indelible marks on thousands of minds that night. It was well past midnight when we made our way out of the stadium, but the memories that we had gathered that night weren’t ones that would fade away any time soon.

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The whole crew. From left: Richard Fortus (guitar), Dizz Reed, Duff McKagan, Axl Rose, Slash, Melissa Reese (keyboards), Frank Ferrer (drums). Courtesy: http://radio.com/2016/06/17/guns-n-roses-add-opening-acts-to-not-in-this-lifetime-tour/

In the history of music in general, and rock in particular, there appear these flashes – flashes that hold great promise, but then fade away. Guns N’ Roses is one such flash. One can only imagine the contribution they could have made to music had they not had broken up, had they not gone on a 20 year hiatus from making great music together.

But then again, it is the very nature of being a flash, that makes flashes, so very special. Their fleeting nature is much like that of a shooting star in the sky, that you enjoy only while it lasts, and then feel lucky to have caught a glimpse of while it lasted.

In the case of Guns N’ Roses, the shooting star decided to make a comeback, and what a phenomenal comeback it was.

Photos and text by Subhayan Mukerjee. Follow him on Twitter @wrahool.

Your Chin at The Humming Tree – 22/5/2016

5 Jun

As far as shows in Bangalore go, seeing Your Chin at The Humming Tree is not bad. Your Chin is essentially royalty in the Indian indie scene and The Humming Tree is the one of the few major concert venues that Bangalore has to offer. It’s just a shame that both disappointed.

via The Humming Tree

The Humming Tree has a problem. People interested in the show, people who know Your Chin and like his music, skipped this show simply because of the venue. It’s crowded, it’s expensive and it’s shaped completely wrong. The Humming Tree gives the impression of a minor bar that puts up shows simply to differentiate itself. It is not designed for people to listen to live music and doesn’t give the impression that it’s particularly enthusiastic about the fact that people do. It exists less for the show and more for the Instagram updates of the day after.

And yet, The Humming Tree performs a very important function. India has a lot of very literate people making contemporary culture. Like everything else, Indian indie music is just waiting for the one breakout success to give credibility to the others. The fact that music is doing so much better than the other fields is in part thanks to places like The Humming Tree. It is fantastic that there are places that I can go to see my favorite Indian bands, and it’s necessary for there to be a place where I can interact with my favorite musicians.

The problem is that The Humming Tree is not a satisfactory place to go for the music – it is just the place where the music happens.

Komorebi


via The Humming Tree

The opening act was actually very good. They ran some very clever music that put down excellent foundations and then chopped the weirdest interludes into them. They played like a stranger, more interesting SOHN. Their performance was possibly a little rougher than it should have been, and a couple of songs would have benefited from some refinement with fresh ears, but it was still an excellent act. The venue failed them a bit, as their lights were atrocious and Your Chin’s set-up took up much of their stage, but they nevertheless had a great live presence. They were just fun to watch and fun to listen to. I’m definitely going to check them out again when they are next in Bangalore.

Your Chin

via The Humming Tree

I actually really like the new Your Chin EP, Peeping Till It’s Noise. It’s light-hearted, it’s energetic and it just makes your day better. It could be a little smarter and slightly more varied, but it is still just fun to listen to. This is also true live, just far less so. Raxit Tewari just had no stage presence. His low-energy, laid back demeanor on stage did nothing to help his music. His visuals helped, but were overall unimpressive.

Contrast him with Broken Bells or with The Postal Service, both of whom had highly energetic shows that really helped make the experience. No matter how fun the music, if the singer doesn’t involve himself with the show, it’s hard for the listeners to have fun as well.

Additionally, his music was far too repetitive and took no advantage of being live to become varied. Part of the point of a live concert is that, as a listener, you can focus on the music. It’s then incumbent on the artist to hold up their end of that deal and reward your focus. The best concerts have their music step up, but failing that, the artist must. Swaying slightly back and forth just does not make for a compelling show.

Peeping Till It’s Noise is a fun EP and I highly recommend that you check it out. It’s free to listen to on Soundcloud and is just good, solid electro-pop. It’s absolutely the perfect thing to put on while taking some time to relax. It’s just not worth going to see live.

@murthynikhil

Dream Theater – The Astonishing – live in New York City, 23rd April, 2016

1 Jun
Picture courtesy: The Metalist.

Picture courtesy: The Metalist.

If you follow the concert reviews that I write for this blog (for example, this, or this, or this, or well, even this), you would notice my incurable – almost clinical obsession – with a rather particular genre of rock music – viz. progressive rock.

The one band that opened the floodgates of my obsession for this genre was Dream Theater. Of course, I had been listening to Pink Floyd before, not quite knowing that A Dark Side of the Moon was “prog”. Or that the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Heart Club Band had actually laid the foundation of the concept album – which has become central to prog music today. And of course, once the floodgates had opened, the usual prog suspects followed – from the 70s British scene right up to the progressive metal of today. But Dream Theater was that one band that really introduced me to the genre, made me aware of what the genre really entailed, and taught me how to appreciate music that’s instrumentally elaborate and technically sound.

Thus, when Dream Theater announced their 2016 tour to support their new album, “The Astonishing”, it wasn’t long before I had a ticket for myself for their NYC show at Radio City Music Hall, on the 23rd of April.

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Picture courtesy: Blabbermouth

Now, I am well versed with most of Dream Theater’s discography, but The Astonishing is a new album. It was certainly brand new when I booked my tickets – it had released only a week or so back. So getting to “know” the album would be central to the concert experience. Thus, during the next few months – right till the hour before the concert – I was on a mission to familiarize myself with the album, to the very best of my abilities. I’ve written before, how prog songs don’t hit you immediately. They aren’t like “Hey Jude”, or “Stairway to Heaven”, that you fall in love with, the moment you hear them. They require multiple listens; they grow on you slowly, steadily; and after you’re well aware of the various twists and turns that the song takes during its generally expansive lifespan, do you really begin to appreciate them in their entirety. The Astonishing is no different. However, from a Dream Theater perspective, it does see a marked departure from their usual albums. There are no longer gratuitous instrumental solos in each and every song. There’s no 20+ minute opus towards the end. Lastly, and most interestingly, there’s a lot more focus on vocals – arguably more so than on any other Dream Theater album so far.

All in all, by the time the concert began, I had assimilated The Astonishing thoroughly. I had poked and prodded every section in it with my my scalpel of musical critique. I had examined virtually virtually second of the album under my magnifying glass. In the end, I felt fairly prepared to enjoy the concert. It was after all, going to be my first Dream Theater concert – and I was determined to make it a memorable one.

The Astonishing is a concept album. In other words, it’s not a set of unrelated songs like a general music album. The songs make up a narrative, and they follow in logical sequence, one after the other. The narrative generally has characters, a plot, and a denouement. The storyline in The Astonishing is a fairly typical one that one finds in progressive music. It explores themes such as dystopias, futurism, and creates a storyline set in a post-apocalyptic United States, where freedom of musical expression does not exist. Instead, all the music in this world is regulated by the Great Northern Empire of the Americas and produced by noise-machines or NOMACs. The plot follows the Ravenskill Rebel Militia in their efforts to defy this Empire using the power of their own music. Yes, the story does seem heavily inspired by Rush’s classic 2112, and also seems to draw from modern/popular fantasy franchises like Game of Thrones, and even Star Wars – but let’s get this straight – you really don’t get such albums these days. Sure, the world moved on from progressive rock in the 80s, but there’s still something about an album of this type – be it in the amount of thought that goes into it, or the incredibly high level of musical talent it showcases – that simply sets it apart.

Now, on to the concert.

A prog concert is a lot more than just a musical concert. There’s a lot of supporting paraphernalia – from sound effects, to props (remember Pink Floyd’s The Wall tour? Or Genesis during their Peter Gabriel days?) – that are used to create an experience that is more theatrical than simply musical. So was it the case with this. A number of tracks in this massive 34-track double album are purely synthetic tracks of pre-recorded sounds (Don’t roll your eyes, Pink Floyd used plenty of synthetic tracks too – like this or this). These pre-recorded tracks serve more of a narrative role than a musical role. Accompanied with videos and other props, these tracks serve the function of advancing the story. The first track for example, “The Descent of the NOMACS” – with its cacophony of electronic sounds – was used, to introduce the Noise Machines to the audience. As those sounds subsided, the instrumentals kicked in, and the music bridged into the second song, “Dystopian Overture” – a magnificent instrumental. And from there on, it was full-blown Dream Theater. The stage lit up in spectacular fashion, as John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, John Myung appeared – seemingly out of nowhere – to massive cheers from the audience. Behind them, was Mike Mangini’s absolutely sensational double-decker drum kit. One could only discern the presence of a person sitting behind that contraption owing to glimpses of his flying hair that showed through the gazillion cymbals and drums that kept him engaged. The other highlight on the stage was Rudess’ keyboard, which looked more like a spaceship than a musical instrument. It swiveled around in all directions, about every axis, while his fingers performed the wizardry that has made him one of the greatest keyboard players on the planet.

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It wasn’t till the third song, The Gift of Music, that James LaBrie appeared on stage, swinging his arms wildly, and beating his palms with the mic. The vocalist, who has been splitting fan opinions for more than two decades now, looked quite the character . However, to be fair to him, what he lacks in panache that the other band members possess, he does make up for with the effort that he puts in to every song that DT record. Sure, his voice isn’t to everyone’s taste, but one cannot deny the absolutely incredible vocal range (Learning to Live, anyone?) and technical ability that he brings to the band. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say, that The Astonishing showcases his very best efforts till date. Apart for a rather high-pitched and frankly non-melodic portion in Lord Nayfaryus, his contribution to every song in this album is fantastic. If you were to turn a blind eye to his “I’m trying to be rockstar, but I’m not” histrionics, and focus only on his voice, he really is phenomenal. Because, let’s get this straight – these songs are complicated. It’s not easy to deal with unconventional time signatures that change over time, when you are singing live. But LaBrie absolutely nailed them all. He reached every high note with the most consummate ease (Brother, Can you Hear Me?), he was well aware of every twist and turn the songs had throughout the concert – A New Beginning was particularly memorable. And in the end, one couldn’t but help feel bad for the amount of criticism this top-class vocalist draws from fans.

 

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Nothing much needs to be said of the other band members. Being among the most decorated and critically acclaimed masters of their crafts, Petrucci, Rudess, Mangini, and Myung displayed a level of poise and technical proficiency that I’ve honestly not seen in a live concert before. Petrucci, the six-time G3 legend seemed to transcend all barriers of human ability with his guitar. Ruddess was in a league of his own, blitzkreiging his way through his keyboard, and the arsenal of other fancy gadgets that he is well known to use. Myung, unarguably the most unassuming of the lot, kept the supremely difficult bass riffs ticking like clockwork. Regarding Mangini however, I had a few reservations – not because he was any less good at the drums, but because the drummer has traditionally been the virtual “front man” for Dream Theater. When the legendary Mike Portnoy left the band, the band didn’t just lose one of the greatest drummers in the world. The band lost someone who imparted an identity to the band when they performed live. If you watch videos of past Dream Theater concerts, you’ll see Portnoy, not just as a drummer, but as the real “face” of the band. He awed audiences with his techniques on one hand, and commanded their attention on the other. He masterminded the sound, and orchestrated the people’s emotions, . With him gone, and with his replacement, Mangini, being more of a drumming machine than a human being, the band sorely lacks a person who takes on that onus. Brilliant with the guitar as he might be, John Petrucci isn’t really the flamboyant performer who rivets the audience’s attention upon himself. Rudess is too cerebral, Myung, too modest, and while LaBrie gets an A for effort, he fails horribly when it comes to being a galvanizing front man.

And therein was my greatest disappointment with the concert. You couldn’t put a finger on any single thing that was “wrong” with it. The music was beyond phenomenal. Each of the band members was at his very best. The atmosphere was surreal. But what was lacking was a personal connection. It didn’t feel like a truly live concert. I could well have been watching a recording of the concert, and I doubt I’d have felt anything too different than what I felt that night. Added to that was the fact that notwithstanding how well I had assimilated this new album “within” me, I still wasn’t as familiar with it, as I am with their earlier work. Therefore, while Dream Theater still remains one of my top bands, (and I will probably not give up an opportunity to see them live again in the future), this particular concert, unfortunately, did leave a few things to be desired.

words and photos by Subhayan Mukerjee (@wrahool)

Steven Wilson – Live in New York City, 5th March 2016

9 Mar

Steven-Wilson-concerti-2016

The disappointment was palpable. The thousands that had filled up Manhattan’s historic Beacon Theater on a cold March evening were probably beginning to regret their decision. A crew member had just announced that Steven Wilson, the main attraction of the night was unwell. For the first time in his 20 years of touring, Wilson had lost his voice on the night of a concert.

When he did come out on the stage however, the applause was deafening. Perched up on the first row of the balcony, I could hardly contain my excitement. Needless to say, Wilson was a person whom I practically worshipped. Being a huge lover of progressive rock music myself, I have often felt my musical taste to be somewhat of an anachronism – displaced in time by a few decades. Consequently, it is difficult to find musicians these days who create progressive rock in the manner it was meant to be created. Amongst the few who do create such music however, Wilson stands out as a towering, trailblazing figure – his greatness in the genre comparable only to the thematic depth of his compositions; his multifaceted brilliance, matched only by the melancholic beauty of his lyrics.

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Despite his illness that night, Wilson made a statement of intent that the concert would be unique, but that his vocal contributions would be limited. He went on to confess that his music was depressing, and that the crowd would definitely have to be miserable to have paid to come and watch him that night. With that bit of wry humour he began the first of his two part set. The first part was essentially a complete live rendition of his album Hand. Cannot. Erase. He called upon his harmonic partner, the very talented Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb to fill in his parts as he himself fulfilled his guitar and synth duties. All the disappointment that had burdened the atmosphere in the theater vanished the moment Ninet delivered a flawless, breathtakingly powerful rendition of the title track. Screaming through the chorus at an octave above the usual, she dispelled all notions of mediocrity and quickly established herself in the adulation of the audience. She continued her class act – tackling pieces ranging in vocal difficulty – from the relatively easy Perfect Life to the rather complicated Ancestral. Steven himself took over the vocals for the less demanding songs (Home Invasion and Happy Returns) – choosing to alternate with Ninet on several occasions. The other members on the set were absolutely top notch- particularly the drummer, Craig Blundell, who, Steven revealed was only “slightly less sick than he was”. The brilliance of the instrumentalists stole the show particularly, during the drum and keyboard heavy pieces – Home Invasion and Routine #9.

The second part of the set comprised Wilson’s earlier work with Porcupine Tree, and some of his own. The lead guitarist, Dave Kilminster who had sung 3 Years Older in the previous set returned to the vocals for My Book of Regrets. Ninet delivered yet another mesmerizing piece – this time a Porcupine Tree classic – Don’t Hate Me, but her crowning achievement of the night came in the form of Sleep Together – which saw her unleash a stunning vocal duet with Wilson. Her voice reached heights of epic brilliance while the audience looked on in awe and wonder. It wouldn’t be too far from the truth if one were to contend that she effectively stole the limelight from Steven that evening. The other pieces in the set included Index and Vermillioncore – two of Wilson’s earlier works, both of which, much like the rest of the concert, had the Steven Wilson brand of eerie melancholia and pensive depression plastered all over.

 

The David Bowie tribute

The David Bowie tribute.

While the set officially closed with Sleep Together, the encore saw Wilson arrange a tribute to the late David Bowie – something that has become a running feature in his current North American tour. Ninet took to the vocals for one last time, while Wilson strummed along to the iconic space / psychedelic classic, Space Oddity. Needless to say, it was received with huge applause from the audience. For the last act of the night he requested the crowd to accompany him along for one of Porcupine Tree’s most loved numbers – The Sound of Muzak from the 2002 album In Absentia. The crowd acquiesced. The result was an absolutely thunderous recreation that left many a mark on many a mind that night. Wilson may not have sung a word in that song, but he had made his intent clear enough. Progressive rock is much more than singing the songs out loud. It has more to do with the state of mind, and the musical epiphany that results therefrom. And in that, Steven had absolutely nailed it, and driven home his point with a poise that belied his present indisposition.

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When one follows the meandering history of rock music in the 20th century, some names stand out more than others. This is not just owing to the oeuvre of work they created (though that certainly goes a long way) but also owing to the legacy they leave behind. Then there are the other names who didn’t quite make their effect felt in their time. Their music remained underground, only to be resuscitated much, much later by adoring audiences around the world. In spite of being largely eclipsed during their lifetimes, the influence they had in paving the path forward for rock music simply cannot be denied. Velvet Underground, and the enigmatic Lou Reed, for example, never achieved commercial success. But the legacy they left behind was monumental.

Broadly speaking, Steven Wilson has all the makings to be in the latter category. His music will never be considered “hip”. It will never hit the mainstream, nor will it ever feature high up on the Billboards. His voice will seldom be heard on popular radio. But even after years have passed –

after we’ve lost the skyline

we stepped right off the map

drifted into blank space

and let the clocks relapse,

… Steven Wilson will shine on like a star in the night sky. For his will be legacy that is timeless. A legacy that Nothing. Can. Erase.

words by Subhayan Mukerjee (@wrahool). Pictures by Karuna Ahuja.

NH7 Weekender, Kolkata 2015

18 Nov

Well, it is finally over.

Months of anticipation and planning, the mad rush for tickets, waiting in bated breath for the biggest music festival of the city; and NH7 Weekender lived up to all of that and then some more.

nh7It had started quite a few months back, when the entire music-loving community of the city was shocked by the announcement of this year’s lineup. Megadeth: the name was enough to send the city scurrying for tickets. Shillong and Kolkata would witness Megadeth, while Delhi, Pune and Bangalore would have A.R. Rahman. However, unlike the other venues, for Kolkata this was huge. While a few international bands have played here before, nothing of this scale had ever happened in the past. A lot of people had their doubts whether it would actually materialise in the end, but even the most pessimist of the lot bought the tickets anyway. No one risked regret.

Day 1

The venue this year was different, further away from the city centre and less accessible than the one which hosted the event last year. But on reaching the venue, we were surprised by how elaborately organised things were, right from vehicle parking provisions to free autorickshaw rides from the parking to the main arena. There were sufficient number of ticketing counters, all adequately staffed with crew members eager to help. Once we entered the venue after completing a thorough security check, we were greeted by the usual halcyon atmosphere. The entire ground was brilliantly decked up, with strategically placed pointers to the five main stages for the aid of music lovers running around trying to catch different acts, inflatable bean bags which came to the rescue of those aching legs, amazing food and beverage counters helping everyone to refuel their energy levels. What was good to see was the sheer diversity of the people who had turned up. The crowd included people from all age groups and all backgrounds, united by the love of music.

The biggies in the day 1 lineup included Kailash Kher and his band, Nucleya, Parikrama, the Baiju Dharmajan Syndicate and Cactus, representing the local rock music scene. Kailasa rocked the stage belting out his signature hits like Rand Deeni, Tauba Tuaba, Saiyaan and Teri Deewani. He even invited some girls on stage to shake a leg with him. Guess whose gig overlapped partly with Kailasa? It was Udyan Sagar aka Nucleya. While he has been in the music scene for almost 15 years now, it was the release of his EP Koocha Monster back in 2013 that placed him right in the centre of India’s rising EDM scene. The crowd lapped up everything he served, right from the bass-heavy tracks of Koocha Monster to the more futuristic ones from his most recent EP Bass Rani. Cactus shouldered the lone responsibility of showcasing Bengali rock at this year’s festival and man did they step up! The Bacardi arena was chock-a-block with people cheering and singing along to tracks like Holud Pakhi, Buddha Heshechhe and Shudhu Tumi Ele Na. The Baiju Dharmajan Syndicate and Parikrama also performed at the Bacardi arena amidst much adulation of Indian rock fans.

Baiju Dharmajan bends some strings

Baiju Dharmajan bends some strings

I was a tad bit disappointed with the former in the sense that it was less of a group act and more of a solo show, but then listening to the ‘God of the Small Strings’ is always a delight. Among some of the other quality acts which stood out were those by Nischay Parekh, Prateek Kuhad and Swarathma. One guy who deserved special mention was Jivraj Singh, who had two consecutive performances. He played with Nischay Parekh at first on the Jack & Jones All Star Jamm stage, and then followed it up with a mindblowing act on the Moto Spotlight stage as part of PINKNOISE. The band originally consisted of lead guitarist Amyt Datta, Jivraj on drums and his parents, bassist Gyan Singh and vocalist Jayashree Singh. However, since Gyan Singh passed away they have been playing as a trio. While the performance was quite impressive and refreshing to say the least, Jivraj shone brightly with his futuristic-looking drum setup and plethora of skills.

Day 2

With an even more action-packed lineup, the second day of Weekender kicked off with acts by Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe with their neo-fusion rock set and The Bartender with their refreshing jazzy take on old Bollywood classics like Khoya Khoya Chand, Hawa Hawai, etc. Comparatively smaller local bands like Underground Authority, Neel and The Lightbulbs gave impressive performances as well. Two separate metal acts which added to the all-metal atmosphere were Zygnema and Undying Inc, both at the Bacardi Arena. They had metalheads going crazy, building on to the anticipation for the headlining act of the night. Amidst all the metal hullabaloo, there were a couple of biggies which stole the limelight by their own right. The first was Papon and The East India Company. Now while a few of their songs were quite well-received and got the crowd grooving and singing along to the folk-fusion on offer, personally I expected them to deliver a bit more. Shaa’ir+Func, lead by Monica Dogra delivered a powerful performance at the Motorola Indie stage. However, the biggest gig of the evening apart from Megadeth had to be the one by The Wailers. There is something transcendental about good reggae music. From the moment vocalist Dwayne ‘Danglin’ Anglin, Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett and company started crooning, the whole ambience was transformed into a magical one. Get Up  Stand Up, Buffalo Soldier and No Woman No Cry got literally thousands of people singing along. The rastafari spirit was further augmented when they called Papon upon stage to accompany them in rendering the cult song Exodus.

The crowd from every nook and corner thronged to the Bacardi arena as soon as the Megadeth records started blaring out around 8:15 pm. The acoustic system sounded a lot like the JBL VTX series which debuted in India in the 2013 edition of the Delhi Weekender to me, but I couldn’t be sure. The chants of ‘Megadeth’ only grew louder by the minute and metalheads were almost on the verge of getting impatient when the band took stage. It was about 8:50 pm. They opened with Hangar 18, took a small break and came back to belt out consecutive electric performances of songs like In My Darkest Hour, Trust and Sweating Bullets. One of the highlights of the act was that Chris Adler, the drummer from Lamb of God, was collaborating with Megadeth as part of a world tour before the release of their joint studio album Dystopia, which is scheduled for release next year.

Megadeth

Megadeth

While Megadeth has never really had any one drummer for too long, Shawn Drover was doing a pretty good job for the last 10 years, which  also made him the third longest serving member of the band after Dave and David. Now while Shawn was one amazing drummer by his own right, I had always felt he was too technical for the style of music Megadeth stands for. Chris Adler, however, is in a different league altogether. A perfect blend of technique and soul, with some of the most killing kick techniques and double bass I have ever heard. That Chris didn’t have a lot of time to fully adapt to all the songs of the band was evident, as he did take a little time to slowly warm up. But by the time Dave had launched into Fatal Illusion, one of the songs from Dystopia, Chris had come into his own. What followed was 45 minutes of sheer frenzy, with back to back hits like A Tout Le Monde, Symphony of Destruction, Peace Sells But Who’s Buying, with the band choosing to end with Holy Wars. From some serious headbanging to moshpits, the Kolkata crowd matched the band’s enthusiasm every step of the way. Insane shredding from Dave, bass solos from David, it was the entire package alright. While the stage lighting could have been better, the screen in the background played clips from movies which had references to Megadeth, like Silver Linings Playbook and Wayne’s World 2, in between songs. By the time Megadeth were done and gracefully bowed out in true spirit of artists, the crowd had gone bonkers and were still screaming their lungs out for some more.

As the people sauntered back with sore throats, aching necks and numb legs, all I could hear was how amazing an experience they had had and how they could not wait for the next edition already. Music had won the day once again.

words: Sayandeep Majumder, pictures courtesy the NH7 Weekender Facebook page.

Sayandeep is the default bong you run into when you saunter around the streets of Calcutta on a lazy Saturday evening. At other times, you can find him riding his bike (which he adores), watching football, or pretending to read Nietzsche. Unlike a default bong, however, he spends a fair amount of time in front of the mirror, styling his hair. He also possesses an eclectic musical taste, which was, unfortunately, all we looked at.

The Gloaming live in Philadelphia, 11/10/2015

14 Oct

Traditional Irish is probably not a genre of music that I am very well acquainted with. Far from it, in fact – it’s a style of music that I’d honestly never heard before. But then, last weekend, I had the opportunity to go for such a concert, and given my propensity to explore newer styles and genres, I decided to make full use of it.

The Gloaming was formed in 2011 by an eclectic group of musicians who having already established themselves in their individuals careers, had decided to experiment with stretching the limits of traditional Irish music and presenting it to a wider audience. They are a five-man ensemble comprising of fiddle master Martin Hayes, guitarist Dennis Cahill, singer Iarla Ó , Lionáird, viola/hardanger innovator Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh and New York pianist Thomas Bartlett.

The-Gloaming-Fergal-Ward-83

As I mentioned, I am a complete stranger to traditional Irish music, but the manner in which they  melded  Irish tunes into a rather contemporary arrangement was indeed commendable. The vocalist was a master of the classical sean-nós a-cappella song style, and his powerful, soaring vocals blended beautifully with the viola, the fiddle and the piano. Their lyrics, often haunting and emotionally charged, are drawn from old Irish literature and folklore. Hayes’ and Ó Raghallaigh’s mastery with the strings made for some delightful improvisations while Bartlett’s impassioned piano performance meant that he got so absorbed in his playing, that he managed to break the foot pedal twice in a frenzied bout of foot-stomping. The consummate ease with which he managed to repair it, during the performance was worthy of admiration as well.

The concert was definitely an ear-opener to a style of music that I had never been exposed to before.

Here’s a glimpse into their rich melodic oeuvre. 

 

Subhayan Mukerjee

Karnivool, Live and Loud at The Festival, Nicco Park, Calcutta (11/1/2015)

17 Jan

Dissidence is the mother of cohesion.

True words. We here at Top Five Records, for instance, may appear, on the surface, to be a bunch of music loving blokes, who are forever in unanimous agreement with everything that appears on the site; the sort who live in blissful harmony in the interwebs and who listen to good music that they all love. But the truth is far, very far from that.

Consider the Aussie progressive rock band, Karnivool.

karnivoolpress

Yeah, them.

In my opinion, and I’m sure, most of T5R would disagree, Karnivool is one of the greatest, yet one of the most under-rated bands, that exist in the world today. If you’re willing to look beyond the droning monotones of indie rock, and the tedium of modern day metal, Karnivool brings to the table, an oeuvre of music, so staggering in design and complexity that it leaves the attentive listener absolutely astounded. In the three albums that they have released since their formation in 1997, they’ve explored and experimented with styles of metal and alternative rock that very few bands have even dared to try.

So when Karnivool decided to drop by my hometown I was just short of doing this:

OMG I'm so excited I can't hide it OMG

OMG I’m so excited I can’t hide it OMG

I would hazard a guess that for the uninitiated, the concert, like most progressive rock concerts, was a deadly bore. But for people familiar with Karnivool, as for those who are familiar with progressive rock music, it was a rewarding experience. Prog rock works in a funny manner. There’s this learning curve associated with most prog rock songs, and the more you hear them, the better you understand the subtle complexities involved in them; and the better you understand these subtle complexities, the more you appreciate the music. Like a movie that you’ve seen a hundred times over – which you now know so well, that the hair on the back of your neck tingles when that epic scene is about to arrive, and you relish it in its entirety when it finally does.

Ian Kenny, the vocalist, wasn’t exactly the verbose type, so he let their music do most of the talking – which was pretty much what we wanted, because it was brilliant. He did seem to be enjoying the crowd support though, and looked relatively relaxed while singing – that is saying something, because it is honestly difficult to sing live, along to music that is so multi-layered and variable in terms of time signatures and rhythm. Steve Judd, the brilliant sticksman did some masterclass work on the drums (again, extremely commendable, because, you know, prog.)

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They performed songs from their three albums, including some of my favourites – Simple Boy, Cote, Themata, Rocquefort, Mauseum. It was a fine display of musicianship and technical prowess and they kept the fans’ attention at a steady high throughout the evening, and when they finally ended their set list with a heavily requested “New Day”, it provided the perfect denouement to their act.

I’ll stop here, and let you check out some Karnivool songs for yourself. I’m sure these songs will evoke mixed feelings – some will love them, while others will find them to be a drag.

But then, as a wise man once said, dissidence is the mother of cohesion. So it’s all cool in the end.

Subhayan Mukerjee

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