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Lykke Li – I Never Learn & Live at the Fox Theater (21/9/2014)

24 Sep

I’ve been listening a lot to the new Lykke Li album I Never Learn and also happened to have tickets to her concert last Sunday, so in the standard hyper-efficient Top Five Records manner, here is both the album and concert review.

I Never Learn

It has been a while since I’ve heard an album as dedicated to ballads as this one. I Never Learn is not just a collection of true pop ballads, it is a collection of true pop ballads about a break-up. It is also an excellent one, if a little repetitive.

Firstly, Lykke Li’s voice is consistently amazing. It is rich, human and above all communicative. She ranges from the more hazy “Just Like A Dream” to the frighteningly destructive “Gunshot” with ease. Her ballads are powerful and personal things. The entire album blames herself for the failure of the relationship and mines that vein deeply.

There lies my major complaint with the album though, it falls a little too far into sameness. It’s not precisely one-note, the slow “Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone” is followed immediately by the anthemic “Never Going To Love Again”, but the album does blend together. There are songs that stand out, the aforementioned “Gunshot” and “No Rest For The Wicked” are excellent, but too much of the rest feels undifferentiated.

Nevertheless, this is a beautiful set of ballads and an excellent album. The relationship the album is drawn from may have ended, but with music like this her listeners at least will never let her go.

Live at the Fox Theater (21/9/2014)

Mapei

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The show was opened by Mapei, a Swedish genre-bending pop artist. Her set was inconsistent, but fun despite that. Her sound is rooted in pop but mixes in hip-hop and R&B and even has her occasionally rapping. Her debut album Hey Hey has just released and is definitely worth checking out.

Lykke Li

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Lykke Li herself was a pleasure to see. As with her records, her voice served her beautifully. She did not restrict herself to just her latest album and that added some welcome variance. Her sound has shifted a fair bit over the years and hearing them all made for an interesting concert. Besides, it was fun to hear her hits. Personally, “Little Bit” was the standout moment of the concert for me, but “No Rest for the Wicked” was also really good and her cover of The Boss’ “I’m On Fire” was exceptional.

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Additionally, her stage presence was amazing. She was frankly flirtatious during the entire thing, and she did it wonderfully. It was like watching her at prom, she felt young and happy. Her manner did a huge amount for the show. When the performer is clearly enjoying herself and feels at ease, it’s hard not to follow suit.

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This was a great show and it had everything that I look for, varied and great music with improvisation and done with personality to boot.

@murthynikhil

Slint at The Fillmore – 25/8/2014

31 Aug

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I know Slint for one thing and one thing only, their second album Spiderland. Spiderland defined a genre. All of the Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor you have ever loved have roots in this album. Slint is what music cults are all about and exactly the kind of band that you want to see live.

Their music is deeply absorbing. They have the trick of making musical patterns that pull you inexorably in. You can almost feel the descending notes spiral around you, dragging you where they will. Hearing it live adds a new intensity and a new menace. They are not the most active of performers, but their music is not about the people, it is about the sound.

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This is what concerts like these are about. They are about sinking into the music, having it surround you for the one and a half hours that it goes on and then walking back out into the cold world and trying desperately to recall those moments and express just what it was like to be inside.

@murthynikhil

Outside Lands Day One – 8/8/2014

10 Aug

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Outside Lands is the largest music festival of the year for San Francisco. It’s cousin from the South, Coachella, is larger in every way, but it is still a big thing for those who stay in the City by the Bay. Normally I skip these things, but for this one that wasn’t an option. You’ll find out why below.

Run the Jewels

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My Outside Lands experience started with Run The Jewels, the hip-hop duo consisting of Killer Mike and El-P and they started it well. They came out aggressively and ran an intense set. Run The Jewels was one of the best rap albums of the past year and made for a fun live show. Killer Mike also took some time to respect the bay, remembering Mac Dre and calling Too $hort his father figure. They even brought out SF native and hometown hero DJ Qbert who ran the turntables like a champ. This was quite the opening to a day full of music.

Warpaint

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Next on my list was the excellent indie rock quartet Warpaint. Their sounds have the gossamer delicacy of fine silk and intrigue of a murder mystery. Simple to the point of being almost unadorned, their pop has a natural beauty that is incomparable. Unique and wonderful, their show was a delight.

Chromeo/Grouplove

Sadly, the show then hit its low point with Chromeo. They drew quite the crowd and an enthusiastic one at that. Their show however took all their flaws and magnified them. They lost what little charm their albums hold and came off as purely unintelligent and unlikeable in concert. The high point of their show was choosing to leave it.

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I crossed the field just in time to listen to Grouplove cover Beyoncé’s “Drunk In Love”. They couldn’t do it full justice. Beyoncé’s voice is exquisite. Still, they tried and the result was worth the listen. They followed it up with a couple of mediocre songs and a couple of good songs. I’m not going to buy tickets to a full Grouplove concert anytime soon, but I could have done worse than to watch them for half an hour.

Tegan and Sara

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Next on the list were Tegan and Sara. The indie rock duo was more fun than anyone else in the concert. Their songs were upbeat and bouncy and they kept breaking up their set with some quite amusing banter. I was quite sad that I had to leave them early, but I wanted to make sure I found a good place for the next concert.

Kanye West

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I bought tickets to Outside Lands purely to see Kanye West and he did not disappoint. Intense, challenging and of unparalleled quality, this is exactly what I wanted from a Kanye West concert. I just didn’t know how well he would deliver.

He opened with “Black Skinhead” eliciting the expected crowd excitement, and the following hit “Mercy” kept the hype rolling, but it wasn’t until later that we really began to see what this concert could be. In the middle of “Clique” he broke off the song to speak about the hate he gets and how his listeners are his clique. Chanting the chorus took a new intensity immediately after.

His anger in “New Slaves” was nothing short of palpable. One of his oaths in that song physically rocked me back. The crowd naturally knew most of his songs, so he kept cutting them up into pieces and making the crowd go over certain parts multiple times. You could say he was a leader and we were followers.

Kanye West is not the kind of guy to pander during a concert. He did shout out to SF during “The Good Life” instead of the normal second set of cities with the Bay Area line. We must have gone over “Blood On The Leaves” five times because he wanted mosh pits for when the bass drops in that song. “POWER” was abruptly broken because he felt like switching songs. Kanye does what he wants, and that’s why I go see him.

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The later part of the show featured quite a few of his older hits. He started with “All Falls Down” to bring back the memories and then kept going. “Jesus Walks” still holds up as one of his best songs and works very well in a crowd. Also, “Diamonds of Sierra Leone” was quite the throwback. I remember watching that song on TV back when it first came out. “Touch The Sky” and “Stronger” also came out to represent one end with “Bound 2”, “All of the Lights” and “Run This Town” pushing the other. The man has quite the discography.

As always with Kanye though, a large part of his appeal is being able to relate with his sentiments. Often, it seems like he is the only angry person left in music. This time for me it was “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”. It has been quite a while since I last heard it and it was the right song in the right place. Shouting the chorus with the crowd was nothing short of cathartic and “I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny/And what I do, act more stupidly” hit all the right notes.

During an extended singing part of “Runaway”, Kanye stated that his songs are about promoting self-confidence and that being a fan of Kanye was being a fan of yourself. This is the kind of concert that makes you be both.

@murthynikhil

Snoop Dogg at the Regency, SF (17/4/2014)

5 May

It’s been quite some time since 1992 when a young Snoop Doggy Dogg stepped into the game on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. A lot has happened since then, including the death of 2Pac, some experiments with reggae and a Call of Duty voice pack, but Snoop is still one of the giants of hip-hop and a fine man to see live.

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Snoop is also a man with an unquestioned ability to have fun. This was not so much a concert as party time with Uncle Snoop. In the middle of the concert, he played Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” and just chanted the chorus with the crowd. His charisma is undeniable and his happiness was clearly genuine and very infectious. I don’t think it is possible to go to a Snoop Dogg concert and not have fun.

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This playfulness resulted in a far more eclectic show than I expected. Not only did a Joan Jett song make an appearance, but also Kriss Kross’s “Jump”, and even The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize”. Of course, he followed that with the west coast classic “2 Of Americaz Most Wanted”, sadly without the associated 2Pac hologram.

He dropped classics from all across his career over the show. From “Lodi Dodi” and “Gin & Juice” from his debut album Doggystyle to “P.I.M.P” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot” to as recent a song as “Hit Da Pavement” from 7 Days of Funk. His has been a long and storied career and we were treated to the entirety of it.

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Uncle Snoop took us out for one of the most fun nights that I’ve ever had. No one can make rap look as easy as he does.

@murthynikhil

Five Reasons to Watch Goldspot’s Desk Gig at 5PM Today

23 Apr

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UPDATE: After a massive 3 and a half hours of playing and talking about his life, his work, and a hundred other things, Siddhartha Khosla’s gig is over. But thanks to the magic of Internet, you can still watch the concert online at the link provided below!

Whenever someone questions how I’m able to fall in love with and obsess about something as abstract as music, I toss them a Goldspot song; it tends to shut them up quite quickly.

Goldspot has remained a critical darling since their public introduction by New York’s DJ Nic Hardcourt in 2005; since then, their music has featured in countess “Top Ten” lists. Siddhartha Khosla and his constantly-changing line-up of musicians have done everything from touring India and the US to singing at the White House Diwali celebrations to crooning to a flock of geese, and won countless hearts at their live shows on both sides of the Atlantic.

Siddhartha Khosla’s ability to mine his past to use as an influence for his current music endeavours makes his music incredibly relevant and accessible to a wide audience. His lyrics speak of the positives and the negatives of his life, and translate them in a way that makes them relatable to his listeners. It’s the sort of work that reminds you why music is considered art.

It’s been 2 years since Goldspot last came to India, and though it may be a while yet before they’re back in corporeal form, Siddhartha is bringing us the next best thing:

At approximately 5 PM Indian time (GMT + 5:30) today (23rd April, 2014) Siddhartha will be playing a live gig from his desk, to be broadcast live thanks to Pepsi MTV Indies. Siddhartha’s charisma and talent makes for a compelling argument as to why you should tune in, but in case you need reminding, we’ve provided 5 more songs to showcase why you need to watch this gig:

If The Hudson Overflows

“What’s the use in worrying about the ways in which the world might come to an end? When all along, there’s been a book on the side of the bed that you’ve never read instead?”

“If The Hudson Overflows” was featured on Season 8 of CBS’ How I Met Your Mother in what I would argue is the single best musical moment on the show (rivaled possibly only by Season 5’s “Rewind,” again by Goldspot).

The song has a simple, clear message: Don’t worry and don’t wait. The way this message is presented, however, is anything but that.

Over the course of four minutes, Siddhartha Khosla’s time-displaced, reassuring voice sends us on a beautiful journey to bring us face to face with our own mortality; upon doing so, however, he calmly reassures us that everything’s going to be okay, and for these four minutes it’s almost believable.

Backed by a barely-noticeable repetitive harmonium, softly picked guitars and a constantly present booming percussive drum that hides within itself, “If The Hudson Overflows” is perfect for those late night moments of panic about where life is heading.

“If the Hudson Overflows” was also downloadable as a single on iTunes with all proceeds going to help in the post-Hurricane Sandy reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts, because Goldspot is just that wonderfully nice a band.

2. The Border Line

It’s hard to pick which aspect of “The Border Line” is more appealing: the song itself, or the accompanying video. “The Border Line,” another song off Aerogramme, follows the theme of most of the other songs in the album in talking about the dichotomy of being born in one place and raised in another, and the mix-and-match of cultures that this results in. Siddhartha Khosla’s sense of being split down the middle comes through strongly in the song:

“Atoms escape in the middle of the night when my heart and head collide.”

All of this is done against a jangly, foot-stomping, hand-clapping rhythm and melody that takes the best of modern indie sensibilities and steeps it in ‘60s pop from both the East and West, making a musical tea that leaves you warm and glowing hours after the last foot-stomps fade away. The Border Line works brilliantly as a song, but works even better when heard while watching the gorgeous, gorgeous video by long-time collaborator Nick Collett. The video features a montage of clips of people from all over the world engaged in that common unifying factor: dance. Nick Collett’s video brings people together across time and distance with a sincerity and earnestness that no Coca Cola advertisement could. Also watch out for the interspersed shots of Khosla jamming while channeling his finest ‘60s Rajesh Khanna!

3. Foundations

 

 “I hear there’s a wind that takes these plans and runs, but don’t worry; don’t worry, we’ll make new ones.”

Goldspot is often compared to the Beatles for their musical sensibilities and their ability to elevate what should be a straightforward pop song into something that is sublime and deep.

It’s not a talent that’s held by a lot of people, and it’s what makes listening to Siddhartha Khosla’s live sets so enriching: his ability to strip down, layer, mix, chop up and altogether rework the basic elements of his music in countless different ways and still present something fresh and attractive.

“Foundation,” which was written for the indie film Today’s Special, continues the jangle-pop mélange of styles and sounds that Goldspot espouses, only this time in the form of a love song. Siddhartha Khosla captures your heart with both his voice and his bouzouki, backed by a full and rich mix of rattling drums and guitars.

And continuing in his tradition of being an all-around stand-up guy watch this video of Siddhartha and his bouzouki singing for Aidan, a young boy with cancer:

 

4. Emily

 

Goldspot’s second album, And the Elephant is Dancing deals with some very complex and sometimes dark themes in the guise of sugar-coated indie pop, and “Emily” is a great example of this.

Lurking beneath the surface of the song, which features the same ever-present booming-drum backbone found in “If The Hudson Overflows” mixed with classic RD Burman string flourishes and a magically velvet keyboard, lies a story of profound loss. It’s impossible not to empathize with the protagonist’s attempts to reconnect with his lost love:

“See, I tried to kiss you through the pillow on my right; and oh, Emily, will you marry me again?”

 

5. Friday

“Friday” represents the perfect case for the argument that Goldspot is what the Beatles would sound like today. Despite being more than 8 years old now, “Friday” is as timeless and fresh as it was in 2005. It was played in heavy rotation both in India and in the US back then, and deserves to have the same attention now.

The song starts with swishy strings straight from ‘70s Bollywood that segues into a catchy rhythm guitar that is altogether transformed by Khosla’s voice. “Friday” is straightforward, but earnest; simple but sincere. It’s impossible not to like it, because it does absolutely everything right. The conviction and clarity with which Khosla implores “give me a sign” is unrivalled, and the Kishore Kumar strings that reappear during the breakdown and in the outro is goosebump-inducing, for all the right reasons.

“Friday” also comes in a Hindi acoustic version sung to a rapt audience of ducks and geese in Regents Park, because sometimes life really is just that awesome:

 

Take a break from exams. Skip a class. Sneak in a break from work (or better yet, call your boss over! They may give you a raise in the process).  Grab a friend, a lover, a loved one, a pet. Watch this gig! And maybe make some noise online to try and get Siddhartha and co. to come back to India soon!

 

Gig Link: http://www.youtube.com/PepsiMTVIndies

Unfortunately, it’s incredibly tough to find CD issues of Goldspot’s music in India, but their latest album Aerogramme is available on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/in/album/aerogramme/id722046205

Haim at The Fillmore, SF (10/4/2014)

15 Apr

It should be quite clear by now that we at Top Five Records really like Haim. Our review had nothing but love, they made Neeharika’s top five albums of 2013 and mine as well. “The Wire” even made Neeharika’s top five songs of the year.

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They are a very easy band to like. They’re fun, they’re immensely talented, they make very good music and after this concert, you can add excellent live to that list.

Shy Girls

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The opening act Shy Girls were mostly good, but a little inconsistent. Their first couple of songs were enjoyable, but the ones that followed were honestly a little boring. All told, they provided an enjoyable backdrop to the crowd’s conversations, but never really managed to shift the focus to the stage. They were a little too self-indulgent to be truly interesting, especially when their performance moved further into the emotional. I do appreciate a band that pulls out a soprano saxophone though, even if it is mostly for pop appeal.

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Haim

It is easy to underestimate just how talented and versatile a band Haim is. Their opening songs turned the vocals down and the guitars up for some hard rock including an extended jam of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well“. They possess a tremendous amount of technical skill and were perfectly at ease shredding to start the show.

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From there though, the concert broke into a more melodic set. Their ballads were excellent live. Both “Honey & I” and “Running If You Call My Name” were outstanding. Additionally, “My Song 5” could have started a mosh pit. There was not a single weak performance in the entire set.

Unsurprisingly, their stage presence was also incredible. Este’s bassfaces were everything they were promised to be, Alana was exactly the cute youngest sister that her twitter account @babyhaim would lead you to believe and Danielle appeared to channel Jimi Hendrix in her guitar solos. This was not only a great concert to see, this was fun as well.

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For their encore, they brought out their parents to perform a song from their Rockinhaim days, a funky number called “Mustang Sally.” They followed that with “The Wire”, the one hit that the main performance missed and ended with everyone on the drums.

This was exactly what a great concert should be. There was no flash, there were no gimmicks, there was just good music and a fun band. This was a joy to watch.

@murthynikhil

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

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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