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NH7 Weekender: Delhi edition

24 Oct

By Anjishnu Kumar (Photographer Siddharth Shah)

As soon as I got out of the car on the Saturday of the Delhi Weekender, I was struck by the scale and sheer ambition of the event that was unfolding.  Buddh International Circuit’s gargantuan Grand Stand stood tall beside the curtained enclosures housing six stages that were to host around sixty bands over the next two days.

This is NH7 Weekender, the biggest music event to ever happen near the national capital.

The last biggest-music-event-ever-to-happen-in-the-capital I’d gone to in the NCR was the Metallica concert in Gurgaon. That day ended with me standing in the sun for four hours without water, with a rather obese gentleman vomiting next to me in regular intervals and having to run away from the venue before the police arrived.

As you can imagine, I was going into this event with a perfectly justified sort of cynicism.

The event was already showing signs of better management than the Metallica affair. The parking lot was a small ocean of grass. I was handed a complimentary glass of water at the entrance, and led through the security check. Things looked good.

We followed the music and ended up at the largest stage, the Black Rock Arena, where a perfectly mediocre whiny alt-rockish band was just finishing up. I didn’t bother finding out who they were.

Next up was Vir Das’s Alien Chutney, boasting of the comedian plus two stalwarts of Indian rock- Warren Mendonsa and Sidd Coutto.

Alien Chutney was half rock-band and half stand up comedy act in which Vir Das regularly walked the thin line between acerbic wit and vulgarity. Alien Chutney started with the surprisingly addictive ‘Villageman’, a ballad about having sex with Haryanvis.

He followed with some more originals, such as his rendition of the Delhi Belly classic Bhag Bhag D K Bose (“Bhag Bhag Madarchod”) and the Heavy Metal Song (“Iron! Iron! Aluminum!”), before finally ending with his attempt at wizard rock, a piece entitled “Harry Is a Randi!”

One band down and nobody had puked near me: already better than Metallica. A pretty good start to the fest.

Up next was Indus Creed, which is apparently one of India’s best alt rock groups.

Stripped of the Alien Chutney’s novelty factor, it was clear that Indus Creed was lacking in a lot of ways. At their peak they came up with decent but somewhat generic alternative rock riffs, with lyrics reminiscent of Linkin Park.

Their seminal song “Fireflies” had an almost Porcupine Tree sensibility: a breath of fresh air in the middle of a rain of angsty power chords.

I found myself wandering to the Other Stage, a small set up next to the much larger Dewarists stage, where we found Barefaced Liar: a trio consisting of a vocalist, flute player and a guitarist that specialized in Spanish inspired music. However, the band relied heavily on lead vocals, and the other musicians did basically nothing but provide backup.

We moved on to the Dewarists stage where Advaita was playing. While their music was technically quite sound, I’m sorry to report that it did not get the blood running. This was a fest that was supposed to be headlined by Megadeth, and I did not feel excited.

Back to the Black Rock Arena, where Zero was just going up on stage. Zero is one of the most critically acclaimed Indian bands, performing an average of only one gig per year.

But damn do they make it count.

Frontman Rajeev Talwar adopted the persona of a hedonistic but rather likable British opera singer on stage. His overblown antics and Warren Mendonsa’s guitar set the tone for the performance from the outset, leading the audience through quirky lyrics, solid rock riffs and tastefully constructed solos. Finally some REAL rock at the Black Rock Arena!

Zero finished with their cult rock classic “PSP 12”, topped off by another blistering solo by Mendonsa.

Still a little dizzy after Zero, we wandered into the Bindass Fully Fantastic Stage into a performance by Gandu Circus. Now, Gandu Circus is the band that composed the furious Bengali-Rap soundtrack for subversive Bengali movie Gandu. Sadly, however, performing the movie soundtrack was only notable highlight of their show.

Following them was Menwhopause, a witty alternative rock ensemble from Delhi. Menwhopause brought to the table impeccable instrumentality and original melodies that combined both Indian and western elements. Menwhopause played a solid repertoire of soft rock songs, such as “Circles”, “Can’t we be Dreaming?” and “Downtown”. Meanwhile, there was a steady drift of people (from Pentagram which was playing in the Black Rock Arena), saying they wanted to hear a band in which people “could actually play the guitar and sing”.

But compared to the other solid act of the day (Zero), Menwhopause seemed rather subdued… until their final song, that is.

This song took the ‘soft rock’ label, smashed it to bits, and then proceeded to jump up and down on it repeatedly.

“Katil Sardar” is zany, irreverent, and possibly the product of fundamental deranged mind, but all in a good way, of course. This hard rock song has a soft rock song built into it: its lyrics jump from describing a hearty Punjabi meal, advising horny old men to move to New Delhi and ascribing the attacks on World Trade Centre to a malfunctioning bong. Besides, they had an entire verse is made up of terrible Punjabi puns.

Katil Sardar’s National Anthem is Bande-Marte-HUM! (“We Kill People!” -for everyone not from the North)

Is it genius? Or merely the the first step of a progression towards dementia? I cannot say. It probably doesn’t matter.

Following Menwhopause on the Fully Fantastic stage was Shaa’ir and Func , an experimental electronic duo consisting of vocalist Monica Dogra and guitarist Randolph Correia.

While S+F had a few interesting moments (“Shine” was one), I honestly lost interest in the electronica quickly, and spent the majority of their performance staring at Monica Dogra gyrating on stage.

So did the rest of the audience.

We decided to leave Shaa’ir and Func early and head over to Anoushka Shankar on the Dewarists stage, but soon decided that we really had not come here to appreciate Hindustani classical music. Thus ended day one, which definitely offered its moments but had several disappointments as well.

The second day had its work cut out.

Day 2:

I was late to arrive on Day 2 and jumped quickly into the fray.

The Black Rock Arena was hosting Indian metal band Scribe, whose frontman urged the audience to “tickle his balls” as the band passed out beach-balls into the crowd.

Scribe performed reasonable metalcore if you weren’t particularly bothered about things like lyrics, melody, rhythm or originality of any sort.

Their songs apparently had names, but I was not able discern any through the growling.

Sadly, I had to make a hasty egress when the lead singer of Scribe announced that his favourite ‘metal’ band was, in fact, Limp Bizkit.

Next up were Them Clones at the Fully Fantastic stage. Barring atrocious work from the sound technicians that kept the volume far too high for a normal human being, the performance was excellent.

Them Clones as a band seemed transformed from the last time I saw them (in 2010). They seemed much more professional and progressive, and much less like a college band. They played one of the best renditions of “Long Live The Dead” that I’ve ever heard, and introduced us to some of their new music, before ending with the perennial hit “My Life” and a version of the hit “Zephyretta” (accompanied by saxophone).

Them Clones were followed by Shillong-based blues-rock band Soulmate. I hadn’t heard this band before and they turned out to be quite a find. Slick, stylish, original, and supremely confident, Soulmate delivered a performance that would shame most of the more established bands.  Besides, vocalist Tipriti Kharbangar gets my vote for being both the sexiest and most talented woman on stage during this fest.

Soulmate’s cornerstone tracks “Set Me Free” and “Voodoo Woman” transpose effortless, free-flowing blues melodies onto Tipriti’s vocals as they shift between silky smoothness and surprising force. The result is a musical tour de force.

The Bindass stage was already starting to dominate the concert, and next up was Blackstratblues, Warren Mendonsa’s instrumental guitar project with Sid Coutto on the drums.

Mendonsa had already delivered brilliant performances as part of Alien Chutney and Zero, and he did not disappoint here.

Most of his songs were from his new albums, the only two exceptions being “Ode to a Sunny Day” and “Ode to a Rainy Day”. For the majority he didn’t even bother naming them, letting the music speak for itself.

Since I can’t simply tell you to listen to song X on Youtube, I must tell you that Mendonsa painted sonic landscapes with his black Stratocaster and guided the crowd through a gamut of emotions that blues music rarely takes one to: sheer bliss, hope, and childish wonder.

However, it cannot be described in words so perhaps it is futile to even try. Blackstratblues was my favourite performance of the event and for me, Mendonsa was the star of NH7 Weekender, not Megadeth.

Mendonsa was joined by Vishal Dadlani of Pentagram and Prithwish of Them Clones as Blackstratblues ended with a reinvention of Zephyretta.

With some reluctance I left the Fully Fantastic Stage to return to the Black Rock Arena.

It was Time.

The crowd that gathered in front of the stage was immense but it was already tired after the fierce moshing that took place during the last concert.

(One source maintains that Bhayanak Maut’s Mosh Pits involved people punching each other with buckets.)

But as Dave Mustaine walked up on stage, all the injuries and tiredness were forgotten. And the crowd went up in a deafening roar.

I honestly have no idea what Megadeth played for the first fifteen minutes. I found myself headbanging even as a mosh pit opened up and I was pushed in. The next few minutes are a haze of bodies slamming into each other until Megadeth paused playing to tell us that they were touring to commemorate the tenth anniversary of their studio album Countdown to Extinction.

Megadeth played the entire tracklist of Countdown to Extinction.

Debris rained from the sky.

Clothes were torn.

People were sent sprawling onto the ground.

Girlfriends were hurriedly evacuated from the front rows by their boyfriends.

At one point I was the only guy with a shirt on in a five-metre radius.

As the Countdown album ended, Megadeth receded from the stage.

It was ten pm. Time for the concert to end.

The crowd roared, demanding Megadeth come out and play “Tornado of Souls”.  Mustaine walked out onto the stage, exhorting the crowd to cheer, playing one half of the audience against the other.

He told the crowd that he considered people in America spoilt, compared to the hardships his fans have to face in a country like India, shedding a lone tear at the end of the monologue.

The irony of that statement was not lost on me. After all, he was addressing possibly the most pretentious, privileged and generally spoilt group of individuals in this nation today.

And suddenly the rest of the band was back and Megadeth’s trademark riffs filled the air. The hitherto sobered crowd went wild, and for one last time, I found myself in the eye of a tornado.

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