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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.

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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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