Sunday, 18 March, 2007

Maid-en Heaven!?

EDDFEST happened in Bangalore last Saturday (March 17), and yours truly was there! At the very outset, I gotta admit this - from all the concerts I have ever attended, this one's gotta rank right up there for sheer energy! The adrenaline in the crowd was amazing! If you went in with fairly simple expectations of seeing a really great band in the flesh, and getting to see them perform some of their most popular numbers, you were in for an amazing time! Check it out in the video above.

Ok. Now that the hoo-haa is over. Here's the low-down from a more dispassionate point of view. It was a good show. I'll even say it was a really good show. Bruce Dickinson really kept at the crowds, and, man, did they respond. And the concert stage artwork and setup is perhaps by far one of the most elaborate we have seen in Bangalore. But...

...and here are the kickers.

The sound just didn't do it for me, beyond a point. I was literally at the mixing console, supposedly one of the best places to catch audio in a concert stadium, and there were points at which I got this very 'general' feeling with the sound. The lead guitars and vocals barely had a good definition. (I wonder if it was because of the very vocal crowd overshadowing the band's sound, but I somehow doubt it)

I'd also really wished that the band 'took off' on a few songs. You know, those once-in-a-lifetime occasions when a band just goes stratospheric on a single song, with seemingly never-ending and imaginative solos that stretch it to even fifteen minutes and more. Or maybe arrange a well-known song very differently, just to pull a fast one over the crowd, for fun. Just didn't see anything approaching that. Where is the magic? I somehow thought IM was happy to play to the crowds and 'true to track', and leave it at that. (Again, see video. There was one lead singer with a mic on stage, and some 25000 in the audience, without)

A majority of the audience didn't seem to agree with my thinking, I guess. The very fact that someone as legendary as Iron Maiden is playing in India was something that made it a memorable experience for many (and while we're on this topic, let's also understand something else - I am no longer pleasantly surprised at the fact that bands like Iron Maiden and artistes like Sting, Bryan Adams and Mark Knopfler now look to perform in India. Here's where the market, the money and the action is gonna be, honey!), but I feel that this was barely a memorable concert by itself. Honestly, I've seen videos where they've really cranked it up!

I'm sort of left with the feeling we all get when Sachin steps out to bat - and we expect him to deliver a legendary innings because that's what he is, a legend - and he makes a 'competent' 40 runs. Yes, he does it in some style. Yes, he's just played his trademark compact straight drive that looks so classy how many ever times you watch it. But, say, it's nothing close to the mastery he is capable of, the complete classic domination of the opposition. It's a 40, and not a hundred. Good. But not great. Something like that...

Wednesday, 14 March, 2007

Beat This!

I had the opportunity to attend an interesting concert organized by the ITC Sangeet Research Academy - the Sangeet Sammelan (Bangalore edition), held on March 11 at Chowdiah Hall. I use the term 'interesting', since this was a (mainly) percussion-only classical concert, which is something of a rarity. This taala-vaadya had Pt Anindo Chatterjee (tabla), Pt Bhawani Shankar (pakhawaj, which sort of looks like the South Indian mridangam, but having a very different tone/timbre and style of playing), and Ghatam Giridhar Udupa (ghatam).

There were several aspects that were new to me. I've seen and heard tabla players before, be it while backing up vocalists/instrumentalists, or in the solo format. But this was one of the few times I've seen a pakhawaj performance. And what an amazingly powerful percussion instrument it is! It's got a huge bass tone, and is played with a very 'open' style that allows for a lot of resonance and reverb - overall, creating an effect of power, strength and majesty. Not that it can't be played with a lot of sophistication or finesse, but the grandeur is what sort-of stands out.

What was also new was the format of the performance itself. Where one is used to percussionists playing a supporting role, here was an instance of the sarangi player whose only role was to 'keep time' by running over the same bandish (phrase/verse) again and again in the same tempo. And the percussionists basically play around on this structure. Very cool! Again, one can see this in the 'regular' concerts also, where, in Hindustani, the vocalist does the phrase-repetition while the tabalchi gets to improvise for a few bars right at the end of the bandish, or in Carnatic, where the percussionists get to do a thani-aavarthanam (solo improvization) at the end of the kriti. Imagine something like that, but only about 45 minutes or so long! That's the format for you!

There were creditable performances by all the artistes, but I was particularly blown away by Giridhar Udupa's playing. Here he was, in a predominantly Hindustani environ, playing with artistes who are much more senior to him (though in his case I don't believe that should faze him much, since he is a well-travelled and experienced performer despite his young age), and playing an instrument that, at best, is relegated usually to the status of providing extra embellishments to the overall piece.
Check out this piece (on Udupa's website) by Shri Vikku Vinayakram, perhaps the most revered ghatam player today.

From what little I've observed (and I confess it's not much at all), the
ghatam is typically not an instrument that is used as a stand-alone percussion support. It usually supports the mridangam in the traditional Carnatic format. The instrument sounds heavenly though, with very sweet sounds that often surprise you with their versatility, and often people like AR Rahman, Lucky Ali and many modern musicians and composers have given this pot a place of prominence in their scores. And it was this beauty and versatility that Udupa brought out very colourfully in this concert. There was style and power in his playing, and all the cunning and 'math' that is the very DNA of both the Hindustani and Carnatic percussion playing styles. The reason I think I am over the moon about Udupa's playing is, I guess, my pleasant surprise at the fact that he showed the audience that this clay pot can do so much! It was quite evident in the crowd's reaction and enthusiastic appreciation of his playing as well. The icing on the cake was, of course, his trademark electrifying konnakol (vocal rendering of rhythm, sort of like scat), which provides the final 'rush of blood' flourish to get the audience charged up.

Watch out for this man - he is likely to be one of the stars of this generation.