There was a time when I had almost entirely forgotten (or purposely chosen not to
acknowledge) the burgeoning Rock music scene in India. I had become disillusioned with a lot of the local talent over the past decade, which I dismissed as being nothing more than half-ass cover artists or wannabes at best. However, I did occasionally see ads for some previously unknown names performing at some of Mumbai’s most venerated nightclubs in the newspapers. This was precisely how I heard about Soulmate and Blues No Bar performing at the Blue Frog.
Having grown up by now (albeit only a bit), I decided to shed all the blind aversion of my youth to give these new bands a chance. I Googled up Soulmate and discovered that they were widely touring Blues/Rock band from Shillong. Knowing how the Northeastern states have been a hotbed for Rock and Metal, I had been expecting guttural growls and gravel-throated vocals. I even tried to imagine a fusion of Blues and Metal, akin to vintage Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, but I really couldn’t picture a ‘Princess of Darkness’, biting off bats’ heads or yodeling away in sync with a pipe organ.
Nonetheless, getting rid of all my preconceptions and prejudice, I attended the Blues night at Blue Frog with an open heart and mind. The stage was already set up when I arrived with my photographers (without whose invaluable help I wouldn’t have been able to prove anything), and most of the nicer booths were either reserved or had already been occupied by the trendiest of Mumbai’s music aficionados, young and old. Fortunately, just as we managed to score a few bar stools and a table with barely enough elbow room for our group around 9:30 pm, the Blues No Bar trio appeared on stage with a flourish.
After only a couple seconds worth of introductions, they began in all gusto with a
chugging bluesy-rock tune about Mexico. I suppose they were keen on making the
most of their time, since they were just opening up for Soulmate, as the background lighting picked up just as quickly, illuminating the previously dark club walls and floor with bright hues as the band played the blues. The frontman clearly stole the show; he dominated the stage with his energetic guitar playing, resembling a younger Robin Trower at times, while at others, one could attribute his singing style to that of Frank Zappa. While the drummer and the bassist (who had a very snazzy bass guitar with a wooden finish) weren’t as animated, they certainly kept the whole band together as they played out their repertoire that evening, including a particularly entertaining song, ‘Something good for you’, which featured some lyrics in Hindi – “Tumhaare liye, ek gaadi khareedunga…” They even played a couple of Jimmy Hendrix covers very well – “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Third Stone From the Sun,” almost entirely note for note, complemented by a psychedelic light show.
The guitarist’s flashy technique, including playing a part of a solo with his guitar
above his head and behind his back was a spectacle appreciated by everyone. The
audience was clearly enjoying itself with all this upbeat music; no one seemed to
realize that an entire hour had elapsed until Blues No Bar finally slowed down and
introduced themselves again, while announcing their appreciation and support for
the headlining act. Soulmate’s technicians were already on the stage while the Blues No Bar band-members dispersed through the audience.
After glancing around at the anticipating crowd, which had by now swelled in
ranks to almost triple its size, I started imagining what Soulmate would sound like.
Once again, what little I remembered of music from India’s northeastern frontiers
popped up in my mind, and I started imagining gravel-throated vocals, backed up
by heart-pounding drumbeats and bone-crushing guitar riffs. I contemplated my
impending doom in silence, almost entirely forgetting that tonight was a Blues night.
Half an hour later, the stage suddenly came abuzz and Soulmate started the night
with a mellow instrumental. Backed up with soft moody lighting, one could not be
blamed for feeling warm and fuzzy on the inside and drawing comparisons to live
performances of Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”
The instrumental was all about Rudy Wallang’s lead guitaring, as his appearance
bore a striking resemblance to a Richie Blackmoore of yore, with his curls and
effortless style, while his melodies were more reminiscent of Jeff Beck. Nonetheless, it was Tipriti Kharbangar who attracted the most attention, as she loomed about lethargically around her butterfly bedecked mike, her slight figure, her bright blue dress and her pink eye-shadow making her look like a tropical bird in a trance. The whole setup, along with the lighting effects made it seem as if a little piece of Meghalay had traveled to the heart of Mumbai. I suppose I made this analogy all toosoon, for within a second after penning this thought, she suddenly came alive with scream, breaking the calm that had descended over the crowd. I too was thrown off balance from my stool, in sheer awe of Tips’ Aretha Franklin-esque vocals, as she made the transition from smooth, soulful singing to heart-wrenching wailing to gut-bursting screams, all within the course of a single song!
And just when I began to think that Soulmate is all about the vocals, Rudy stole
the limelight again, with his amazing guitar chops and artful usage of the wah-
wah pedal. Songs like ‘Keep It To Yourself’ and ‘Not This Funkin’ Blues again’ were
lively numbers, which had the crowds clapping in sync. Not one to be outdone,
Tipriti once again rose to the occasion, pouring out her emotions through their new
song, ‘Lie.’ This was, in my opinion, the best performance of the night; I
would have to argue with myself, because although all of Soulmate’s songs were
truly spectacular, ‘Lie’ transcended all boundaries. The temperamental tone of the
lyrics, along with Tips’ ability to emote herself completely through her singing made the crowds swoon with pleasure, as she crooned and croaked throughout the song. The sheer amount of raw emotion and energy exuded through lines like ‘I neeeee your love sooooo bad…’ and “Everything just looks so fine…” made me think that this song would be an ideal tribute to the early 90s late night TV series, The Red Shoe Diaries.
They say music affects everyone differently, but towards the end of Soulmate’s
performance that night, the entire floor, regardless of age and state of inebriation,
was nodding along in unison to the rock-steady drumbeats and bass lines. I too
couldn’t help but air guitar for a while, bouncing my head to “Sunshine in the
morning, sunshine at noon and even at night… when I’ve got sunshine around me, I know everything’s gonna be alright!”
Throughout the gig, the entire club was so thoroughly engrossed in enjoying the
Blues that it was quite sad to have to call it a night around midnight as Soulmate
played their last number. Rudy reintroduced the rest of the band members again,
and ended the performance on a very graceful note. As I glanced at Tips, who
looked mildly drained at this point, I began to wonder what it would be like to follow them around on tour, and even catch them performing in their hometown, with real butterflies and hornbills flying about. Sadly, my train of thought was derailed; as the fading stage lights created the illusion of a setting sun, it was time for the songbird to retire offstage.
Beyond a doubt, both bands, Blues No Bar and Soulmate, made this a night to
remember. These bands have truly rekindled my interest in the Indian music scene. I highly recommend everyone to catch a live performance of these bands whenever they play in your neck of the woods. You won’t regret it!
photo & video credits : Hiloni Kapasi
Cyd the Squyd: “I’m a self proclaimed connoisseur (read as “kinda suar”) who likes music as much as I like to wine and dine; for those whose ears and palates are anything short of ‘fine’, beware, in reproaching and belittling you, the pleasure is all mine.” 😀