The Mahindra Blues Festival, convened over the weekend of February 11th and 12th at Mehboob Studio in Bandra, Mumbai was probably one of the best things to bring in the New Year.
Yes, we know, February doesn’t exactly count as a new year, but hey, after having been bombarded by the Blues (and we mean that in a good way) for two days straight, it did actually feel like “… its a new dawn, its a new day, its a new life, for [us], [we’re] feeling good.” Damn good, in fact. For those of you who know the song we are talking about, it was exactly how we felt during and after each consecutive performance over the two days. In fact, I was actually thinking about this precise song – the Muse version, not the Michael Buble version, just to clarify – and then a special guest who played with one of the acts ACTUALLY sang it out! But more on that later. For now, lets focus on Day 1!
The first band that officially heralded in the Blues Festival, Overdrive Trio definitely set up some high standards. Their three-piece lineup and minimalist stage presence may not have created any hoohahs, but they did manage to bring in the crowds. After almost every song they played, you could hear the applause getting stronger and louder. And modest as they were, they kept repeating how they were honored to be playing before such a large and supportive audience.
But the applause wasn’t just polite or patronizing. The Trio were pretty darn good! Perhaps Sunny D’Souza may not be the best vocalist, but he certainly isn’t an amateur guitarist, as he cranked out some solid tunes on his Xotic XS-2 Strat. Sure, it may not have been a proper Fender Stratocaster, which seems to be the trend with Blues guitarists these days, but he definitely knew how to adjust his gear to bring out a good tone. Drummer Vaibhav Wavikar and Vibhas Patil on the bass provided a slightly diminished but groovy background, but it was clear that the guitar dominated the scene, especially on ‘Anna’s Song’ (dedicated by Sunny to his grandmother).
Their ballads were beautiful and their modesty was charming. They definitely managed to create a mellow, introspective mood within the 45 minutes that they played.
John Lee Hooker Jr.:
An act which, in a mere matter of seconds, shook things up big time on the stage, John Lee Hooker Jr. and his band were by far the most animated set of musicians that night. Within just a few minutes of Overdrive Trio’s departure, Hooker Jr’s band-mates took up their positions on stage, playing out their brand of Blues with a vengeance (pun intended).
Will ‘Roc’ Griffin manned the keyboards adroitly, flexing his muscles, looking like Papa Shango with hair, sans the beard and face paint, while Mike Rogers, an old time veteran of Hooker Jr.’s entourage, drummed away, entertaining the audience with his comic facial expressions. Bassist Frank Tebo Thibeaux was ever the enthusiast, slappin’ and tappin’ away at his headless Steinberger, awarding the audience with his widest smiles. Throughout the night, his intricate and funky bass-lines were crisp and clear, audible and palpable (you could feel it on the ground). Guitarist Jeffrey James seemed to be the odd man out in the group – not in the least because he looked like a hippie from Woodstock, with his kaftan, long hair and pale white skin, sporting a Fender Stratocaster – but because he seemed to be completely absorbed in his own world. Nonetheless, with liberal usage of the wah-wah pedals and ample bending, he churned out some of the grooviest licks that night.
Together, their hour and half long set-list was quite energetic, and the crowd swayed and jived to every single one of Hooker Jr’s songs, which were thoroughly entertaining. He made a few jokes about how we Indians comprise the other half all the dark people that God created, and how he felt blessed to be here in Mumbai. In fact, he even claimed that he would like to move to Mumbai and marry a local, since he ‘got his mojo workin fo sho! ’ He shone brighter than the sparkly vest he was wearing, singing out some of his classics like “It’s a Shame”, “Suspicious” and “Boom Boom.” The music was a blend of many different styles – rhythm and blues / psychedelic rock (especially the guitar) / Motown and soul (especially the keyboards) / funk – but if you were to summarize it in one word – sublime.
The Taj Mahal Trio
Their’s was a completely different style of Blues, making one reminisce about barbecues and po’ boys and bourbon. The trio comprised of three elderly gentlemen sporting tropical shirts and beaming smiles, manning the drums, bass and guitar. Taj Mahal was quite the charming frontman, playing his semi – electric and singing in a very Louisiana style. Though minimalist in set up, and completely devoid of flashy gimmicks, they had a pretty coherent, swinging sound, especially on classics like ‘Annie Mae’ and ‘Checkin’ Up on My Baby.’
Quite honestly, despite the Taj Mahal Trio putting on a great show, it seemed a bit dull, especially considering how they played after John Lee Hooker Junior. While it would be unfair to compare the music, because they were playing with their own styles, it would have been better to have placed the Taj Mahal Trio before, to minimize its being a dampener – not because they lacked any stage energy, but mainly because the entire band within John Lee Hooker Junior’s ensemble created a spectacle that was just impossible to surpass.
Follow this link for much more on Day 2 of the Mahindra Blues Fest featuring Blackstratblues, Soulmate, Ana Popovic and click here for the Grand Finale, featuring the legendary Buddy Guy!
A/V Credits: Rajat Mehtani
Special Thanks: Nidhi Thakur @ Zzebra Communications