Still riding on a high from the previous night, we arrived half an hour early on Day 2, only to find Mehboob Studio practically empty. This was surprising, since we were expecting even more people today, with bigger acts taking up the stage. We had noticed a LOT of activity and hobnobbing outside the gates, hours before the show began on Day 1, but it was disappointing to see a very abysmal number of people at the venue, even minutes before Blackstratblues were about to perform. There was some usual defamatory talk about how “things will always run on Indian Standard Time (read as LATE);” nonetheless, we put aside our diffidence about people’s punctuality and walked in… for what was to become another unforgettable experience.
Anyone and everyone who has been following the Indian music scene knows about the Blackstratblues trio. They had themselves introduced as local act that everyone from Mumbai could relate to. Comprised of guitarist Warren Mendonsa, with his eponymous black Stratocaster, from Dadar, and long time cohorts – drummer Sidd Coutto (clad in a tuxedo and black tie) from Bandra and bassist Johan Pais (armed with his Music Man Sterling 5-stringer) from Shivaji Park. And without really saying much else, they began their set by playing their rendition of the Eric Clapton / John Mayall classic – ‘Stepping Out’ before playing some of their own originals, such as ‘Blues for Gary’ and ‘The Happy Billi Song.’
Though we have witnessed these guys play many, many times over the past few months, there’s always something new to enjoy each time. This time, they played a couple of new songs, which will be featured in their upcoming album. One could see just how all three musicians work so well together; despite being dominated by Warren’s guitar (which, we think, is almost always a little louder than it should be), Johan’s bass lines definitely make his presence an integral part of their music.
And then, towards the end of their set, they brought out another treat for our senses – special guest Nikhil D’Souza from Santacruz enraptured the audience with his vocals. Words fail to express just how moving it was to witness him singing ‘Feeling Good’ (the very song I’d been humming to myself the previous day!).
Yet another veteran Indian blues band, Soulmate, who had performed at last year’s Blues Festival, came to play for us, once again; they brought with them their trademark elements – a brightly dressed Tipriti Kharbangar with her sunburst Gibson and her butterfly-bedecked mic stand and Rudy Wallang with his signature black vest and red Greg Bennett Custom guitar. Backed by their usual retinue of musicians, Soulmate set the stage ablaze with some truly awesome Bluesy music.
They played a mix of songs on which both, Rudy and Tips alternated vocal duties, but there was absolutely no doubt about how Tips’ pipes stole the show. Rudy’s guitaring was as mellifluous as always, especially on songs like ‘If You Were My Guitar’ and ‘Set Me Free,’ but the sheer orgasmic power of Tips’ Aretha Franklin / Etta James – esque vocals on ‘Lies’ was unquestionably the highlight of their entire set, drawing numerous oohs and aahs from the audience, besides a loud round of applause.
A special mention goes out to the keyboardist (who was barely visible behind the amps) who kept up with the others, injecting his melodies in at the right time, each time. Additionally, the bassist Leon too, despite his rather calm and composed demeanor, made his presence felt on every single song, with his smooth grooves on lower pitches, slapping and plucking away on his 4-string Ibanez.
Soulmate cleared the stage in a bit of a hurry, despite strong protests and requests for encores. Tips tried to reassure the audience about how Ana Popovic is also an act to watch out for, considering how she had played with her in Jakarta, but that plea seemed to fall on deaf ears. People were visibly and audibly disgruntled; it wasn’t until Popovic’s band appeared on stage that the hubbub faded. With the keyboardist and drummer in place, the bassist unleashed upon us a volley of slaphappy, percussive chops and pops, before announcing Ana Popovic’s entry on stage.
Right after entered and bowed to the audience, she picked up her seemingly battered, old sunburst Stratocaster, and began playing her stuff. Within mere moments, all the previous doubts were cleared and everyone started listening with renewed interest. Over the course of her hour-long set, she delivered a solid performance, letting both her voice and her guitar take our senses to new highs. She also talked about how she, as a Serbian, can relate to just how hard we Indians have to work being able to make it big, especially when competing within a traditionally western-dominated field of music.
While her drummer and keyboardist played their parts quite well, it was perhaps her bassist who was, by far, the most animated artist on stage, frequently prancing around and impressing the audience with some pretty flashy techniques with his Music Man Sterling. Ana too tried to shake things up a bit, switching her older guitar with a newer, brighter Strat for a few songs, but in all honesty, the tone and the feel of the older one were unmatchable. This was evident from when she chose to use the older guitar when jamming with Buddy Guy… but more on that later!
Even while Ana Popovic was still playing, we noticed how the crowd towards the back of the arena was thinning out. On further inspection, we discovered that people had already started forming a LONG line for getting to the other stage where Buddy Guy would be playing… all this, while Ana’s band still had another 15 minutes left to play! We waited till the end of her set, admittedly impatiently, while we watched more and more people lining up… finally, as soon as we saw them disbanding, we scrambled and joined the line, only to realize that it wasn’t for another 20 minutes that the other stage would open up. We were contemplating taking a quick break for a snack, but we knew we’d regret losing our spots in the queue… what were we to do!?
Stay tuned to www.highonscore.com for more on the Grand Finale of the Mahindra Blues Festival with Buddy Guy, Robert Randolph and more… here!
See what happened on Day 1.
Special thanks: Nidhi Thakur @ Zzebra Communications