Monday, October 22, 2012

NH7 Weekender - The Happiest Music Festival - Delhi 2012

Would Delhi/NCR pull it off? The question had been coming up ever since the NH7 Weekender ‘The Happiest Music Festival’ announced its foray up north. Given Delhi’s past disastrous relationship with any big concert, doubts abounded. Amid much cynicism, tickets were bought, plans were made and expectations were given the freedom to soar. As the day drew closer, the excitement in the air was palpable. Some of the best acts in the country were going to enthrall us. Megadeth was headlining. For those of us who had seen them in Bangalore, attending a second live gig would give us bragging rights. This would surely be memorable. Like I said, expectations took flight. But did they soar? Or did they come crashing down, much like the ‘Parinda’ in Kailash Kher’s song ‘Allah ke Bande’? Read on to find out.
Day One
After an 80 Km drive from Gurgaon, I found myself at the Buddh International Circuit, host to Delhi/NCR’s sophomore edition of ‘The Happiest Music Festival’. The grounds seemed to be huge, the stages were generously spaced apart, there seemed to be a decent variety of grub, and the flea market was slowly coming to its own.
A riot of colours
My first stop was at the Dewarists stage, where the trio of Adi, Suhail and Tarun (AST) got things going. Although not familiar with their music, I nonetheless enjoyed the few songs that I heard. The only hitch was the poor sound. Sound glitches, as we shall see, made their presence felt at multiple stages throughout the two days, much like Warren Mendonsa, who flitted from one stage to the other, only, his presence was mesmerizing.
Adi, Suhail and Tarun  (AST)
Anyhow, after AST, I made my way to the Black Rock Arena, where Vir Das and Alien Chutney were up next. For his comedy rock act, Vir Das was backed by two supremely gifted musicians – Warren Mendonsa on guitar and Sidd Cuotto on drums. He raised quite a few laughs with his songs about ‘Banging your mummy’, the stinking friend that everyone has in ‘BO is my Deo’, a Haryanvi man’s bedroom preferences in ‘Village Man’, the tendency of Punjabi mundas to grow ‘Man boobs’. He ran through the periodic table in ‘The metal song’, praised Delhi’s girls’ make up miracles and denounced all J.K. Rowling characters as whores. His set was peppered with expletives and his lyrics were delightfully offensive. I saw many people laughing and squirming at the same time, especially a teenaged girl who’d turned up with her dad. Both were doing their best not to look at each other. Must have made for an awkward conversation post the set. Some may have dismissed Vir Das’s set as being crude, but he got the crowd going, and he elicited more than a few laughs. Granted, he is no Stephen Lynch, but if you were buying what he was selling, you wouldn’t feel shortchanged.
Vir Das and Alien Chutney
I strolled back to the Other Stage, hoping to catch Barefaced Liar unplugged. But all the sound glitches had led to delays, and I found Parvati and Mawkin just about to start. And for the next half hour, I stood enthralled as Parvati on vocals, Mawkin on the guitar and Natalie on the flute brought forth their brand of magic. It was serene, it was otherworldly. I did not understand a word of what they were singing, their tracks mostly being in Spanish and Portuguese, but I came away elated. And that’s when it started to hit me – that we need more of these festivals, so we can get to see and hear more of acts such as Parvati and Mawkin. And that Music the most widely spoken language in the world. Yes, the NH7 Weekender was coming alive for me.
Parvati and Mawkin, with Natalie on the flute

And now, back to the Black Rock Arena. Boy, this is turning out be quite a bit of walking! I’d missed out Indus Creed, but had no regrets, such was the music of Parvati and Mawkin. Zero was up next, and by now a sizeable crowd had built up. The ‘best band India has ever produced’ was armouring for their once-a-year gig. Frontman Rajeev, resplendent in a stovepipe hat, took the stage with a very Brit ‘I say, old chaps’ and Zero kicked off a firestorm. They ran through their catalogue of hits such ‘Old man’, ‘Hate in Em’, ‘Stop’ and ‘Lucy’, the crowd singing along lustily. The band was so tight, their stage presence so compelling, one would never guess they play just once a year.  Pity, really. The Indian rock scene would get a shot in the arm if bands such as Zero were gigging more often. Bobby Talwar’s fluid basslines locked in tight with Sidd Cuotto’s immaculate stickwork, and Warren, well, he was just magical. His playing is so restrained, never too many notes, fast when fast is needed, but always melodic, never flashy. Is he the best guitar player around? I can’t think of anyone else who comes close. By the time the quartet get around to their iconic ‘PSP’, they have a moshpit going (which was rather annoying, truth be told, with a bunch of juvenile delinquents pushing everyone in sight) and the crowd had been transported to another world.


A bit giddy after the display of sheer awesomeness, I walked (a couple miles, it seemed) to the Fully Fantastic stage, set up in the memory of the Godfather of Indian Rock, Amit Saigal. I was very much looking forward to Menwhopause. Sadly though, they seemed to be having a bit of an off day. Sound continued to play spoilsport. While singer-bassist Randeep tried his best to involve the crowd, something seemed amiss, and the people started trickling out. I trudged back, more than a little disappointed. Would Pentagram have been a better choice? Judging by crowd response, the answer seemed to a resounding ‘YES’. Oh well.
Randeep Singh of Menwhopause
Final act of the night – Parikrama. They opened with the very catchy ‘Vapourize’ – Nitin pushing his vocal chords to the limit. They followed that up with ‘Am I dreaming’,’ Load up’, ‘Gandalf’, going steadily downhill. The vocals went awry, band members seemed to be missing cues, and the only saving grace was the violin virtuosity of Imran, who was in his element. The good part – I finally saw Parikrama play an all original set. They were saving ‘But it rained’ for the end, but ran out of time, and had to take a rather abrupt bow.
One can clearly see Nitin was having throat probs
Well, so far the day had been a mixed one. The sound left a lot to be desired, some bands disappointed, while others shone bright. Zero was the highlight of the day for me. Could any band better their performance on Day Two? Oh, and no beer in a music festival? Even though Bacardi is the sponsor, ale deprivation is plain wrong. I stuck to sobriety and 7Up it was for me. Cut to the bright side again – the organizers put in a great deal of effort to ensure the audience got a ‘happy' experience. Brining in the mobile ATMs was a very thoughtful touch.
Day Two
The long drive, the almost equally long walks and the occasional bout of excitable bodily contortions to the music on Day One meant I woke up in a distinctly ramshackle condition the next morning. But all that was soon forgotten as I popped in some Megadeth and turned the volume to eardrum damaging levels. It was the big day. I was going to see Megadeth, again. Yay! But before that, quite a few more bands to listen to, some more new music to get acquainted with, and who knows, maybe get blown away by!
I steered clear of the Black Rock Arena, for today was growl rock day, not my kind of music. No disrespect, but the couple of times I did venture close, it sounded like someone was gargling with nails. On a mic. Very loudly. I would come back for the headliners. This I’d pass.
I made my way to the Fully Fantastic stage, and pretty much spent the evening there.  First up was Ankur and the Ghalat family. Ankur Tewari, backed up by the prolific Sidd Cuotto on drums, Johan Pais on the bass, and Niranjan ‘Pozy’ Dhar (of Tough on Tobacco and Shkabang fame) on guitars, made for a great start to the proceedings. His simple but easy to relate to lyrics and great melodies had the audience singing along, jiving. Ankur regaled the crowd with songs about being broke, political clout in Delhi, ‘Chand chahiye’ about a materially demanding girlfriend, and ‘Yaari’ about, well, yaari. His easy connect with the crowd was a treat to watch. The band displayed they have a sense of humour too. When the sound problems surfaced again, the band, instead of going silent, sang an ad-jingle for Bajaj lights from way back when. Ankur Tewari then crooned his signature – ‘Sabse peeche hum khade’. I had a feel good lump in my throat after listening to their set. Later on I bumped into him, and told him how much I enjoyed his songs and could I buy them online? His humility, when he said thanks and I could get some songs online at Flipkart, is something I will not forget.
Ankur and the Ghalat Family
Next, Them Clones took the stage. They were accompanied by Nikhil Rufus of Indigo Children on bass, while Adil Manuel subbed for guitarist Joseph. Dedicating the evening to Amit Saigal and Clarence, their deceased bassist, they played a tight set, belting out their hits, and had the crowd singing along. For their last song, ‘Zephyretta’, the band was joined by Abhay Sharma on the saxophone. Amazing how a single instrument can alter the whole sound of a band. The last track was a moving experience, and the strains stayed with me long after the song ended.
Them Clones
Rudy Wallang and Tipriti of Soulmate tore into the stage with their brand of red-hot blues. Rudy’s guitarwork was a masterclass in blues playing and Tipriti poured her feelings out with her voice. The one catch, again, was the sound. Too loud and too trebley, it marred an otherwise awesome set.
It was now the turn of Blackstratblues and friends. Warren was joined by Jai Row Kavi on drums and Adi Mistry on the bass, and he showed, again, why he is so in demand. I am running out of phrases to describe his guitar playing. Always in the pocket, never playing too fast, never playing too many notes. And always putting melody first. We have our own Eric Johnson here! Karsh Kale took over the drum duties and Apeksha Dandekar showed off her vocal prowess. As it turned out, Mr. KK can really play drums. Wickedly well. Nikhil D’Souza, Vishal Dadlani, Uday Benegal, Prithwish Dev all took the stage with the man playing the Blackstrat and the crowd, which had swollen by the minute, lapped it all up.
Warren with Karsh Kale and Apeksha Dandekar
It was now time for the big one. The Black Rock Arena was crowded with black tees, and more were sweeping in. The backstage cam focused on Dave Mustaine as he queried ‘Are you ready for Megadeth?’ A huge roar went up, anticipation building up in spades. Megadeth took the stage to massive applause, and immediately launched into ‘Trust’, off the ‘Cryptic Writings’ album, followed by ‘She Wolf’ from the same album. The one thing that became immediately apparent is that surprisingly, the sound folks had failed to get it right for Megadeth too. Chris Broderick’s guitar sounded too loud and whiny, while Mustaine’s vocals and guitars seemed to be controlled by an on/off switch. David Eleffson was pretty much inaudible too. Apart from the messed up sound, another downer was Mustaine’s patronizing speech in the middle, where he droned on about how he appreciated 'Indian' people coming out to see them, having had to make so many sacrifices, and spending money. Thanks for your concern Davey, but all of India isn’t exactly destitute. Blah! Talk about stereotyping!
The crowd, though, was living it up. The thrashmongers then chugged through their ‘Countdown to Extinction’ album. Tracks such as ‘Symphony of destruction’, ‘Skin o’ my teeth’, ‘High speed dirt’ and ‘Sweating bullets’ led to many a sprained neck. The crowd sang along to every song, hysterically, ecstatically. Megadeth played two songs off their new album ‘Thirteen’ – ‘Whose life is it anyway’ and ‘Public  enemy number one’. Youthanasia, surprisingly, got just one nod, with ‘A tout le monde’. Megadeth threw in ‘Hangar 18’ in the middle and ended the proceedings with ‘Holy wars’. I sorely missed ‘Tornado of souls’, but then everyone has their own ‘deth favourites. The band took a last bow, Mustaine saying ‘Thank you, you’ve been a great crowd, we’ve been Megadeth’. As the speakers went silent, I felt the last hour rushing back at me, reliving the Megadeh experience. The line from ‘Turn the page’ played repeats in my mind – ‘The echoes of the amplifiers ringing in your head’. Did the Megadeth experience turn out to be what I expected? Did the four-year wait seem worthwhile? In all honesty, the answer was no. I went to watch Megadeth expecting a whole lot of anarchy, and came away with just a little bit of malarkey.
Thus ended the Delhi debut of the NH7 Weekender. Judging by experience, the claim of ‘The Happiest Music Festival’ is not entirely unfounded. It was well organized, the audience was well cared for, and it showcased some fantastic music. The 300 km drive, the aching body, the decimated throat were all worth it. It reaffirmed my faith that live music trumps recorded music everytime. Granted, the sound flattered to deceive. But I am sure that will be looked into, next time around. I can’t wait! 

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