Thursday, August 12, 2004

Masala! Mehndi! Masti!: part one

  • Masala! Mehndi! Masti! An Explosive South Asian Arts Festival

    Culture shock? Well, no. The two shows that I did attend were for the most part conventional by North American/European rock standards, from the post-punk tunes of controller.controller, to the pop-rock songs of Anjulie, and to the downtempo, trip-hop soundscapes of Lal. Kazak was a straightforward rock band but the songs were sung in Urdu. The Rishi Rich Project had similarities to the r'n'b, pop tunes you hear on mainstream radio but very often their songs utilized South Asian music elements such as South Asian-style singing. Except for Kazak who didn't do anything for me at all, there was something interesting I found in the rest of the artists over the two days of the festival I attended.

    concert review: controller.controller w/ Kazak, Anjulie @ Harbourfront, The Brigantine Room (Toronto, Ontario), August 4, 2004

    controller.controller @ Harbourfront, The Brigantine Room (Toronto, Ontario), August 4, 2004: photo by Mike LigonI think I'm becoming a full-fledged "controller.controller-head", considering this was the FIFTH time I've seen controller.controller since last September. I just never get tired of hearing their tunes: the wiry guitars, the propulsive drumming and basslines, with lead singer Nirmala's urgent vocals and sexy dance movements, the band performing under a wash of red light. I've come to expect the same setup at every performance and it is always fresh. Over the last several gigs of theirs I've attended the band's been introducing new songs. I can't quite recall all the new songs they played this time but there was a slower tune that was quite engaging. The audience was a mix of some people[like me] obviously there to primarily see controller.controller, and others who probably had no clue who they were. There was one dude who kept on yelling out for the band to play Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing"(?) and that was just friggin' annoying. At least the band didn't give in to his request, but they did give him the opportunity to shout out "1, 2, 3, 4" to introduce their next song, which if I remember at the time was "Disco Blackout". Most of my photos came out quite nicely as I was right up front for the whole performance. My brother was with me that night and he mentioned that he thinks he saw this band a couple of years ago at The 360 in Toronto. In any case, he thought they put on a good performance. My only disappointment was that they couldn't play an encore, because they were STRICTLY scheduled to end the show at 12:30 pm. Oh well. Always, the outsider, the only thing that qualified the band playing this festival is that Nirmala, the vocalist, is South Asian. I hope their performance shook things up a bit.

    First opener, Anjulie, deserves a couple of comments. She's a young South Asian woman, playing guitar and singing pop-rock tunes that in my opinion had similarties to Gwen Stefani and Avril Lavigne. Her band is caucasian and they provided adequate, if underwhelming, backup to her tunes. The standout by far was the song she performed solo with just her vocals and guitar playing. She really showed her strong vocals on that song and I would have preferred to hear more of that than the "rawk" that dominated most of the night. With a couple of more standout tracks, I think she'd give Avril Lavigne or Fefe Dobson a run for their money. Not my cup of tea, but she definitely has the talent.

    Second opener, Kazak? The vocals were sung in Urdu. However, that wasn't the problem. They were described by the MC of the night, as having influences ranging from U2 to Led Zepplin. On the contrary, Kazak were quite anonymous-sounding. Listening to those bands is one thing but I didn't think they sounded like those bands at all. If I remember correctly, I think the MC said that they just got signed to Sony India. Well all I have left to say is, "Good luck in India". ...ok there was a glimmer, if for but a brief moment, with their last song which reminded me of the Manchester, Happy Monday's sound. Now, that's my final word.
    To be continued...stay tuned for a review of The Rishi Rich Project w/ Lal @ Harbourfront, CIBC stage (Toronto, Ontario), August 5, 2004

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