A lot of us have the tendency to spend more time being fascinated about things like music, art, science of countries other than our own; we tend to forget how much of everything a country like India has. One of these is music, especially rock music. India has had a thriving rock scene from as early as the sixties, but very little is said about the movement. Some of the more mature musicians still acknowledge and spend nostalgic moments reminiscing about bands that were driving the non-mainstream music scene in India way before it became the sort of movement it is today.
It was an absolute thrill for me to be invited to what was going to be a spectacular journey to experience how the rock music scene in my very own Bengaluru (the musicians still call it Bangalore) has grown over time. Black and White Whiskey put together a fantastic evening that brought together almost all the stalwarts of Bangalore’s music scene – past and present; people who’ve a defied the odds to set the snowball of rock music rolling in Bangalore. Hosted by our very own Bruce Lee Mani from Thermal and a Quarter (TAAQ), the evening kicked off with a small video of a similar event that happened in Bombay (okay okay...Mumbai) and gave everyone a teaser of what to expect this evening. It wasn’t only going to be about the artists, but also the various venues that have been instrumental (no pun intended) in providing a space for bands to play.
|Bruce Lee Mani plays host|
One such venue from Bangalore’s past was the Three Aces. Previously located on M.G Road, the venue served as a bar and more importantly one of the most happening venues for the rock music scene. With tickets priced as low (or as high depending on the value) as Rs.10, the club was almost always sold out. I had only heard of this name once or twice from my very first guitar teacher. Alas, the place closed down. I’m sure some morbid mall stands in its place today.
The first artist on stage was sax player Rex Rosario. After spending a few minutes talking through how he made the scene in Bangalore, Rex proceeded to play two songs. The first being JK’s Jive (hope I got the name right) and the second being the iconic Dave Brubeck classic Take Five. Accompanying him was the house band for the evening which had Prakash K.N on bass, Tony Das on guitars, Deepak on drums and Floyd Santimano on keys. Rex Rosario was immaculate and received a thunderous applause from everyone.
The audience then got a glimpse into how the present Rex Theatre used to double up as a venue for bands to play. Some of the older musicians in the video still claim that the venue has one of the best acoustics and that we really ought to look to get a music gig going there. Next up on stage was a name I have only heard of before – Gerard Machado. Gerard shared some pictures of him playing the guitar from when he was a boy and a story on how musicians then used to get their amplifiers from this one person in Shivajinagar. The unique part about the amps was that they would directly give a distortion to anything that was plugged in. He started off with a tight rendition of Nothing but the blues, followed by a Charlie Parker cover. The house went mad listening to Gerard effortlessly run his fingers over the fret board.
No rock scene is complete without a leading lady. Radha Thomas, of Human Bondage filled that role perfectly. Radha shared some of her experiences as a vocalist in Bangalore and how the scene has changed so much.
Bangalore is no stranger to Roberto Narain, who is well known for his work with the monthly Drum Jam. A lot of the younger folks tend to forget that Roberto was the power drummer behind one of India’s very first successful heavy metal bands – Millennium. After much coaxing, he agreed to play with the band and dished out some absolutely crazy riffs on the drum. At the end of his set, Roberto hadn’t even broken into a sweat. That’s genius. Giving him company was Eric Samuels on guitar. Eric again was a name that I had only heard of, but for this was the first time got to see him play live. It was a joy to watch him play as he very calmly hit all the right notes.
No story of Bangalore’s rock scene is complete without Thermal and a Quarter. As always, the band was tight with Rajeev taking on the drums for this set. And obviously Bruce Lee Mani on guitars. Prakash, their former bass player, continued his role for this gig. The band played their song In the middle. TAAQ have always been a little special to me because they were one of the first bands I remember watching when I began frequenting gig venues in Bangalore. I instantly enjoyed their smooth jazz rock sound which stood apart from all the other bands that were mostly interested in playing covers at the time. And with a unique name like that, it's almost hard to forget.
|Bruce Lee Mani|
Bangalore is also famous for its Heavy Metal scene. And no better person to represent it that Nolan Lewis from Kryptos who covered Metallica’s Seek and Destroy. A lot of folks in the crowd were hoping to hear the Kryptos classic Mask of Anubis.
There is a strange sense of irony in the song chosen by Nolan which I am not sure was deliberate. The reason being, the next two venues up on the nostalgia train were Webb’s Grounds and Palace Grounds. The very last song played by an international band at Palace Grounds was in fact Seek and Destroy by Metallica. Both venues since have been closed to bands and we now have to travel to the outskirts to see a large live act.
|Full house at The Humming Tree|
Eric Samuels once again came back on stage to join Chris Avinash of Angel Dust who covered Pink Floyd’s Coming Back to Life. The evening also had Suraj Mani of Motherjane fame, play a two song acoustic set of some of his solo work. Also playing acoustic sets were Abhijit Tambe from Lounge Piranha and Varun Murali from Swarathma. Abhijit showcased some new material in two songs called Tinkerbell and Vampire Tree respectively, while Varun played an acoustic version of Bolo Kya Hai
|Eric Samuels, Chris Avinash, Tony Das|
Another band defining Bangalore’s rock scene was Galeej Gurus. The band came on for a quick song. Notable absence was Ananth Menon. Perhaps I missed a memo. Tony Das also took to the stage to showcase some of his magic. He did this by performing a Richie Kotzen classic Burn It Down. We also got to hear from Vachan Chinappa who's been driving the EDM scene in Bangalore. No EDM set was played.
Before the final act of the evening, we got glimpses into two venues of present day Bangalore, or is it now Bengaluru, that are keeping the movement of rock music alive. The two venues are Counter Culture and B-flat. As a rock music enthusiast, my sincere gratitude to both these places for bringing the finest music from all over for everyone to listen to. The closing act of the evening had almost everyone on stage including Vasundhara Das and Arati Rao who accompanied TAAQ, Tony Das and Gerard Machado on Hey Jude.
|Vasundhara Das and Arati Rao|
|Gerard and Bruce|
If ever there was a great way to get schooled in the history of rock music which didn’t involve Jack Black, this was it. A big shout out to the folks at Black and White Whiskey for dreaming of this event and making sure it all came together. Also a big thanks to Humming Tree for the venue for a spectacular evening It was just what the doctor ordered for yours truly to stop making excuses and pick up that guitar and get back to playing at venues that are more than my bedroom.