It takes a lot of doing, and the stars and the gods aren’t usually in favour, but there is still such a thing as a good night out – a genuinely good night out, I mean, not one of those where you have to grit your teeth and force yourself to believe that yelling yourself hoarse over an oblivious crowd drunk to idiocy is somehow more genuinely fun than just staying in and wanking to cam sites, listening to the Heebie Jeebies’ Greatest Hits – and, no, not even the broken, ill-lit ugliness of this city, nor the deadening conviction that the little happiness you squeeze from it is provisional and frail, can take that away.
This is a photograph from last Friday night. The occasion is a “pre-party” event for the NH7 Weekender, which happens in Bangalore this coming weekend. The four people you see on stage are Adam & the Fish-Eyed Poets, who are responsible for one of the best albums I’ve heard this year. The three others are the crowd.
I’ve gone on before about why we need poor parties. India’s gig scene, such as it exists, lives in under ten clubs in half as many cities. Small bands hoping to pay the bills with their music don’t have a hope: shows are far too expensive for normal people to frequent, thus instantly excluding a huge potential audience, yet none of the takings seem to trickle down to the musicians themselves, who, unless they’ve sucked their way up into being scene insiders, have to make do with loose change, bad advice, and rejection.
One of these days, some Hard Rock Café somewhere will have Elvis’s decaying corpse dug up and nailed to the wall behind the bar. This will work out great for them: HRCs do business because they root about in rock ‘n’ roll trash, and hang up the choicest bits in the name of history. And history is all very well, but, done this way, simply amounts to piling a great deal of useless baggage, so it crowds out all the fresh air from the room: it’s not nostalgia that these places evoke, but the stifling feeling that the dead will never leave us be.
Gigs mean different things to different people. Ask the Shakey Rays how their Friday evening show in Bangalore went, and they’d probably tell you it was a bit of a nightmare. They blew an amp, broke strings on both their guitars at the same time, were losing their voices from excessive touring (this was their third gig in as many nights), and struggled throughout with the sound on their monitors. The crowd, on the other hand, saw it differently: for them, the Rays swung, and swung like hell. The on-stage mishaps weren’t anything more than convenient fag breaks; the guitars rang clear as bells outside, and no one could be bothered with a missed note here or there. The band were pushed into playing three encores, and the loonies dancing up at the front only got loonier as the show rolled on.
Each weekend, the moneyed classes of Bangalore assemble to play out a ritual tragedy. This rite, otherwise ‘a night at the pub’, is of some significance: within the walls of the few establishments which cater to it, it allows the shiny and the delicate of the city to dress up and to act in ways which would spell murder outside. For an evening, and for a price, you can nurture the delusion that you don’t live in an ugly, cluttered, dysfunctional town, whose habitants will be happy to denounce you for your loose ways, your short skirt, your smoking habit, and the fact that you think it’s okay to sleep with people you aren’t married to. Until, that is, the licensing laws force you to tramp back out, onto the tarmac even before it’s midnight, knowing there isn’t a single place you can buy yourself a drink, nor a park bench for miles on which you can settle safely for a bit to take the air.
The Arse Bandits played their first ever show in Bangalore yesterday. In a surprising overturning of convention, the nice restaurant that played host to them allowed dancing on the table-tops, even though use of proper cutlery remained mandatory: by the time the Bandits set folded up, several small riots had broken out all over the city, and reports of fires and looting are trickling in as I write this piece. V. Shivalingam, the whimsical tyrant who formed, and currently lords over, the band claimed he was “satisfied” with this outcome. The show’s organisers were last seen being rolled into an ambulance belonging to the Sri Basaveshwara Home for Spastics and Mental Cases. The ambulance is said to have crashed over a cliff on its way there.