The general state of my life, when I attended this soul-touching concert by Dido in New York City while traveling for work. It has been a tough couple of years for me, something like a pre-mid-life-crisis (pre- just because I am sure the real thing has to be much worse than this). During this time I have questioned myself on what I really want from life, doubted myself on what I can really achieve on my own, succumbed to weaknesses that I have fought years trying to defeat. During this time my personal relationships had some drastic lows and stabilizing status quos. During this time my carefully crafted life had come undone to the point I have no clue to what my future holds anymore. And the most life-defining moment of all, I became a father to a tiny innocent beautiful baby and though was sure I will do the best for her, still had a niggling doubt in the back of my mind “What if I don’t?” And through all of this, I also started vilifying my one true passion as the cause of all my failures, something that has sustained me through all these years – my passion for (or addiction to?) concerts. There is only so much that one can take before he/she breaks or toughens up. Thank God I toughened up and actually Thank Music for that. And Dido was one of the many who helped me through these years of sound and fury, of hurricanes in my life.
I knew that Joan Baez is somewhat of a legend, an icon, and still somehow had never got around to listening to a single song of hers until now. I am sure we all have such artists, that we hear of, read of, register in our minds, but just cannot cross that threshold of interest that will drive us to actually seek him/her out in cassettes/CDs before and Youtube or any of the streaming services now to understand what the fuss is all about. And it isn’t even due to any doubt of “if-the-fuss-is-real-at-all”, that may be the case for new artists who have burst into the scene with all the promise and the fan followings and critical nods to back it up but have yet to pass that hardest hurdle, the test of Time! You are great today but will I remember you tomorrow? In my books, the test of true greatness is the test of time, generations roll over, tastes change, the world moves on and no artist (especially in music), no matter how great, can be expected to draft new legions of fans once they are past their prime. Even if they are still in their prime but at a point of time when the ever-widening generational gap is wide enough to start needing a bridge to cross over, and very few, I would say almost none, is able to cross that bridge. Some may walk over from the other side (like me for quite a few artists of my dad’s generation), but we are more or less entrenched. And that is the reason why I, an 80s kid, am more enthusiastic about attending a Joan Baez concert (whom I hadn’t listened to yet but know that is great enough to be talked about even today among her generational blast radius), than any of the leading acts of today (like say Twenty One Pilots or Sia, heard there shows are pretty good).
Due to the reasons cited above, I was initially a bit undecided on whether I really would go, I felt that I eventually will but put her up on my concert calendar as “Joan Baez – Tentative”. But she is still very popular, enough to have a second Oakland, California show added due to popular demand and that is what sealed the deal for me. Being on a Monday worked better for me as well, no infringing on weekend family time! Wife at office, me working from home, even cooked a quick dinner before diving into the evening office traffic. This is the part I don’t enjoy about concerts in Oakland, traffic on the I-880 freeway is always a mojo-killer especially on weekdays when it can take 1.5 hrs to just get there. Waze tried to be a bit creative, routing me through a maze of other freeways and smaller roads before putting me back on 880, but not sure how helpful that was, still seemed to just take forever. Finally reached a little before 8 PM, didn’t fuss too much about the $20/- “event” parking that still required a healthy walk and voila, finally was in front of Fox Theater. This was my first time at this venue and after the majestic Paramount Theater (also in Oakland) for the Norah Jones concert, this seemed something along the same lines! Oakland is a place that we had always heard of in the context of “Don’t take a wrong exit and stray there, dangerous place, gangs and shooting and stuff”. As a result, we never go to Oakland for sightseeing and I initially used to skip concerts there as I usually watch concerts alone and didn’t feel it would be very safe there. But this and the last concert has opened my eyes, yes there may be crime in pockets but there are also such beautiful and exquisite places with such great music. When I settled down on my seat there was an old lady next to me and I made a comment that the interior décor was amazing and that got her started about how some wealthy Oakland businessmen had taken up the project to renovate this venue to infuse hope and vibrancy to the locality and I have to say, they must have succeeded in their goal, as I, a first-time tentative visitor immediately had a very positive impression. Another comment that she made was “Its funny, us attending a Joan Baez concert the day before the election! I just hope Trump doesn’t win.” In fact, Joan Baez had named her show “Nasty Women with the Bad Hombres”, derogatory and racist terms used by Trump during his campaign! However as we all know now, he did win and that wasn’t funny at all!
Joan Baez didn’t keep us waiting too long and she got on stage at 8:15 PM wearing a “Nasty Woman” t-shirt, to the surprisingly loud cheers from the crowd and started with the beautiful “Love is a Four-letter word”. Now I will not lie; I felt compelled to read her up on Wikipedia to know more about her and that’s where I got to know the details around her relationship with Bob Dylan. And then before the second song itself she took a dig at her past lover and current Nobel Laureate, “Among other things about this tour, this is Bob Dylan appreciation month. His manners suck but his songs are great”, that had the audience is splits. She took couple of digs throughout the show, like after singing “Diamonds and Rust” she said, “I should have just kept the diamonds”! But I felt it was all in good jest and she still had more love or at least acceptance, than hate or anger in her towards him (but then what do I know!) But as she enthralled us with one after another soulful and heartfelt songs, this not-at-all-nasty woman of 75 showed the fire in her, steadier the flames may be now but still fire and not just embers of a bygone era. But what was a bygone era being this sound, a folksy, feisty and yet tender songs on social issues, personal journeys and a call for greater goodness. As I was listening to her songs over the week I was initially a bit surprised by the fact that most of her more famous songs were covers and the brilliant ones composed by her like “Diamonds and Rust”, “Silver Dagger”, “Prison Trilogy” etc. made me wonder why she didn’t do more of her own compositions. But as I slowly walked this musical journey with her, I realized her brilliance in the selection of these great songs and giving it her own soul and in this process giving them a fresh leash of life in many cases. When I drive to a concert, in most cases I will have done my homework and revert back to Radiohead or whatever CD or cassette is on my old Toyota Corolla (yes, it has a cassette player as well). But this was the first time I kept on listening to her on my phone, to unearth more and more of her songs on Youtube (spending valuable data) in this long 1.5 hrs drive and sunk deeper and deeper into her world. And now I can say, I know Joan Baez and her music and what she stands for, she is no longer a known stranger in my musical universe.
Band/Artist: Joan Baez
Tour Name: Nasty Women with the Bad Hombres
Opening acts: None
Venue: Fox Theater
City: Oakland, CA
Fun Fact: Attended Joan Baez concert on the day before the US election which elected Donald Trump! Also my first concert without any merchandise, not even a postcard :’(
My Concert Quotient: 4/5
#107 – Norah Jones @Paramount Theater, Oakland, CA – 28 Oct ’16
I would be lying if I say that I am a great Norah Jones fan! She is someone I got to know of as an artist who won a shit-load of Grammys AND has an Indian connection (daughter of Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar with American concert producer Sue Jones). So, with a lot of anticipation I dived into her acclaimed debut album Come Away with Me back in 2002-03 when I was 18-19 something and heavily into the Metallicas and Iron Maidens of the musical world. Needless to say, my enthusiasm was politely quietened; I had no doubt she was a great artist but also realized that I was not ready for such mellow and soulful music yet, just too much hormones in the system! I still had a soft corner for her but for the time-being relegated her to the treasure-chest-for-the-future. Fast-forward to 2016, when I was Ticketmaster-notified that she was touring in support of her new album Day Break, I knew it was time to open that treasure chest. And I truly felt that, because I didn’t dither on buying the ticket, snapped it up as soon as they went on general public sales and got the best one available at that point of time (which wasn’t crazy expensive either so that helped).
Now October 2016 has been a very hectic month concert-wise (8 concerts including the mega-festival Desert Trip and mini-festival Bridge School Benefit concert). What that meant was I didn’t have a lot of time to start exploring her music in the first place, actually 1 week to be exact. So as soon as I was done with the previous concert (Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson) I immediately looked up her current tour’s setlist, created a YouTube playlist and got down to doing my homework. And this time it was different, really different; you can actually gauge how much you have grown, at least musically, by re-listening to artists you had loved and those you didn’t like as much before. What had seemed mellow previously sounded like control and mastery now (on the other hand what I had previously loved as aggression and energy has started to sound a little hollow and directionless now). Another thing I noticed in the fan-recorded concert videos of her gigs is that she seems like a really nice and warm and a little awkward person, which coupled with the fact that she sang like a dream made her seem very endearing and enticing. So, after around 14 years, I felt the same sense of anticipation again, for Norah Jones.
The concert was on a Friday and a pretty hectic one at that. After finishing up on all the east-coast client calls from home I had to go to my office at 3 PM for a meeting, was planning to attend an Alien convention after that at 4:30 PM (AlienCon 2016 at Santa Clara, CA) before finally driving through the evening office traffic to Oakland which is about an hour away on a good day. The concert was supposed to start at 8 PM and it was in a venue that I had never been to before, which meant I was going to have parking woes! And did I tell you about my battery-dead car which was going to get me through this day? Well, can’t miss Norah Jones so finally got the old battery replaced in the morning (was hoping the car will run after jump-starting it but when that failed knew I had no options and no time either)!
Somehow I made it through the day, and finally landed at Paramount Theater at 8:15 PM. As I entered I was blown away by the decor and ambiance of the place, like something out of the roaring 20s and actually reminded me of the Empire State Building. Anyway, thankfully there was an opening act that I didn’t bother with as I had to first get a t-shirt and then get something to eat (was super-hungry). Unfortunately, none of the t-shirts had the tour dates and if that is the case I usually don’t get any but again made a concession for Norah Jones and grabbed one for $25/- (which did help again)! However, there was practically nothing to eat, though lots to drink! I grabbed a Hershey’s chocolate, two small chips and a Coke (another “dry” 2016 concert) after waiting in line for around 20 mins and headed out to my seat. Here I was in for a pleasant surprise because when I showed my ticket to the usher he exclaimed “Oh, good seat!” and as I kept walking through the rows of the auditorium sized venue to the fourth row, I was like “Wow, these must be the best seats I have ever got in any concert!” But that also spurred another thought, “How did I get such good seat? Isn’t she very popular, as in mad-scramble-to-get-tickets popular?” Looking around, the hall seemed pretty full; I guess her audience are a bit mellow and peace-loving too, just like her!
And then finally around 9:15 PM she came on stage, waved to the crowd, said a Hi, sat down and started singing and playing Day Break, her first song of the night, on the piano without further ado. And oh, such heavenly voice, such adroit fingers on the piano, such fresh and beguiling charm and such such a talent! As I was listening to her songs through the week I had started to comprehend the allure of her simple and yet highly polished talent, some songs of her new album like Day Break and Flipside were on the edgier side whereas Sunrise, My Dear Country and Carry On were pure drops of honey and nectar! I felt she doesn’t deviate very drastically from her style but each deviation is a fresh discovery while still being very Norah Jones. Another funny thing to observe was her awkward reactions to sudden yells of some fan expressing love, admiration and acknowledgement of her talent, she managed a look out to her audience with an embarrassed smile and maybe a word or two. Even when the encore ended, the speed at which the troupe exited the stage after the bow was characteristic Norah Jones and it wasn’t in the least bit offensive, rather a confirmation of this beautifully talented and politely private artist of this current age of social-overdose.
Usually I do not book tickets for concerts that fall over any long weekend, as that is usually family time with vacation plans nearby or far. Trust me, I have been burnt before! But then this is Coldplay and I love them. And thankfully my wife does too! So when I got to know back in Feb that they will be touring this year there was no question about it and I booked 2 tickets without even checking with my wife and that too on her credit card (had some Citi Preferred Seating options, finally was able to put her card to good use!) Then around June new plans materialized for our moms to visit us in the US for the first time and return just after this Labor Day weekend so added pressure to make this holiday count. But I held steady, someone will need to make some sacrifices (so that I get to see Coldplay Live in action!) So after a quick overnight trip to a beach town nearby (Monterey, CA) we were back home by early evening and after a short rest, ready for Coldplay.
Now there were two opening acts and Coldplay was supposed to get on stage by 9 PM so when we reached Levi’s Stadium by 7:45 PM and picked up the will-call tickets (as I had misplaced the one’s I got back in March) I thought we were good on time. But Levi’s Stadium with a capacity of around 68,000 is HUGE! And after we had walked for what seemed like a long time to just get to the end of the line that will get us in to the main floor seating, I have to say I broke into a tiny cold sweat. Thankfully I remembered that there was another entrance to the floor seating and following a hunch we were rewarded with a much shorter line and by 8:30 PM was seated and ready for Coldplay! And since they started promptly at 9 PM I am sure we would have missed the beginning of the show if we had stayed on that much much longer queue.
Now we knew from the bands on everyone’s wrists that it will be similar to the last one in 2012 but we had no idea that it was going to be this colorful and vibrant and lively and psychedelic. This time they just catapulted the whole experience to a different level, spellbound and speechless and deliriously engaged are the least I can say.
I have been a fan of Coldplay for a long time now, love all their earlier albums (Parachutes, A Rush of Blood to the Head, X & Y) but the interest dipped at Viva La Vida as I couldn’t initially connect to the album as a whole; also I had got heavily into Radiohead. The next one – Mylo Xyloto – came out as I freshly landed into the US and was going through a very lonely phase; I used to listen to that album compulsively then as it brought back a sense of who I really was (not because of the music itself but due to my past life associations to them). And precisely for that reason I do not listen to that album now as it takes me back to a painful time. Then Ghost Stories came and went and I didn’t even bother checking it out until one day about a year back a long lost cousin of mine pinged me out of the blue and asked me to give this a listen. And I was hooked again; I had started to feel that their music had become too superficial, that they were trying too hard to be great and in the process were losing the soul of their music. But Ghost Stories, which many say is Chris’ divorce album, brought them (and me) back in touch with our painful and true selves and in my opinion it is one of their best and most intimate albums. And then this, A Head Full of Dreams, another Mylo Xyloto by the looks of it and I gave this a pass too as I was still hooked to Ghost Stories and didn’t want to spoil the taste. But a week before this concert, started my preparation by listening to their songs all over again and to this new album as well in the process and have to say they do have some good numbers, some very upbeat, some mellower, some that will stand the test of their fan’s time and some that will quickly fade away (as they don’t really register even now). But I have understood my folly, Coldplay is not Radiohead and shouldn’t be compared to either. They are both very different beasts, one gloom and doom and the other a smile in the face of a world going mad! To tap into the current pulse of decay and despair and exemplify it into a tunes of melancholic beauty isn’t easy, but trying to fight that decay, that despair and trying to instill hope and heart into us futilitarians is a much much harder job and Coldplay is attempting this admirably!
This is what I was really looking forward to after Radiohead’s soulfully satisfying performance at Madison Square Garden! And this was Outside Lands (OL) in San Francisco, needless to say, my hopes were “high”! But as it usually turns out, if its too good to be true, it usually is! This one I attended with some friends, and we wanted to explore the festival grounds a little before Radiohead started. We headed to one of the other stages (OL has seven) and this unbelievable sight is what greeted us. I immediately put my mediocre-quality-but-14x-zoom Canon digicam to work and captured this shot to log into the history books! And no sooner than that the performance ended! Lucky timing 😉
Having been rewarded for our foray into the crazy land, we headed back to our valley and as we descended the hills the sight that greeted us was almost scary! Our lands had been overrun and there was a crazy-drunken-marijuana-emanating party going on. We braced ourselves and dived right in.
After a couple of pitstops to get beers (not for me, I was already high, thanks to some benevolent patrons) and check out the Heineken EDM club, we wisely thought it was time to book our standing spots and as we headed in the general direction of the stage got stuck in the first human jam of OL!
We somehow held onto each other and the river of music-lovers finally placed us on the shores of civilization. We saw new sights and heard new sounds and tasted new food and met more benevolent patrons in this bustling and happily tripping land.
Yes this land was amazing and enticing and distracting, but we didn’t want to lose focus of our goal and trudged on through all these temptations to see Radiohead Live! But as it turned out, we had already committed the sin of sloth and temptation and now our path to the promised land was blocked by human barricades. Not to give up so easily we fought through for some time but couldn’t make much headway as this place was covered with feet-mines and there wasn’t a piece of safe land to step on (got “blasted” a couple of times). Resigned to our fate we set base where we could manage even a glimpse of our promised lands!
In the promised lands (or its vicinity) it’s every man for himself and as I readied myself to get lost in the music once Radiohead started playing, unfortunately that point never came and I got lost in the crowd instead. Radiohead didn’t start too well (just like in New York and so I knew that) but when they didn’t really pick up even after the fifth song I got a little worried. Maybe they were the same, maybe it was me who was different (high), most probably it was the crowd who didn’t seem too enthused, too engaged and that lack of energy and appreciation from my fellow music lovers affected me deeply in that heightened state of awareness because I am a true lover of Radiohead and yes they are not the most popular or mainstream but their fans are the most diehard! And what I realized that these people around me are not true Radiohead-fans, they are foreign visitors to these sacred lands and as such viewing our gods with some mild disinterest, something akin to a tourist clicking a photo of the most beautiful scenery and then checking how it looked on their phones or cameras and then moving on to the next scenic spot. But I still thought the mournfully beautiful tunes will somehow get through to the dazed stupor of the tourist, surely a beauty of this caliber should shake you awake, it has to be powerful. But no; and sadly the final dejected thoughts I had were “SF is too cool for Radiohead” and “The magic of Radiohead is a waning one and no match to our self-obsessed generation of Me and My Choices!” In fact Radiohead fans ourselves are a perfect example of that self-obsession. But then isn’t music itself a form of self-obsession as it draws you inwards and enables you to hear your inner voices more clearly? Anyway, I was just sorrowful!
But there was hope in the end. When Radiohead played the last song “Karma Police” and sang the lines,
…For a minute there,
I lost myself,
I lost myself…
everyone started to murmur the first time, sang the next time and then cried out the last time. Finally, at the very last moment, at the point beyond redemption, at the edge of the cliff that we have been sleepwalking towards, Radiohead got through and woke us up to some drops of unrealized latent tears welling up at the corners of our eyes…
Tour Name: Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival, A Moon Shaped Pool
2016 is the year Outside Lands got really really BIG! The people, the stalls, the environment, it was a different world, not sure if good or not, but definitely different. This was my 4th attendance and never had I seen so many people here, it was just crazy. It may have been due to Radiohead headlining Day 2 this year, but I suspect not. Outside Lands had come of age…
Day 1 (Friday) was anyway just a bonus for me with Duran Duran (whom I had seen once before) and LCD Soundsystem (whom I had never even heard of before). I started late just in time for Duran Duran (who weren’t the headliners for Day 1, LCD Soundsystem was), took the train into San Francisco (as I knew I will get high-lucky) and then an Uber to the Golden Gate Park but through some really beautiful and classy neighbourhood in SF; I had never seen those parts and neither had the Uber driver and even he had a hard time keeping his eyes on the road. Now every year when I head out to this 3-day festival, I always have a harrowing time figuring out the North Entrance, the South Entrance, any entrance and usually end up wandering around for half an hour just trying to figure where to enter from. This time I got a little lucky, saw a volunteer and he directed me, though I still ended up walking 15 mins or so. Now you may think what’s the big deal with a 15 mins walk. But when you are late for a concert and are finally near enough to hear a band playing and still trying to figure out how you can get in, then 15 mins is almost an eternity!
I finally entered near the stage Sutro which was opposite to where Duran Duran was and so my sojourn was not over yet. The crowd in front of Sutro was a welcome although surprising sight and gave me a inkling of how big Outside Lands (OL) was going to be this year. I hurried on towards Duran Duran when suddenly the welcome words “PORK BELLY” greeted me and I thanked my lucky heavens, though a bit prematurely! Because not being able to eat something that you paid $15 for as it was so bad, is kind of a bummer!! (I actually clicked a picture of the barely-eaten-then-discarded burger, but some of you might be eating as you read this so…)
And finally reached the Land’s End stage where Duran Duran had already performed a couple of their songs. Well better late than never. But my issue with such huge festivals is that I too go for the difference in experience as compared to a concert, however the music and the performance is always paramount and unless you come really early there is very slim chance that you will get up close and personal with the band on stage. And the further back you are the more disconnected to the performance you feel, as if its really their concert (the front-standers) and us back-slackers didn’t really buy a ticket so this is the best free view you will get! I know I could have just gone earlier but like I said this was just the bonus day for me.
Since I came so far, so I hung around for LCD Soundsystem whom I had never heard of, let alone hear their music before. But they were pretty good and enjoyed some good music heard for the first time live. Didn’t get too near to the stage and was comfortable hanging back, checking out the beautiful people and soaking in the positive energy and good vibes of people listening to music, smoking weed, drinking beer, napping on the ground.
That is one of the things I love about Outside Lands, it has a very cool and relaxed feel, true San Francisco-style. The crowd is simply happy and high, the grounds are manageable, they usually have a great line-up, always a few I am interested in checking out each year, and has some strange nooks and corners that feels great exploring. They also have a wide selection of craft beers and great wines (called Beer Land and Wine Land) but as I went sober half a year back so skillfully bypassed these nostalgic reminders! Over the years the crowd has multiplied and have gone from hippie to hip but that I guess is inevitable. And the only reason I am mentioning that here is because I always go alone so the previous experiences were a bit more personal, a bit more intimate, its like a yearly pilgrimage for me and its hard to find communion with the ethereal spirits when there is so much hustle-bustle around.
Finally as I was heading back before the show ended to beat the exit-rush, I looked back and saw these fluorescent people having fun so far away but still immersed in the music. It made me smile and then feel a little old. Anyway, Radiohead, here I come (again)!
This is the one I had been waiting for with bated breath since the beginning of the year, almost afraid that I might die before living this! Working in New Jersey on a project afforded some unique opportunities to see some great artists at the self-proclaimed “Greatest Music Venue of the World”, the Madison Square Garden (MSG)! And though driving into Manhattan is not fun on weekdays especially after office hours but once you get there, always always worth it! And for this one carpooled with Sunny, my NY concert buddy working at the same project (though we had different seats) and we started playing and singing Radiohead songs really loud while in traffic so was fun.
For this one I really wanted to get a drink, anything to make sure the concert goes perfectly mood-wise, so apprehensive I was. Overall 2016 concerts have been a little less enjoyable and more introspective for me since I had quit drinking late 2015; I mean I am there for the music and the artists but you do need a little intoxication to momentarily blank out the rigors of the daily life and sanitize you before diving into the immersive ocean of beautiful rhythms and abstract lyrics. So when I entered the venue and headed for the t-shirt stands, I hoped I had met with the only disappointment of the day as the t-shirts – mementos of an hopefully memorable day – were just unimaginatively crap, I was so sad! But had to get one so picked the only one with any mention of the tour dates and venues and headed for my seat. Now I would have loved to get a floor ticket, but did I tell you how crazy getting even 1 (any) ticket for the show was? No, well let me just say, it spurred internet memes! But once safely seated, I looked around and the energy was palpable as we worshippers waited for the modern gods of music to start.
Now Radiohead was playing two nights at the MSG and this was the second. The guy seated in front of me was telling his fellow strangers how AWESOME last night’s show was (which he had attended as well). Listening to him I felt a shiver, got a few goose-pimples but refrained myself from sinking too much into it; the guy also sounded a little drunk! But made me wonder why I didn’t try to get last minute tickets for the previous show as well, I could have, they were just 1 hour away and I was just working; could have seen Radiohead thrice instead of just twice (as I still had the Outside Lands show next)! Work does suck a lot out of us and makes us forget all the other things we used to like to do! But I have held steadfast to this passion of mine and had borne the brunt of many a storms for this. There was a girl next to me and we started talking about Radiohead, she was another Radioheader like me and once that “handshake” was established, we couldn’t stop gushing over this album and that song and which ones we hoped they will play tonight, maybe something special just for us. This is the mind-to-mind connection among Radiohead fans, its a very personal and deep and intimate love, and once you know another fan is at that same place too, its an immediate and heartfelt connection.
And then the lights went down, there was a mighty roar of reverence, and they got on stage and started with the first couple of A Moon Shaped Pool songs. Now I have been to Radiohead as well as Atoms for Peace concerts before and I know they are a bit of a slow-starter. The first 3-4 songs were OK and I was not immediately blown over (sometimes Thom can be a bit tuneless but that’s our Thom and we love him nonetheless). But it was building up, it was building up. And then it exploded with My Iron Lung, took me off my sober stupor and catapulted me into an inner world of melodies, heart-tugs, angst, euphoria, desolation, thoughts and feelings and convictions fused with this note and that line and the all-permeating existential wail of Radiohead. Who are we? Why are we here? And what are we doing? Song after song went by in a daze, I and everyone else were in our own Radiohead-zones, talking to ourselves, dancing with ourselves, sobbing on ourselves. I don’t know what else to say except –
Tears of Joy,
Tears of Joy :’)
When it finally ended and the lights came back on, I looked around and thought I sensed the same everywhere, Tears of Joy as people were waking up from their Radiodaze! I asked her and he asked me and she asked another “Wasn’t it Great, wasn’t it Great?” Man, what I night, simply amazing. And as I was flowed with the human river towards the exits, I finally heaved a sigh of relief, my anxiety was misplaced after all! And then I stole a counterfeit Radiohead t-shirt from a guy selling it on the streets as it was really cool, much better than the official merchandise, and I didn’t have enough cash to pay for it! Actually didn’t intend to steal it but the guy drifted away looking for other customers and I was calling Sunny to get some cash but we couldn’t figure out where we each were and so I didn’t go back to him to return it. Whatever, Radiohead will forgive me! Now can hardly wait for Outside Lands in San Francisco!
When I finally landed in the US in Nov of 2011, I have to admit I did not have a freaking clue how drastically, how monumentally my life was going to change. Yes, getting an assignment of substantial period to the US is any Indian IT engineer’s dream and it was so for me as well. It was an opportunity to not just glimpse but to experience, be a part of a whole new world that I had grown up hearing about and seeing in television and movies and yes, where also most of my gods of music were from. But I had never even imagined that within this elusive opportunity there was an even bigger prize, something that hadn’t occurred to me, not even in my wildest dreams – the chance to see my gods up close and personal! However this prize did not come so easy; what no one really tells you is that the first few months in US is actually really tough on you, your mental state, and not due to any abrupt culture-shock or the seemingly unsurmountable workplace pressures. No, it’s the loneliness, acute loneliness of the self even when you are surrounded by room-mates and new acquaintances and colleagues. It’s the kind of paralyzing loneliness where you lose yourself, slowly forget who you are and what you believe in!
Or maybe it was just me! Maybe most hopefuls and dreamers hit the shore in awe and then keep on going just fine from there. But anyway that was not how it panned out for me, and desolate and discomforted, as I was commuting to office by the local bus one day, voila, a billboard came to my rescue and it said: “Guns N’ Roses: Up Close and Personal”. The music lover, who had forgotten to listen to music for the last few months, suddenly jerked awake and it all came back to him – “That there in the billboard, that’s who I am, the guy who had travelled 6 days alone to watch Iron Maiden Live for just a few hours.” How can he not go to a Guns N’ Roses show when it’s in the same (though alien) city? Yes, he is new in this big and scary city called Los Angeles and he doesn’t know to drive or even have a smartphone and haven’t been anywhere alone here yet, let alone a concert. But can it be for real, is it even possible? For him? And where do you even get tickets for events like these and will it even be available now, with the show a couple of weeks away? Googling brought up something called Ticketmaster and it was saying that tickets are available, can you believe that? But there was no going back after that. The analogy I like to think about my situation then was that I was a good reliable car like a Toyota but the battery was dead and so the car just wouldn’t start and stayed put after that. All that it really needed was a jumpstart of purpose and that’s what the billboard did to me! It not only jumpstarted but catapulted me into a new phase of life with new goals and aspirations, into what was to become (I hope) a lifelong passion.
The concert was on a weekday and I got out a little early from office, changing into a black rock t-shirt and grabbing a note scribbled with directions and timings for all the different buses I would need to take. For the final leg as I was walking through the dark of East Hollywood (which was quite a shady area) both excitement and apprehension were vying for my attention. I finally reached my destination and got a pleasant surprise, as the venue was more like a large pub with a stage which meant I didn’t really need to worry about a good spot, the stage would be really close from anywhere. I got a beer and started soaking in the environment, the people, the energy. The place was starting to fill up with the beautiful people of Los Angeles and the buzz of joy and contentment and a sense of having finally “arrived” started making itself felt as I gladly waited for Guns N’ Roses to get on stage. But I was a little surprised at why they were playing at such a small venue that accommodated so few people! Maybe they were “have-beens” now but not for me and I could barely thank my lucky stars.
And when they finally got on stage and played straight for around 3 hours and most of their classics like Welcome to the Jungle, Estranged, Sweet Child of Mine, November Rain, Don’t Cry, Civil War, Knocking on Heaven’s Door and then many more, I remember feeling like being on an ecstatic rollercoaster ride that would get over when it got over and till then all you could do is just take in the blasts of nostalgia and euphoria, wave after wave, song after song, almost like a state of trance where you are at the mercy of your surroundings that thankfully was hell-bent on making you have a good time! And I would like to think, it was this experience that washed away the sediments of loneliness and forlornness and paralysis that had started taking over me, flushed them all away and underneath I discovered a new, squeaking clean me, an enhanced version with many more options and opportunities. After the end of the show when we all streamed out I remember hanging around for sometime looking at the people and the cars and just trying to hang on to the sensation. And as I walked back through the same shady areas, I didn’t feel scared any more, I had witnessed something special, something powerful which was able to yank me out of my self-pity and give me new goals, new targets to achieve. There were still so many gods to catch up with!
Band/Artist: Guns N’ Roses
Tour Name: Up Close and Personal
Opening acts: Don’t remember
Venue: House of Blues, Sunset Strip
City: Los Angeles, California
Setlist: Guns N’ Roses @House of Blues, Hollywood – 12 Mar ’12
Fun Fact: First concert in the US
My Concert Quotient: 5/5
#4 – George Michael @O2 World, Hamburg, Germany – 18 Oct ’11
It’s with a very heavy heart that I write this note as George Michael is no more, having died peacefully at his home on Christmas Day of 2016. I generally associate more to the music than the musician/artist but in this case his music was so soulful and sorrowful and heartfelt and it had such a great impact on me during my adolescent years that I could not help but feel for the person behind the voice. He must have gone through that pain and desolation and forlornness that his songs trickled of, it will be really tough to completely fake that. It’s very easy to identify him with his dance-oriented and sexually-connoted songs like I Want Your Sex, Fastlove, Monkey, Too Funky, Outside or his scandals and brushes with the law for drugs abuse and “indecency”. But peel that surface and sink into his “For the Heart”-esque songs like Praying for Time,Kissing a Fool, You have been Loved, Jesus to a Child, Heal the Pain and you will be able to perceive a different George Michael, and that’s the one I fell in love with. And alas, now that angel of music is no more and my only solace is that I was able to experience this sublime music performed live by this beautiful person before it was too late.
The circumstances that led to this opportunity itself are somewhat rocky, a chance of fate! Back in Jan 2011, I had switched to a smaller boutique IT firm from my earlier, much larger and well-known IT company in hopes of an onsite project opportunity in the US. But after a couple of failed attempts at getting a visa, things were looking very bleak and I had started ruing my risky decision. This was also dead in the middle of the US recession period and so there weren’t many onsite opportunities but I finally managed to convince my boss to get my H1B work visa filed, got all the paperwork done and to my utter relief was able to get through the visa interview this time without raising any red flags! That meant I was all ready to finally realize my dream of working in the US in (hopefully) a few months’ time, that is as soon as I was able to get an assignment. But just the week after my US visa interview my boss came to my cubicle and asked me if I would be ready to travel to Germany within a week’s time for a 3 month assignment! What?!?! But of course (DUH)!!! Thus Germany turned out to be my first foreign country visit instead of the US and I wasn’t complaining. And to top it, my then-girlfriend-now-wife was also assigned to the same project (we were working for the same company and have the same IT background, and hence). However this is not really as good as it sounds, things can turn messy when your girlfriend is also your team-mate!
Our time in Hamburg, Germany was not very easy, the work was crazy, German bosses are not the easiest to work for and I will not even start on the challenges the language-barrier posed! But one day as we were walking through a transit point on the way to office, I chanced upon a flyer about George Michael touring Europe, though couldn’t gather anything more as it was in German. Researching further online I found that there was an upcoming concert date in Hamburg itself! Needless to say I was in a tizzy because I could expect to attend concerts by the Iron Maidens and the Metallicas of the world as India had a large rock/metal following and they would eventually have performed someday (in fact they already had by then). But George Michael was someone so exotic, so royal, so unreachable that the fact that I suddenly had the opportunity to see him in a live concert was somewhat “disconcerting”! And the opportunity wasn’t a very easy one either, it being my first time in a foreign country where most did not speak English and I definitely didn’t understand a word of German except “Danke” (Thank You). The tickets also seemed pretty expensive starting at 80 or so Euros, and we were not even earning in euros there, just had a daily meal allowance of 15 euros. And even if I was ready to shell out that money what about my girlfriend, she wasn’t that into music so do I leave her and go alone and if so how do I even get to the venue which was quite far away and this and that… but then also how can I let this opportunity pass by, will surely regret it for the rest of my life! In short, I was tied up in knots about what to do, grappling with excitement and anticipation and worry and confusion! Then I finally thought, Fuck It All, we have but one life! So I bought the best available tickets (around Euro 130 each for 6th row seats) for both myself AND my girlfriend (so as not to leave her behind as she would never have paid that amount of money for a concert) and announced to our German manager the next day that we were going to the concert so would need to leave work a little early on that day. My manager was so infected by our “josh”(enthusiasm) that he too booked tickets for himself and his wife (who turned out to be an Indian), though it was a little ironic to see them sitting way behind on the sides while we were on the 6th row of the main floor.
Finally the day of the concert arrived, we took a bus from near the office and after changing a couple more finally arrived at O2 World, Hamburg! This was my first view of what a huge and closed concert venue looks like, nothing like the open area of Palace Grounds, Bangalore (India), where I had attended my only 3 previous concerts. Entering the venue was like a dream, everything was so organized, dedicated entry points for different sections, people standing in tidy lines, directions, food and drinks parlors, and when we finally entered the main hall, IT WAS SO BIG WITH SO MANY PEOPLE!! Speechless, with a large beer in my hand, we sought out our 6th row seats and the stage looked so near from there, as if I could almost touch it. Gulping down my beer while waiting for the concert to start, I was already tipsy by the time George Michael got on the stage and as he started singing, I started crying tears of joy (what could I do, I was quite emotional by then). Some of the songs were covers that I couldn’t recognize but whenever he sang any of his own songs like Cowboys and Angels, You have been Loved, Kissing a Fool or Praying for Time, I just sang my heart out with him. That was not a very good thing, as I realized later, as I was degrading the concert-experience of my fellow German concert-goers around me but they were so proper that even though some gave me a few disapproving glances, no one stopped me. But I was in my own world by then and beyond caring, especially after the second beer during the intermission. I was blissfully tipsy by the time the show ended to a standing ovation and after politely jostling through the exits we finally met our manager and his wife outside – they were going give us a ride back as it was too late in the night for us to travel alone by bus. And as I was narrating my concert experience, a little incoherently (to the dismay of my girlfriend), my manager finally said, “Boy, I didn’t realize that you have such a soft-side”! Yes, I do have a soft-side, just like everyone else, and it’s that soft-side that George Michael nurtured with his beautifully sorrowfully soulful songs through a tough period of emotional changes, adolescent confusion and a deep yearning for love.
Adieu, George and rest in peace in the knowledge that you have been loved…
Band/Artist: George Michael
Tour Name: Symphonica: The European Orchestral Tour
Opening acts: None
Venue: O2 World
City: Hamburg, Germany
Setlist: George Michael @Hamburg, Germany – 18-Oct-11
Fun Fact: My first international concert
My Concert Quotient: 5/5
#1 – Iron Maiden @Palace Grounds, Bangalore, India – 17 Mar ’07
This is where it all started, my first concert at a time when attending concerts by international artists was unknown of, at least in the remote part of India called the Northeast that I am from. I had already grown into an avid music-lover by then, and especially of Western music, thanks to my dad! But back then even for someone so deeply immersed in it like me, music was still something you listen to by playing audio cassettes in tape recorders or as MP3s on your desktops with 5.1 speaker systems (if you were blessed, that is). Concerts, or rather single song clips of it, were music videos watched on MTV or bought on DVDs and shared among friends; nonetheless they were so enthralling, those crazy crowds in unbelievably huge arenas head-banging to incredible performances by the gods of heavy metal, or intimate unplugged performances in front of politely applauding crowds by the legends of vintage rock! And all these on the screen of a TV or monitor, projected from a different, alien, unreachable world where people are privileged to be living the unattainable dreams of millions others like us. To be able to be part of such an experience was so unimaginable that I didn’t even think of envying them!
And then Iron Maiden, one of the Trinity of Hard Rock (in my books, other two being Metallica and Megadeth) decided to bless us with their presence in Bangalore, India. The unimaginable just became excitingly possible and due to the same reason, equally heart-wrenching! The excuse of the impossible is a great tranquilizer to the pain of unattained dreams, but when that suddenly becomes possible (though still highly improbable due to circumstances), what do you do, how do you silence the grumbles of yearning, the revolt of possibilities, the call of destiny? I was in the 3rd year of my engineering in a government college in Guwahati, Assam, living in a college hostel/fraternity and on a monthly allowance of Rs. 1000 (~$25) from my parents. And the tickets themselves started from Rs. 900. That was the first and biggest problem. Secondly, Bangalore was a 3-day one-way train ride across India from Guwahati and I would have to make that journey alone. Thirdly, my classes were in full swing and neither my professors nor my parents would be too enthused with my tryst with destiny! So the only way I could make this happen was to feign sickness, hop on a train, travel 3 days to get into Bangalore the day before the concert (the risk of day-long train delays was very real), watch the concert and hop back on a 3-day train ride back to Guwahati and on to such mundane things like classes and studies! The only good news was that I had a very close friend, Tony, in Bangalore who was also looking forward to the concert and egging me to take the leap, so I could crash at his place and we could attend it together which would be much more fun than being all alone among very drunk-and-stoned-metalheads-from-all-around-India!
But all these would come to naught if Money – the first problem – was not solved! And then God thought, let me humor this guy! A yearly “College Week” event organized by the college administration was underway at that time and that meant cultural, sports and other competitive events between the different hostels and students, which also included a quiz competition. I had been a voracious quizzer previously but hostel-life had spoilt me. Nevertheless I used to represent the hostel every year at this event, which this year had a healthy prize of Rs. 5000/- (~$100) for the winners so that meant Rs. 2500/- each! Let’s just say I suddenly found a purpose in life, went on a roll, won the quiz with my even-more-brilliant team-mate, hopped on a bus to the train station right after, bought train tickets to Bangalore and called up Tony and gave him the green light to snap the cheapest tickets before they run out! And then I came back to hostel and got drunk with my friends to celebrate!
Fast-forward a few weeks, I landed or rather disembarked in Bangalore safely and finally the day of the concert arrived! Another friend, Sush, had decided to join us from Chennai which was an 8-hr train ride away and as we stepped into the hallowed Palace Grounds amidst the sea of concert-starved-but-now-stoked mob sporting the customary black t-shirts with Iron Maiden in different forms and albums (and some other bands too), I remember feeling that peculiar heady concoction of exhilaration, anticipation and intoxication (you were supposed to hit the grounds drunk and we all were though it was just around 3 PM!) We three felt like brave pioneers, bursting into a historic event as we finally cleared the very long security check and got our first glimpse of how a concert looks like. I would be lying if I say I remember all the details of this experience from 9 years ago, and unfortunately I do not have any pictures from that era either to jog my memory. But what I do remember was that we waited for many hours for Iron Maiden to get on stage during which other opening bands played and we drank and smoked and yelled. Somewhere along the way we met other friends and acquaintances and smoked and drank some more. But as night drew on and Iron Maiden was about to start it was soon every man (and woman) for themselves. Our Rs. 900 tickets – which were the cheapest – only afforded us the last section of this open air venue and there were police-manned metal barricades that separated us from the more elite section who payed Rs. 1500 for a closer view. As Iron Maiden got on stage and started playing the crowd went into a frenzy and the pushing and shoving and fighting started to just get to the front line of our section (the metal barricades). By the time we had fought our way to around that point, we had already lost our third friend and we just prayed she is safe somewhere (later we found she had hung back with some common friends seeing how unruly the crowd was getting). But for Tony and me the frontline was a whole different battle, people jostling, punching, pushing, trying to break the barricades down. Many jumped the barricades at the right moment as the guards passed their area and they got promoted to the Rs. 1500 section for their adventures, while the unfortunate ones got some solid whacks on their asses from the police! We were still mulling on if we should take the risk when the unthinkable happened; in one mighty push of the mob, the metal barricades (which was actually cemented into the concrete floor) came down and in that moment of chaos when the police were overwhelmed, we jumped away to freedom and into the privileged classes! And good thing we didn’t dither in doing it as the police started “lathi-charging” everyone back there but we were safe. During the surge I lost my friend in the ensuing chaos and didn’t meet him again until after the concert had ended. But that was fine, we were all there to witness Iron Maiden and we had already got much more than we paid for! The rest of the concert went in a head-banging mania among strangers in a weird kind of bonhomie as we were all fans and in it together. They played the classics like The Trooper, Fear of the Dark, 2 Mins to Midnight and Hallowed be Thy Name as well as some from the new album A Matter of Life and Death which I hadn’t really listened to yet but it didn’t matter as we were there to headbang to Maiden and headbang we did! And for the first time I experienced euphoria and exhilaration and was able to distinguish it from everyday happiness or joy, and I guess that’s when I caught this bug that has become such a big part of my life and who I want to be and increasingly, am.