Published for the Hindu Metroplus in July 2011.
Across the sea, Post-rock and modern classical bands are drawing from
Western Classical. In India, apart from the fusion genre, there are
bands such as Bangalore-based rockers Agam who take the influence one
step forward in that direction, being inspired by not only Carnatic
music, but also Sufi and Hindustani classical.
Playing at Hard Rock Cafe, the turnout consisted of old and recent
fans accumulated from their recent run of shows. The seven piece
‘contemporary carnatic rock’ act seemed to fill up every square foot
of the accommodating stage, but did not let the apparent lack of space
restrict them from having a good stage presence.
Their opening song ‘Brahma’s Dance’ which greeted with familiar
cheers, and soon enough you could tell why: the track perfectly
encapsulated their categorisation – filled with instrumental movements
and minimal vocals constituting chants within the eight-minute song.
Immediately, I could declare this to be progressive Carnatic rock, or
Carnatic progressive rock (It’s only the ordering that’s debatable).
And as far as constraints go, one couldn’t completely nod in agreement
to vocalist and violinist Harish Sivaramakrishnan’s attempt at Sufi
and Hindustani vocal styles in ‘Mukamdar’, but he redeemed himself
when he showcased his trained carnatic vocal abilities in other
tracks. The other members seemed to gel excellently with each other on
stage. Guitarists Praveen and Suraj, along with bassist Vignesh had
great co-ordination while exhibiting their technical prowess with
songs such as ‘Raag Dhanashree’ and their tribute to Thyagaraja.
But before Thyagaraja, there was a tribute to another music legend who
is said to have helped the band personally – AR Rahman. What started
with ‘Path of Aspirations’ with distortion-heavy choruses, went on to
gather every member of the audience sing along to the band own
rendition of Rahman hits ‘Ek Ho Gaye’ and ‘Dil Se Re’.
Extended solos ruled ‘Saramathi Blues’, reflecting progressive rock
hints from Dream Theater in keyboardist Swamy’s playing. And as per
conventions in progressive rock, percussionists Ganesh and Shiva
seemed to have had a perfect pace going for each other throughout the
night’s performance, especially in their creatively improvised Thapang
Jam, Kooth Over Coffee Jam and Malhar Jam which had audiences dancing
in typical Tamil-movie style!
The crowd favourite of the night was clearly ‘Rudra’, which
exemplified their self-proclaimed tag of Carnatic rock. Although the
audience demanded an encore of every other song Agam played, Rudra was
the only one they obliged to replay, due to time constraints.