Sunday, October 29, 2006

Scream for me, Jersey

Muslims flock to Mecca. Jews revere Jerusalem. Hindus have their four dhams. And I attain salvation at an Iron Maiden concert (yes, I had seen them at Ozzfest 2005, but a person is allowed to make more than one pilgrimage, isn't he?)

Iron Maiden playing A Matter of Life and DeathOn Friday, the 13th of October, 2006, I headed to Hackensack, New Jersey to attend Iron Maiden's Matter of Life and Death concert. There was no Black Sabbath this time. No Mudvayne either. What was there, however, was the added incentive of meeting long-lost friend Vinod at the concert. All right, so he wasn't exactly lost. And technically speaking, we didn't meet at the concert. But it was the first time I had met him in almost eight years. Could hardly recognize him too. He has put on a few vanity pounds, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, it was great meeting him and chatting at length about the good ol' days.

After we'd done chatting, and stuffing our faces, Vinod and I headed out to Hackensack. Getting to Hackensack, however, is trickier than it sounds. Starting off from DC, for instance, one has to take an Amtrak train to New York, get on the subway to the World Trade Center, use a Path train to get across to NewPort, and finally hop on to the NJ Light Rail to Hackensack. Now I have nothing against trains, but by the time we got to Hackensack, I was beginning to feel more than a little siderodromophobic. Once in Jersey, we caught up with Shashank and commenced our short drive to the Continental Airlines Arena.

Short drive, yes. But it took us forever to get there. Thanks to the NJ civic authorities, who decided that Friday evening was the perfect time to dig up two-thirds of the road. We crawled and cursed and reached the arena at 8:45 pm, full fifteen minutes after the scheduled start. Thankfully, Iron Maiden, in all their magnanimity, had deferred their performance till nine o' clock to compensate for the traffic. If only all bands were this understanding.

The set-list of the show had been published all over the Maiden message boards, so there was no real surprise there. The show started with an off-stage rendition of Doctor, Doctor, just as it had done in the Early Years set last year. It was followed by the band bursting on the stage and immediately breaking off into A Matter of Life and Death.

Ever since I first heard the album, I'd known it would sound great live. And the band didn't disappoint. From the racy Different World to the symphonic The Legacy, it was one hell of a ride. Bruce may have lost his high-pitched wail, but proved that he could still marshall the troops admirably. Nicko was rock solid as ever, and the three amigos continued their fine form. Steve, the backbone of the band, stood mostly in the corner, playing the gallop and mouthing words from the album. It's a good thing they don't let him near a microphone.

Eddie shooting at the crowd with a cameraThere weren't too many on-stage gimmicks. Just a few fireworks during Greater Good of God, and a bit of a light show towards the end of the album. Oh, and Eddie made an appearance in a tank. And shot at the crowd. With a camera! Err... it's not like the Maiden fan is an endangered species, Eddie. Oh, well. Coming to the point, I really liked the live versions of These Colours Don't Run and The Longest Day. The former may well be my new favourite song on the album.

Once through with the new album, Maiden switched to retro mode and played some of their older numbers, inducing a lot more crowd participation in the process. They started off with Fear of the Dark, which expectedly got the crowd going. That was followed by an extended version of Iron Maiden, with the twelve-foot Eddie walking on stage. As the song ended, the band suddenly disappeared and the lights dimmed. A few chants of "Iron Maiden" later, Bruce reappeared. "Nicko here tells me that we've been off for a good five minutes. I don't think it was five. It was more like two. Two Minutes ... to Midnight". "Whoa! That was cool", I thought to myself. Indeed, it was.

There have been some that have complained about Maiden playing Two Minutes to Midnight on this set. But I think it fit in wonderfully with the anti-war theme of AMoLaD. So did the wonderfully stirring The Evil That Men Do that followed. They cannot play that song live frequently enough, if you ask me. The concert ended with the ever-popular Hallowed be Thy Name, with the chorus of the crowd rivaling Bruce. I unfortunately had lost my voice by then, a full night of screaming taking its toll.

The show ended a little after eleven o' clock, and we headed back home sharing our favorite Maiden stories. All right, all right. I shared the stories, and the others put up a brave front. In any case, we avoided the trains on the way back.

The one problem, if you can call it that, with an Iron Maiden concert is that it always leaves you craving for more. I can't wait till they come back to these shores again. Next time I will be in the front row.

[Photographs courtesy Vinod]

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Autumnal Introspection

Crisis (Noun):
1. A condition of instability or danger, as in social, economic, political, or international affairs, leading to a decisive change.
2. A dramatic emotional or circumstantial upheaval in a person's life.
It's getting colder. The leaves of fall lie scattered on the ground. The trees are almost entirely stark. Almost, but not quite. There are still some leaves that cling on greedily to the last few tendrils. Shamelessly clinging on to dear life despite losing all their dignity. What good is dignity to the dead?

He walks past the grey buildings. "I must remember to get a warmer coat". He knows he can't afford a coat. Not this winter. He is deluding himself. He knows that, too.

Adversity (Noun):
1. A state of hardship or affliction; misfortune.
2. A calamitous event.
The rains were late this year. And much too little. The earth is chafed. Wrinkles grow ever deeper. A wisp of cloud passes by, frolicking recklessly in the wind. As if mocking the afternoon sun. Ephemeral life is often so lustful.

Soon the prey would be gone. Not that he'd be able to hunt, anyway. "That which doesn't kill me, can only make me stronger". He laughs bitterly. The last few tendrils begin to wither.

Abstract prose is like bit like abstract art. Few claim to understand it. Fewer still understand it for what it really is. Pure drivel.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Why was Jay Z not banned?

Slayer's new album Christ Illusion has been banned in India. Not only that, all stocks of the album have been recalled and destroyed. Honestly, I never cared much for Slayer. They are much too hard for my taste. But such a reaction to a music album seems a tad extreme, doesn't it? Well, not according to a certain Mr. Joseph Dias of Mumbai's Catholic Secular Forum, who claims that the album is "offensive and in very bad taste". Well, Mr. Dias, I think calling your organization Catholic Secular Forum is offensive and in bad taste. Nobody recalled your freedom of speech when you were protesting against the Da Vinci code, did they? Well, maybe they should have.

Elsewhere in the world, Jay Z has been barred from performing in China, because his music contains "vulgar language" and sexual overtones. Good heavens! What was Jay Z thinking? Did he imagine he could just waltz into China and start singing about sex? Just think what would happen if the Chinese populace actually learnt about sex.

But that is not even the point. What really gets my goat is why Jay Z wasn't banned in India. Sure he's not performing there, but one could still ban his albums. Recall them, destroy them. That sort of thing. Surely, if they can ban Slayer, they should ban Jay Z too. Or is it just religious sentiments that need protection? No, that can't be it. After all, there is a ban on hanky-panky on tv shows, isn't there? Maybe it's just that no one understands what Jay Z is singing about in the first place.

Whatever the case may be, I think the moral police have missed a trick here. They have lapsed ever so slightly in their thankless job of protecting the country from lewd and voyeuristic influences. I suggest therefore that we, as concerned citizens, write up a petition requesting the concerned authorities to take strict measures against such profane and immoral artists. With your help, we may still impose a ban on the licentious music of Jay Z.

Note: Sorry for the acerbic posts of late. It's been that kind of a week.
Another note: Normal service to resume after the Iron Maiden concert this weekend.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Holy Cassava!

I love cassava. I respect it and revere it, as any god-fearing man should. For it is written in the holy scriptures of my religion (which incidentally happens to be the only true religion) that the cassava is the egg of the Lord. Eating the holy cassava would be like eating the womb of the Lord itself.

You can understand my chagrin therefore, when I read that some godless miscreants have been indulging in desecrating the sacred cassava. These heathen not only uproot the sacred plant, but boil its roots and devour its flesh like savages. I will not stand for such nihilism. I call upon all of you to join me against these blasphemers. We will stop their trucks, burn their vehicles and destroy random property. And for good measure, we'll kill a couple of people and injure several others. That'll teach them to exercise their freedom.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Announcing the Link of the Day

I am, generally speaking, averse to putting up random links on my blog. Especially, when I have nothing constructive (or otherwise) to add to the information already provided. Still, there are times when I come across a rather interesting article and have a strong urge to share it with the rest of the world. Or at least with the regular visitors to my blog (yes, all four of you).

Brij, has come up with a neat solution to the problem. He simply has a separate blog for all such links. I however, choose to take the path of least effort. Accordingly, I have added a neat little section titled 'Link of the Day' to the sidebar. All link-worthy articles, posts and commentaries shall henceforth be added here.

The word 'day' in 'Link of the Day' must, of course, be taken with a pinch of salt. I intend not to update this link daily. Only when I come across a page that captures my imagination enough. Thus, it could be several days, weeks even, before the link is refreshed. Maybe Link of the Week would have been a more appropriate title. But Link of the Day has a better ring to it.

So here it is. In all it's glory. The link to the Link of the Day.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Roger Waters, Live

There's always a debate amongst Pink Floyd fans regarding who was the more influential band member -- Roger Waters or David Gilmour. Personally, I've always been a Syd Barrett man myself, but one has to give credit where credit is due. And it was the Waters-Gilmour era that produced the band's most memorable music.

Of the two, Gilmour, surely, was the more talented musician. It was Gilmour who gave the band its signature progressive sound (with a little help from Messrs. Wright and Mason), and architected some of the most famous guitar leads of the era. But it was Waters that lent the band its soul. With his plaintive lyrics and surreal imagery, Waters taught an entire generation of music lovers what it's like to feel pain without suffering.

When I heard that Waters was coming to Washington DC then, it was no surprise that I booked myself front row tickets. I had missed his show in Bangalore by a matter of weeks. There was no way I was going to miss this one.

Of course, when I say Washington DC, I really mean Nissan pavilion in Bristow, Virginia. Also known as middle of nowhere. Why they can't hold concerts in DC or Columbia, I could never understand.

So it was. On a balmy Saturday afternoon, I headed for the Nissan pavilion for the second time in two years. With me this time were Sundar, Naresh, Pratik and Sneha, friends from NC State. We braved through two hours of mind-numbingly slow traffic, cursing sundry vehicles on the road, made a frantic pit-stop to tackle an 'emergency situation' behind an abandoned warehouse, and finally reached Nissan pavilion just in time to hear Waters break into a rendition of Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.

By the time we made it to our seats, the band was already in the middle of the epic Shine on You Crazy Diamond. It was followed by Have a Cigar and the ever popular Wish You Were Here, as the tributes to Syd kept flowing. There were no towering screens or flashy laser shows one associates with latter-day Floyd concerts, but a modest, circular screen at the back flashing vague, desperate images that somehow managed to capture the essence of the songs perfectly.

As Wish You Were Here faded, the lights dimmed, and pictures from The Final Cut album sleeve came on the screen. "Time for some mellow songs", I thought to myself. Was I ever wrong. First with Southampton Dock and then The Fletcher Memorial Home, Waters came into his own. The songs were plaintive, yes, but spell-binding. The Fletcher Memorial Home in my opinion was the high point of the evening, starting off as a requiem for lost dreams, and ending in a diatribe against the 'incurable tyrants'. The images on the screen followed the theme beautifully, leading us into an old-age home with wistful-eyed generals gazing into the sunset, panning out to the wall to reveal the insatiable hunger of the tyrants, and ending with postcards on the table with the smiling faces of George Bush and Bin Laden. Very stirring. Very anti-establishment. Very much Roger Waters.

The next couple of songs, Perfect Sense and Leaving Beirut continued the anti-war theme, with the latter openly accused Bush of war-mongering. A bit too political for my taste, but a beautiful song nevertheless. Needless to say, it was a raging hit with the mostly-liberal Washington crowd.

As the applause died down, I heard gentle strains against the faint bleating of Sheep. Immediately I leapt to my feet. In my excitement, I turned to the nearest bloke next to me. "This is my favourite Floyd song" I gushed. The bloke smiled toothingly and gave me a thumbs up sign. It was then that I noticed that this bloke was not just a bloke, but a hippie. A rather old hippie at that. He was wearing an old psychedelic shirt, a purple headband and the look of one who had been there, done all, much before I was even born. The smile was as much as that of approval, as it was of concurrence. "Yes son, I know. 'Tis one of my favourites too" it seemed to say. A beer-bellied teen somewhere behind me shouted "We want Dark Side". He didn't really get this at all. I've never wanted to be a hippie as much as I did at that moment. The song played on. I found myself singing along

What do you get for pretending the danger's not real
Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel

After a short break, the band returned for the main attraction of the evening. A live performance of The Dark Side of the Moon. Sure, everybody's heard the album scores of times, but trust me, listening to it live is quite something else. I won't even try to put it in words, for mere words cannot describe the experience. Suffice it to say that it was as close to a religious experience as I could ever have, standing there spell-bound and misty-eyed through it all.

By the time Dark Side ended, I was emotionally spent. But knew there was more to come. You can't have a Waters concert without songs from The Wall, could you. Sure enough, the band returned, and for the encore played Another Brick in the Wall, Vera and Comfortably Numb. It couldn't quite match the euphoria of Dark Side, but who was I to complain? I just sat there soaking it all in, and applauding the genius of one of the greatest songwriters and poets of our time.

All that was left to do now was to make the long trip back home. I for one, however, did not mind. Not after that performance. What a concert. What a show. And I finally got to watch Roger Waters in the flesh.