Yesterday I attended my first music concert (non-orchestral). At 16, I guess it’s pretty late for such a thing, but when you consider the place I live in, it should come as no surprise. Calcutta, otherwise known as the cultural capital of India, is inhabited by people with the musical taste of a two-year old. Whenever international bands or solo artists tour India, they always bypass this city of mine and that’s left me sore on many an occasion. However, last month, my mother read an article in the newspaper announcing that Michael Learns To Rock would be performing here in Cal on the 17th of December. This was a band I’d grown up listening to, mostly due to my parents who adored it. The “Assorted” folder in my parents’ music collection contains songs by MLTR like 25 Minutes, Sleeping Child and Out of the Blue. The prospect of hearing these guys live made my mother and me ecstatic.
The event was scheduled to be held on the field of The Calcutta Cricket and Football Club from 5 onwards. The tickets were surprisingly expensive and were categorized into General, Gold and Premium, the differences being the first is the standing area some distance from the stage and the latter two providing you with a seat closer to the stage. We decided that my mother and I would attend the concert and so we bought two General tickets which set us back four thousand rupees. (Each Gold ticket was five thousand rupees and each Premium was ten thousand.)
The concert was being organized by The Festival (I don’t know who or what that is, so don’t expect me to elaborate) and they’d made a separate Facebook page for MLTR’s tour. I scrolled down the page to find a picture of the band performing at Guwahati (an Indian city situated in the north-east) and was stunned by the caption – “Twelve thousand people! Thank you Guwahati!” Furthermore, the chief ministers of three states had attended that concert. It really wasn’t that surprising though because the north-easteners are musically attuned and know how to appreciate good music. For example, in 1996, MLTR had performed in Shillong (a hill-station in the north-east) and twenty thousand people had turned up for that. That’s twenty thousand people in a tiny town that not many people know about. The attendance in Calcutta would be nowhere near that number and it would be especially embarrassing because The Festival was talking up my city as the Band’s biggest destination yet.
We technically hadn’t gotten our tickets yet, just the e-receipt printed from the booking portal; we’d have to go there on the day and collect it. MLTR would start their performance at 8, but many local bands would be opening for them from 5. My mother and I weren’t that enthusiastic about the opening acts, so we decided to reach there by about six forty-five. I could hear one the of opening act’s music from a hundred metres away and it only got louder as I got closer. Only members were being allowed through the main gate of the club, so we had to walk around to the side entrance. The ticket booths were to our right just as we entered. After collecting our tickets and walking through an airport style security check, we entered the “arena” through the “General” gate. They’d set the entire thing up on the football field and the stage was where the other goalpost should have been. Looking around, there wasn’t a profligacy of people as I had predicted, but there were still enough for it to not be shameful for the city. A lot of people were sitting on the grass with food in their hands like they were out for a picnic. Carrying on the football metaphor, there was a barricade where the halfway line should have been and instead of the different teams’ dugouts were entrances for the Gold and Premium ticket buyers.
We approached the barricade and found very few people standing there – most were behind us, lounging on the perfectly manicured grass. We assumed our standing positions there in what was the third row of people. In front of the barricade was a narrow path leading to the Gold and Premium areas which was lined with bouncers in typical black t-shirts. On the other side of the path were the Gold and Premium areas and smack in the middle of the opposite half of the field was some sort of pedestal on top of which was a T.V. camera. Finally, there was the stage which while not as big as the one in Guwahati, was still sufficiently sized. On the stage was one of the opening acts – a boy band. They looked to be wearing grey paintball armour and their singing was worse than their attire. At one point, they asked the crowd whether they were having fun and the answer was a resounding “NO!” I think they felt the hostility of the gathered crowd and soon disappeared to the harmonious sound of a thousand “boos”.
It was seven o’clock now and the last opening act was being touted as a “grand surprise” by the announcer. The stage went dark and suddenly, loud drum beats started booming from the giant speakers accompanied by phosphorescent drumsticks. I realized it was only instrumental, utilizing drums and various versions of the instrument. It was on for quite a long time, but it didn’t seem that way because it was so well done. This recently hostile crowd was now bobbing its head to the beats and was crying “Once more!” when it was done. When the music stopped, the stage lit up, revealing this enigmatic group to us. I couldn’t recognize them, but the large screen behind them helped me with that – they called themselves the Beat Blasters. The announcer then arrived on stage and revealed that they were a newly formed Indo-American band and this was their debut performance. The colossal screen at the back of the stage then came to life again after going dark at the end of the Beat Blasters’ performance – on screen was a YouTube page featuring the group’s first music video. There was nothing wrong with the video per se, but the organizers messed it up by accidentally playing it at 2.5x speed. What followed was hilarious – the music was too fast, their hands moved faster than if Bruce Lee was to drink a hundred Red Bulls while shooting Enter the Dragon, and their head banging looked abnormal. The organizers then apologised for the debacle and replayed the video at normal speed.
MLTR would soon take the stage and I couldn’t wait for it. However, my back suddenly started hurting a lot and I had to massage it myself to ease the pain. My mother was complaining about her feet hurting, but we forgot all of this when a big “25” appeared on the big screen. I looked at my watch – seven thirty-five.