Three Indian-Influenced Bands Play the Year’s Best Triplebill So Far in the East Village

by delarue

What’s the likelihood of seeing three of the most fascinating, individualistic, often spine-tingling bands in town, all on the same bill – fronted by three similarly distinctive, brilliant singers, no less? And at a good venue with terrific sound – Drom, in the East Village – rather than at some scuzzy Bushwick bar that nobody outside the neighborhood can get to since the trains aren’t running on the weekend?

It happened five days ago on a triplebill put together by fiery, dramatic art-rock violinist/singer Rini and her band, who played in between swoony psychedelic soul singer/bandleader Shilpa Ananth and titanic spacerock band Humeysha. Although the three acts were stylistically very different, the common link – beyond sheer fun and breathtaking musical chops – was that each draws on classical Indian melodies for inspiration.

Although the club wasn’t packed, there was a good turnout considering that the show coincided with the flashmobs out at Kennedy Airport protesting Trump’s racist anti-Muslim edict. Ananth was the subtlest act on the bill. Her songs shifted shape, sometimes gently, sometimes dramatically as her voice rose, singing in English, Hindi and Tamil. Her opening neosoul anthem had an early 80s trip-hop pulse that got funkier as it hit a peak, driven by Khairul Aiman’s purposeful bass and Kazuhiro Odagiri’s drums. Multi-keyboardist Takahiro Izumikawa shifted artfully between echoey, surrealisitcally nocturnal electric piano, swirly organ and some wryly warped P-Funk tone-bending when the ambience got totally psychedelic.Ananth swayed, eyes closed, lost in the music most of the time. Guitatist Luis D’Elias got to fire off the most electrifying solos of the set: long, menacing, reverb-iced cumbia and Middle Eastern-tinged passages, and later a blisteirng blast of bluesmetal. Tabla player Sai Raman added texture and kept the suspenseful groove going when the songs got quiet; trumpeter Bobby Spellman added crystalline Miles Davis-influenced lines, sometimes harmonizing with alto sax player Syl DuBenion.

Ananth brought to mind Anita O’Day at her most playful and plush, then went into starry, unselfconsciously tender mode with her melismatics over an emphatic, trip hop-ish beat. As the music swayed behind her, she went off-script midway through the night’s most enigmatically aching ballad to explain that in Hindi, just as in English, finding a home means finding a space, and that the time is now for us to defend ours,  a message that resounded with the audience. Ananth’s next show is Feb 23 at 7 PM, an acoustic set with tabla and piano at Kava Shteeble, 94 Ralph Ave in Bushwick; take the J to Gates Ave..

Rini a.k.a Harini S Raghavan delivered the night’s most intense performance. The Chennai, India-born frontwoman leads what has to be the most multicultural band in town. Guitarist Aleif Hamdan is from Jakarta; bassist Achal Murthy hails from Luxembourg. Drummer Tancredi Lo Cigno is Italian and sax/electronic wind instrument player Íñigo Galdeano Lasheras is Spanish. Whatever language they speak, it all adds up to fire. Their jaunty opening number faked everybody out: from there, the band dug in and the storm began.

With her powerful, often ferocious mazzo-soprano and dancing, carnatically-influenced violin lines, Raghavan led the group through a dynamic set that blended Trans-Siberian Orchestra pomp with distantly macabre early ELO and even more towering cinematics. Somewhere there is a video game franchise or a postapocalyptic film screaming out for this woman to write its soundtrack.

Staying in sync with an electronic track – in this case, mostly loops of piano and ambience – is difficult, but the band stayed on track as Raghavan’s voice dipped and lept and bent as the music careened and slunk along, through a swaying heroic overture, a catchy bhangra riff transposed to trip-hop, knifes-edge Middle Eastern themes, a detour into menacing, wah-driven Doctors of Madness-style psychedelia and finally a galloping mini-raga. What a blissfully adrenalizing set. Rini are scheduled to rip the roof off Silvana on Feb 17 at 9.

Humeysha were the most epic band of the night – and distinguished themselves with the shortest songs of any epic band anywhere in the world. They always leave you wanting more. Frontman/guitarist Zain Alam sang in a strong, expressive chorister’s baritone and played through a vast wash of digital delay and reverb, matched by lead guitarist Adrien Defontaine. Alam’s brother Shayan went high up the fretboard of his bass, Peter Hook style as drummer John Snyder anchored the spacious sonics, at one point taking an unexpected and deliciously artful shift where he played the most of the song on the offbeat against the rest of the group.

Their only really lighthearted number brought to mind the Smiths in a sardonic moment; many of the other songs could have fit easily on a Church album from the early 90s. Defontaine hung out around the 18th fret for most of the set, firing off meteor showers of notes and taking the occasional lightning-bolt run down the scale. Where the night’s first two acts were all over the place stylistically, these guys set a mood and launched it as far and as deep as they could take it, reinventing a bunch of centuries-old carnatic riffs in the meantime. At the end of the night, the crowd screamed for an encore; the frontman explained that with his brother being new in the band, they didn’t have any more material worked up. They’re at Brooklyn Bazaar on Feb 15 at around 9ish.

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