Rahman in Dallas!

After wavering a bit and reconsidering my decision to spend hard-earned money, I made the decision to go for Rahman’s concert about a month ago. I managed the 3 hour drive to Dallas and arrived well in time to meet up with a friend who also got tickets for me! We picked up one other person and then made our way to the concert. The concert was at the American Airlines center in Dallas and we were extremely lucky to find parking (the guy closed the lot just as soon as we entered!). Once inside, I was pretty much astounded. I was expecting an open-air stadium-like atmosphere, but the AA center was superb, closed, with AC and a LARGE number of seats (my estimate >30,000). We got absolutely superb seats for our price, with no obstruction to the stage. Since we arrived at around 6.30 for an 8.00 PM concert, well…we waited…..

The concert itself was superb. The production design was nothing short of mind-boggling and the amount of effort that must have gone into designing the pieces and lighting is un-imaginable. The overall effect was a truly world-class concert where everything went like clockwork. The lights, the dancers, the organization of songs, everything was extremely professional in nature and I could find nothing wrong with any of this. Objectively, this would probably have been an ideal concert – but well, I am a nitpicker and that is what I shall do.

One of my main complaints was the quality of singers. Now, I knew before going into the concert itself that the singers were going to be essentially second-rung. Still, if it had been up to me, I would have not bothered about the production values and would have instead channeled the money to get leading singers. I really missed SPB, Chitra, Sujatha, Sukhwinder, Sonu, Sadhana and others. I do not mean to insinuate that the singers were bad – I really like Benny Dayal and Vijay Prakash – but their singing abilities are nothing compared to the above mentioned greats. This was especially clear when Hariharan took the stage (thank God he was there!). He not only could sway the audience, but the concert level seemed to rise everytime he made an appearance! Another very good performer was Harshdeep Kaur (she sung the prayer from Rang De Basanti on track and live) – I was truly happy with her singing. Alfonso (Aaromale from VTV) was another nice addition to the troupe. Speaking of the troupe, I missed Shivamani on the drums (dunno why he was missing) and Rashid Ali on the guitar (I was half expecting him to be there). Thankfully Naveen with his wonderful flute was there and played the theme from Bombay!! Amongst the new singers, I missed Javed Ali – again I was pretty sure he would be around, but somehow he wasn’t. His rendition of Arziyan (I have seen one other concert on this tour and he was in that one) is superb and I was waiting to listen to it.

That brings us to the maestro himself – ARR. Now, I have always held that ARR is a superb music composer and when he sings in a studio (with multiple re-takes and loads of time) he is superb. Some of my favourite tracks are sung by him! On stage however, he is an average singer. Thankfully he managed to get around this by interspersing his songs with those by others. I believe that if he had sung 3-4 songs on a trot (solo) that would have been it for the concert! He was off-key in many places and forgot the lyrics to some songs (Yeh jo Des hai tera for ex.). Everytime he got on to sing, I would miss the backing vocals. Ah yes – there was no chorus! In a concert of this magnitude and for a composer like Rahman who uses the chorus extremely well, it is unforgivable that the chorus was missing. This reduced the impact of some of the songs that heavily rely on the chorus for interludes. Further, the small-ness of the accompanying band was pretty disappointing too, though they made it up with recorded backing tracks when needed.

Rahman came into form everytime he sat at the piano though. Each time he sat down and his fingers touched the keyboard I would start praying that he should simply stay put. All of the tracks that were performed with Rahman at the piano were superb. It also seemed to be that he was in his element and very comfortable at that seat, while he seemed like a fish out of water when he started to ‘perform’…

That brings me to another important observation. It seemed to me that the concert was more of a ‘show’ than a concert. The singers were good looking and dressed well, the lighting and dances were excellent and the energy in the concert was top-notch. But somehow, amongst all of these frills, the essential core – music – was somehow lost a bit. The best pieces were when Hari came in and the classical bit that they did. Rahamn’s rendition of Khwaja mere Khwaja rocked! The religious integration bit was superb in concept and execution and the instrumental solos were superb. I was terribly un-impressed with Shweta Pandit and could not see any reason for her presence in the concert! I really do not like her voice or performance style!

Overall, it was a superb concert and I truly felt that I got my money’s worth. But the purist in me was a little disappointed and kept comparing this one to the Rahman’s Dubai concert early in his career (SPB, Chitra, Kavita, Sadhna, Sujatha, Hari were all there then!). The purist was hoping for that kind of concert….On a side note, I am not too sure I like Rahman’s new ‘style’ – a pop icon type persona that is seemingly growing around him. I used to love his reclusive personality where he had trouble communicating to the audience in concerts and seemed to be rooted to his place in front of the piano – I strongly believe that is where he belongs….

On a personal note – I was ecstatic that I finally got to attend Rahman’s concert – one of the things that I had in the list of stuff I wanted to do before I died….now onto the next 50000000!!

Anush