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News |  06 Dec 2016 11:40 |  By RnMTeam

Weekend(er) flashback: Steven Wilson, Anoushka Shankar, DJ Premier and more

MUMBAI: Before concluding his set on his second visit to India in less than three months, Steven Wilson announced that two more songs will be played; one of which is his best song ever written, according to him. Towards the end, Wilson had performed the usual crowd-favourites, so it didn’t become quite a task to predict the song that Wilson spoke about. As the recently turned 49-year-old sat in the centre of the stage, basking in the warmth of the fans and the spotlight of being the ‘true’ headliner of the festival, visuals appeared on the screens with the introduction to ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing’.

A sudden silence followed the cheer as the first few notes to the song led to the frontman’s vocals accompanied with the thousands of attendees singing along. The festival calls itself “the happiest music festival,” but it in fact needs to boast more of the fact that, comparatively, lesser number of attendees spend most of the live music ‘live recording’ the performance. Sea of people eagerly and curiously devoted their time to Wilson and the band unleash and unveil whatever they had in store for the last venue of the 2016 edition. The Porcupine Tree’s founding musician performed a couple of crowd favourites from his other, and notably more popular, project as the set experienced extreme levels of both forms of music identified with the act – heavy and typically mellow and dark segments. Unsurprisingly, ‘Lazarus’ and ‘Sleep Together’ received as loud cheer from the fans of Porcupine Tree present in the attendance, hoping he’d repeat his ‘Shillong’ feat and perform another (comparatively) popular composition – Trains. With 'Hands Cannot Erase', 'Harmony Korine', 'Ancestral', 'Sound of Muzak', Wilson's troupe offered exactly what the fans had craved for, later heading to their final destination in India - Back Doors in Bengaluru. 

The day two ended with Wilson’s concluding set of his tour. Also concluding their set on the NH7 Pune Weekender stage were The F16s. And what a ‘rock n roll’ way to bid adieu to fans for a long time to come. The band skipped ‘Cannibal Life II’ from its set, but ensured the 40-minute long performance provided the fans a quick recap of the band’s musical journey, incorporating some of the more known songs from previous released efforts, including ‘Jacuzzi’ and ‘Avalanche’ from Kaleidoscope. The Chennai-based band’s album tour ended on the stage with the members – quite literally – causing havoc on the stage as the vocalist, guitarist and bassist smashed the gadgets on the stage, including the drum-kit and guitars. To the right of The F16s stage, post rockers Aswekeepsearching waited for the ‘Triggerpunkte’ creators to officially end the set, as the Ahmedabad-based band begin yet another performance in the city of Pune. The F16s’ vocalist Josh Fernandez joined the men-in-black on the stage for ‘We Sound Like Strangers’, just a few minutes after The F16s ended the set, and a day after executing a similar responsibility for Dualist Inquiry.

The first moment of awe (for many) came in the form of an intimate and unexpectedly charming (for few) set, thanks to Sweden-based songwriter Jose Gonzalez. The indie musician, with Patrick Watson and Steven Wilson, performed in Bengaluru (on Sunday, a day after performance at NH7 Pune), but gave enough reasons for OML to reconsider him as an headlining act (for one of the stages if they or anyone approaches him again). Gonzalez, unaware of his popularity (or lack of it), played safe, exposing the attendees to some of the commercially successful Gonzalez compositions, and also ensuring a song or two from his upcoming efforts to provide the fans an idea of what to expect. ‘Leaf Off’ received the loudest singalong, no surprises there, whereas his rendition of The Knife’s ‘Heartbeats’ answered him the question on his popularity in the country.

Unlike The F16s or Steven Wilson, progressive metal act ‘Skyharbor’ has just begun its multi-city tour, kick-starting a tedious campaign that usually involves uncertain response, unprofessional promoters, and lack of quality sound or tech support. But none of that existed in the seventh edition of the Weekender, the second venue of its 2016 tour. For many, it was the first time to witness Skyharbor with Eric Emery on vocals, and the eventual round of applause for the band’s set proves the general approval towards the new vocalist (since replacing the much admired ex vocalist Daniel Tompkins) swings towards majority. Emery brings the necessary difference towards the approach, thus ensuring there’s no direct comparison between the two vocalists (or perhaps, that was the reason why he was primarily approached).

Day 3 surely had the lowest turnout (an observation, not official data) as the massively spread-out venue exposed itself with giant empty patches as the night progressed towards the headlining act, a phenomenon not witnessed at the festival for a very long time. Kerala’s very own Thaikkudam Bridge unleashed one of the most energetic live performances on closing day ever. Not many depended on Bridge to escalate the enthusiasm as the sun faded, therefore creating an ideal scenario for sitar-infused music. But before that, Thaikkudam Bridge had another plans. With one song after another, including ‘Aarachar’, the band introduced the unaware audience to the growing phenomenon, that is, Thaikkudam Bridge.

The acts destined to perform on the third day, more or less, relied on their usual approaches to music festival outing. Karsh Kale Collective and The Ganesh Talkies were brilliant with their visual support to the acts, while Anoushka Shankar – on a tour – did what she does best. DJ Premier, considered as one of the biggies in the hip-hop scene, perhaps chose the wrong time or the wrong venue to perform his set for the Indian crowd as the half-filled arena rejoiced the unwrapping of one of the greatest moments for hip-hop community in India. Shankar Mahadevan failed to recreate the magic and response that the last year’s Bollywood or mainstream headliner AR Rahman generated. NH7's experiments with mainstream names and faces will continue, and perhaps, it does add a little bit of significance to year-on-year profit-making trend for the festival. As long as the experiment 'financially' allows the organisers to invite other biggies like the Wilsons and the Ronsons, the festival loyalists will never turn their backs regardless of the new approaches. 

Did the new venue bring continued success (on paper and on ground) for Only Much Louder, the organising agency? Too early to tell. But a quick survey during the festival had people sing in praise of the festival organisers for the consistent execution of such a large-scale act in Pune, whereas localities also applauded the festival for moving towards a newer region, and putting up a festival in the part of the city that can host NH7’s standard of events.

[image credits: Bacardi NH7 Weekender - Pune]