Wow! Just, like, WOW! This is not my first Indian concert, it’s not even my first all musical concert, but I had never expected to see this combination of audience fan madness offstage and technical brilliance onstage.
Let’s see, starting in 2014 with the SLAM tour, what are all the concerts I’ve seen? I think the next one was a super classical and musical evening with AR Rahman. Not at a stadium, at an orchestra hall with limited seating and famously good acoustics. And then back to the stadium for an Asha Bhosle concert. Then Vishal and Shekhar at a tiny funky neighborhood theater. Then Karan’s Dream Team tour. And now Arijit Singh. So, it’s a mix of musicians and dancer/movie stars. And a mix of venues. But this concert somehow managed to take the serious music and technical brilliance of AR Rahman and mix it with the showmanship and crowd madness of Shahrukh Khan. It was AMAZING!!!!
In my post yesterday, I talked about how Arijit had a classical music background. Which I thought was a mildly interesting thing to know, maybe I would be able to tell that from some slight musical phrasing he used or something. Which just showed how little I know about what it really means to be trained as a master musician by a classical guru in the traditional manner.
Not only did Arijit perform for 3 hours straight with only one 10 minute break, he also played 3 different instruments, piano and two different kinds of guitars. And not like casually playing them, he was doing elaborate duets and set-pieces with his guest musicians. While singing at the same time. Oh, and conducting an entire orchestra. Technically someone else was conducting, but Arijit would give little hand signals while he was singing to indicate if they needed to repeat a phrase or speed up or slow down. And he may have designed all the arrangements too (which was how he started, doing arrangements for composers). I’m not sure, but someone certainly did because they were unique, not the same kind of arrangement as on the film score versions of the songs.
It made me go back and think about what I’d read about his training again. He started at age 3, with one primary “Master” and two sub-masters. He officially studied singing and the tabla. I saw an excerpt from an interview where he talked about routinely working with his Guru for 7 hour stretches, keeping going until his voice gave out.
But after seeing what he was able to do at the show last night, I think officially studying tabla and singing just means that he reached the point of becoming a great master of both. And before he focused on that, as a matter of course, he was expected to learn every other instrument as well, and arranging, and composing, and conducting. Basically, he had to master “music” as an abstract concept, and then pick the two tools with which he could best express it (his voice and drumming) and hone them to perfection.
All of that reminded me of the Rahman concert. He sang, he played I don’t even remember how many instruments, obviously they were all his own compositions and arrangements as well. It was that same feeling, that he had just mastered “music” as an abstract concept, that any division between singer-composer-musician was just artificial.
The difference was, the audience just wasn’t feeling it as much. And Rahman wasn’t feeling the audience. His music was just for him, he didn’t care how we felt about it. But Arijit last night, he was all about the audience, and the audience was all about him. He was playing his music, but he was playing it for us, he wanted us to enjoy it, and the audience just drove it higher and higher and higher as the concert went on.
I don’t know if Arijit is the best singer in the world, or has the greatest voice. He’s got a good and distinctive voice, and he’s got amazing talent and training, but I bet there are plenty of other incredibly talented young men in India who also studied with a guru since they were 3 years old and have achieved mastery over music itself. But the way the crowd sent him higher and the way he worked with us, that I think might be unique.
I didn’t realize that Arijit tours so much, this is his 3rd time in Chicago in 3 years. And that also means that back in 2013, right when he hit it big and people started recognizing the name “Arijit Singh”, he started doing live performances immediately. And his first big break was on TV talent shows. So maybe it is the voice, combined with the showmanship, which are driving him own. Whatever it is, he deserves all the success he has, I am just in awe of his skill, his talent, and his ability to give of himself.
(This is from Thane and a few years back, not last night, but it gives you an idea of his stage presence. Not dancing around or talking to the crowd, but singing all the way)
Okay, that’s the big picture stuff, you want the little piddly details of the concert? I got home awfully late last night and only had a few hours of sleep, but I’ll see what I can remember!
Firstly, my friends and I got there early, because the arena is so far away and we were worried about traffic and parking. And also, mostly, because we are white and white people get to concerts early or on time. We found our seats and joked about how we would have loads of time to chat and watch the ads cycling through on the screens, because of course the concert wouldn’t start until at least half an hour after the scheduled time. And just as we are settling in to watch everyone else find their seats and chat about the movies we have seen recently, the promoter comes out to make a special announcement: The Show Will Start ON TIME!!!!!
Shockwaves through the auditorium! ON TIME!!!! What concert starts on time!!!! Only a third of the seats were full, people started to funnel in, but there was no way they would all be there within the next half hour, let alone the next few minutes!
And then it started! At 8:30 on the dot!!!!! And Arijit came out right away, there was no “opening act”. Music started, he came out singing “Ae Dil Hai Muskil”. So if you were late, you missed on of the biggest songs of the night. That’ll teach you!
I was super mad at those late comers too. We got there on time and, in theory, could watch the whole show. Only, in practice, we had to be up and down and craning our necks around for 45 minutes, as people slowly wandered in and found their seats and blocked our view.
My first thought for why it had to start on time was that Arijit’s must have a routine to be able to keep his voice for 3 hours. But moviemavengal pointed out that there was a full orchestra, an American orchestra, which means the musicians’ union, which means over time if they run past the scheduled end times. That makes way more sense, and also explains why there was a ten minute break in the middle, which I hadn’t seen in any of the other Indian concerts I’ve been to.
Right, so, Arijit starts with “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”. And then moves right into hit after hit after hit. Including my favorite, “Main Rang Sharbaton”, which I didn’t even realize was his.
There’s no way I will be able to remember them all, but a few others that stick out are “Janam Janam” because he had a mandolin player on stage to do the intro for it. Well, and also because I love “Janam Janam”. But the mandolin player was really amazing, my friends and I agreed that he seemed to be the real “star” musician, along with the guitarist, that Arijit was dueting with, as it were. There was the full orchestra, and a 4 person chorus, but really it was Arijit experimenting with his voice, and occasionally handing it over to the guitarist or the mandolin player to do a chorus on their own.
Another one that stuck out was “Ilari”. Which I’ve always kind of liked, but did not realize how fun it was until he had everyone in the place singing along on the chorus. I also did not realize how many times I had listened to the Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani soundtrack until I discovered that I knew every single word of the song, despite not having heard it since 2014.
The really amazing one was “Jo Bheji Thi Dua”. Which I knew from listening to “Best of Arjit” type stuff, but I could not remember where it was from or what it was about. Gorgeous song, especially live, but what was amazing was the audience reaction. The lights went down, and one by one people pulled out cell phones and held them up. The recurring chorus talks about “Aasman” (sky), and halfway through Arijit stopped singing and took out his own cell phone to take a picture of the “aasman” we had made for him.
And then towards the end of the first half, he sang “Tum Hi Ho”. Sort of. Between the songs, he was giving like one sentence introductions. Stuff like, for “Phir Mohabbat”, he said “This is my first song I sang for films”, and then he just sang the song. He didn’t seem shy onstage, like I said he had an amazing interaction with the audience. But he also wasn’t interested in talking when he could be singing. So, for “Tum Hi Ho”, his intro was “I am so tired of singing this song, so you will have to sing it for me”. It wasn’t stage-craft either, felt like he really is tired of singing this song! And the poor man, he is going to be stuck singing it for the next 40 years. Reminded me of when my sister saw Asha Bhosle, and she just straight up refused to sing “Dum Maro Dum”, because after 40 years, so was just done with it.
Anyway, we really did sing it for him! The music started, he gave us the first word, and the crowd took it from there, while he just walked around on stage smiling and holding the microphone, and giving us a word here and there when we started to get lost. Fascinating statement on celebrity and performance, do we really want to have him sing or do we just want him to be the centerpiece in our memory of the song? But also really fun! To have essentially a “Tum Hi Ho” sing-along with Arijit Singh himself leading us.
(I think this was from the Atlanta concert, not Chicago, but you get the idea)
And then there was a break. Which, again, I have never seen before at a concert. But then I’ve never seen a concert that was so much one performer with no breaks. Ashaji had some Qawwali guy whose name I don’t remember trading off with her. Shahrukh was onstage most of the night, but there were 5 minute gaps here and there when someone else performed. The Dream Team had a definite “act” vibe, everyone performed hardcore for ten minutes, and then the next person would come out. Even Rahman, he was onstage all night, but there were times he was just playing accompaniment on the piano while someone else sang. Vishal and Shekhar were on and performing the whole time, but that was only about an hour and a half, there was a series of opening acts to kill the first hour. But Arijit was out there for over 3 hours singing the entire time. And you know, I just realized, I don’t think I ever saw him take a sip of water? So if he needed 10 minutes to guzzle water and go to the bathroom and generally get his energy back, I’m not gonna blame him.
Here’s the fascinating thing. Arijit took a ten minute break. But the orchestra got a full half hour. Because Arijit, the headliner, covered for them. He came back and played an acoustic set only with his guitar and later playing the piano, no orchestra. It was the opposite of the “lazy superstar, all the little people do the work for him” stereotype.
Oh, and his acoustic set was old classics. He said as intro that he wanted to sing some songs from “Kishore da, Rafi Ji….”. And that he knew he wouldn’t be as good as them, but he hoped we wouldn’t mind.
Vishal-Shekhar did something similar in their show, and random Ghazal guy with Asha did as well. Even Asha, she sang some of the older songs from her sister. I’ve got three theories for why they do this, and I bet all are true. Theory 1 is that you want a full family audience, and the aunties and uncles aren’t going to care about “Tum Hi Ho”, so you throw in some old classics to get them excited. Theory 2 is that the classic film music has a special feel to it, reminding the audience of when they were young, or listening to songs with their grandmothers, there is a kind of magic to singing those old songs that everyone can appreciate. Theory 3 is that the performers are telling the truth, they feel a debt to the geniuses who came before and want to honor them in their performances by singing their songs.
What I know for 100% sure is that I did not know ANY of those old classics! Well, except for the first one. I never do at these concerts, I’m just suffering along feeling like an idiot while the crowd gets excited. Although, to be fair to myself, he got the biggest reaction to the first song he sang, which was also the only one I knew. And I knew all the words to it too! As did most of the crowd, and the cell phone lights came out again.
(HELP!!! What are these songs???? Well, except for “Kabhi Kabhi”, obviously I know that one. And “Lag Jaa Gale”, thanks to Karan’s obsession with it)
After he finished his interminable old classics set, the orchestra was back and we were back to the good stuff. He made us sing “Gerua” to him, and I think I finally figured out how to pronounce “gerua”! I think you say it like it rhymes with “dua”, with both vowels articulated. And he sang “Zaalima”, which I might like better than “Gerua”. Although my favorite part is the female bit and that was sung by a not-very-good back-up singer instead of Arijit, so that sort of ruined the live performance for me.
He sang his two Rahman songs in the second half too, and you know, I don’t really like either! “Eena Sona” and “Agar Tum Saath Ho”. I think maybe he doesn’t have a voice that works will with Rahman? Meaning just that for the best Rahman compositions, you might choose someone else instead of Arijit Singh, and he ends up with the kind of crying songs that Rahman doesn’t always do well. Although it could still happen! Rahman every once in awhile has a truly brilliant song like “Roja”. Arijit could knock “Roja” out of the park! Heck, he might have done a good job with “Vaan” from Kaatru too. Maybe it’s just that Rahman hasn’t really given him a good song yet? Meanwhile, Pritam and Arijit are doing hit after hit after hit. Makes me think of my Rahman-Ratnam post, it’s not just that you can get great director/composer combos, you can get great composer/singer combos too.
(Not saying it isn’t a good song, just that if I am at an Arijit Singh concert, I would rather hear him sing his stuff from Pritam than this)
He also sang “Bulleya”. I was wondering if he would at all. Because the plagiarism on that one is even more than the usual Pritam level, and the original song, “Last Resort”, does have an American copyright holder.
Maybe not a good idea to play it here. I don’t know if he cared about that at all, but he did kind of bury it, playing the intro to a Pakistani rock song (I think that’s what he said), and then moving on into “Bulleya”, thereby missing that distinctively stolen intro.
Oh, and then the same people who came wandering in and blocked my view when they arrived late, started scuttling out and blocking my view leaving early. WHY???? It’s Friday night! So it takes an extra half hour to get out of the parking lot, WHO CARES??? Isn’t seeing the grand finale of the concert worth it?
This happened at every single show I’ve been too, except Rahman because he had us in a fancy real theater where you can’t actually get out if you leave early. I don’t understand the people who leave early, but there is an odd kind of benefit for those of us who stay the whole time. A kind of “after party” vibe to it. The floor crowd rushes up to the stage and starts dancing, the performer relaxes a little and interacts with them a bit more, and the balcony people tend to be standing in the aisles. Plus, we all know the last song will be the only remaining big hit not yet sung.
Which, in this case, was “Channa Maraya”. He teased us a bit at first, starting with “Kabira”, but then it just merged into “Channa Mariya” and we all lost our minds. And then all the promoters came out AGAIN (also at every show, that moment when all the business sponsors get to come on stage and be introduced by name and have their picture taken with the performer, SO BORING!), and we started fighting are way to the parking lot. And got completely lost on the way home, but made it there eventually.