Long trek. 500-buck tickets. Rain. Famous names, but fresh contexts. A few hundred denizens of our fair city added all that up and found some (sum?) reason to make it to Fireflies on May 30 to watch the Guitar Gurus play. Happy to say I was one of those, for it was some gig!
Got there (Fireflies is quite a ways out of town) just in time for the first Guru of the night, John Anthony. The Fireflies amphitheater was already looking pretty full, and despite the ubiquitous blue tarps over the stage, sound console and speaker stacks, the ambience was everything Fireflies is known for. The old Ficus religiosa that forms the stage backdrop was as entrancing as ever, dreaming quietly in the intermittent drizzle.
I’ve heard John play before (he’s even guested on an early-Rzhude acoustic album called 4/4). On stage with him that night was Fayaz Khan on Sarangi, and Darbuka Shiva on percussion; everything else was coming from some sort of computer/groovebox/sampler/gizmo. It’s always great to watch John play, his Carnatic-twisted licks blurring with rock distraction, but somehow the mechanical rhythms and loops over which he played diluted things a bit for me. He also seemed to be having some small trouble with his tone, which tended towards muddy on the faster passages. The compositions were quite fun though, and I liked the gentle acoustic pieces best.
Ran up to get some local chow before settling down again to watch Amit Heri and Sanjay Divecha. Had heard so much about the latter, and was really looking forward to this. Two guys, two Godin nylon-strings (which brand caused a pal some confusion – “hey look, they’re playing Go… Go… Goblin guitars!”) and some great chops – couldn’t be better. Starting with a truly elegant version of Eleanor Rigby, the duo proceeded to defy the damp (it had begun to pour) and pick their way through each other’s tunes with a real sense of joy. That’s the only word I can use. I’ve seldom seen Amit happier on stage, as each egged the other on to greater heights. It was, for the most part, a wonderfully restrained, thoughtful set. Another Beatle track showed up delightfully mangled – Get Back. Sanjay is a really expressive, lyrical player, and I’m glad I finally got to see him play. Amit showed off some his famous non-linear licks, but I somehow preferred his more restrained playing that night.
Up next was the first ‘band’ of the night, with axeman Derek Julien at the helm. Playing an unabashedly 80s Carvin, Derek had Dwight Pattison on bass and I’m sorry I didn’t catch the names of anyone else in the band. Nice tone, decent instrumentals, but it was that time of the night when the sandman gets busy, and I was having some trouble staying fully alert. Decided to walk about a bit, and bumped into various friends and bookends.
Got back in just as Vikramjit ‘Tuki’ Bannerjee was getting on; with Jeff Rikh (Jeff Rocks! Er, Jeff Rikhs!) on drums and others from the Krosswindz line-up, I figured this would be the real band of the night and was not mistaken. From the first note, you could tell this was a bunch that had been playing together for donkey’s years, and that rhythm section was just magic. Tuki – well, he had the best tone of the night, a singing, stinging, growling, jangling, mangling Strat sound that had me riveted. He’s a bold bold player, always out front, effortless bashing away, and with a charmingly sloppy stage act to boot. ‘Tuki’ is just such an apt name, I thought… he’d be in the midst of a blazing solo, step over his beloved GT-5 – and into a spot not covered by stage lighting (resulting in a mild scatter of strange notes); step back, get his cable stuck under his effects and yank it out of the guitar – twice I think – and still stay completely sanguine! His version of Jeff Beck’s Cause We Ended as Lovers was stellar. Overall, his performance was, well, ‘incendiary’ (remember Almost Famous?).
Decided to split (it was 3 am) before the big jam at the end. A great night. Should do it again sometime…