|Udit Narayan at Melbourne Town Hall last night.|
Yeah, well, someone forgot to tell the audience that.
Posters for the show were dominated by a photo of 'Asha ji' and promised a night of memories -- a huge promise, considering in 2011 the Guinness Book of World Records named her 'the most recorded artist in music history'. KQ were named on the poster but the experimental nature of the show went conspicuously unmentioned. The audience was well-dressed and excited, but after two introductory songs from KQ it was necessary for Asha ji to come from backstage and explain to an increasingly unruly audience how honoured she was to be on the same bill as such an internationally renowned quartet. Her words did nothing. The people wanted Asha ji -- and Asha ji only -- and voiced their displeasure like drunks denied drink. The great lady eventually took the stage to rapturous applause but re-orchestrated old songs with cutting edge classical musicians wasn't what the audience was promised or desired, resulting in frustration on- and off-stage.
|Udit Narayan takes the stage at Town Hall.|
Hopes were high beforehand. The venue was Town Hall in the Melbourne CBD (left) on a lovely autumn evening. Posters and ads for the concert featured a giant photo of Mr Narayan and promised an evening of hits, this time rightly so, as the 57-year-old singer wasn't paired with an experimental classical ensemble. The audience was well-dressed and consisted of parents with kids and older couples who'd watched movies with Mr Narayan's playback singing for 30 years. Aradhna and I had met up with a friend at a nearby bar/restaurant on Swanston Street and arrived at Town Hall at 7:00.
We were in for a lesson on the Top 5 Ways to Piss Off an Indian Audience:
1) List 6:00 as a starting time for a show billing a single artist when that artist won't take the stage until 8:30. This may work at hipster rock shows where attendees are free to wander to a well-stocked bar and chat up members of the opposite sex. But when an audience has driven into the CBD from faraway suburbs on a Sunday night for a 6:00 pm show, regardless of an ethereal mention of 'special guests' on the ticket, you're pushing your luck by delaying the only advertised artist's starting time for 2.5 hours. Unless you're selling booze (Town Hall is unlicensed) or food (Aradhna would have killed for a samosa, but alas, no food was available) or have an array of outstanding opening acts lined up. But last night, a fateful decision was made to ...
|Blue-f*cking velvet, baby.|
3) Abuse your audience with obnoxious offspring of bigwigs and advertising disguised as entertainment. Things took a turn for the surreal when The Fifths exited the stage. A woman in a garishly coloured saree came out and began reciting lines that could only have been cooked up by someone keen to recycle every cliche ever uttered by a master/mistress of ceremonies. She was both condescending and clueless, like she'd spent her young life speaking into a hairbrush in front of a mirror (if only that mirror could talk, and had spoken the truth). She'd clearly never MC'ed in front of living beings. She walked and talked like an automaton that lacked a sense of hearing and was programmed to speak like a constipated Aussie aristocrat. Only a child of wealth could be that lacking in self-awareness, so I surmised she was the daughter of a sponsor or some other connected, cocooned clan. A screen over the stage that had superimposed retro, '60s-era, acid-flashback visual effects over The Fifths was now summoned to flash a Power Point presentation of print ads. In total silence, until someone flipped a switch and a recorded voice read out the names of sponsors like a heavily medicated Big Brother. Then a dance troupe was brought on stage to play out classic movie dialogues while more ads flashed overhead. What as an audience had we done wrong to deserve such disrespectful treatment?
|Affection was mutual.|
How did Garish Automaton react? By walking back onstage and asking the apoplectic crowd, "Weren't they great?" Tone deaf doesn't describe it. She was an arsonist, only she didn't know it. Did she hear the crowd roar "NOOOO!" in response? She must have, because she made reference to the riotous mob's "over-enthusiasm" (sic). Oh, it was over-something. After promising that "Shri Udit" would be taking the stage in "twoooo minutes" a tiny waif was brought out to sing a lovely song that was tolerated like a vaccination shot. Finally, Garish Automaton read out a lengthy description of the performer the crowd had been demanding -- a master arsonist knows a fire must be refueled for maximum burn -- until Udit Narayan finally took the stage in an ice-pop-blue velvet jacket and perfectly coiffed shock of black hair. What could go wrong now?
4) Perform majestically orchestrated songs your audience has known for years and held dear to their hearts using a sparse and dreary backup band or, worse, pre-recorded music. Mr Narayan's professionalism was good and he worked the crowd like a spotlit surgeon. The show had a pleasing Las Vegas-like looseness and the singer's clearly amplified voice was strong. Whatever heights Mr Narayan strove to reach with his vocals, however, were undercut by weak musical accompaniment. Impotent keyboards replaced orchestral arrangements and the spectrum of Indian instruments that infuse every song with dense, intoxicating sounds; a female percussionist who'd earlier impressed with The Fifths competed with a rock drummer and a mystery man behind a drum machine circa 1983 to offer a limp replication of Eastern rhythm; one song was sung with prerecorded music, forcing an already neutered clutch of musicians to fake their performance; and, most egregious of all, not a single backup singer was used for accompaniment.
|There's something missing from the stage ...|
A lovely Nepalese girl came out to duet with the Nepalese Mr Narayan on a Nepalese song and Nepalese audience members went nuts. Wonderful for the Nepalese in attendance. (Did I mention Nepalese?) Why wouldn't the man do the same for a Hindi song or two? Maybe a female singer joined him for the latter portion of his show, but Aradhna and I weren't around for that because we couldn't handle a performer who would ...
5) Disappear from stage an hour into a poorly backed performance that started 2.5 hours later than advertised. It was almost a perfect circle of ineptitude. With the show's earlier ugliness finally beginning to be fade with Mr Narayan's undeniably appealing voice and cheesy showmanship, he ended a rousing number by singing its final lyrics offstage as the stage went dark. Without warning, Garish Automaton re-appeared and announced Mr Narayan would return in 15 minutes. It was like a boarding call for an outrageously delayed flight departure. People bolted from their seats and headed for the doors, Aradhna and me included. We'd gotten a good half-dozen songs out of the excursion but the rest was a debacle that should be a warning to those sponsoring, organising and executing big-name concerts aimed at ANYONE, Indian or otherwise:
Don't. Cheat. Your. Audience.