Celebrating 81 years of the Madras Seva Sadan with a tribute to Michael Jackson

The zombies crawled onto the stage without warning — enough to jerk even the most distracted spectators to attention. The opening strains of ‘Thriller’ slowly throbbed to life, and the steps that entire generations grew up trying to mimic were reborn. Day two of the celebrations of 81 years of the Madras Seva Sadan, it’s a tribute to the music of Michael Jackson, and where would we be without the zombies?

Thus began a concert that brought musicians from more than 25 different bands together at the Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Hall, with everything from folk percussionists to a string quartet.

Time to moonwalk

The music began with Benny Dayal in the quintessential white gloves, black shoes and a jacket that could put the average neon sign to shame, moonwalking to ‘Billie Jean’.

There was Arjun Thomas, a dense, dark and heavy voice that went beautifully with Anil Srinivasan’s piano, carrying songs such as ‘You’ve got a friend’, and Sanjeev Thomas once even brought in a quirky tabla for ‘One day in your life’, for an experiment that worked well; as did Kavita Thomas’ version of ‘Man in the mirror’.

One of the best songs of the evening was an acoustic performance of ‘The way you make me feel’, by Aakash — a simple combination of two uncomplicated guitars, Benny’s haunting mouth organ and the sound of the audience snapping their fingers to keep beat. Seven spirited folk drummers from ‘Darbuka’ Siva’s band joined in for the African beats of ‘They don’t really care about us’, while Siddharth Srinivasan’s guitar gilded every performance of the night.

A cello, three violins and a choir of students from the Lady Andal School joined Benny for the effortlessly powerful ‘Earth Song’. And, when the children’s choir repeatedly sang the refrain “What about us?”, it seemed a question that was pertinent in ever so many ways.

There were a smattering of dances as well, to ‘Blood on the dance floor’ and some of his other immortal numbers. We can forgive that some of it teetered dangerously at the edge of Bollywood — a dangerous thing when you’re aiming to recreate Jackson — because this was an evening for music, and besides, the acoustics were brilliant.

And, we liked that once in a while, in the middle of a soulful, romantic ballad, there was even a zombie or two casually stepping over the speakers in the wings of the stage.

While the show was flawlessly executed, everybody hit the right notes and nobody forgot the lyrics, what one went away hoping was for a little more feeling, a sense of sentiment to the performances — it could have added so much more meaning to the evening.

But in the end, thanks to these musicians, what we are also left with is a profound understanding of what music had really lost early in the morning on June 25 this year.