A darker shade of blue

Blues Conscience opened the night with an instrumental off their album that was something of a teaser for what was in store that night. Photo: M. Vedhan

Blues Conscience opened the night with an instrumental off their album that was something of a teaser for what was in store that night. Photo: M. Vedhan  


Edgy vocals, aggressive riffs and sharp saxophones… Chennai-based band Blues Conscience rocked the night

Blues Conscience calls itself a three-piece band that on ‘good days’ becomes a five-piece one. With Anek Ahuja on lead vocals and bass, Aum Janakiram on guitars and Neil Smith on drums, Blues Conscience had a really good day this weekend at Bay 146 when saxophonist Maarten Visser and keyboardist Sid Kumar joined them for a two-hour gig. Armed with a set list of tracks fresh from their recent 14-song debut album, Down and Dirty, and a few covers, Chennai-based Blues Conscience borrows generously from jazz and funk in their goal to put the cool back in the blues.

They open the night with an instrumental off their album that’s something of a teaser for what’s in store tonight. It’s in ‘Where The Blues Begins’ though, that the band truly gets its groove on, with Anek’s edgy, borderline-aggressive vocals beautifully complementing Maarten’s sharp saxophone skills. Maarten’s music fools with you as much as he enjoys playing around with his improvisations; he throws predictability to the winds, slipping in unusual notes and dissonant climbs that all somehow make a strange, quirky, cohesive whole. And he keeps the surprises coming in their cover of Gary Clark Junior’s ‘Bright Lights’. Clean, simple bass and drum lines make the solid bedrock for Aum and Maarten to take off on some rousing solos.

‘I Need You Tonight’, a song Neil wrote to propose to his girlfriend, is up next. It’s a predictably slow, jazzy number where Anek, who’s first a singer and then a bassist, whispers, coaxes and croons while Maarten often reinterprets the melody on the saxophone. Sid is at his best here, embellishing each phrase and gently easing each lyric line into the next. Blues Conscience keeps the love theme going with their cover of Grand Funk Railroad’s ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’. We’re also treated to some more song-writing stories with ‘Tipalo’, which Anek wrote back in college, and ‘Centre of Attention’, where Aum takes over vocal duties — both fairly straightforward standard blues compositions.

Someone in the crowd screams for ‘Kamasutra’ and this is where the band comes into its own. It’s evident they’ve played to the galleries with this song numerous times before, for as the lights dim and the sax opens the track, the band turn into performers as much as musicians. Anek sing-talks to his audience, while everyone else is hopping, jiving and grooving, and it all closes with a refrain that has the crowd singing along. As the first set concludes, the stairs just before the stage are packed with fans singing along, cheering and waving at Blues Conscience.

By now, inhibitions have long drowned in alcohol and their band chemistry is at its peak. The second set launches with ‘Lord Have Mercy’ and ‘Evening’ most memorable for Aum and Sid’s splendid solos. It must be noted here that Blues Conscience on stage is quite a different experience from the band on record, for the blues-with-electronica and Indian fusion experiments don’t feature on their live set, but their confidence and stage presence makes up sufficiently. The last quarter of the night features audience-pleasers such as ‘Boom Boom’, ‘Three Cool Cats’, ‘You Gotta Get my Mojo On’, ‘Big Bamboo’ and a song written in memory of a friend’s dead dog which isn’t sentimental in the least. Sexual innuendoes are flying thick and fast, unprintables are aplenty and the lyric humour borders on the bawdy, but as they say, ‘It’s all in good musical fun’!

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 11:25:25 PM |

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