When Chennai went Shalala-lala

Comeback concerts can be quite tricky, especially if the group in question enjoyed massive success a decade or two ago. On Saturday night, Chennai played host to the Vengaboys; when people found out about the performance, the question most frequently asked was, “They’re alive?” After all, they are the group that has defined the sound of dance-pop, more than any other, since the glorious 1990s.

At the Phoenix MarketCity courtyard, the crowd in the front row was packed tight. So tight, that everyone struggled to Instagram with one hand, while swaying to the music with the other — but they managed, nevertheless. To the right of the stage, a small VIP arena was lifeless for a dance music concert; most people preferred to sit than stand. Which is why my friend and I decided to make our way to the crowd — who sits at a music concert, let alone a Vengaboys one? The aim was to dance all night, till 8.30 p.m., of course. As this was a 90s nostalgia concert, it was like a school reunion. We met friends and classmates and people we didn’t really talk to then and were forced to greet now.

Hours before the concert, the four sat down for a media interaction with a few journalists (some of whom were admittedly star-struck, a thought they unabashedly voiced, while some of us played it cool) and they were dressed to kill. Kim Sasabone, arguably the most recognised face of the group, was armed with pistols — one was a pendant and the other, a huge ring; both dazzlingly gold. Denise Post-Van Rijswijk was dolled up, and I say that because she looked like a Barbie doll come to life. The men, Donny Latupeirissa and Robin Pors, opted for black and blue. They talked about how life had changed for them: the fans who used to write long-winded, heartfelt letters, Kim said, had now been reduced to selfie-taking, tweeting ones. The group also promised to bring “sexiness to the stage” with their costumes and they were true to their word. There was some iconic clothing from the era on display: leotard, Madonna-like corset, snakeskin, and leather jackets.

Amidst the crowd, we settled for a place to the far left and the Vengaboys had already started belting out numbers (‘Ibiza’ is what they started with) and we soon realised that the Vengaboys fans in us were outnumbered. Apart from the usual families with children, ‘single’ middle-aged men and couples who danced uncomfortably close in public, the venue was filled with 20 and 30-somethings regularly yelling, “I love you Vengaboys”. After a while, we didn’t know what was more unsettling — these proclamations or the people falling all over each other. More surprisingly, during the set’s peak — ‘Boom Boom Boom Boom’, ‘The Vengabus is Coming’, ‘Up & Down’ — a guy was seen tapping his feet and politely nodding while the rest of us in the audience collectively lost our minds, reliving our 90s nostalgia. 

Before we knew it, we were all dancing, paying no heed to personal space, in the little 6 square cm area that we could occupy. There was sweat all over, glistening on our bodies and faces, but no one was bothered. Boisterous boys took turns hoisting each other on their shoulders, and showing off their  dappankuthu moves, while some women turned around to pose for a photo with the Vengaboys, who were thrusting their energy into the crowd, in the background.

Donny played the Pitbull of the group, encouraging the crowd to make some noise, while Robin yelled out the band name at regular intervals. They made sure the audience interacted with them, by making them chant Vengaboys in various permutations and combinations, “When I say Benga, you say boys. Benga - Boys, Benga - Boys!” The name, they explained, takes its root from the Spanish word ‘venga/benga’ — a word roadside romeos use to call out to beautiful women.

And although dance-pop is their mainstay, they tried their hand at a ballad, ‘Forever as One’, which received thunderous applause from the audience; an irony, considering it made the members rethink their decision when it was initially released.

But a fleetingly short hour later, the party came to a close. The crowd cheered happily, while catching their collective breath — we got our nostalgia fix. The toughest part remained — recreating the experience on paper. How does one look back longingly on the not-so-distant past only to be interrupted by the adult life’s job of writing about it?

Here’s hoping the Backstreet Boys plan a concert next.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 12:21:54 PM |

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