When Greg Howe gave up on Chennai…

Singer Benny Dayal keeping musician Greg Howe company on stage. Photo: Special Arrangement  

It's Wednesday evening and the city has a date scheduled with Greg Howe. Considering his credentials, at least half the city should've poured into the Museum Theatre. But there are barely any people. Franks Got The Funk and Borrowed Halos open for Greg Howe; they are competing for the finals of the Underground Band Hunt. Perhaps people will start arriving soon. Rows and rows of empty chairs and a bunch of bored old-men — the sight is unbearable.

No buzz

Franks Got the Funk and Borrowed Halos try their best to rock the place, but no one is moved. There are a couple of teenagers and a bunch of foreigners. The same bored expression is on everyone's face. The place is dead. One of the world's greatest shredders, Howe's played with NSYNC, Justin Timberlake and Michael Jackson. But he's not played with any rock bands. Whatever could this hype be all about?

Most people who seem to have bothered with a concert in the middle of the week look like they're here only because they had nothing else to do and wanted to experiment experimental jazz-fusion. Shredder doing jazz-fusion, interesting...

Nevertheless, the evening seemed never ending. Time had suddenly decided to stop. The sound setting took hours. The theatre seemed to have been gassed with a strange poisonous concoction of boredom and absolute darkness. The only place where there was any bit of light was a soft yellow spot on the stage. All one could see was shadows move. Sound setting.

Finally Saroop Oommen, of Unwind Centre, decided to come on stage. After a long lecture on HMI guitars, one of the sponsors, Saroop finally blessed the audience with Greg. On stage is a tall thin Afro-American guy with two skin-heads and an Italian drummer. Neither Greg nor his band-mates look like they can do much. Saroop Oommen, of Unwind Centre, introduces the band. There is a slight whimper, it was someone cheering and Greg hits the notes. Everyone's hit unawares. For a minute, dead faces were replaced by wide-open eyes and mouths gaping for air.

There are people other than musicians walking on the stage. Everyone's so agape that no one seems to notice them. The sound of the guitar is deafening. A million notes are flying out of Greg's guitar at the speed of light tearing Museum Theatre apart.

Greg is performing for the first time in India, and he's living up to his reputation of being one of the best shredders in the world. His self-titled album ranked the 10th greatest shred albums of all time by Guitar World magazine. Greg is Trey Anastasio, Hendrix, McLaughin, and Malamsteen all rolled into one.


Anyway, most people in this handful of a crowd had no idea what had befallen them. A look around and everyone's awestruck, what on earth is happening on stage? The few whites in the crowd are having a ball, pointing fingers at the awestruck Indians and laughing their heads off. The first song is done with. The audience has survived the first of the many beastly onslaughts of shredded jazz fusion that was to follow.

The second song starts with Jude Gold, the accompanying guitarist, wah-wahing on his guitar followed by a soaring solo from Greg. Blues played shredder style. The song has a heavy groovy bluesy melody. Greg's biceps are bulging; his veins will burst with the energy of the song. Kevin Vecchione, the bassist, would've almost broken his hips with the grooving. This was one of those rare times when more than admiring the elegance of Museum Theatre and the music being played you were instead scared for life, you'd start wondering whether this ancient structure is strong enough to stand the beastly metallic awesomeness of the shredder in front of you. Greg humbly accepts the little applause he garners. He's won some fans in India.

The next is a tribute to Stevie Wonder. There's still hope that he will get the respect he deserves but Greg's obscenely fast fingering and techniques are Greek to most. By now most of the oldies, the majority in the crowd have lost interest. Even the funky lasers and noisy smoke machines can't capture the crowd's interest.

All Greg could do with his Stevie Wonder tribute was gather a few more blank stares. People no longer seem interested in the music; most are chatting away or busy messaging. Once in a while you'd have a soaring solo with something close to a melody people could identify, suddenly all the attention would turn to the stage and then falter off again.

Vocal surprise

What the place lacked wasn't good music, it was lack of publicity. Unwind, amidst all the excitement surrounding Greg Howe's first Indian visit, forgot the basics of organising a concert — a good publicity and proper sound sets, technicians were all over the stage checking their rented gadgets and setting things straight. One's left wondering what part of “One of the Greatest Shredders” did Unwind not understand. For the next song, another Stevie Wonder tribute, Greg and his band are joined by Benny Dayal. Vocals for a change: Superstitious by Stevie covered by Benny and Greg. It was brilliant. For once the crowd could relate and then came the solo. For once people were actually listening to Greg, admiring the genius of one of the greatest guitar virtuosos ever.

Greg soon realised the flaw with his first Indian gig. Anyone can churn out countless notes and play heavy riffs thanks to metal music whereas it takes a genius to create soulful melodies. People on this side of the planet aren't used to shredding and million notes a second flying off a single guitar. Give them melody and they'd love you. Greg now announces that the next song will be a slow one. What you witness is a melodic shred. People are actually appreciating Greg's talent. But soon things are back to square one: beastly shredding. Jude's attempt to connect with the crowd with a smile is met with contemptuous looks. He gives up.

Greg finally gives up on Chennai and announces that the next song will be his last with an added phrase, “I'm as disappointed as you are.” He plays his last song firing hundreds and thousands of notes on the crowd. No one bothered. Everyone, including Greg, wanted to get out of the place for good. The concert ended without much cheering or rocking.

Cyril is a student of Asian College of Journalism.

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 5:29:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/nxg/When-Greg-Howe-gave-up-on-Chennai%E2%80%A6/article15690195.ece

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