Arriving at the entrance of the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, New York on June 16th for A.R. Rahman’s 3rd dimension tour, one could feel the excitement that is reserved solely for the most famous music director from India. The crowd itself consisted primarily of Tamils from South India, who had come out in droves to support the man who is arguably one of the most popular members of their community.
Who is this man who has caused such fervor with his music? Dubbed the Mozart of Madras, A. R. Rahman has endeared himself as the foremost expert on fusing Eastern and Western musical influences together and taking Bollywood music into the future. Before he came on the scene, dance beats and pop sounding songs in Hindi or Tamil films were few and far between (aside from his mentor, famed music director Illyaraja). He has brought a modern sensibility and has given a fresh sound to what some had perceived to be the stale medium of film music. This is made more apparent by the fact that he has sold over 150 million albums all over the world, eclipsing popular artists like Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, and Madonna. From Roja to Guru and from Bollywood to Broadway (Bombay Dreams), Rahman has built an impressive body of work that will be enjoyed for many generations to come.
The stage was impressively put together, with the left side completely set up as the percussion section. There was every kind of percussive instrument imaginable including: bongo, congo, dhol, drum machine, and tabla. Percussion, it turns out, plays a very important part of any A.R. Rahman concert as he always travels with percussionist Sivamani; whose work always raises Rahman’s concert to another level. While waiting for the show to begin, Sivamani came out on stage to test the drum set up, and it’s a testament to his popularity that he got some cheers from the crowd. In the center of the stage was an open space, leading to a stairwell and a raised catwalk. Slightly off center was a raised platform with a Korg keyboard setup (this was where Rahman would position himself during the concert).
Most impressive, was a seven to ten feel tall and twenty feet wide electric board at the back of the stage, which would display an animated graphics show for each song during the concert.
A.R. Rahman had brought with him, fellow playback singers Sukhwinder Singh, Hariharan, Chitra, Sadhana Sargam, Blaaze, Naresh Iyer, and Madhushree along with 16 dancers.
At about 9:15 p.m. amidst the cacophony of a very angry audience, a humble man came onto the stage with a microphone. Dressed in a simple black kurta and pants, the man turned out to be the musical genius A.R. Rahman. He explained in his quiet and soft voice, that their plane had been delayed and they had just got in a couple hours before. Rahman profusely apologized, thanking the crowd, and stating that he hoped everyone would enjoy the show. The crowd was silent, and you could tell that all was forgiven, for the show was about to begin!
The lights dimmed, and the concert began with “Ik Onkar” from Rang De Basanti sung by Chitra. The prayer song was a fitting way to begin the concert as it segued into a rousing vocal performance of “Jaage Hain” by Rahman from “Guru”. From there on Rahman and his troupe whipped the sold out 11,000 member audience into a frenzy. Never have I seen such audience participation in any other live Indian concert/event.
There is always difficulty in pleasing an audience that speaks two very distinct languages, in this case Tamil and Hindi. Rahman handled it well, by either starting a song off in Tamil and then switching to Hindi or vice versa. Every now and then there would be a completely Tamil language song that would get a roar from the audience such as “Vaaji Vaaji” from “Sivaji: The Boss”. I don’t understand Tamil, but the music was awesome and the song got a roar of approval from the audience.
As for Rahman himself, he doesn’t dance, he doesn’t move much on the stage, he simply let’s the music speak for itself. Instead, he brings along Blaaze who was one of the vocalists/rappers on the “Rang De Basanti” album. I have to give credit to Blaaze, for dancing, joking and even mingling with the audience to get them involved. He was particularly good in singing along to “Humma, Humma” from the classic soundtrack “Bombay”, where Rahman sings from the stage and Blaaze sings rap interludes while walking through the audience.
I have to say the biggest hits of the night were "Chaiya Chaiya" from “Dil Se” and the self-titled "Rang De Basanti". Sukhwinder Singh brought the house down with an extended version of “Chaiya Chaiya” and the audience jumped out of their chairs as images from the movie Dil Se were projected on a screen behind the singer. As for Rang De Basanti, the background 3D animated visuals of a colorful Sardar dancing combined with amazing vocals to become one of the best performances of the night. Another highlight was the jugalbandi between Hariharan, Chitra, and Sadhana Sargam where they had a chance to stretch their classically trained vocal chords.
I have to mention that one of the most unique moments of the night has to have been Sivamani’s absolutely stunning percussion solo. He made use of each and every percussive instrument at his disposal and went from rock beats to dhol beats to garba beats gaining more and more accolades from the crowd as he went on.
Some of you may remember going to concerts and lighting cigarette lighters whenever a slow ballad was performed. Well here’s a new twist. Midway through the show, a grand piano was brought out onto the stage. Rahman started playing the piano and began singing his first song completely in English, “Pray for Me Brother”. He sang it with such emotion, that you couldn’t help but be moved. Blaaze pulled out his cell phone on stage and encouraged the audience to open their phones and wave them back and forth. This created a haunting and beautiful affect as thousands of soft bluish lights honored Rahman. It was a truly surreal moment.
The worst part of the show had to be the promoters coming on stage to bask in the limelight. Interestingly enough, the audience gave them practically no response and they quickly moved off stage. I find it odd that only in Indian concerts, do the organizers/promoters feel the need to be announced and come on stage to take a bow while the concert is going on. This totally interrupted the mood and flow of an otherwise excellent program.
Of course, what would an A.R. Rahman concert be without his version of “Vande Mataram”? The grand finale brought all the singers and dancers on stage to accompany him for a rousing patriotic rendition of the song. It was a truly fitting end to the concert.
Judging from the standing ovation from the audience at the end of the concert, a great time was had by all. The reclusive and somewhat shy A.R. Rahman (along with his troupe of Singers/Dancers/Musicians) brought the house down and brought forth a truly rocking experience. This was a concert on par with any Western show and one that encapsulates the 3rd dimension where A.R. Rahman’s music carries the soul.
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