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Gig Report: Backdoors 2018, Bengaluru

With bona fide party-starters like Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals, the second edition of the outdoor concert series was all about setting itself apart from music festivals

Anurag Tagat Feb 23, 2018

American hip-hop artist Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals live at Backdoors, Bengaluru. Photo: Akhil Gusain

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If you’ve ever been to a big open-air event and felt like it was the start of something promising – like people will tell you about NH7 Weekender or Magnetic Fields – then you’d recognize that there was a familiar idealistic feeling at the second edition of Backdoors in Bengaluru last week.

Hosted by The Humming Tree – who have previously brought down acts such as pop artist Mike Posner, instrumental act Battles and UK singer-songwriter Lucy Rose for special shows – there’s a certain sense of identity projected with the second edition of Backdoors that perhaps distances it from the inaugural 2016 edition. Back then, they hosted three artists shared with Bacardi NH7 Weekender – prog artist Steven Wilson, folk/indie artist Jose Gonzalez and Canadian singer-songwriter Patrick Watson.

This time around, they clearly picked with their hearts, that too artists you’d find at top festival billings across the world right now. Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals, Wolf Alice, Watsky – these aren’t artists who were long overdue in India or considered past their prime. The most ‘current’ lineup you’ll see were gathered for two legs of Backdoors By The Humming Tree this month – at the Jio Gardens in Mumbai on February 14th and at Indiranagar Club in Bengaluru on February 17th.

But Backdoors wasn’t without its hurdles and uncertainties. Attendees were unsparing about the organizers taking long to finalize venues as well as the cancelation of British prog metallers TesseracT (who are now booked for a tour in March) and Mumbai rapper DIVINE, who cited “unforeseen circumstances.”

(from left) Ramanan Chandramouli and Mahesh Raghunandan played an intimate set at Backdoors 2018 in Bengaluru. Photo: Akhil Gusain

Despite that, on ground in Bengaluru, everything seemed cozy and comfortable. A breezy day that started at around 3 pm, Los Angeles-based Charisma brought radio-friendly emphatic pop tunes about growing up (presented with a simple but effective keyboard-and-voice combination), while Bengaluru-based Mahesh Raghunandan (joined by guitarist Ramanan Chandramouli) followed with angsty but measuredly soothing tunes such “Sleep” (which transmitted itself as a sign for the crowd gathered at the Amnesty stage to sit down) and a new song called “Emotion and Words.”

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The time to sit and laze around was effectively over considering Kerala folk/indie band When Chai Met Toast were up next, raising energy levels with happy-go-lucky tunes like “Beautiful World,” “Firefly” and “Fight” and their latest single “Run Closer.” When you’re as persuasive as frontman Ashwin Gopakumar in making the crowd sing back your hooks, it’s fair to say the band continues on their streak of making new fans everywhere they go.

The Bira91 mainstage opened with American rapper Watsky, who meted out lightning fast but heartfelt verses and spoken-word bits about politics (“Donald Trump does not represent us, that is not us at our best,” he said mid-set to cheers from the crowd) and togetherness. With a few unflinching barbs about the world around him and trading verses with drummer and fellow rapper Chukwudi Hodge, Watsky stuck to hard-hitting picks for his set such as “Sarajevo,” “Tiny Glowing Screens Pt. 1,” “Pink Lemonade” and “Brave New World.”

Backdoors alternated between two kinds of tortured, lovesick songwriters – the calm and calculated angst and longing of New Delhi artist Prateek Kuhad (who stuck to his signature quietened tunes despite some chatter, only breaking away for the somewhat loud, electric version of his unreleased song “Cold/Mess”) and the noisy, haunting tunes of London band Wolf Alice.

UK rock band Wolf Alice live at Backdoors 2018 in Bengaluru. Photo: Akhil Gusain

There was no longer any calm left at the Indiranagar Club lawns by the time Wolf Alice got on stage, sounding about as massive as they should, putting up a wall of noisy, smoldering tunes that any fan of fuzzy, heavy music would have dug. From “Moaning Lisa Smile” and “Don’t Delete the Kisses” to “Leaving You” and the pent-up pattern of riffs on “You’re a Germ” and “Giant Peach,” Wolf Alice made sure the darker end of the spectrum was covered at Backdoors.

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Fellow Brit and indie rock band Supergrass’ drummer Danny Goffey was surprisingly refreshing considering the frontman was on guitar and vocal duties and used a backing track for drumming. He excused himself cheekily, saying, “I’ve played the drums but I can’t get anyone to play this.” Performing a mix of dancey, hip rock (“Ancient Text,” “Spilt Milk”), it wasn’t too far from Supergrass and with three guitarists, the drums didn’t sound conspicuously artificial.

Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals live at Backdoors 2018 in Bengaluru. Photo: Akhil Gusain

And for Anderson .Paak, he came on to his DJ spinning his unreleased track “Bubblin’,” but he immediately jumped into one of his most popular tunes – “Come Down.” Busting moves throughout, the rapper lorded over proceedings without ever letting up, asking the crowd, “Did you come to lose your mind tonight?” A thorough entertainer wearing a radiant full-teethed smile, Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals were at their impeccable best, making the crowd jump to “Glowed Up” and delivering favorites such as “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” and “The Bird,” being as confessional as he is celebratory on his 2016 hit album Malibu.

As someone who’s worked closely with the biggest names in rap (including Dr. Dre), Anderson .Paak has clearly reached a good place, transmitting good vibes on songs like “Luh You” and “The Dreamer,” which is equal parts dancefloor banger and smooth hip-hop. He called Bengaluru “the funnest show on the tour,” and if you were there, you wouldn’t disagree.

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