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Pain of Salvation

A Tour Diary

Tushar Menon Mar 10, 2011
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Though they are commonly known as a Swedish progressive metal band, Pain of Salvation actually defies slotting. Their music encompasses everything from folk to metal, rock and even disco. Their ten albums since 1997 have been characterised by eclectic orchestrations, clever rhythmic ideas, masterly lyrics and founder Daniel Gildenlöw’s dexterity with vocals. I first met Gildenlöw when he was touring with the progrock supergroup Transatlantic last year. When I found out that Pain of Salvation was coming to India in January 2011, I did everything I could to make myself part of this tour. I got to travel with them for ten days as they played at IIM Lucknow and IIT Chennai. This is how it went:

Day 1: The band arrives at Delhi, and I meet the party of ten, which includes band, crew and two documentary filmmakers. Frontman Daniel Gildenlöw spends most of the time trying to connect to the internet on his iPhone, lest, God forbid, his Facebook page is not be updated every hour. We reach Lucknow, and the band gets its first taste of the “Indian five minutes.”

In his book Life, the Universe and Everything, Douglas Adams speaks of “recipriversexcluson,” a number defined to be anything except itself. That is effectively what “five minutes” means on this trip. Everything gets pushed further and further back, to the point where the band is freezing at 2:30 am judging Hell Raiser, the competition to decide which band opens for Pain of Salvation the next day. Despite constant pleas from tour manager Zoltan Koncsok, Daniel stays until the end, saying he made a commitment and must honour it.

Day 2: I run into bassist Per Schelander at breakfast, eating an interesting combination of omelettes and sambar. His training as a chef clearly has not helped him decipher Indian food. The rest of the day is hectic. Running around the campus with chaos swirling around us, the thought of the actual show is almost relegated to a footnote. The delays grow ”“ it means that Delhi band The Circus’ opening set has to be pushed to after Pain of Salvation’s. All is forgotten once the show begins. It is a virtuoso performance from the band. The setlist is meticulously constructed, and the songs, even out of context, form a narrative. After an intense show, Daniel decides to stay and watch The Circus. The post-mortem on the show finishes at 3 am.

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Day 3: We are up at 5 am to catch a flight to Agra. At Delhi airport, we learn that we have to take all the instruments with us to Agra, and cannot leave them at the airport as had originally been promised. When we finally arrive at Agra, Daniel, Per Schelander, filmmaker Johan Simonsson and I decide to explore on foot. I learn an invaluable lesson – always say yes when Daniel Gildenlöw asks you to join him for a walk. We end up at a souvenir shop where Daniel tries a sitar for the first time in his life. He plays as if he’s been playing the sitar all his life, even though he is unsure of the tuning and is figuring it out as he plays. And I own the only video of the performance!

Day 4: We have only two hours to enjoy the Taj Mahal, as our flight leaves in the early evening. Drummer Léo Margarit is the most moved when we see the Taj for the first time. The first thing that hits you when you enter the tomb area hall is the breathtaking odour of socks, since shoes are not allowed inside the structure.

We land in Chennai to discover guitarist Johan Hallgren’s bag has not made the trip, and after some ethically questionable manoeuvres at Delhi airport ensured we did not pay any excess baggage fees. Daniel makes a dramatic entrance into Chennai, riding his baggage cart and is greeted by squeals of ecstasy from the organisers and fans gathered. “I can’t believe I’m meeting someone from the same place as Opeth!” remarks one of them.

I accompany the insomniac Daniel on a walk to the venue at 2 am. We notice a ramp leading to the side of the stage and decide that the band should ride in an autorickshaw at the beginning of their encore.

Day 5: First full day in Chennai is packed. Daniel does three interviews in the morning followed by a guitar clinic and a rare acoustic performance with the band. The performance is especially impressive, considering the band has nothing prepared, as they take requests from a polite but unyielding audience.

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Day 6: Daniel and Zoltan fly to Sri Lanka for two days as the rest of us enjoy a day off. The band goes to the beach at Mahabalipuram.

Day 7: Léo conducts his first ever drum clinic to an appreciative audience. He tells me he is not entirely happy with the drum mix on Road Salt One. Understandable, since it obscures his dexterous and clever drumming. An incongruous evening is spent at a mall, buying jeans from a sponsor’s store.

Day 8: Daniel and Zoltan return, looking refreshed, armed with a bunch of stories and inside jokes. (“Straight off the coconut” is the motto of their trip, whatever that means.) We discover Léo is ill, a shame, considering there are only two more days to go in the trip. Léo skips the evening’s plans, which consist of more time at the jeans store and a meet and greet at a pub.

Day 9: The frantic pace resumes after a relaxed couple of days. Per, too, is unwell today, although his and Léo’s performance show no signs of it. The show is completely different in feel from the Lucknow show even though the set-list is unchanged. The constant technical problems upset the flow, which is very sensitive to momentum. What was a beautifully constructed complete experience in Lucknow turns into a series of isolated, brilliantly performed songs. During the encore, after successful execution of the autorickshaw plan, the faculty cuts the power to the stage, claiming there is too much noise and it is past the curfew time. The band takes final bows in darkness. Celebrations of a great tour carry on until 6 am.

Day 10: The last day of the trip has crept up on us. We wake up late and get to the airport just in time. One final check in. One final plea to waive excess baggage fees. One final snack at the airport. And they are off.

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