Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Jul 20th 2010 2:00PM by Steve Hochman
With the intimate club hosting a mix of the artists' fans, family and friends, the pair were engagingly loose and playful, giving the album's material a distinct new edge and immediacy even beyond the one previous performance in November at the WOMAD Festival's extravaganza in the Canary Islands' Las Palmas (captured in several videos, including the one of the album's title song embedded with this story). Lucas, sporting an impish grin under his pleasantly rumpled wide-brimmed hat, set the tone, London-based Akhtar readily going with that in-the-moment spirit – there wasn't much choice, apparently, as she noted that they'd had just one rehearsal for this appearance. So there's that rishte with time, a theme running through the mostly Hindi and Urdu lyrics.
Songs such as as 'Aksar' (also captured at WOMAD in a video clip) that hew closer to the country-blues origins of Skip James (whose 'Special Rider Blues,' the only actual blues cover they do), Charley Patton and other Delta blues titans, took on a rougher cut, both in Lucas' finger-picking and Akhtar's vocal daring. More interpretive blues variations made full use of Lucas' array of techniques and rewardingly rich tunings, and gave Akhtar free rein. 'Behaal,' which originated as an instrumental Lucas had been working on for his former Gods & Monsters partner Jeff Buckley, was dazzling in this setting. Lucas switched to his Fender Strat for 'Woh Din,' using various devises to loop and layer and alter the sounds in ways every bit as otherworldly as the album version, which Akhtar explained had been recorded in one take with the two in studio together but unable to see each other. 'Soul Taker,' another electric guitar song (and a third one seen in a November video clip), featured Akhtar drawing on English folklore and melodies for an intriguing side trip. Throughout, Hanif Khan helped knit it all together with burbling tabla lines.
Supplementing the album material, Akhtar moved to a harmonium and with Khan offered a biting version of the Pakistani Qawwali standard 'Allah Hoo' (most associated with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) and a Lucas instrumental showcased the guitarist's full, prodigious skill set.
And the encore, on which Lucas mischievously riffed à la John Lee Hooker as Akhtar – at first reluctantly and then spiritedly – freestyled lines praising their record company and prodding audience members to buy a CD or two, left everyone laughing. Afterward, the singer admitted that she wasn't really familiar with Hooker's style. She didn't even realize that Lucas' boogie licks were drawn from Hooker. That echoed her comment to Around the World in a story when the album was released last year that her blues knowledge was extremely limited. Arguably, that very naivete is the secret behind this.
And that brings this venture to a crossroads. As good and surprising as the music on the album is, this show was evidence that it needs to be experienced live, needs to be repeated for more audiences. But it also needs to maintain that guileless, in-the-moment quality, even as the performers bring in more of their own experience – Lucas' long legacy with Captain Beefheart, Buckley and so many more, Akhtar with her global fusion breakthroughs starting with the 1989 album 'Qareeb' and work on the Jimmy Page/Robert Plant "UnLEDded" project, and much more. If they can do that, it will be rishte all around.