A third of Cooke Town’s Anglophones, sans the brood of millennials they have since engendered, turned up with halves better or worse to watch Gangamma’s Pleasure perform on Sunday night at Blue Frog on Church Street. This was a completely unexpected charity gig, perhaps not quite a comeback, and the bar was packed with about two hundred and fifty or so friends of this zanily named Bangalore band of the 1990s (Bangalore and zany band names, after all, enjoy a long history of cohabitation). And for those who went to college in Bangalore in the early Nineties, it packed all the promise of a reunion.
These last few months have exhumed memory after memory from those vaults. In December, Thermal And A Quarter celebrated 20 years with a day of concerts performed by the students of Taaqademy — the music school that they founded in 2011. This week jogged the cogwheels of memory when The Mustangs (a Madras band from the 1960s that enjoyed a 4-year run) performed at The Catholic Club on January 14 to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. A few days afore, I was alerted by an old friend of 25 years’ vintage to another Bangalore gig. The news of it spun me back into the un-digital 1990s, a time when Radiohead’s Creep and Pearl Jam’s Jeremy airing on MTV and Channel [V] embodied the zeitgeist. We didn’t think twice about forwarding that invitation around to as many mates as we could. Soon, we had rustled up a sizeable gang of nostalgists. For every shard of history in Bangalore now is a sacred trope that reunites, however briefly, this motley herd of fortyish grunge patriots that drunk-drove round the the turn of the century without seat-belts or helmets. These being the final dregs of a Bangalore as we once knew it, we will quaff every drop noisily until the bitter end.
On Sunday night, as we stepped into the past, the future flickered alive. And with that came a bittersweet realization. Some bands occupy a niche in memory. Others become memory itself. And some other bands are best left undisturbed in the safes and attics of cobwebbed time. Because, ruffled, that memory oxidises instantly — wine sours into vinegar.
Nostalgia is a sedative. It dulls several observed truths. There were flashes of memory that night which took me back to 1994, watching Gangamma’s Pleasure on stage at Autumn Muse with equal parts envy and admiration. The same lineup of promises. The same theatrics. The same overreach. It was a moment congealed in time, note for note. And much of it, I found myself accepting reluctantly, was pretty unremarkable.
I’d have loved to have come back from this gig and written a page of history. But being in that adoring, uncritical crowd of friends and family, gathered in earnest, clinking Biras amid much wanton unforgetting, I was left with the same gnawing frustration that I used to feel back in the 1990s watching Bangalore bands burn out their fifteen minutes of almost-fame: Why can’t you express more sincerely? Why can’t you be bold and committed enough to take that one giant leap. and create something new and rich and strange? Why can’t you risk the jeers and perform your own music rather than going on like jukeboxes cranking out covers?
Even memory needs an upgrade in order to be enduring and redeeming — all the delicious irony of the past, with a lick of paint from the present. Today’s Bangalore scene is a vibrantly fickle, fleeting, evanescence. Bands are playing everywhere. Some with musicians as young as nine and ten years of age are writing and performing music. There is a boldness that overshadows their naïveté and blase disregard for inherited pedigree. There is an assertive denial of the burdens of history.
As Gangamma’s Pleasure performed The Police, Pearl Jam, Collective Soul, and even a wan version of The Black Crowes’ Hard To Handle (I’ve never gone back to it since I discovered the original by Otis Redding), I relaxed and sucked hard on my beer. There were going to be no surprises tonight.
Halfway through the gig, we craved a steak. Since we were in the mood, we stepped out into the murk of Church Street and, finding Temptations closed, walked in brisk sobriety to catch the last order at The Only Place.
It was that kind of night. Like misery, pleasure loves company, too.
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