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Monday, August 20, 2018

Movie Music Monday: A.R. Rahman returns live to Southern California with old & new film favorites

Film Flam Flummox

Oscar®- and Grammy-winning composer/songwriter/musician/singer A.R. Rahman's return to the Southern California stage after three years didn't have a overarching theme unlike that last concert in 2015--"The Intimate Concert," leaning heavily on his ballad work and featuring a number of stripped down arrangements and orchestrations for most of the selections--but the more typically grab bag approach still made for a filling three hours of memorable melodies culled from various points in Rahman's decades-long career in music and film at his second 2018 North American concert tour stop yesterday, Sunday, August 19, at the Arena at the Anaheim Convention Center.

While such an enduring career with massively prolific output (all the greater, considering he works in all three of India's primarily film industries, Tamil/Kollywood, Hindi/Bollywood, and Telugu/Tollywood) leaves seemingly near-infinite options to fill a decidedly finite concert set list, as with any celebrated artist, there are certain hallmark works that are almost required to be covered. The two films most represented, as the case in the previous concert, were Subhash Ghai's lavish 1999 drama Taal and a tonal polar opposite, Mani Ratnam's dark 1998 romance Dil Se... While various tunes from both films have been staples in live shows, and indeed favorites such as "Taal Se Taal" from the former and "Dil Se Re" and "Jiya Jale" from the latter (though, as in 2015, not Dil Se..'s most known song, "Chaiyya Chaiyya") were performed, Rahman took the opportunity to give some of them some new twists. "Dil Se Re" was given an unexpectedly jazzy treatment in its instrumentation, particularly in interludes between verses; "Taal Se Taal"'s pulsing rhythms were lent a hard-rock edge; "Nahin Samne" from Taal, originally a solo male number, into a male/female duet for this show, as it was adapted into in English for the Andrew Lloyd Webber-produced stage musical Bombay Dreams. Given that twist given to that last song, I fully expected the performance of that song to at one point switch into the lyrics of that English language adaptation, "Closer Than Ever," but it never did--which leads to one disappointment this time as compared to the Intimate Tour. That time around, Rahman made the inspired decision to do multilingual mashup renditions of a few songs that were recorded in different languages, which given his roots and massive following in the southern region of India, was an inspired move of inclusion for his Tamil/Telugu base in a generally Hindi-leaning show. (It also led to some surprising and refreshing numbers, such as a beautiful blend of Taal's "Ishq Bina" with its English language Bombay Dreams counterpart, "Love's Never Easy.") This time, however, the tunes stuck to a single language, and that left those wanting a bit more balance between his North and South Indian output somewhat let down.

Also a bit of a letdown was the general underuse of the legendary Udit Narayan, who, along with Neeti Mohan, Jonita Gandhi, Haricharan, Javed Ali, and Linda Lind, were the featured vocalists on the show. Narayan's involvement would lead one to expect Rahman's work from his pre-Slumdog Millionaire international breakthrough, Ashutosh Gowariker's 2001 Foreign Language Film Oscar® nominee Lagaan, to be prominently featured, but alas that score was relegated to brief snippets in a general medley portion of the show; he also only got a couple of solo spotlight moments. Still, that was more than Ali and Haricharan, for the male singers in general took a back seat to ladies, namely Mohan and Gandhi. This did not make for any less of a show, for Mohan and Gandhi were electrifying performers in fine voice, and Lind held her own in the two big English language numbers of the night ("Shakalaka Baby" and, most unexpectedly, the Pussycat Dolls version of Slumdog's Oscar®-winning "Jai Ho," which naturally was the grand finale) but it would have been nice to hear, say, Haricharan tackle the power ballad "Ennodu Nee Irundhaal" from Shankar's 2015 science fiction romance i as he did in most cities in the Intimate Concert tour. (Sid Sriram, the original singer for the film, made a special guest appearance for that song at the Los Angeles stop at that tour, and it was a true showstopper.

But these quibbles, also including a sometimes curious set list that left some anticipated fan favorites glaringly absent, proved to be just that--quibbles, and minor ones at that, for even when the tunes were less familiar, Rahman, his singers, and the spectacular band never gave less than their all. Rahman's general stage demeanor remains fairly reserved as it always has been, but the voice still soars, as does his piano playing, and he does come out of his shell and to rousing life in the concert's final, upbeat stretch--especially on vintage Tamil selections such as the original"Humma" from Mani Ratnam's 1995 Bombay (not the more recent Hindi retooling of the tune, titled "The Humma Song," from last year's OK Jaanu) and "Mustafa Mustafa" from 1996's Kadhal Desam. But as in all his live shows, it's not so much Rahman the performer who is the star attraction, but those gorgeous, eternal compositions of his, and that one is left wanting so much more music after a packed three hours is a testament to his incredible gift--and what a gift he is to music and film fans the world over.

A.R. Rahman continues his tour in America through the rest of August to mid-September with stops in Atlanta (August 25); Washington, DC (August 31); New York (September 1); Seattle (September 7); Dallas (September 8); Chicago (September 14); and Houston (September 15). For more information, visit Prria Haider Productions.

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(Special thanks to GSA Music)

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