The Oracle arena in Oakland rocked to the Bollywood beat on Saturday 8th August. It was the usual somewhat mismanaged affair where the opening act was a bhangra competitions with teams from all over North America, emceed by a young Sikh gentlemen trying unsuccessfully to be funny. The dancers were amateurish, the music, though original, of dubious quality. I wondered why they shunned the usual catchy and familiar film music. Many viewers moved to the lounge area to sample the Indian food, others got into the spirit with spirits and were quite TALLI even before the show began. I gave the bhangra competition a miss and hung out with a fellow NGer and family to savor some Chole Bhature and save my eardrums!
The actual concert began with fanfare and the proclamation that we had a living legend in the house – “Kuch kalakaar sangeet ke liye bante hain, aur kuch ke liye sangeet banta hai” – and in this latter category falls Sonu Nigam! After such praise (and a short performance by a guy whose name I forget) the “diva of music” Sunidhi Chauhan came on stage. The energy emanating from her presence was palpable and every number was simply rocking be it Sajna Ve Sajna, Dhoom Machale, or Chaliyya Chaliyya! By the time she hit Crazy Kiya Re the audience was crazy and with her 100%, dancing in their seats, in the aisles, or the small open area in the centre! Every song was sung with incredible energy and verve and managed to overcome the decibel defying and often distorting sound system.
After an all too brief stint Sunidhi was gone and Sonu Nigam came on stage. The viewer response was stupendous and he started with In Lamhon Ke Daaman Mein from Jodhaa Akbar, but it was apparent that either Sonu was off his game or that the sound system had been much kinder to Sunidhi than to him. Sonu sang several numbers that were just not at the level of the originals and then he went into a medley of Rafi songs and recent numbers, almost in a “let me educate you about music” mode. The crowd was somewhat restless and not as engaged.
He did do some soft songs really well, including Main Agar Kahoon, but the song that truly rocked was Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte – and in his own unique variation on the original he included many other yesteryears snippets like Bachna Ae Haseeno, Aaja Aaja Main hoon Pyaar tera in the number.
In the “intermission” we were entertained by Hard Kaur and her posse with some of her original numbers and film songs from Singh is King, Main Talli ho gayi, Lucky Boy (Bachna Ae Haseeno) and my personal favorite Doob Jaa mere Pyaar mein from Johnny Gaddar! Though not a fan of rap, I do find Ms. Kaur’s persona and singing interesting. In a green velvet tracksuit and a hat, she had had energy and vivacity, though not much can be said about her musical talents!
Sunidhi was back after the intermission to loud cheers and rocked the crowds with her rendition of Desi Girl, Ma Da Ladla Bigad Gaya, and Sajnaji Vaari Vaari. Of course the highlight of the evening was Beedi jalayle and Sunidhi’s soaring voice and her incredible dancing as she sang the number, rocked the arena! For me this was the highlight of the concert.
Then Sonu returned and this time he performed Billy Jean – while he had the moonwalk down pat, it was hard to understand the words. The crowd was appreciative though – and many a chant of SONU JACKSON was heard! To round off the evening Sonu and Sunidhi together sang Mere Haath Mein from Fanaa – a gentle sweet song, and a nice closing to the concert.
The concert left much to be desired in terms of sound quality and music. I liked that there were not too many distracting dancers in skimpy clothes, but the chorus was taped and the sound was just too loud, to the point of distorting the high notes. Sunidhi was most entertaining, and Sonu a tad disappointing as one just could not hear the velvet in his voice nor the incredible range. And it seems to me that he does take himself too seriously, something that takes the fun out of performing. I want to compare this to the AR Rahman concert in the same venue – that was an exceptionally professional affair, with near perfect sound quality and much better overall performances. There was a coherence to the Rahman concert whereas this one seemed to be an assemblage of Sonu concert and Sunidhi concert – with one number sung by both!. From seeing the numbers that were enjoyed most by the crowd I am not surprised at the popularity of Punjabi influenced songs in Hindi cinema!