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Three weeks ago, just like in December 2010, I found a message in my inbox from my friend, singer/songwriter/guitarist Slow Down Clown, asking if I would consider doing an acoustic gig in an intimate setting at one of Mumbai’s newest hotspots – a ‘guerilla store’ called Obataimu. This time I would not be the opening act playing a short set of my own songs like I had in December. For this gig I was to accompany SDC over an hour and a half-long set playing guitar and singing backing vocals on songs off two of his EPs. Oh yes, and we had one week.

For me this meant figuring out guitar parts for over a dozen songs, learning vocal harmonies for them and stripping down two of my own original songs into guitar-only versions.

Both of us have day jobs so rehearsal could only take place late at night. This is what I learned: it takes one session to get a feel for the songs, two days to compose guitar parts, one more day to refine the guitar parts, and many hours of pure repetition to learn the parts properly. Not really rocket science I know, but that’s just the breakdown of how it came together.

Even though I have been working in music for close to five years now, I’ve only recently begun to perform live. This would be my third gig. It was an unusual setting and the two of us had never performed together before. I was also working with new songs, a new effects box (my new love, the Zoom H4N recorder, which I will write about at length in another post), and a new guitar.

Here’s how it went down:

  • The room filled up, with faces that were almost entirely unfamiliar to me. This was kind of liberating because I find it much harder to perform in front of friends/family. I don’t really know why – my friends and family are a very supportive lot.
  • Despite the amount of practice you put in, you will sometimes forget lyrics. I realize now that I was more troubled by it than the audience. If I had just skipped the verse, played a chorus and come back into the next part of the song, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Instead, I blanked out and decided to sing just one more chorus and stop the song. Bad move. It was the second last song of the night, I was tired (I was unwell for several days before the gig), and I didn’t think fast enough. But now I know what to do the next time a lyric I know so well flies out of my head on stage.
  • I had heard that Mumbai audiences are notoriously inexpressive. While that may be true, I’m beginning to learn how to gauge reactions. Checking your cellphone between songs tells me that it only means you have a message to attend to. Checking bang in the middle of a chorus, tells me that the chorus has failed to do its job. You may not crack a smile or tap a toe, but if you’re singing along, ever so quietly, that’s high praise. Two kinds of songs appeal to you – the ones with a very strong groove and the ones with the heartfelt lyrics. Mellow, in-between musings immediately become background music. And finally, all the ‘cool’ goes out the window the minute a big ‘80s rock song comes on.

With more gigs will come more understanding. All told, this was an excellent learning experience, right from the rehearsals to the gig itself.

A big Thank You to Slow Down Clown for inviting me to perform with him; to Akshay Narvekar, Farhad Bomanjee and Obataimu for letting us into their very stylish store with our big clunky gear, and to everyone who came when you could have been at that other high-profile gig across town instead. No really, when one is starting out, it really means something that someone took the time to come listen to you play.

Elvis cut together a super video that captures the vibe of the gig perfectly. Check it out below.