There is something infectious about Dhaval Mudgal and his band, Half Step Down. When they perform on stage, they have great fun and that spreads quickly to the audience, sceptics included. After a none-too-great experience at a live gig by another one of Delhi’s rock bands, I was coaxed into dropping by at the city’s Hard Rock Café to see Mudgal and his band. I didn’t regret it. What I did regret though was why I hadn’t bothered to seek out this fine five-year-old band before.
The Hard Rock Café—like many other city venues that regularly hold gigs—isn’t the best in terms of acoustics. In February last year, I’d heard Hurricane Bells, a band from Brooklyn, New York, play there. They were a good band but the acoustics at the venue did little to flatter their performance. So, I wasn’t expecting anything great this time too.
Surprise! Not only did the sound system at HRC seem to have been spruced up—everything sounded clear and sharp—the band hooked you instantly. Half Step Down obviously love what they’re doing—playing gigs—and when a band enjoys that it almost always ensures that you get to listen to great music. Dhaval is Half Step Down’s frontman and singer (and, as their website tells you, lyricist and manager too). Half Step Down plays a refreshingly eclectic mix of genres—blues, alternative rock and funk. On the night I saw them, besides their own compositions, they did excellent covers of classic tracks, including Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower and The Beatles’ With a Little Help From My Friends.
I have always thought covers of well-known tunes are a true test of how good a band is. If a band is confident of being able to tweak, improvise or adapt a famous song and carry it off, it is likely to be a good band. At the top of the best cover versions that I’ve heard is, of course, Cat Powers’ 2000 album, The Covers Record, which almost entirely comprises covers of others’ songs. And they all sound so different. You should, if you haven’t already, check out Powers’ version of the Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. Half Step Down did a great take on All Along The Watchtower, more Hendrix-ish than Dylanesque, and their cover of the famous The Beatles song veered more towards the version you must have heard Joe Cocker play at Woodstock.
It helps that Mudgal has the perfect voice for songs that straddle as many genres as the band does and the attitude—he’s friendly, interactive with the audience and he and his band members seem to enjoy good chemistry: a perfect precondition for a good band. It helps too that they have a good lead guitarist, a great drummer and an equally great bass guitar thwacker. I was told that the full band has a keyboardist but I never got to see him on the night I caught them at HRC. They did get some guest musicians to join them on songs. Such as Mumbai band, The Circus’s talented guitarist, Arsh Sharma, who hopped on stage to play a very fiery lead on an instrumental track.
Half Step Down is not a new band and, as I said, I should have discovered them much earlier. Better late than never, I guess, and I’m looking forward to their next Delhi gig, which I’m told is on August 5.
A first-floor nightclub in the middle of a badly-designed raggedy Gurgaon shopping sprawl isn’t the ideal venue to catch a gig but in my new-found zest for discovering local bands (and being prepared for both, pleasant surprises and rude shocks), I visited a place called Attitude. The six or seven-member band, all dressed-in-black, was called Toya and Friends, and the audience was a mix of middle-aged couples, young kids and neighbourhood stags. Toya and Friends are a band from North-East India, although I couldn’t find out exactly from where. And they seem to be like a house-band at this neighbourhood watering hole. Very crowd-friendly, the band gauged what the audience was in the mood for (hits from the seventies and eighties: Queen, The Doors, Abba, Bryan Adams and Simon & Garfunkel) and dished out just that, competently. I have nothing against Sweet Home Alabama or Cecilia or Summer of 69 but I wouldn’t exactly seek out a band playing all of that at 11.30 pm on a weekend night. Yet, it felt good to see a vibrant trend of nightly gigs by bands—some really great and other quite good—in Delhi and its outlying suburbs. There is hope.
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