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Live and Kicking

A hush washes over the crowd. Instruments and microphone stands materialise out of a dark corner.

The overhead music fades out and the indomitable DJ, the crown prince of the Delhi club scene, is suddenly passe.

The band begins without introduction these are no-nonsense musicians-the crowd of restaurant goers, pub hoppers and lounge lizards eye the performers with a mix of delight and scepticism.

Some resume their conversations, turning away from the makeshift stage entirely. Others lean forward, craning their necks as if to better absorb each and every note.

Enter the life of a live music junkie. Dim lights, late nights. The sounds of strumming, the sounds of blowing, the sounds of foot stomping rhythms and heart pounding beats and never, ever the sounds of silence.

Young crowds getting their rocks off, refined crowds sipping on Smirnoff. Owing to a change in Delhi’s strict entertainment laws, live music is seeing a revival among the city’s hottest clubs and restaurants, and there is nothing the DJs can do about it.

“A band once or twice a week is a good thing and we are all for it,” says Brian Sawhney. As general manager of the popular Pebble Street, Sawhney has been looking for rock groups to play in his restaurant.

Like many venues around town, Pebble Street had brought in smaller, quieter performers before live music was, technically, legal.

Groups had usually consisted of only one or two people with an acoustic guitar or a keyboard, playing primarily background music.

Music that stands in stark contrast to the homegrown rock of Oak, an American group just finishing a three-week stint at the venue.

The guitar-heavy group of long haired rockers takes up a small corner on Pebble Street’s cobbled floors. They fill the place with their loud, brash, youthful sounds.

The crowd consists half of curious onlookers and half of the band’s American “groupies“-university friends also visiting India.

By 10:20 p.m. one would hardly know that only minutes earlier, Pebble Street had been the scene of a rock show. The band is shuffling out of the door when a large family with small children in tow fills the corner once occupied by the rockers.

Owing to a change in laws, live music is seeing a revival and there is nothing the djs can do.
And such is the life of a live music junkie- shows come and shows go, often as quickly as they had arrived. Few venues offer any kind of consistency. This comes as no surprise as hiring bands is often costlier than hiring a single DJ.

Hotspots like Turquoise Cottage (TC) and Ssteel introduce live shows into their lineup on occasion but, like Pebble Street, the shows are the exception, not the rule.

“We tend to bring in old rockers who play the classics,” Gaurav Kapoor, the owner of Turquoise Cottage, says of the bi-monthly shows hosted by his pub.

“It’s a lot of the same stuff you would hear any other night of the week here, except it is live,” he adds. Ssteel has even less regularity than TC, opting to host live music only for special events every few months. And yet, there is hope for the music junkie.

Next to Ssteel’s austere entry is the unassuming and intimate Rouge. It offers live music five nights a week.

Here, the atmosphere stands in stark contrast to Pebble Street.The lights are always dim, the stage is always set and Jenny and her jazz band are, Wednesday through Sunday nights, treating listeners to a little Ella or Louis (that is Fitzgerald and Armstrong, for jazz amateurs).

Jenny, relocated from the now defunct Jazz Bar, is a real draw for some. Others just snuggle into Rouge’s back corners, sip their wine and let the music slip into the background.

It is a great place for any listen-casual and otherwise- as the space comfortably features live music without making it intrusive.

Similarly, Q’Ba, a hip, multilevelled joint, gives modern jazzjunkies a real treat every Sunday night with a trio featuring tabla, saxophone and bass.

“It’s good music, really sexy,” says Ajay Alexander, Q’Ba’s manager. But the best part, “We fill this place with 100 to 150 people, and you don’t even notice the crowd,” he adds.

The crowd, like at Rouge, is a mix of music aficionados and passersby, and neither gets in each other’s way with all that space.

For the consummate live music junkie, Q’Ba offers perhaps the latest and greatest music trend to hit Delhi. Blending classical Indian instruments with those from the West produces a unique sound and variety to the tones and styles of music.

Classic rock covers these are not. And the place embracing this worldly fusion trend to the fullest is Djinns.

The big draw at Djinns is not the island bar, the smooth cocktails or the comfortable leather armchairs by the bay windows.

It’s the band. “Djinns is always changing groups to add freshness to the place,” says Banita Mishra, a regular and self-confessed music junkie.

“The variety attracts people,” she adds. The place is laid back and the music is decidedly international.

By hiring a new overseas band every three months, one can never be sure what to expect out of the scene at Djinns. And that, for the live music junkie, is the attraction.

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