Shock the monkey!

You've just had a great appetizer (Ween, They Might be Giants). The main course turns out to be absolutely brilliantly (Pink Floyd). After having such a meal, you wonder if the dessert will end up being an anti-climax. After all, how can anything come close to something that completely blew you away? Well, the World of Music, Arts, and Dance (WOMAD) festival featuring Live, Arrested Development, Levellers, Peter Gabriel, and Midnight Oil accomplished this; not by putting on a spectacularly extravagant show as Floyd did, but by the sheer variety and amount of self-indulgent music provided.

Live was the first big-name band to go on stage. One of the reaons I chose to goto WOMAD was to see this band (besides Gabriel), touted as one of the hottest acts in this country. Live are very good. I like their music a lot and their first album, Mental Jewelry, has a few tunes in it that shine through a lot of the alternative garbage around. Their latest release, Throwing Copper, though very R.E.M-sounding, is also sparkles quite a bit. But there is still a lot of dirt that needs to be polished off before they can come close to any of the other acts that came on after them. In the end, I was a bit disappointed because I had heard so much about how they are a great live band and while I enjoyed their performance, it paled in comparison. They had difficulty playing their songs properly and there was a lot of feedback-type noise. But besides this, they were decent: my favourite tune (Top) from the new album was played. Most of their stuff was from their new album, except for a couple of tunes. They did not, unfortunately, play Peace is Now which is one of my all-time favourite Live tunes. Other tunes they played included Selling the Drama (popular on the radio), White, Discussion, Shit Towne, and Iris.

The world is burning down.            Poets and preachers and politicians,
Can't you smell the smoke in the air? they've all had their say.
War disease, and famine,              And we got 10,000 years devoted to 
this demon, she is everywhere.        nothing but tomorrow and yesterday.
	If all the ignorance in the world passed a second ago.
			 What would you say?
			 Who would you obey?
			I am here to say that
			     Peace is now

Arrested Development was next and they managed to surprise me quite a bit. They invited people to come up front and hey, I was there in a flash! Their set was a bit more elaborate than Live's; it was set in a village-like atmosphere. They are a rap group but far from a stereotypical one: they don't talk about guns and cops, and their infectious style of music almost renders what they talk about irrelevant. They were much more energetic and intense then Live (one of the reasons I like Live is because of their pseudo-intensity). The beat was very good to dance to and it was great fun; a lot of kids were up front grooving to over-extended tunes such as Mr. Wendal and Tennessee. If you ever want to see how rap can be formed in an extremely innovative way, check this group out.

		      Take me to another place.
		       Take me to another land.
		   Make me forget all the hurting.
		     Let me understand your plan.
	   Won't you let me, won't you let me, understand?
		  ---Arrested Development, Tennessee

Before I went to check out the Levellers on second stage, I went and got myself some African cuisine consisting of chicken on the skewer, fried plantain, and rice and beans. It was delicious and set the mood for the Levellers' ferocious thrash-punk (ala the Clash), mixed with the folk-sounding mandolin, fiddle, banjo, and harmonica (the Pogues), energetic moves on-stage, and politically upsetting lyrics. They apparently reflect a phenomenon of dissent that is very prevalent in the UK today. If you've seen the movie Naked (review available), then you know what I'm talking about. These guys would've made a perfect soundtrack to the movie. But they weren't dark and depressing; they were fun and they try to bring a serious message which truly represents "alternative thought". Problem with so-called alternative musicians is that their thinking isn't really alternative; these days everything that can't seem to make it to superstardom gets marketed as alternative. Anyways, one of their aims is to fight a bill in Britain that prevents peaceful protest. The fact that the British government is trying to even pass such a bill (The Criminal Justice and Public Order act 1994) is repugnant. I think seeing this band was the best new thing I learnt from WOMAD; they blew me away with their concise, tight, and yet storming act. I can't wait to hear more of their music. They have performed in front of huge crowds, sold many albums on a small indie label, and are apparently extremely popular in the U.K. Punk rock lives on!

As the Levellers finished, you could hear the strains of Zaar heralding the arrival of Peter Gabriel on the main stage. The Washington Post quoted him as saying that, like pizza, he had 3 different size of shows: small, medium, and large, and that the WOMAD show would be like a small pizza. Sometimes small packages are exquisite and in this case, it was truly so. It is true that the rest of the performers in WOMAD were all very talented, but Gabriel showed what it takes to get to the position he is. The show was stunning and all this was without any extended electronic gadgets and videos. His on-stage movies were electric: the basic robotic motions synchronised with the guitarists and the female vocalist (whose name escapes me), the syncronised light show and special effects, such as the huge amounts of steam rising up when he shouted "Give me steam!" and raised his hand, and the ever-present hand-gestures illustrating the lyrics of the song all threw the crowd into a frenzy. Most of the crowd remained standing up throughout his performance. During Digging in the Dirt, he makes digging motions and comes up with a huge spotlight and uses that to throw light on the crowd and into his face (wonder how he managed this without going blind).

In the program, he says: "Whatever the music, whatever the technology, great records come from great performances." And Gabriel has what it takes to come up with a fabulous performance. Even with primitive technology, he undoubtedly was a cut above the rest. He didn't stick to the sound of his studio albums (in fact, the version of In Your Eyes was simply beautiful and so aesthetically pleasing that I regretted not having a tape-recorder) like some other performers I've seen in concert. He improvised with genius. He also played some of the more obscure stuff while still maintaining crowd attention and this is the mark of a truly great performer. I compare this to the Billy Joel performance (where I literally fell asleep) who didn't even come close simply because he bored me to death. Other songs performed were Talk to me, San Jacinto, Salsbury Hill, Shaking the Tree, and, of course, Sledgehammer.

		    All my instincts, they return.
		 The grand facade, so soon will burn.
		  Without a noise, without my pride,
		     I reach out from the inside.
			    In your Eyes.
			       ---Peter Gabriel

Midnight Oil was was the last group to go on stage. Frontman Peter Garrett, with a shaved head, demonstrated that he has an immense amount of charisma as they expressed their politically-motivated music passionately. He was constantly on the move and endeared himself to the crowd when he invited a few people on stage to dance along with him during the final song, which was, appropriately enough, Beds are Burning. I thought this was an awesome thing to do and I'm sure the people who were pulled up on stage feel the same way for their brief glimpse of stardom. The Oils were accompanied by didjeridu (it's an instrument which looks like a long pole and you make interesting noises by blowing into it and manipulating two poles, one enclosing the other) player Charlie McMahon, who seemed to have a prosthesis (with a hook) for one hand. It was an interesting blend of music.

The time has come        The time has come.
to say fair's fair,        A fact's a fact.
to pay the rent,        It belongs to them,
to pay our share.       Let's give it back.
How can we dance when our earth is turning.
how do we sleep while our beds are burning.
                            ---Midnight Oil

The thing that pissed me off the most regarding the whole festival was the politically-correct atmosphere and the preaching. While I did truly enjoy the music, there was this attitude that white people are evil oppressors of other cultures and races. As a neutral observer (I'm not white), I do not, in the slightest, believe the problem is with a certain race or culture. I think the problem is with humanity's tendency to lend itself to brainwashing according to a set of arcane rules which might have made sense ages ago, but no longer do so now. I think the WOMAD festival was a great idea in bringing together different types of music and this truly epotimises the fact that there's no need to distinguish between different races and cultures. In fact, our goal should be to create a population where the only difference is intellectual in nature, and not created through any type indoctrination. In fact, Gabriel attempts this as he transcends all issues of culture in his music. The thing to do is to get out of the cultural rut. Not become comfortable in it and this is what the Levellers encourage by asking you to say "NO!"

A particular incident of ignorance was this moron in one of the workshops who was throwing the word "objectification" around without the appropriate context. He said that he would never buy a Cherokee jeep because it objectifies the native American tribe of the same name. At this point I walked away from the tent; I think this is carrying things a bit too far. His logic was totally off in the future examples he provided for "objectification" also.

The WOMAD festival featured a lot of other musicians who I didn't listen to and so I didn't review here. I would like to say that Geoffrey Oryema and the Caifanes sounded good.

The thing that most characterised the festival was self-indulgence. Everyone (the performers) were there because they believed in doing what they were doing and didn't care about what others thought they were doing. They were playing music because they loved doing so and everything else was secondary. Live was the least self-indulgent of all these groups and that's probably why I didn't get into them too much. Arrested Development and the Levellers surprised me with what they had, and Gabriel, of course, is one of the most self-indulgent musicians around: I can't wait to try out the big pizza!

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || || July 15, 1994.