A.R. Rahman "Jai Ho: The Journey Home" Toyota Center September 17, 2010
The Indian film-score composer A.R. Rahman, now widely known as the winner of two 2009 Academy Awards for Slumdog Millionaire, is the master of the movie-musical genre known as Bollywood. He is also one of the top-selling recording artists of all time, with 150 million records sold, and engineered the aural and visual feast on display Friday evening at Toyota Center.
The 160-minute set was supported by perhaps one of the largest world-music productions ever brought to town - Vegas-type circus acts, captivating dancers, a powerful vocalist and an arsenal of top-notch musicians. Paired with the dynamic staging and cinematic video work, the eclectic and fiery music created a journey to India with all the attendant Bollywood glitz and glamour.
Toyota Center was an array of bright clothing and shimmering saris as thousands of people flowed into the arena. As the air simmered with colorful chatter and anticipation, the lights lowered and fire-engine-red streaks of light covered the stage. Whistles, cheers and shouts filled the air as traditional Indian music rushed into the strains of the tour's main theme, "Journey Home."
Paced like a musical-theater revue, the show opened on a young boy who would serve as the evening's protagonist and lead us through the evening's various segments. The palace imagery of a palace faded and the story's first chapter began with black-clad dancers and a female rapper resembling M.I.A.
Booming bass and DJ scratches combined with Bollywood beats and combat-like dance moves turned this segment into a slight nod to Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation. Then, in true Bollywood fashion - and one of multiple nonsequitur moments in the show - the audience was rushed into something completely different.
As the rap died down, two individuals wearing Jamaican colors darted out onstage accompanied by a keytar soloist. Another individual appeared wearing a pirate coat and carrying a large cane to serve as the hype man.
Tablas and hand drums brought back the textures of India, while guitars and sitar emulated the flow of mountains that appeared on the massive onstage screen. As a soft ballad rolled in, so too did modern ballet dancers flying imaginary kites, weaving in and out of each other's steps during the love song.
Another tabla-and-sitar segment prefaced a full-on Bollywood dance number, including catchy vocals and spinning dancers in blues, pinks and reds. The tempo continued to push forward as a drummer emerged onstage, pulsing his beat faster and faster on a large drum called the Dhol, as the crowd kept up with hand claps. A brief drop of silence launched a visual spectacle of color and lights, as the stage turned into a dance club with insane strobe lights and Auto-tuned vocals.
Other nods to Western music Friday night included dashes of reggaeton, complete with Latin fusion dances, along with a nod to... Michael Jackson? Yes, the King of Pop's memory came out in full force during a hip-hop segment with the singers belting out part of "Black or White." The young boy emerged from chutes of steam dressed in Jackson's "Billie Jean" video outfit, perfectly recreating Jackson's choreography and spinning the crowd into a frenzy.
Friday's most powerful moments, though, simply focused on the talent of Rahman and his fellow musicians. Accompanied by just violin and piano, the composer delivered a poignant song that held the audience breathless with each slide of a note. Massive cheers erupted as Rahman's more traditional tunes rolled through, one after another, featuring sparkling male/female vocals that engulfed the entire arena.
One of the best segments showcased many traditional Indian instruments including the bansuri, harmonium, sitar, and tabla, along with more captivating vocals. Each vocal run effortlessly sailed through scales and notes that you may not have known even existed, wioth true emotional and spiritual poignancy.
Before the night was over, we were taken to Bollywood one last time with a rousing version of the Academy Award-winning song "Jai Ho." Thus the evening ended as it began, with not a spare sparkle or flash left unseen.
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Personal Bias: It's a lifelong dream of ours to learn how to play sitar. We cheered loudly every time it had a solo, which drew a few odd looks from those around us.
The Crowd: Mostly Indian-American, decked out in beautiful and sparkly traditional outfits.
Overheard In the Crowd: The people sitting behind us told a joke, either in Tamil or Hindi, they found really funny. Too bad it was lost in translation.
Random Notebook Dump: What's up with the Cabaret moment with the singer and dancers fawning all over the piano? Yet another nonsequitur.