Last week I landed in Cape Town on the same evening that Kings of Leon were performing in the city. It was too late to get a ticket and make my way to the stadium. I had seen KoL at the 2004 Glastonbury music fest. They had then released their 2003 debut album Youth and Young Manhood and six months later would come up with Aha Shake Heartbreak. Wedged inside a mosh-pit and stupidly lugging a 2 kg office laptop, I had lapped up this relatively new band with their Southern rock-grilled, frenetic-paced raw sound with frontman Caleb Followill’s vocals sandpapering everything around.
Seven years later and following them up to the 2010 Come Around Sundown, I felt rotten to have missed them by a redneck’s whiskers.
But there’s a bourbon-drinking god somewhere up there. So lo and behold, while flipping through a magazine in my room at the Sabi Sabi wildlife park (where there was no TV), I screeched to a stop at an announcement which said that KoL would be gigging in Johannesburg two days later. The good thing about going to South Africa with Ali Bacher — former South Africa Test player and cricket administrator and now advisor to South Africa Tourism — and his lovely wife Shira as hosts is that the world becomes your oyster. Or at least the FNB Stadium in Soccer City, Johannesburg on October 29.
So there we were, four Indian jaali journos in South Africa in front of a glittering structure that looked like a parked spaceship, ready to appreciate the cultural beauties of a Tennessee-Oklahoma hick’n’roll band. The opening acts — local bands The Black Hotels (we missed them), The Shadowclub (they were great) and Die Heuwels Fantasies (Afrikaans emo crap dolled up as hard rock) — out of the way, the Brothers/Cousins Followill took over. We were miles away from the stage, but it didn’t matter.
The opening strains of ‘Radioactive’ tore open the Johannesburg night with its plaintive refrain, “It’s in the water/ It’s where you came from”. Looking uncannily like Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi, Caleb segued into the bompity bomp of ‘My third house’ with CCR energy. The rough stomp of the dinosaur beat of ‘Molly’s Chambers’ and ‘The Bucket’ mixed with the languid, slow ‘Revelry’. The crowd went delirious with ‘Sex on fire’ played as part of the encore of a 90-minute set. Since 2004, KoL have become less shaggy. But they retain their no-frills gig philosophy. Beyond the mandatory ‘Everyone feeling all right?’, it was straight-up, one shot-glass after another rock’n’roll. Southern comfort in South Africa via some very good luck.
To the beach boy
My friend Amitava ‘Goldie’ Guha passed away on Friday morning. I used to rib him about his terribly outdated taste. “Guru! The Blues!” “Fucker, you haven’t heard this Grateful Dead bootleg!” he would barge in and tell me. “What crap do you listen to?” he would go on and on, puzzled why his daughter Angarika, a sharp girl with good taste, bothered to read this column.
But as serendipity would have it, I was listening to the Beach Boys’ unreleased album, Smile, that the iconic band had recorded in 1966-67, when I got a text about Goldie’s death. For all our exaggerated differences in musical opinion, I have a feeling he would have approved that I was enjoying the sun-drenched harmonies of the legendary ‘Smile’ sessions — ‘the most famous unreleased album of all time’ — when I heard that he had gone to the Big Sunny Beach In The Sky. Brian Wilson hitting the high notes in the sand-psychedelic ‘Surf’s up’ would have been up to Goldie’s mark. But my song to him has to be the groovy-eerie shimmer of ‘Good Vibrations’. I can just see Goldie shout out with approval, “Guru, now this is good!”.