The journey of most jam bands is looped on a predictable trajectory. A hobby to begin with, it is a collective effort at giving wind to a personal connect to music. Gradually, however, the choice of songs to cover gets ambitious and climbs the difficulty charts. The voice hits an unreachable note, the guitar encounters an unfamiliar chord that painfully twists your fingers and the drum part seems impossible to pull off. That's when many bands fall by the wayside: a good time was had, it's time to move on.
Some, however, soldier on undaunted. They will perhaps sneak in that incomplete chord, hoping the bass will drown out the void of that missing note as the drums play a bit louder. Why? Because The Song beckons. She has to be played no matter what. Years pass and matters get serious. Some find themselves teachers, while others play on. Bleed from the inside. One day, I will find my voice, they tell themselves. And they do. Or at least find a path which they believe will lead them to their sweet spot, that delicate sound of a thunder that occurs when passion and ability make peace with the inner calling.
Easy Riders, a Kolkata band of significant vintage, crossed the Rubicon years ago. Low-key but fiercely independent, their dogged pursuit of a signature sound has ensured they remain on the radar of a small group of peers and discerning music lovers. Their originals have acquired character, poise and feel. Rooted in rock and roll, Easy Riders' tunes set out to be a force of nature, disruptive enough for the listener to take note, but do not leave your eardrums pierced. They are ramblin’ men whose songs demand listening. And when you do, the varied layers come alive. The joy is in peeling their onion.
The line-up is classic rock: two spiralling guitars played by Sumit Bhattacharya and Rohan Ganguli, a feisty bass coaxed and cajoled by Soumyajit Dutta and a tight drum kit with Arka Das on top. Sumit is also the band’s principal songwriter. Finicky to their bones, Easy Riders are now finally ready to unveil their oeuvre. They did so with great aplomb recently in Delhi (Piano Man, Depot 48). Last week, they followed it up with a 90-minute concert in their hometown of Kolkata (Someplace Else) and knocked the socks off all those lucky enough to be present.
The gig begins with Trancemigrational SD Blues, with all of them singing briefly, leaving the rest to the instruments. Okay, they're only warming up. With Mr Mountain, a track of delightful bounce centred on the majesty of nature's bounty, Rohan plays the first solo with Sumit ending the song. The order is reversed for Choice, written by Soumyajit, who also sings it. Lovely.
Within the first few tracks Easy Riders have opened their paint box, the tunes invoking myriad shades, the vocals bringing out multiple textures. The two guitars play off each other brilliantly, harmonising at times, charting opposing courses at other times aided by some deft usage of wah-wah pedals. The bass, a crucial part of this effervescent sonic proposition, helps hold Easy Riders together. It does more than its primary function, which is to provide the much needed backdrop for the guitars to sparkle. Soumyajit is also sprinkling embellishments, finding the time and space to form intricate patterns for the songs to bloom. It is immediately apparent that Easy Riders are serious blokes, aiming for a sophistication that can only be attained through dedicated practice and thought. On stage, they’re on full throttle.
Arko's drum solo in I Don't Know is a testament to that drill. The beat is laid out firmly. And then, at a leisurely pace, broken up into pieces as if to present the building blocks that created the whole in the first place. Neat. Impeccably restrained. Lonely Whale is a heart-stopping ballad of extraordinary power. The ocean of life has many lessons to offer. But this tune, less than four minutes, packs teachings of a lifetime. Pain gives way to single-minded determination in the soul-stirring wail of the guitar.
He swam for miles that seemed like lives
Through the waters of the world
But he could not find another soul
As the sunlight turned to gold
And he swam alone
Clinging on to memory
And he swam away
His whistles fading in history _ Lonely Whale
Blue Sky, composed by Rohan Ganguli, has an infectious melody line from which it gets its kickass punch. The band is on song here: the drums and bass frame the track firmly while the two guitars tease each other. A tribute to a certain Carlos Santana? Maybe. Maybe not. Doesn't quite matter. Farewell aims for the heart again, the soulful alaap is deeply personal.
Easy Riders hardly speak, save when introducing the title of each song. “We really want to say something, but can't find anything to say,” deadpans Rohan. “Too much talking all around in any case,” quips Sumit. Song after song, the band flowers.
Whiff of Home brings the curtains down, perhaps also making a statement for anybody who still cares. A riff of frenetic pace introduces what is to follow. A rocker of a track. It is also, in many ways, emblematic of what Easy Riders seem to stand for. Audacious with ideas, but respectful of traditions that have allowed their creative imagination to take wind. So, Whiff of Home surprises -- and how -- by referencing two iconic musical hallmarks. Sumit's guitar strings along Birdland (Weather Report, Manhattan Transfer), a jazz-rock template of many avatars composed by Joe Zawinul as homage to the famous musical landmark of New York; and then moves quite spectacularly to Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram, that timeless bhajan dedicated to the ideals of universal harmony.
Easy Riders is a band that deserves to be nurtured. They may not like to talk, but they wear their heart on the sleeve. Dear Music says it all.
Every day I'm trying to pay my dues
When all I'd rather do is play the blues
And sometimes when I see visions of you
I wonder how it would be, you and me,
Sweet music, sweet music.