After three years of moaning about how rubbish the live-music scene in Colombo seemed to be, about how in the evenings I’d go along to a fancy hotel bar-lounge that was advertising a live ‘rock’ band and find myself sitting amid a gaggle of immaculately-dressed wealthy Sri Lankans and various sweaty, overweight foreign tourists listening to some blokes in their late-middle-age wibbling their way through a jazz-funk rendition of Lionel Richie’s Hello, I finally resolved the other weekend to get off my lazy, wrinkly arse and head out into the city’s meaner streets and track down some proper live music.
I found some too in a venue called the Keg Pub. (The street it was on, T.B. Jaya Mawatha near Lake Beira, wasn’t even that mean, although the joint across the road where I stopped off for some rice and curry looked a bit rough). The Keg was hosting something called Rock n’ Roll 2017 (ii), an evening of Sri Lankan acoustic performers and rock bands, the latter sporting such names as Island Mafia, The Soul and Paranoid Earthling. Its Facebook page exhorted me to bring my ‘best buds’, ‘drinking buds’ and ‘chickas’, which when I consulted the online Urban Dictionary I discovered meant a ‘sexy Latin lady friend’. Unfortunately, the person who trebles as my best buddy, drinking buddy and sexy chicka, i.e. Mrs Blood and Porridge, was unable to come along and I attended alone.
The event certainly felt like the real deal when I arrived and paid my money at the door and received a stamp on my arm and a paper bracelet to wear around my wrist – possibly the last time I was stamped and braceleted like that was when I saw Megadeth and Korn in Chicago back in 1995. Also promising were the sights that assailed me when I walked through the door: semi-darkness, lots of people dressed in black and a sizeable island-bar at which I could slump whilst viewing the stage. Oh, and the oldest person already there looked about 20 years younger than me, which also boded well for me not having to endure an arthritic jazz-funk workout of Hello.
That said, no matter how rock-and-roll the atmosphere, I couldn’t escape the fact that I was still in a Sri Lankan pub. Because there was a TV screen, on the wall, showing bloody cricket for the entire evening.
Much of the night’s music consisted of cover versions rather than original material, which I suppose had its upside and its downside. The upside was that because the performers were playing world-famous songs by world-famous bands, I was at least getting some quality stuff. The downside was that I’d heard some of those songs a million times already and become sick of them. Plus, it didn’t grant me much insight into what’s really happening in the rock-music scene in this country at the moment.
Still, there might be conclusions to be drawn about the Sri Lankan musical temperament from the fact that nobody blinked when one band went straight from a Nirvana song to Survivor’s Sylvester Stallone-empowering Eye of the Tiger – not something you could do among die-hard Nirvana fans in many Western countries and expect to live. Or that a duo who’d been treating us to blues versions of AC/DC numbers then treated us to a Bon Jovi one without ruffling any feathers, even though in my book that’s the equivalent of a Robert De Niro retrospective that partners Raging Bull (1980) with Dirty Grandpa (2016).
Significantly, later bands introduced some reggae music into the evening’s mix. Even a rendition of the Dylan / Hendrix favourite All Along the Watchtower had a reggae-ish interlude added to it. Maybe that’s a consequence of living on such a hot, sultry island. A rock-and-roll gathering can’t be loud and fast and bolshy for too long. No, the heat soon encourages everyone to chill and go a bit Bob Marley.
One thing I have to say. Paranoid Earthling, whose Wikipedia entry tells me are a ‘grunge, experimental, psychedelic, stoner rock, heavy metal’ band from Kandy, came onstage late in the evening with a welcoming cry of “How ya motherfuckas doin’ tonight?” and proved to be epic. They played their own stuff and played it with blistering aplomb. Showing particular panache was their spandex-wrapped vocalist Mirshad Buckman, who has the enviable double-advantage of looking a bit like the late, great Ronnie James Dio and sounding a bit like the equally late, great Bon Scott. They performed a big beast of a song called Open up the Gates whose guitar sound managed to be both twiddly and thumping. They gave their closing number Rock n’ Roll is my Anarchy a splendid, punky, foot-tapping tunefulness. And during a song called Feel My Ritual they admirably kept focused even as a front-of-stage lighting rig toppled over into the audience – mind you, said rig was really only two light-bulbs at the end of a pole. Best of all, though, was their song Deaf Blind Dumb, which borrowed its stompy bits from Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People but which was still a blast played live.