Real concerts are few and far between, these days. Many of them have turned into mime performances, the singers feebly mouthing along to the album version that blares aloud, the live musicians somehow, with minimal effort, seemingly recreating the most complex of digital sounds, the melodies turned into parodies. I distinctly remember the outrage I felt when Anirudh sang ‘Mersalayitten’ live at I’s audio launch, or well, pretended to at least. His vocal chords seemed to be producing even the auto-tuned parts accurately. Surely, no human could reproduce that techno lilt, that robotic inflection; least of all, somebody who needed it in the first place. But yet, there he was, this computer-man, doing exactly that.
It was in this context that I heard the Rahman fan next to me expressing his loud ‘tch’es of unhappiness during the recent ‘Nenje Ezhu’ concert. His dejection hit an all-time low when the ‘Athiradi’ number from Sivaji was being performed. To be fair, the song was a shadow of the original. Rahman’s pitch wasn’t the same. The tune wasn’t entirely in place. The high notes sounded strained. And at one point, he even sang a bit earlier than he was supposed to. But I couldn’t be more delighted. He wasn’t faking the performance; he wasn’t just trying to reproduce the original faithfully. This was a real performance, the flaws making it all the more so. There was no doubt that this was a, er, concerted effort.
The songs aside, the thrill of a concert lies partly in seeing the performer in flesh and blood. And that’s why it is of little importance that Roger Waters sounded frail and shaky when he sang ‘Comfortably numb’ at his London concert in 2011. The real excitement was in seeing him compete with the album version — the musical version of man versus computer — and of course, in being privy to David Gilmour’s surprise appearance. Even Gilmour’s famous guitar solo at the end doesn’t quite sound like the album version’s. It sounds something like the original, but seems to throb with a life of its own, arising from all the improvisations, the ‘faults’. Why else do you have cassettes and CDs being released, of concerts?
The little moments, even if flawed, make these concerts special, the experience unique. Like when Rahman sang the first stanza of ‘Athiradi’ a bit too fast, and the musicians had to make frantic adjustments. Like when he requested the audience for permission, like a student would of a teacher, to sing ‘Dil Se Re’ in Hindi. Like when he stopped the concert and said, “Somebody fix the tele-prompter please.” I can’t wait for the release of a ‘Nenje Ezhu’ CD, if only to revisit these quirks that breathed new life into overexposed songs. The disgruntled Rahman fan from the concert will likely not purchase it, but that’s because he recognises the imperfections of a concert as flaws; not as evidences of that fast-disappearing event: a real concert.