In the first week of April 2003, I was brimming with joy. The Rolling Stones were about to begin their India tour and rock fans were excited. As a journalist, I had to fly from Mumbai to Bangalore to interview THE Mick Jagger, before attending their shows. Because of schedule changes, the interview was conducted telephonically but thanks to the organisers, DNA Networks, I got to meet the band members at Bangalore’s Leela Palace Hotel. Guitarist Keith Richards had a cigarette fixed to his lips.
On a rainy April 4th, the legendary group performed at Bangalore’s Palace Grounds, and three days later at Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium. At 60, Jagger was a bundle of unending energy – not that he’s changed 18 years later. And since they had the same set in both places, I played spoilsport with some of my Mumbai friends by announcing the next song.
Those days, rock shows had a thrill, a great vibe. Before the Stones, DNA Networks had brought down the Scorpions, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and Elton John to Bangalore, and Deep Purple to Mumbai. The memories were special. The Scorpions show was best remembered for the contrasting acoustic and electric sets, and the sizzling guitar and drum solos. For Waters, people had come from all over India, by plane, train or bus. On the Udyan Express from Mumbai, an entire compartment filled with Floyd fans sang through the night. Pink Floyd tees were sold in large numbers in Bangalore's Brigade Road. All through the show, the audience was comfortably numb.
Deep Purple came with guitarist Steve Morse in place of Ritchie Blackmore. He played perfect foil to vocalist Ian Gillan. Facing a partly-seated audience, Elton did a totally different set, with a solo piano and just his voice. The crowds kept getting bigger. At the Aerosmith and Iron Maiden shows in Bangalore, and the Bryan Adams gig in Mumbai, one struggled to breathe in the air.
In the early 2000s, Bangalore was the preferred destination for concerts, as entertainment tax rates were much lower, and accessibility from other cities was easy. But slowly, the action shifted to other venues, mainly Mumbai, which got a boost after the Stones show. MMRDA Grounds became to Mumbai what Palace Grounds was to Bangalore, as one saw gigs by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, Roger Waters and Maiden, alongside pop stars Shakira and Enrique Iglesias. For its part, Bangalore hosted Maiden, Aerosmith, Metallica and Santana, though later, the distant Bhartiya City replaced Palace Grounds as the venue.
At most shows, fans tried their best to meet their idols. They would hang around at the Windsor Manor in Bangalore or the Taj Land’s End in Mumbai or force their way into sound-check, armed with LPs, fanzines and guitars for autographs. The selfie culture was far away. At the concerts, one could also spot Indian musicians. Parikrama’s Subir Malik was at the Roger Waters show, and Pentagram’s Vishal Dadlani had a blast at the Stones gig in Mumbai.
The naysayers complained that most acts came when they were past their prime, and unless they did multi-city tours, people from other cities missed them. But the truth was that they had a dedicated following over the years, and fans wouldn’t miss out on any chance to see their heroes. Sadly, because of rising costs, administrative issues and a reduction in sponsorships, the number of rock shows drastically came down. Yet, for many, the memory of these shows remains magical. One still remembers the inflatable pig rising in the air during the 2007 Waters gig in Mumbai and hearing the crowd sing louder than Bryan Adams himself, playing on an unreal six-string.