Kula Shaker/ Splender
Irving Plaza, NYC
July 8th, 1999
by K. Bernard
The first time I saw Kula Shaker
was at Tramps a few years ago, on the heals of their debut, K.
They were on a bill with four or five other bands on a rainy night during CMJ music
festival. Even though the very first show the band ever performed was the largest
festival in the UK, The Glastonbury Festival, (though not the main stage), they greeted
the curious but typically undemonstrative New York City audience enthusiastically,
as if driven by some inner motivation. Crispian Mills thrashed at his guitar,
jumped and twisted as he delivered each song with evangelical conviction. The other
members of Kula Shaker, bassist Alonza Bevan, drummer Paul Winterhart and
organist Jay Darlington, didn't compete with the frontman for the audience's
attention, but simply played the songs, enveloped in an aura of musical satisfaction
that said, 'this is right.'
After mountains of success, challenged by torrents of press backlash and endless
touring, Kula Shaker at Irving Plaza on July 8th seemed as fresh, enthusiastic
and enamoured with the fruits of their creativity as they were on stage at Tramps.
The secret to their survival in the industry that seems to embrace creativity with
a knife in one hand may be that, from time to time, they simply drop everything and
retreat, typically to India. This is a strategy used to stay in touch with their
creative selves and the music as opposed to becoming saturated with the business
and social affairs of being a recording artist. Perhaps Crispian was coached on how
to survive the pressures of show business by his mom, screen star Hayley Mills, who made her
screen debut at age 13 and starred in dozens of movies; or his grand dad, Academy
Award-winning actor Sir John Mills. Such lineage, however, is no guarantee
of success. Quite oppositely, it's more often a hindrance as it lessens one's rock
and roll credibility.
While music, on the surface,
is about hooks, tunes and beats, it's essence is a transformation of those lessons
of self into a musical format. The stars that endure, the messengers of each generation,
have always been spiritual leaders as well as entertainers.
Clearly, whatever sustains Crispian Mills and Kula Shaker must be learned, not handed
down. And that lesson is infectious. While music, on the surface, is about hooks,
tunes and beats, it's essence is a transformation of those lessons of self into a
musical format. The stars that endure, the messengers of each generation, have always
been spiritual leaders as well as entertainers.
On their sophomore release entitled Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts, Kula Shaker
have created some of the most genuine and spiritually uplifting music I've heard
in a while. We are not handed 'K' , part two, despite the success of that debut release.
We still have the Hammond Organ; the funky base rhythms topped with guitar work with
as many personalities as Sybil on speed. However, we now have the addition of a backing
chorus of female vocals and instead of a horn section we have strings, and it all
At Irving Plaza we are treated to a well-rounded aggregate of past and present material.
Each is greeted with the same high level of enthusiasm. Personal favorites from K,
"303", "Hey Dude", "Knight On The Town", "Smart
Dogs", "Start All Over", "Into The Deep", (uhm, there is
not too much left...) are alternated with new additions to my favorites list. "The
Great Hossannah", "Mystical Machine Gun", "Battles", "Last
Farewell", (a slower and sultry interpretation of the full throttle opener)
and the amazing magical mystery-like "Golden Avatar", are all programmed
for repeat when I pop the new release on the CD player.
During the more traditional Indian numbers such as the Hindi-laced "Tattva",
the mostly young audience participated in a ceremonial manner by swaying their arms
overhead in unison. When the band sounded the beginning notes of "Into The Deep",
a VIP type in the, well, VIP section (that we managed to talk our way into), lost
it and surged forward declaring to no one in particular, "I love this song"!
Opener, Splender, piqued the Kula Shaker crowd's interest with a strong and
confident performance. The slower numbers were just as taut and galvanizing as the
faster material. Waymon Boone, also the offspring of a show business mom,
(a professional R & B/Disco singer) is quite the capable vocalist. Additionally,
he had a comfortable and mature stage style, offering bits of background information
between songs. Halfway Down The Sky, their debut CD on the Columbia / C2 label
was produced by Todd Rundgren. Splender's live sound is more raw and energized
than the Rundgren produced version. I'd like to hear a little more of that energy
in my living room for the next release. Splender also includes Jonathan Svec
on lead guitar, James Cruz on bass and Marc Slutsky on drums.