Tuesday 6 December 2016

Kula Shaker's Back, so put the freshness back... (Crispian Mills' magic carpet cleans up a treat 20 years later)

For the last twenty years 'K' has remained a guilty pleasure of mine. Crispian Mills' concoction of Eastern mysticism and prog rock influences may have been dismissed by the critics as the self-indulgent project of a posh-kid with showbiz connections, but I loved it in 1996, and I still loves it now. Mills has grown up and is now a father to two children, has held true to his Krishna beliefs, and survived the badly-handled early press reaction to his comments about swastikas (the symbol was originally used as a Sanskrit symbol for 'good luck' or 'good fortune', but mischievous journalists tried to imply that Kula Shaker were somehow guilty of right-wing Fascist alliance through their adoption of it). When the '20th Anniversary of K' tour dates were announced back in June I immediately bought a ticket for the Norwich show. 

Six months on, and the novelty of these 'classic album' shows is beginning to wear off. In the last few weeks I have seen no less than five other bands performing 'anniversary' revival shows, and whilst I have enjoyed them all there is a danger that the old adage 'Nostalgia isn't what it used to be' could begin to ring true. And, besides, I am gutted that I am missing Kate Tempest's return to Norwich for her show at The Waterfront. But is there not some meditation technique (or failing that, hallucinogenic drug) that would provide an out-of-body opportunity to attend both gigs simultaneously?

Support for the entire Kula Shaker tour comes from three musicians from Folkestone, plucked from obscurity by Mills and given the chance to impress with their stampy blend of swampy blues-rock. Unfortunately, Rudy Warman & The Heavy Weather, use the opportunity to alienate me, not by their music (which is great), or their appearance (crusty eco-warrior), but by their arrogant between-song comments. Now, I have the utmost respect for those who hold strong beliefs and choose to follow an alternative lifestyle, but I feel slightly condescended to when it is assumed that, simply by being part of tonight's audience, I do not understand the issues at Standing Rock, or wish to continue to be carnivorous. And if I want to dance to your music, I will. I don't need Smart-Alec comments like 'There seems to be a lot of mud out there, 'cos your feet all seem to be stuck to the floor' any more than I need you to take your shirt off as some kind of evidence of the benefits of a vegan diet. You wouldn't like it if I took my shirt off to counter-demonstrate the effects of my pie and Adnams diet.

Rudy Warman & The Heavy Weather

Crispian Mills, by contrast, is as genial and as welcoming as one could hope for. After opening with a cheekily hi-jacked 'Kula Shaker's Crazy Hearts Club Band' (borrowed from a certain Fab Four) they give us Let Love B (With You) the new K.2.0 album, before getting on with the business in hand. Mills asks us to think of tonight's show not so much as a journey back in time, but as opening a door in time and bringing the past to the present. He reminds us of the ticket's promise to hear the 1996 'K' album played in its entirety, then playfully produces a vinyl copy of the album and a portable turntable. 'So, we will all listen to it together', he playfully teases, 'and then discuss it at the end'.

The atmosphere has already been prepared. Incense sticks have been burning atop Mills' ring of monitors, full length drapes featuring the 'K' logo and album artwork hang from either side of the stage, and above the drum-kit three projection screens synchronise kaleidoscopic imagery of Hindu deities. A lighting rig that reminds of the front half of a Louise Bourgeois sculpture straddles the back of the stage, whilst spotlight banks look on from the sides. Crispian Mills sense of the theatrical is certainly well-tuned after his directorial experiences.

The sound is joyously familiar as we work through the first half of the album. Bassist Alonza Bevan remains from the original line-up, as does drummer Paul Winterhart. Together with relatively new recruit Harry Broadbent on Hammond organ and keyboards, the re-creation is as perfect as one could hope for. Mills is suitably energetic in his performance, striking the obligatory poses but looking at times rather too much like Gareth Keenan from 'The Office' for comfort and total credibility.

There is a brief interlude between sides one and two, during which two B-sides are performed - Under The Hammer and the George Harrison tribute Gokula (containing a sampled riff from the Harrison song Skiing) as well as the single from Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts, Shower Your Love.

Side two features a further two singles, Tattva and Grateful When You're Dead, and the set ends with the Joe South cover, and hit single, Hush. By now we realise that one huge track from the album, the mighty Govinda, has been omitted from the album running order. Fear not. With the theatrical expertise of old pros Kula Shaker have kept the audience baying for more, and kept the best back for last. After an encore run through of two new tracks from K.2.0 we are duly given our chance to join in with the chanting of 'Govinda, Jaya, Jaya' until we are ready to leave for a higher plane. Or, in this case, the cold and foggy campus of the UEA.

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