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The Star Online: Entertainment: Music

Foals concert: Mercury rising

Posted: 08 Mar 2014 08:00 AM PST

British indie rock outfit Foals ran the fans ragged at its first concert here.

'THIS isn't an album that is going to look great with your latte and loafers. I want to make songs for people who I feel have been disenfranchised by alternative rock music," said Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis at a media session before the British indie rock outfit played at KL Live on March 4.

Philippakis, 27, was talking about the band's well-received album Holy Fire, which was released last year.

Disenfranchised or not, this was the Foals album that brought the Oxford, England-raised band a wider audience and the chance to play a show in Kuala Lumpur.

With nearly 1,500 fans packed – with or without loafers – tightly at the venue, this Upfront/Tiger arena series headlined by Foals was a massive crowd-pleaser from start to end.

Material from all three of its records managed to set the masses off as they "shoulder" grooved and shuffled to the band's danceable indie tunes.

Before we forget, there was a respectable opening set from Singaporean psych pop band Monster Cat (which came across as a twisted blend of Animal Collective-meets-Arcade Fire), but let's be honest, everybody really couldn't wait for Foals to hit the stage.

"We don't eat three hours before a show just because we jump around a lot," said Philippakis backstage.

The Foals singer wasn't kidding as the band began its show with some urgency. It launched into the instrumental Prelude and moved seamlessly into Total Life Forever, which rocked the venue. What was immediately clear was that the band, formed in 2005, was super tight on stage. And why not?

With a busy tour schedule behind its successful third record Holy Fire, the band has had a full year of festivals and smaller shows to harness its live sound.

Admittedly, there was nothing particularly fiery or fist-pumping about the band's live repertoire, but it had a collection of songs (14 in KL) that brought on the indie euphoria.

Unlike traditional rock shows (you can have Steve Vai in KL later this month), the best action wasn't exactly happening on stage, but rather in the crowd. The fans were totally enraptured by the songs, at times oblivious to the band, just allowing themselves to get lost in the music.

Just like that classic Mew gig at the same venue last October, this Foals show was more experiential than visual.

Of course, the band played with precision and passion. That we cannot deny. With the interplay between guitarist Jimmy Smith's delay-drenched signature style and keyboardist Edwin Congreave's tasteful lines being the key ingredient to its live sound, the show proved that Foals could hold the attention of the crowd.

Without backing tracks, drummer Jack Bevan and bassist Walter Gervers also sprang up sonic surprises throughout the set.

Crowd favourites like My Number and Blue Blood sounded crisp and fabulous live.

The old favourite Red Socks Pugie also definitely had genuine pop value, especially with an eager crowd behind it.

And in Philippakis, the band had a frontman that is as unique as the name he carries. With his beach bum singlet style and bricklayer build, Philippakis was a brawler on stage.

He put all his heart into the tunes and how the young man could sing. Whether serenading the crowd with the quiet hush of Spanish Sahara (suddenly the venue switched to a One Direction-type fanboy/girl singalong) or screaming his lungs out on the robust Inhaler, Philippakis was undoubtedly the star of the show.

In fact, he truly deserved that bottle of brew which a nice fan bought for him as he walked down to the venue's bar during the encore.

Kacey Musgraves: Making her mark

Posted: 06 Mar 2014 08:00 AM PST

Kacey Musgraves decided to keep a song she wrote with Katy Perry for herself. Smart move as it became a big hit.

AFTER winning Grammys for Best Country Album and Song, earning five Academy of Country Music nominations and sweeping the Nashville Scene's nationwide critics poll for the best in country music in 2013, Kacey Musgraves discovered the new normal recently.

First, there was a cake covered with glitter and a Grammy logo presented by country superstars Lady Antebellum, whom Musgraves just rejoined as opening act on tour. Then there were rehearsals for a new cover song that Lady A wants to play with her in concert. And there's the newfound excitement when audiences hear Follow Your Arrow, the tune she performed on the Grammy show in January.

"There was a huge reaction to Arrow so I guess a lot of people must have watched," she said in an interview recently.

Like Taylor Swift, Musgraves tries to keep it real – except she comments more on society than on ex-boyfriends. The 25-year-old newcomer refuses to sugarcoat her lyrics for country radio. If she wants to sing about pot smoking, same-sex love or people who have two kids by the time they're 21 – all referenced in Follow Your Arrow – she does.

The song's genesis was a note Musgraves wrote to a pal.

"I had a friend who was moving to Paris for, like, five months and she was leaving everything she was comfortable with behind – even the language," she said. "I gave her a little arrow necklace and on the card I wrote a dumb little poem. It said something about following your arrow and kissing lots of boys and having fun. But I saved the idea because I thought it would make a really great song."

Already known for penning such hits as Mama's Broken Heart for Miranda Lambert, she began writing Follow Your Arrow with Katy Perry for the pop supernova's most recent album.

"When I played the idea, Katy said, 'That sounds like something you'd really be great at. I think you should keep it for yourself.' I'm really glad I did."

Musgraves finished writing the tune with Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, two Nashville songwriting aces who are gay.

"Kacey's bold. That's what we love about her," said Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley. "She's got a great voice. She's confident up there."

Just don't call Musgraves a rebel.

"I get frustrated when people throw the rebel and outlaw card out there. The things I'm singing about aren't controversial, especially not to me. They're things I've encountered in my life that have really made an impression on me."

If what she sings seems too permissive for music lovers in red states, "that's never concerned me," she said in her soft, sweet speaking voice. "The people who are going to like it, are going to like it, and the people who aren't, aren't. (Follow Your Arrow) encourages people of all kinds to do whatever makes them happy. Of course, there's some sarcasm and tongue-in-cheekness in that message."

She just wants to reflect real life. That's what she did with her debut single, Merry Go Round, which went to only No. 14 on Billboard's country chart but garnered plenty of industry attention.

The song was sparked by a joke by co-writer McAnally's mum, who observed lots of comings and goings at a neighbour lady's house. "I don't know if she's selling Mary Kay (cosmetics) or Mary Jane," slang for marijuana.

"We played on words with 'Mary' and then the circle theme presented itself," Musgraves recalled. "It's not just something about small towns; it's a life thing. I feel like no matter where you come from, you follow in your parents' footsteps because it's familiar. But along the way you have to figure out where to put your own dreams and goals. Some people go forth and some don't."

Musgraves grew up in Golden, Texas, United States a town of 500, loving language, playing with it and writing poems and short stories.

After high school, she moved to Austin, Texas, and eventually Nashville, releasing three independent albums and placing seventh on USA Network's Nashville Star talent contest in 2007.

She's written tunes for ABC's night-time soap Nashville and for such stars as Martina McBride and Gretchen Wilson. In 2012, she signed her own recording deal with Mercury Records and released Same Trailer Different Park in spring 2013.

The buzz was so big that the album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's country and No. 2 on the pop charts. It led to the Country Music Association Award for Best New Artiste in November.

Yes, Musgraves has lived in a trailer park.

"The first house that my parents brought me home to was a little yellow trailer out in the middle of nowhere, outside of Mineola, Texas. So I'm allowed to poke fun at it a little bit."

The other big question that her Grammy performance prompted: where did she get those cowgirl boots decorated with the Christmas lights?

"The boots were something my stylist and I kind of designed together and then a woman made for me out of a pair of old boots by just putting some lights in 'em. They were the coolest things I'd ever seen."

With all the buzz from the Grammys, Follow Your Arrow – which is more mainstream pop than twangy country – could cross over to the pop charts.

"Wherever the song wants to go, I'm happy for it to," Musgraves said. "I want it to live and touch as many people as it can. I don't want it to be constrained by boxes or genres, though I definitely think it's a country song."

She just follows her instincts. That means she'll be opening for Perry on tour later this year.

"I've always been a really big Katy Perry fan," she said. "She's managed to blend huge pop star-ness with lyrics that actually say something. I love the idea of what she does and I do coming together. I think somewhere in the middle it'll make sense.

"We both have lyrically driven music. When it's good music, I don't think genres really matter."

Indeed, following her arrow – even if it isn't exactly straight. – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

A.R. Rahman to perform in Malaysia

Posted: 06 Mar 2014 08:00 AM PST

The renowned Indian composer's music is driven by instinct and passion.

BACK in 1992, when prominent Indian filmmaker Mani Ratnam approached an unassuming ad jingle composer to score his upcoming Tamil film Roja, few would have foreseen history about to be made.

It is more than likely, in fact, that the musician himself had no inkling of the sudden leap into fame he was about to take: to not only have his songs becoming runaway hits, but to become the first debut film composer to bag an Indian National Film Award for Best Music Director.

Twenty-two years, countless films, two Academy Awards, two Grammy Awards, four National Film Awards and 28 Filmfare Awards later, such beginnings seem almost quaint when viewed in the light of what the musical superstar A.R. Rahman, 47, has become. Not only does he hold the distinction of being one of the world's all-time top-selling musicians, he is also lauded worldwide for his innate ability to fuse a wide array of musical styles, traditions and genres.

Hailed as everything from the Mozart of Madras to Isai Puyal (Tamil for "musical storm"), the Chennai-born Rahman is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with in the international music scene, especially since his double Oscar win (Best Original Score and Best Original Song) in 2009 for Slumdog Millionaire and Jai Ho respectively.

And yet, it is in the way Rahman's music has burrowed its way into so many listeners' hearts that his true genius lies. Jai Ho may have catapulted him to global renown, but ask his fans what their favourite Rahman song is, and you are likely to get everything from the poppish Chikku Bukku Rayile and jazzy Adiye to folk-influenced Barso Re and Sufi-inspired Chaiyya Chaiyya – a true testament to the man's ability to weave together varying threads of music into one beguiling whole.

It is this diversity, the ability to cut across age, cultural and taste barriers, that makes Rahman's live concerts so appealing to so many people. And according to Rahman, who was in Kuala Lumpur recently to promote his upcoming concert here, he loves watching his fans engage with his music.

Gifted: A.R. Rahman is the sort of showbiz star to push his audience skywards.

Gifted: A.R. Rahman is the sort of showbiz star to push his audience skywards.

"The thing I enjoy most about concerts is getting to experience what my songs have been in people's lives," he said at the interview. "They've come mentally prepared to listen to a (particular) song, and when that happens, you see this immense joy. It's a great feeling to be able to give that back (to the fans). That's why we take our concerts so seriously."

The three-and-a-half-hour concert, dubbed A.R. Rahman Infinite Love Live In Concert, happening on April 26 at Stadium Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur, will feature a 78-piece music ensemble and an illustrious line-up of Indian singers, such as Mohit Chauhan, Javed Ali, Mano, Chitra, Vijay Prakash, Neeti Mohan, Harshdeep Kaur and Shweta Pandit – many of whom are frequent collaborators with Rahman. The KL concert will be followed by one in Singapore on April 30.

When asked how he decides which songs from his huge body of work to perform at a concert, Rahman says he often goes by feel.

"My team and I go by instincts, and also by what would be fresh for us, because doing the same thing would be boring. And as new movies get released we take stuff from those too; so in the KL concert, you'll be seeing songs from movies like Highway (Hindi movie released last month) and Kochadaiiyaan (an upcoming Tamil film)," he explains, adding that he often tinkers with and makes changes to his concert setlist till the last minute.

There is, of course, no shortage of material to fill the show. Rahman has been consistently churning out hits in Tamil, Hindi and other regional languages since his debut in the industry, having worked with the biggest names in the Indian entertainment industry. In the last five years alone, he scored the massively popular soundtracks to Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa, Raavan, Enthiran, Rockstar, Jab Tak Hain Jaan, Kadal and Maryan.

The Indian film and music industry, he says, is one that has seen many changes since he first waded into it, and through it all, he is careful to hold on to his sense of self.

"There are different evolutions happening in pockets. There are some good things, but there's a quote by Rumi that says, 'I ran so fast that I left my soul behind'; that's happening too. If you're not careful in this industry, you leave your soul behind, and then you have to go back and grab it,"

Besides his homegrown projects, Rahman is also a much sought-after composer in Hollywood for his eclectic sound, having worked on films like Elizabeth: The Golden Age, People Like Us and 127 Hours (for which he was nominated for another two Academy Awards). His most recent foray is with Disney's Million Dollar Arm, slated to be released in May, which completed recording last month.

Working in Hollywood, he says, is a very different experience compared to India.

"In Hollywood, you just do one thing at a time, while in India, I do seven to eight things at once!" he points out, adding that he enjoys amassing these different experiences.

"In Million Dollar Arm, I got to collaborate with many Western artistes, which is always interesting." Rahman, of course, is no stranger to such collaborative work, having worked with big names like Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mick Jagger, Michael Bolton, Joss Stone and MIA.

For all his interest in blurring musical boundaries, however, Rahman says he doesn't usually set out with a plan to work on particular type of music or the other.

"More than music, you learn from life. I don't think about (what genres or styles I want to do). Sometimes I feel compelled to write something, so I do that," he says. It is this reliance on instinct that seems to drive most of Rahman's decisions, and it hasn't seem to have failed him yet. To him, it is a belief in a higher power, a force greater than himself guiding his decisions – as he expressed in his now-famous Oscar speech quote, "Ella pughazhum iraivanukke (All praises are dedicated to God)".

"If something is not close to my heart, I don't do it," he says. "I actually quit a movie because of that, a movie about witches and spooks. I couldn't live with that. I just want the whole ride, the experience of life to be pleasant, and when it's not, it's not worth doing."

A.R. Rahman Infinite Love Live In Concert will be staged on April 26 (7.30pm) at Stadium Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur. Tickets, ranging RM98 to RM1,499, can be purchased at Early bird discounts of 10%-15% are available until March 10. Organised by DML Live, the A.R. Rahman Infinite Love Live In Concert is supported by Malaysia Major Events, a division of the Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau under the Tourism and Culture Ministry.


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