Atif Aslam and Shreya Ghoshal impact Washington!

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This past weekend I saw Atif Aslam and Shreya Ghoshal impact DAR Constitution Hall in Impact 2010. The event was put on with aplomb by Sachin Rajgire and Lavika Bhagat Singh.

The event started right on Indian Standard Time (which is to say, one hour late). Our Emcee for the evening was a poetically minded woman – whose name I didn’t catch. Dressed in a bright red top and skirt, she provided a nice touch of earnestness to an evening that was already headed way into deep camp territory with the first act – the strutting of the Miss India DCs across the stage and back. The crowd was really buzzing with excitement as the dancers, dressed in gloriously tacky ensembles of gold lame tops/trousers for the men and gold lame tops/booty shorts for the women, came out for their medley of recent Bollywood hits. As I wrote in my notes – and will transcribe for you here – “This is the way to warm up a crowd!!”

After the dancers was a wonderful jazz fusion performance from a violinist who was also the musical director of the tour – if I heard correctly. While the crowd wasn’t really feeling it and, to be fair, the pianist did go very heavy on the scales, I thought he was fantastic and wish I knew his name. The came the warm-up guy, a thankless job if there ever was one but he did his duty well, performing a medley of upbeat tunes heavy on the Kishore Kumar. At this point, the crowd was ready to revolt if we didn’t get either Atif or Shreya (people were screaming both names.)

The lights darkened on stage and out came three female dancers with tea lights in their hands…yes, you are correct! ‘Silsila Ye Chaahat Ka’! Shreya emerged from behind them wearing stiletto boots, black leggings, and a sparkly silver top. I overheard some people later saying that the outfit didn’t really fit with her stage persona and I don’t disagree. Shreya is demure onstage and very sweet. She thanked us all for coming out and said it had been three years since she had performed in the US and despite what happened later in the evening, I hope she comes back soon.

Her set was a nice mixture of ballads and a few peppier numbers, with the dancers flitting on and off as required. Shreya is not a belter; she’s a crooner, which means from time to time her voice would get lost in the instrumentation, but for the most part that crystal clear soprano trilled it’s way directly into my heart. Shreya’s catalog is heavy on songs for listening to rather than songs to be danced or sung along to. She hit all the recent biggies: ‘Teri Ore’, ‘Yeh Ishq Hai’, ‘Pal Pal Har Pal’, etc.

There were a couple of surprises for me in her performances. The first was ‘Zoobi Doobi’.If you read my review here at BollySpice you know I loathe this song and it’s insipid lyrics and teethgratingly perky performances. Well, performed live by Shreya, it was transformed into something much more soft and lighthearted – like dancing on cloud instead of having that same cloud rammed into my eardrums with a sharp stick. The second was the chilling ‘Mere Dholna’ from Bhool Bhuliya, which was just as exciting to hear sung live as it would have been to watch Vidya perform the dance. I didn’t realize quite how much Shreya’s voice added to that picturization until this show. (And I’ll take this opportunity to give a brief shout out to the percussionist who did some fine work on ‘Mere Dholna’.)

Sadly, not everyone was as enraptured with Shreya as I was and there was an incident about two-thirds of the way through her set which would have rattled me if I had been in her shoes. She was doing a small bit with the audience where she asking which songs people wanted to hear and some overexcited audience members began chanting Atif Aslam’s name. She brushed it off but didn’t really try to talk with the audience again. The set finished with ‘Dola Re Dola’, which was a little odd sounding without Kavita Krishnamurthy but still lovely.

Next was the low point of the evening when our emcee tried to introduce the second warm-up act only to be booed because we still had to wait for Atif. Yes, booed. I don’t think I’ve ever been in an audience that has actually booed somebody on stage before. Well, she got more than a little upset and scolded us saying that Atif’s band needed to set up and we would have to be patient. Well, I have a lot of respect for warm up act number two, who came out in her skin-tight outfit and sang her medley of Sunidhi Chauhan numbers with an air of defiance. That could not have been an easy thing to do.

Finally, the moment was upon us: Atif Aslam! Let me tell you something, gentle readers, Atif is a Rock Star. And I don’t mean that in the vague ‘let’s party’ way that the actors who mimed their way through the Rock Stars Tour 2005 were rock stars. No, Atif embodies that mixture of cockiness, stage craft, and musical ability that favorably reminded me of performers like Mick Jagger. Atif knew every lady in the audience (and a handful of the men) wanted to get with him and he not only accepted this fact, he basked in it. Mr. Aslam strutted, twisted himself into some deliciously sinuous poses, and played the guitar AND bass for our enjoyment. And he did it all while looking like (as my grandmother might say) ‘the cat who ate the canary.’

Atif played a mixture of songs from his rock career (‘Ehaas’, ‘Maahi Ve’) and, of course, the Bollywood hits (‘Tu Jaane Na’, ‘Woh Lamhe’) . The highlight for me was an inspired acoustic version of ‘Pehli Nazar Mein’ from Race, which was totally transformed from a Pritam song sung by Atif to an Atif Aslam song. I would love to hear him put this version as a bonus track on an upcoming album one of these days. Despite the high levels of excitment among the crowd, our sense of Western decorum was so great that it wasn’t until half way through Atif’s set when he explicitly commanded us to dance, that a few brave souls got up (myself included, I’m proud to say) and boogie-woogied. Five minutes later, everyone was dancing!

All in all, it was a very satisfying show and I highly recommend you check it out if the tour is heading to your neck of the woods.

So, when is the next show and where? According to Shreya via twitter: “The coming up ones are in Raleigh on 19th, Dallas on 20th, Phoenix on 21st, 26th Chicago, 27th NJ, 28th Toronto, 30th Trinidad.”

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