Live: Kula Shaker @ The Roundhouse
Kula Shaker were to the nineties what Franz Ferdinand became in the noughties: a band with a wildly successful debut album followed by over-saturated press coverage followed by descent into obscurity – whilst everybody wondered whether they had actually been any good in the first place. Everybody, that is, except for the people who saw Kula Shaker play live. I had that pleasure twice in their eminent years and they were without doubt one of the most exciting live acts I’ve ever seen.
The band went on hiatus in 1999, fully reforming (minus original keys player Jay Darlington) in 2006. Albums with limited commercial success followed, but six years on from their last record Pilgrims Progress, Kula Shaker are now promoting their latest album release, K2.0. Whilst strictly speaking not a sequel, inevitable comparisons have been drawn to the inaugural K, which holds the distinction of being the fastest selling UK debut album since the Gallagher brothers dropped Definitely Maybe.
To be honest, I’m as responsible as anyone for contributing to the fall from grace. Like an awful lot of people, I’ve a copy of K on the shelf, but resisted the temptation to buy into any more of the recorded works. So, it’s with a slight tinge of guilt that I find myself at the Roundhouse tonight; reunited with Kula Shaker’s live performance almost exactly twenty years after my last time.
It’s good to be here too. The Roundhouse is an eccentric place; the collection of pillars supporting the roof also supports probably the largest number of restricted view seats in any venue on earth – but it’s a fabulous performance space and I’ve never had a bad gig here. It holds a special place in my heart too. My eldest daughter experienced her first concert (Elvis Costello, 27 July 1996) under the big dome. She was born four months later and nineteen years on she has a passion for live music that probably exceeds my own. The place obviously exuded good vibes.
It was exuding the heady waft of incense in advance of Kula Shaker’s performance tonight – a sea of joss sticks adding to the fog being created by an over enthusiastic smoke machine round the back. By the time Crispian Mills and the band appeared, you’d be forgiven for thinking London was back in the 1800s and I was half expecting Jack the Ripper to make an appearance in the photo pit. Opening number Sound Of Drums crashed around the periphery of the Roundhouse and did its best to quell the smog.
From the outset, Mills threw himself and his guitar around with abandon and it was clear this was going to be a very high-octane performance, just like the good old days. The first half-dozen or so songs were dispatched like Kalashnikov rounds before the frontman took time to draw breath – and then it was only to observe that drummer Paul Winter-Hart had disappeared in the gloom. The set was a canny mix of the new Infinite Sun, Mountain Lifter, 33 Crows with the not so new dropped every fifteen minutes or so to keep everybody on their toes. These classic songs from K (Grateful When You’re Dead/Jerry Was Here, 303) had the crowd singing in unison and it was these moments of mass nostalgia that helped glue the whole performance together.
The close was particularly strong for fans of the 1990s. A triumvirate of the Joe South cover Hush, Tattva and Hey Dude – the latter introduced as “a song written when we were kids, it’s time to relieve your childhood”. Crowd lights so bright you could land a jumbo jet by them illuminated the venue and a sea of beer cups went flying through the air. I suppose the only difference between now and then is that twenty years ago the beer cups would already have long since taken flight. Seeing the circular domed roof lit up like this makes you feel like you’re taking a ride in a giant flying saucer. It all seems strangely appropriate given the mystical psychedelic nature of much of the music.
The band played Govinda for their final encore, a song that holds the distinction of being the only UK top ten hit to be sung entirely in Sanskrit. Mills led the community singing from the front conducting in wildly exaggerated style. “Govinda Jaya Jaya, Gopala Jaya Jaya, Radha-Ramana Hari, Govinda Jaya Jaya” we all cried, entirely clueless as to what any of it meant. To help out, the lyrics (in Sanskrit, obviously) were projected on screens amidst a succession of other Hindu symbolism. It was a typically eccentric ending for a band used to plaudits and ridicule in equal measure. With favourable reviews for K2.0 and an undiminished electrifying live performance, Kula Shaker certainly deserve to receive some more of the former going forward.
Live Review & Concert Photography by Simon Reed. See more of Simon’s photography on his personal website: www.musicalpictures.co.uk
An interview with Kula Shaker https://rockshot.co.uk/19110/interview-the-rebirth-of-kula-shaker/