If I’m not mistaken, November 8th, 2000 was the first time I saw John McLaughlin as a bandleader. I always knew he was a stellar guitar player, but I found out on this night that he was more than that: John McLaughlin is clearly in tune with the very gods, and he can put together a hell of a band.
The show was Remember Shakti, an updated grouping of McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain’s ’70’s Indian classical/jazz fusion band Shakti, this time rounded out with percussionist V. Selvaganesh and the late, great U. Srinivas on the five-string mandolin, and it was breathlessly brilliant.
(It’s a huge loss to the music of the planet that Srinivas passed away in 2014 at the age of 45. He was considered the Mozart of Indian classical music and having seen him twice I can personally attest to him being one of the finest, most practised and skilled musicians I’ve ever seen, regardless of the instrument. This concert was the first time I had ever heard of him.)
A subtle drone filled the house to begin the show, a lone note that four of the greatest living musicians in their respective fields spent the next two hours decorating with unimaginable skill, proficiency, and over-the-top musicality. McLaughlin’s slippery, swirling guitar lines perfectly outlined the doo-ump-doop-doop brilliance of Zakir Hussain’s planet-dominating tabla playing; their combined skills were surely unmatchable.
And then McLaughlin handed over the stage to his young mandolin player and suddenly the audience heard what god must sound like. I – like everyone else in the soft-seat crowd – could only sit transfixed, wondering if what we were hearing could possibly be true.
Yes, U. Srinivas was really that good.
Now, think of all of this astounding music exuding from the stage and then imagine that V. Selvaganesh stole the entire show armed with nothing but a crude, home-made tambourine. Impossible, but true. I’ll bet that a good many in the audience remember Selvaganesh’s epic five-minute tambourine solo as the veritable highlight of the show, over and above all of the other astounding, unmistakable talent in the room that evening, and I can’t blame them.
And after two hours of extreme bliss I positively levitated out of the venue, struck dumb with the wealth of talent that had been spent on the stage before me. I will remember Remember Shakti for a long time to come.
(I ended up seeing the exact same lineup play again in the exact same room almost exactly three years later, and I enjoyed it then just as much as I had at this one. Which, like I say, was a lot.)