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Concert Reviews:
A.R. Rahman keeps his "promise" to return to Silverdome
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

PONTIAC -- Not too many concerts come as loaded with backstory as Saturday's (Sept. 25) stop of the A.R. Rahman Jai Ho Concert: The Journey Home World Tour at the Pontiac Silverdome.

It was, after all, the first proper concert at the Silverdome under its new ownership. And it returned the Indian composer's spectacle to the site where a June 19 stage collapse put several workers in the hospital and postponed the majority of the tour's originally scheduled North American leg.

And, lest we forget, it's a notable concert even without all that drama, with the Academy Award-winning Rahman, one of the world's leading film scorers, offering a lengthy -- two hours and 25 minutes -- but invigorating and insightful tour through his nearly two decades of work, accenting his own material with an array of traditional Indian favorites and even a medley in tribute to forebear Hari Haran.

Fortunately the extraneous details were relegated to the background on Saturday as Rahman and his 34-member ensemble of singers, musicians and dancers dazzled a crowd of about 6,000 with a musically uplifting and visually exciting romp through some three dozen numbers in the drafty Silverdome. Rahman may not be a household name, and his songs, save for "Jai Ho," are largely unknown by American audiences, but the sheer strength and exuberance of the performances, bolstered by a surprisingly clear and crisp sound mix certainly leapt any language and cultural barriers.

The show, divided into seven thematic sections, ran a wide gamut that incorporated traditional rhythms ("Rang De Basanti," "Barso Re"), funk and urban styles ("O Saya," "Athiradi"), reggae ("Nana"), electronic dance music ("Pappu Can't Dance," "Hello Mister," "Liquid Dance") and pop songs as commercial as anything heard on U.S. Top 40 stations ("Nazrein Milaana, Nazrein Churanna," "Bharat Humko," "Only You"). "Luka Chupri" included a holographic duet with octogenarian Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar, while "Khwaja-Ar," which closed the show's Spiritual Section, and the anthemic "Ringa Ringa" and "Chaiyya" were among several moments of pure transcendence.

The concert's visuals, meanwhile, were on par with the likes of Madonna and Lady Gaga, featuring lavish staging and elaborate choreography -- even if a moat of space between the VIP seating at the front of the stage and the regular Silverdome grandstand created an odd bit of distance. But sitting back a bit was perhaps the best way to view the multi-leveled theatrics, which included an arielist and contortionist as well as a moving set that provided fresh looks during different parts of the show -- including a cage effect for "Mausam and Escape" that took sent one dancer twirling above the stage.

Rahman himself was on stage most of the show, singing and playing piano and keyboards. He was gracious but not loquacious, saying he was happy to return to "keep a promise" but letting the music do the talking for him -- a task the repertoire was most certainly up to.



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