THE NIGHT OF
The day was Saturday, November 9th, 2019. SIMRIT had played the night before in San Francisco. I always go to as many shows as I’m able to. With my teaching work, I often can only get to a couple per tour. For this Fall 2019 Tour, I was fortunate enough to attend a pretty significant amount of shows!
The tour opened in our hometown of Nevada City, CA with a two-night run. The first night was excellent. The second night was transcendent, and the only other show I attended that was at the cosmic heights of this Los Angeles show we’re about to experience together. I also attended the shows in Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, and Encinitas. All were great. None were LA.
We departed the theater in San Francisco sometime after midnight on that Friday and decided to drive half-way to LA before finding a hotel and getting a few hours of sleep before finishing the drive.
When we arrived at the historic Wilshire Ebell Theater in LA on a beautiful and warm Saturday afternoon, everyone was nicely sleep deprived. Sometimes the right amount of sleep deprivation can facilitate great art, particularly of the psychedelic variety! The feeling of the day seemed infused with joy. It felt like a ‘good show day.’ Sometimes you can feel it. After all, the future and the present are ultimately intertwined.
The Wilshire Ebell is a great place. There is a lot of history there, and you can feel it in the walls. In continuous operation since 1927, it’s one of the oldest live performance venues in Los Angeles. From Judy Garland and Julie Andrews to Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Prince, and Michelle Obama: this space has vibes. The women’s club connected to the theater has been there a long time and is said to have been helping to empower women throughout its history. Perhaps that adds to the good energy we felt there.
We had an INCREDIBLE time that night. This is a live concert I will never forget. I spent most of my time dancing with several of our close friends who were also in attendance. Simrit’s parents were sitting nearby me. They too were blown away. What that must be like to watch your precious daughter do THAT!? In a certain way, everyone there felt like family. When a group of people experiences something transcendent together, it creates a special bond—it turns strangers into family.
LIVE-BLOG: SIMRIT – Live in Los Angeles, November 9, 2019
Some important things to know before we get started:
- I think this album deserves to be heard on a proper sound system, or at least solid headphones!
- Play it loud…trust me on this one.
- It’s a complete journey. At least once, and ideally, the first time you hear it, listen from beginning to end in one sitting. You’ll see what I mean.
- SIMRIT is comprised of Simrit Kaur on lead vocal and harmonium, Salif Bamakora on kora, Shannon Lee Hayden on cello and guitar, Devon Ashley on percussion, and Jared May on bass. They are ALL heavyweights.
- The album was recorded by their live-sound engineer, Matt Hagan. Matt is superb at what he does. He mixes the SIMRIT Live sound as well as I’ve heard.
- The album was exquisitely mixed and mastered by our dear friend and genius record producer, Paul Mahern, who I know as Mahan Kalpa. I think you’ll find the sonic experience of this album to be world-class.
- Finally, there is nothing I can write to express what this music is. I’m going to try anyhow…
OK, PUSH PLAY!
As soon as the first rhythm notes hit you, it’s apparent that this is serious. It’s heavy, mystic, and moving. A rousing applause welcomes Simrit to the stage, her signature vocals begin to soar, and we’re off.
The feel of this thing right out the gate has me completely locked into the sound. My head is nodding and I immediately feel the goodness of what’s to come.
Agunjul is a perfect opener. It’s an invocation: ‘Salutations to the infinite, who has no name, and lives in all beings.’ A mantric stanza from the most famous poem of the mystic medieval warrior-saint of North India, Guru Gobind Singh. Drummer Devon Ashley sets a rhythm pocket that is tremendously deep—it’s his superpower, simple and pure. Devotees of rhythm will know what I mean.
When people call Simrit’s vocals ‘haunting,’ this is what they mean. She brings this powerful sound current to life.
Mantras are fascinating. First there is the idea of a power inherent in the word, something like an uplifting force, codified within sound, vibrated from the magical instrument that is the human body. Then, there is the idea that the mantric sound was birthed from the wonderful consciousness of a magnificent being, perhaps the source of its innate goodness. Perhaps most importantly, they sound beautiful, and can naturally evoke an elevated or devotional mood. It’s interesting to consider, many of these mantras have been chanted with reverence by countless people throughout time. I don’t know how that affects our experience of them, but I bet it does!
Seamlessly moving out of Agunjul, Prithvi Hai has us launching into orbit. Listening to this as Salif’s kora groove sets the pocket, there is a definite sense the band is firing on all cylinders. There is the groove within the groove…that special something that happens when an entire band is connecting beyond limitations of normal ideas and language. It’s a chemistry, an electricity, an intangible that is felt by everyone present, regardless if they are aware of it.
We’re only getting started: It’s like the scene in any epic just before our heroes are launching into their great battle. Here, the battle is of the spiritual type…the work of wizards or magicians using sounds and songs. There is a spirit to it that goes beyond a normal concert. It feels shamanic, summoning something mysterious. The stuff of both heaven and earth – Prithvi hai, Akash hai!
Naturally to a SIMRIT set, Clandestine is next. The beat drops, dancers fill the aisles of the Wilshire, hearts bursting open, and we’ve achieved lift-off! The spirits are lifted everywhere. Clandestine is simply an exceptional song, and this performance of it holds its own: Shannon’s iconic cello riff, Simrit’s SOULFUL vocals, the rhythm section! The song peaks with Salif’s impressive solo. The whole thing is an expression of the brilliant love that flows through five humans who have genuinely devoted their life to an artistic craft.
As soon as Clandestine comes to a close, the thumping beat of It Is Written wastes no time keeping us going. Just when we thought we may have a rest, the journey continues with some definite force. To me, the It Is Written lyrics set the song’s tone. Inspired by the first stanza of Nanak’s timeless Japji, Simrit and Salif co-wrote this wonderful tune. So much wisdom in the words, and sung with such soul. It’s completely unique, capturing the ancient feel, yet with a wonderful freshness. For me, Simrit’s melodic ode to Nanak towards the end is pure sweetness. She can sing with the best of them, one of those rare artists where technicality and soul are perfectly matched. As I listen, a great wave of love swells throughout my heart. It’s like nectar.
We’re now a full forty minutes in…fully enveloped in the SIMRIT sound, and here comes CCV.
If the end of It Is Written bursts open the heart, CCV dwells in that space. It’s the song of a warrior, longing for the Divine, asking for protection, swimming in the infinite. Here we get to witness Simrit’s melodic genius. It may be her superpower.
A few years ago, Simrit and I spent an afternoon with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, at his home in Maui. The evening before he had attended the concert with Simrit, Salif, and Shannon at the beautiful Makawao Union Church. He absolutely loved it, was probably the last person to leave the venue that night, and suggested we come and hang out the following day. We did. It was a lot of fun and I experienced him to be a genuine brother with a huge heart…and wicked life stories! He told me that Simrit’s melodies were ‘McCartney-esque.’ I know what he means.
The intensity of CCV gives way to Dhan Baba Nanak. I’ve heard the band call it ‘old faithful’…it never disappoints. Its intro is epic, like I’ve never heard prior to this show. When the groove drops, it’s tremendous, with Devon Ashley and Jared May holding a rhythm pocket that will challenge your ability to sit still in your seat! It goes on, every moment wonderful. As the song accelerates we get to witness just how masterful these musicians are, both individually and collectively…all of them. The improvisation and orchestration, somehow all happens together with the spirit of life traveling through us all.
This music just grooves. To me the transition from Baba Nanak to Oh Nayhu is a highlight of the show. It’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the interludes all throughout the show. It is an art-form in and of itself, and this band creates some real magic with them.
Oh Nayhu: This gorgeous Sikh poem is brought to life through the SIMRIT sound in both cosmic and fierce fashion. Their arrangement here is really brilliant and makes this performance shine. It takes you on a journey without ever losing its pocket. The band is on fire. My goodness!
The set ends in the most perfect way with perhaps the most beautiful Sat Narayan I’ve ever heard. It’s as if we emerge into a space of love itself…the bliss, the longing, the pain. Again, melodic beauty. The vocals, kora, guitar, bass, drums…all delivering a truly healing salve for the soul.
If it had ended there, we would have felt fully filled. I would have said it’s a masterpiece. But there’s more…and for me, it is the encore that takes this to another level entirely. Technically it’s three songs in total, but as with the rest of the album should be taken in as a complete composition: Dark Star > All of Myself > Dark Star > Just A Glance Pt. 1
I’m a Deadhead, so I may be biased. See what you think…
The first time this band played Dark Star (the iconic Grateful Dead tune), it was one of the coolest musical moments I can remember. I’ve been to probably more SIMRIT shows than any other person outside of the band and I had never heard this iteration of the group play a cover song. Never cheesy or cliche, when they dropped this on night two of the back-to-back show in Nevada City, CA earlier last year, it really did feel magical. It seemed to me that there were two types of people there: 1) Those who weren’t sure what the music was but knew it was dope, and 2) Lovers of the Grateful Dead scattered through the crowd who as soon as they heard the signature riff, looked around and thought ‘OH FUCK!’ That was the opener of the tour. LA wasn’t the closer, but it was the last show I went to on this tour…what a way to bookend my experience.
The LA 2019 encore is very memorable for me. The crowd was ecstatic. Hearts were wide open, people were in awe, love filled the air. The uniquely SIMRIT Dark Star is so cool. They do it justice, and to me that says a lot.
All of Myself is one of my favorite songs Simrit has written. Through and through it’s a wonderful song. It has all the stuff. This performance of it is among my very favorites…so beautiful…then, wonderfully back into Dark Star to land the spaceship!
That brings us to our finale. Just A Glance Pt. 1 is the jam! Co-written by Simrit and Salif, it draws on a mystic Sufi poem. There are few songs that move me in the way this one does. I know I’m not alone with that sentiment. What a creation! On that night in LA, as with every other night, it brought the house down. It’s a celebration, it’s joy.
We’ve come full circle. The ‘hero’s journey’ is complete. When we return, we do so better than when we left—more love, more wisdom, more life. This album is the stuff of legends. I mean that. It’s that level of artistic greatness that becomes legendary over time.
If you want to come up with some negative critiques of this live album, have at it. For me, it’s perfect. For the band, I know they are never satisfied, always looking for what’s next. That’s their craft. I can’t wait for LA 2021, and every other show for that matter. A transcendent work of art from beginning to end is now immortalized in a recording that’s available to the world. Give thanks for that. Lord knows I‘m grateful to have this sonic treasure to enjoy for the rest of my life.