Kula Shaker

Kula Shaker

Phoenix, Exeter
Monday, 30th January 2023

Kula Shaker logo

Hey Dudes, Kula Shaker are back on the road, and by the evidence of a sold out Exeter Phoenix on a cold January night the fans are welcoming them back with open arms, many of them clearly re-living earlier years. Kula Shaker hit it big for a while in the late 1990s in the wake of the Britpop wave of bands with their own distinctive Eastern-tinged crossover of indie rock and psychedelia on their very successful debut album K, which reached Number One in the UK. They also had a string of hit singles, including two Number Twos in Hey Dude and Hush, previously a hit for Deep Purple. The second album Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts was released in 1999 with some success, including a Top Three hit for Sound of Drums, but it did not reach the remarkable commercial and critical heights of their debut… and then they just seemed to disappear. Eventually, their third release, Strangefolk, arrived in 2007, followed by Pilgrim’s Progress in 2010, but in truth they did not have the same impact or resonance. However, more recently they seem to be gathering more momentum with fifth album K 2.0’ in 2016 very much in the footsteps of K, and somewhat delayed by the pandemic has come the well-received 1st Congregational Church of Eternal Love (and Free Hugs) in 2022.

Before the main event the crowd were treated to a great support act in the Dhol Foundation, featuring Johnny Kalsi of Afro Celt Sound System with two fellow drummers, one of whom controlled the samples. Johnny exuded such joy in his drumming and his enthusiasm and charisma soon infected the Devon audience, all punching the air in time with the Bhangra Beats. Their set featured Drummer’s Reel, which featured on the soundtrack for Martin Scorcese’s 2002 film Gangs of New York. Kalsi was an engaging front man, explaining the roots of this music in the Punjab in India. They finished an energetic and popular set with the Gaelic tinged After the Rain, originally written with Afro Celt Sound System, and the place was buzzing for the main act.

Dohl Foundation

Kula Shaker hit the stage and ripped into the adrenalin rush of Hey Dude, Crispian Mills prowling the stage brandishing his guitar with style, and the place was immediately jumping as seemingly the whole crowd joyously sang out the “Hey Dude!” chorus. Paul Winterhart was a whirling dervish behind the drum kit, driving on the groove with such power and touch. Crispian is a real showman and ingratiates himself with the crowd by sharing their delight to be playing their first gig on the A303 (which ends near Exeter, and is a cracking song from K). Kula Shaker kept up the momentum by launching into the tribal rhythms of Sound of Drums, their biggest hit from Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts. Strangely, this is the only song from that album to feature (setlists from the stage had scheduled Great Hosannah from that album later, but sadly it was dropped). Sound of Drums is a real showcase for the returning keyboardist Jay Darlington who excels on organ on this thumping track. Jay left the band in 1999 and only returned in December 2022, but it is great to see him back on the stage with Kula Shaker after playing live with Oasis for quite some years, and more latterly playing with the excellent Devon psychedelic band Magic Bus whilst he lived in Totnes. Jay moved away from Totnes and Magic Bus’s loss is very much Kula Shaker’s gain as he masterfully wove great musical spells on his organ and keyboards. He clearly takes the role of being a ‘Keyboard Wizard’ very literally, as his magnificent beard and flowing hair have reached Gandalf-like proportions!

Jay Darlington Kula Shaker

Kula Shaker showed considerable confidence in wheeling out a number of their newer songs, including three that have not even been released yet. Mills announced that the title of (Whatever it is) I’m Against it is based on a quote from Groucho Marx, and this new song from the latest album starts with a killer guitar riff and rollocks along riotously. The chanted Infinite Sun takes us back to familiar Indian mystical sounds so beloved of their early career, but this one came from K 2.0. Kula Shaker’s knack of melding Eastern sounds and rhythms with infectious rock riffs and melodies is exemplified in this rolling delight of a song, but this is the only song in the set to be derived from K 2.0, the emphasis tonight very much on their classic debut and newer songs, particularly the impressive 1st Congregational Church of Eternal Love (and Free Hugs). The first of the completely new songs, Gaslight, was introduced by Mills as being about abusive relationships. This piece includes the wonderfully be-hatted Alonza Bevan on bass taking on some of the vocals to ‘testify’. Bevan is rock solid and stylish on bass (and clothes!) all evening. Later in the set, Kula Shaker also regaled the crowd with two other new songs, including the breezy Waves, with some humorous ad libbing from Mills about the ‘totty in Totnes’. The much heavier Taxes followed, a political song about not wanting to pay taxes to pay for wars. Later in the set Kula Shaker rolled out the Beatles-esque Gingerbread Man and the whimsical Farewell Beautiful Dreamer from their recent album, which both went down well with the crowd. The quality of these new songs is very encouraging, especially for forthcoming albums, and fit in well with the rest of the set. However, six new songs (including the three unreleased) seems a lot after quite some years away, strangely ignoring some great tracks, from the second album in particular. It’s a small quibble though as overall the gig was excellent, and featuring so many new songs is testament to Kula Shaker’s confidence in this new material.

Crispian Mills & Paul Winterheart  - Kula Shaker

After the edginess of Gaslight, Kula Shaker stretched out into rather more calmer waters with the gentle intro of Temple of Everlasting Light, which rises like an eagle musically with increasing power. The K-era songs continue to roll out with the killer riff opening of Grateful When You’re Dead, featuring fantastic drumming and bass from Winterhart and Bevan in the rhythm house engine room. Mills powerfully bellows out the lyrics and spices it all up with some tremendous wah-wah guitar as the song roars along. The power gives over to subtle percussion and shimmering keys as we morph into the hippy musings of Jerry Was There, Bevan’s subtle bass carrying it as Mills shows it’s not all about speed and power as he plays a beautifully graceful guitar solo which builds and builds – it’s all rather beautiful. Mills has clearly been studying the ‘Guitarist’s Guide to Rock God Poses’ as he runs through the whole gamut of shapes whilst always being able to play the guitar spectacularly well. Is it corny? Maybe, but it’s also exciting and very entertaining – he really puts it out there.

We were all probably expecting one cover, the inevitable Hush (based on a cover by Deep Purple in the early ’70s) but a second cover is a surprise to some as Kula Shaker play a sensitive version of John Lennon’s protest song Gimme Some Truth, which the band released on 11th November last year to mark the anniversary of the end of World War One… for sadly obvious reasons in the light of recent events.

Kula Shaker’s first ‘comeback’ album, Strangefolk, was represented by just one song… but what a choice – Song of Love / Narayana is an outstanding psychedelic rock song with Bevan anchoring it magnificently on bass. The “Narayana” chant is infectious – it is hard not to smile for most of this joyous, grooving gig… and heaven forbid, even dance a bit!!

Alonza Bevan Kula Shaker

The place is really rocking when the band sets off for home by kicking into the fun jaunt of 303, peppered with wah-wah guitar, crunching riffs, sweeping organ chords and ridiculously silly lyrics, a Devon crowd totally understanding the joy of the ‘Highway to the West’ that is the A303. The excitement levels rose with the hypnotic psychedelic rock chant of Kula Shaker’s first ever single Tattva, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘essence’, ‘reality’ or ‘truth.’ There can only be one song to finish the main set as the ’60s riffs of Hush chime through the Phoenix with Jay Darlington dazzling on the organ. The crowd go rather bonkers – what a way to finish the set.

Of course, it’s not all over and Kula Shaker return for a triumphant and ecstatic encore capped off with an extended version of Govinda, featuring Johnny Kalsi on the Dhol drum returning to the stage to add more heft and groove to the Eastern rhythms. This swirling, rapturous, rolling epic sweeps all before it and on a cold January night in Devon a whole room is transported to another plane full of light and joy – it really did feel that good.

Kula Shaker really are back. If you get a chance to see them then just go along – even if you don’t know their music. It doesn’t matter as you’ll just be swept along on the joyous waves.

Kula Shaker - Exeter Phoenix in January 2023

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Hey Dude
Sound of Drums
(Whatever it is) I’m Against it
Infinite Sun
Temple of Everlasting Light
Grateful When You’re Dead / Jerry Was There
Gimme Some Truth
Gingerbread Man
Farewell Beautiful Dreamer
Into the Deep
Song of Love / Narayana
~ Encore:

Crispian Mills – Vocals, Electric Guitars
Jay Darlington – Keyboards & Organ
Alonza Bevan – Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
Paul Winterhart – Drums & Percussion, Samples
~ with:
Johnny Kalsi – Dhol Drum (for encore)

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