Warren’s Bombay and the Blackstratblues

The first time I listened to Blackstratblues was four years ago. The ubiquitous haze across the Blue Frog stage seemed to be growing only denser (It always does as the night wears on) and as a set of fresh-out-of-college musicians finished their first ever set in one of Mumbai’s most iconic venues, I entered the narrow hallway and into the almost-phosphorescent dome only to find the last remnants of applause all around. I had been just an hour late and was already kicking myself for missing out on the band I was so looking forward to. Bummed at my luck, I headed out for a quick smoke and began speaking with a few guys hanging around on the outside. “That’s me”, said one of the guys standing and smoking with me and headed inside. An exponentially increasing applause fluttered over an unexpected buzz in my head and as I made my way inside, there was this guy on stage with his Fender Stratocaster, fiddling around and adjusting the volume like it was an everyday affair. “Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you one of the finest guitarists this city has ever produced”, announced the host. “Warren Mendosa”. And as he went on to play his best ever version of "Bombay rain" that night (I’ve seen him play over 15 times since) it felt almost like it embedded itself in my head.

(Image courtesy: musicperk)

It was only later that I realized I had seen Warren Mendosa as part of an earlier outfit before – "Zero" which was a hugely popular band during its times (And even now if you ask me!). But it was in 2007, with Blackstratblues, that Warren released his first solo album "Nights in shining Karma", as a free digital-only download. Personally, I feel this is among the best albums that anyone in this country has ever released. And each time he performs songs from here live, it sounds like an entirely different beast.

The almost ballad-like “Anuva’s sky” lulls you into submission and fills you with an unfounded optimism that shall leave you utterly confused yet euphoric. And this is why every work of Warren’s is such an attraction. A religious obsession over technique makes every song so personal that it sounds entirely different at different times of the day. For me though, Blackstratblues has mostly been a nocturnal companion. Ethereal and full of echoes, their songs have over the years evoked in me what only bands like Pink Floyd and Sigur Ros could – A sense of surreal calm. One listen to “A weekend with you (And nothing else to do))” and you would just want to lie down on your Sunday couch and give up. Who thought abject submission could be such a pleasurable feeling?

Every album seems to be entirely different when emanating from this band (Which started out as a solo project and maybe that's why) and with "Ode to a sunny day", they deliver something that is outer-worldly: "A melody that spirals through infinite loops in your head, accompanied by a riff that is ever so simple and mesmerizing, both culminating in a feverish end-game that bursts out and bleeds sheer joy"

(Image courtesy: 1.bp.blogspot.com)

Be it with Blackstratblues or with other artists, one can always spot Warren across Mumbai’s music scene. With iconic venues like Blue Frog closing down to let it in more mainstream into the mainland, it becomes essential and almost imperative (for music) that bands like Blackstratblues keep thriving. And with the album “The universe has a strange sense of humor” they added another gem to their already impressive repertoire. With the talented Karsh Kale and Jai Row Kavi assisting Mendosa with drums/percussion, the sounds are now even richer and more relaxed. As we see the ‘Police and Thief’ chase span across the video for “Renaissance mission”, we hear psychedelic guitar layers that travel effortlessly within the vortex created by the stunning percussion, enabling us to travel in a completely different space as we listen to it. The solo(s) in this piece are so perfectly crafted that I’m sure it’ll make it to any playlist designed for travelling in outer space (Four songs below “Echoes” if you ask me!)

Life disappoints. All of us do. But not this album. As the expansive, dreamy “Come Anyway” is followed up with a more familiar (An older work put together) Anandamide (Almost Carnatic in a way) which in turn is followed by the generous “Folkish three”, we decide to take a break to breathe it all in. “Folkish three” is generous – It is a magnanimous outpouring of all the right notes that release endorphins in your head – In one song.

Last couple of years have been monumental for Warren. Not just did he release a new album that topped the Apple Music India charts for a good amount of time but was also blessed with a son! The album “The Last Analog Generation” has been setting benchmarks for the Indian independent music scene ever since its launch. In an album that reminds us of tones reminiscent of the Pink Floyd of the Division Bell times, North Star is our favorite and we highly recommend you to give it a listen.

The Blackstratblues will be back at the Mahindra Blues this year, after clearly being among the top favorites of the audience last year. We look forward to another night full of thick, stinging solos from the master.