[20060086] Talvin Singh – Tabtek

Talvin Singh – Tabtek

Talvin Singh @ Thebarton Theatre

9:00pm, Fri 17 Mar 2006

The Festival mob seemed to be ultra-chuffed to be able to present Talvin Singh, bigging up his Australian premiere wherever possible. “Internationally regarded cult DJ,” they claimed; “spectacular audio and visual set.” Given that I know nowt of the international DJ scene (or even the national or local DJ scenes, for that matter), this was always going to be a risky performance for me. So, how did the evening pan out?

The crowd is an interesting mix; Festival Regulars (definitely in the minority) mixed with The Kids who know of Singh’s work. A bunch of The Kids are in front of my Row K position… though Row J looked hopelessly under-filled. Comps, maybe? No matter; overall, the Festival would have to have been happy with the turnout at Thebby Theatre.

My neighbour (a Festival Regular, and self-professed tabla guru) asks “Do you think this will be traditional, or modern?” I look at the stage – two leather lounge chairs (a la Ota), Mac PowerBook amid a rack of electronic goodies, an array of synths, and percussive hitty things. And the tabla, he points out, at the right-hand-side of the stage… a stage dominated by technology.

I feared my neighbour would be leaving early.

Singh’s cohorts come onstage first to lay down some soothing ambient backing tunage. Keys and samples, and presumably visuals, are covered by two chaps on keys & PowerBooks. The samples sound crackly at times – not overdriven, just poor quality… surprise number one. Surprise number two was the fact that the visuals, crap as they were, weren’t even being generated live… which I though was almost a pre-requisite for a show such as this.

Anyhoo, eventually Singh arrives and the beats kick in – and things take a turn for the better. Drumming away on various sample-laden pads, before moving onto the tabla. The tempo lifts, and the bass-heavy nature of the percussion means that the music becomes a blur that you can feel through your feet. Singh’s tabla playing is great – he seems to eke out rhythms that you’d hardly believe were possible with just two hands.

Despite the troubled opening, after half-an-hour I was feeling pretty chuffed with Tabtek; it had evolved into a complex and intelligent collaboration of traditional percussion and modern technology. However, things took another turn – for the worse – when the three guys onstage were joined by a woman. Her presence was required to repetitively whisper three words – as opposed to “sing” – into a microphone, and dance. And I use the term “dance” loosely; starry-eyed stoner-drone wobbling would be a more appropriate description.

Then the production team start tinkering with echo effects on the tabla mikes – ewwwww. The samples get even more fractured and broken. The delay introduced into the live video feed created a distance between myself and the performers. And then the accompaniment leaves the stage, leaving Singh alone at the tabla… hopes rise for something special as he launches into a tabla solo that lasted at least 25 minutes. And, typical of the entire performance, the first third was great. Unfortunately, the second third invoked feelings of “yeah, we get the idea”, and the final third is best described as “shut the fuck up already.”

It’s a twenty-five minute drum solo, for Christ’s sake. What the hell was I thinking?

The last segment was just plain shit – atonal, devoid of rhythm, disappointing.

So, let’s summarise: there was some nice ambient stuff, some great beats, some crap samples, shithouse “special visuals”, and a lot of tabla. It started late and finished early. And, despite the good bits, it just felt like a bunch of chums gathered onstage to engage in a little bit of navel-gazing knob-twiddling whilst searching for the Brown Note.

And that, to me, does not make a good performance.

My neighbour, perhaps annoyed by the prevalence of technology early on, *did* leave just before Singh’s massive solo. Initially, I felt sorry that he missed the bit he had probably most wanted to see; by the end, I envied him.

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