Here's what Happened at Mumbai's First Live Gig in the New Normal

Updated: 20 November, 2020 11:43 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Experiencing a live gig in Mumbai after the eight-month lockdown was a high like no other, despite masks, air purifiers, and neon tape floor signs that said, stand here and sway

Audience members maintain distance while wearing masks
Audience members maintain distance while wearing masks

There was a mix of subdued apprehension and tingling excitement as I made my way in a cab to AntiSocial with a couple of friends on Wednesday, the night the venue reopened for live gigs after you know what. Apprehension, because we would be standing in a closed space with strangers even as the pandemic shows no signs of abetting. And excitement because, well, we have all been thirsting for the visceral feeling of a band thrashing it out live on stage. Think of the mixed feelings that someone getting ready for a blind date might get. That's how we felt while getting off the cab at Lower Parel, where AntiSocial is located.

On reaching the venue, our temperatures were checked at the door, where we were also asked to sanitise our hands and download a government-necessitated app. And on entering, the first thing that greeted us was the unfamiliar smell of a UVC system, which does the job of constantly purifying the air within. The other thing that we noticed were markings made with neon tapes that made the floor look like a Twister mat of sorts, except that instead of wriggling around bodies as you would do in the popular game, these spots were designated for social distancing. That was the only structural change at the place. So far, so good. But where were the people? There were barely 10 audience members when we walked in around 9 pm. Could it be that Mumbai — the city that never sleeps — is still not ready to return to its roots as the country's party capital? That's the question I had as I scanned a QR code with my phone to peruse the F&B menu, which has been retained in its entirety.

The F16s play the city’s first live gig after the pandemic. Pics/Bipin Kokate
The F16s play the city’s first live gig after the pandemic. Pics/Bipin Kokate

The answer arrived along with the rest of the audience by 10 pm. I stood at the bar, close to the door, watching youngsters walk in with darting eyes to gauge the scene inside, caught in a conundrum about whether to keep their masks on or take them off, many eventually letting it hang from an ear to be used whenever they felt like it. These were clearly not the sort of folks who'd enlist for a pro-Trump rally, which was encouraging. What was even better is that they obediently took their spots at the Twister-like markings on the floor as Chennai-based alt-rock act The F16s took the stage. The moment of reckoning had arrived. My apprehensions had dissipated by then, and my excitement had reached fever pitch.

Let me now try and explain what the experience of an actual live gig is like, in case you have forgotten the feeling. There is a sense of electricity that cuts through the air like a machete cutting through red tape when the first chords are played. The music then starts engulfing the room thanks to a state-of-the-art sound system, until it starts pulsing through your veins, which is when you find your feet moving inadvertently to the beat. You look around, and find that there is a shared sense of joy among the audience members, as if they are supporters of a football club celebrating their team's goal. There is one 20-something guy I noticed who had so much happiness plastered on his face that I couldn't help but feed off it. My own friend was dancing with such gay abandon that it seemed like she had taken a trip to another planet that she didn't want to come back from. That's the sort of magic that swirled through AntiSocial as The F16s belted out one tune after another; their guitars, keys and vocals blending into a harmonious mix of melodies.

Nothing — no virtual concert — can ever match up to that feeling. Let's get that straight. But let's also get it equally straight that things still aren't the way they used to be, and they won't be until we discover an effective vaccine. That's why the 100-odd audience members who were there at AntiSocial deserve a salute. The venue has started organising live gigs on a regular basis again, and these people realised that you shouldn't cut a goose that lays golden eggs. There is an electronic dance gig scheduled for Saturday, and a metal concert the day after. My guess — or at least hope — is that revellers won't be gyrating with each other at the former, and the latter won't witness a mosh pit. But that's going only by what I witnessed on Wednesday night because if that indeed was a blind date, I am ready to get married.

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First Published: 20 November, 2020 08:50 IST

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