AUTORICKSHAW as part of DirectAid at Harbourfront Centre Theatre, January 28. Tickets: $25. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
I wish I could convey the golden quality of Autorickshaw's recent Harbourfront Centre Theatre appearance as passionately as the gentleman to my left, who moaned during the performance's peak points like Frasier Crane on the brink of orgasm.
Then again, he seemed equally enraptured during interludes by CBC Global Village's easy-mannered host, Jowi Taylor . It was all for a good cause: the sold-out formal show was a benefit for the direct long-term rebuilding of a community in Tamil Nadu, India, following the tsunami disaster.
Taylor stretched his patter following indigenous foursome Spirit Wind 's meditative set so Autorickshaw could set up. Vocalist Suba Sankaran , adorned in a vibrant orange tunic, and tabla player Ed Hanley , sporting a blue sweatshirt, sat cross-legged in the middle of the stage. The South Asian jazz band's logo blinked onto a screen behind them, and Sankaran twiddled with a box that transmitted ambient sitar while introducing Maa, a song about the duplicitous goddess Durga.
Sankaran, her face full of drama, navigated the runs of the complex Eastern vocal lines, revealing both her technical virtuosity and a higher-level grasp of the work.
Then Hanley transformed song to spectacle with a brain-liquifying tabla solo, an onslaught of percussive sixteenth notes and syncopated shifts hammered out by his wrists and fingers with such precision that well, you really had to be there.
Let's just say that as Hanley's beat went on, the man on my left purred like a cat savouring a sumptuous can of tuna.
For the second number of their 10-minute set, Rich Brown brought out a rich-sounding bass. As dextrous as the other two members (percussionist Debashis Sinha was absent), his plucking synchronized perfectly with Sankaran's more staccato dance-suited vocals, Hanley's tabla work knitting it all together into something authentic and - spiritually - nearly overwhelming.
With a parade of performances by the Marimba Band , Kiyoshi Nagata Taiko Ensemble and the Toronto Tabla Ensemble , among others, DirectAid felt like some kind of cultural detoxifier.
My neighbour summed up the night simply: "Cool."