Kula Shaker is the first mainstream alterna-pop bands I have seen in a long time. My instinct, based on their radio hit, Tattva, to check them out at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC proved to be a good one. The show they put on was short, sweet and exclamatory.
To be frank, Tattva is the only song I had heard by Kula Shaker before I went to see them (the name is borrowed from ninth-century emperor). And I like the song for its chorus, even though the Sanskrit lyrics (a language I actually studied) make for a nice gimmick. The band opened their set with the David Gilmour-ish guitar intro to the song, but launched into another song which I didn't recognise. It was during the middle of the set that they came back to the song, a song with a chorus so catchy and infectious (in the same way the Spin Doctors' Two Princes was).
Interestingly enough, all their songs, including Tattva, seemed to go over very well live. The music was highly riff-oriented, but also bouncy and danceable. The fact that there's a Beatlesque tone of the vocals and instrumentation definitely helps---there's an immediate appeal to the songs even if you've never heard them before.
It's obvious Kula Shaker have had a influence from the early 60s and the 70s, but striking to me was the resemblance of the music to Deep Purple. Perhaps it has to do with Jay Darlington's thick/rich Hammond organ sound, but I could swear that when they drenched Joe South's Hush with keyboards (a song also covered by Deep Purple) that it was Deep Purple's version they grew up listening to. Also a song titled Smart Dogs reminded me of Rosa's Cantina, from Purple's latest effort, Purpendicular.
In a sense, what Kula Shaker are doing isn't novel. The Beatles and other bands long before them incorporated Indian music with pop riffs. What Kula Shaker have done is bring the 60s and the 70s pyschedelic music into the 90s. The only question is, what next? Do we bring out the Nehru jackets also?
The finished their encore with Govinda, and while I hadn't heard this song before, the lyrics were a familiar chant to me. I cannot explain how eerie it is to hear someone go "Govinda Jaya Jaya" to a backdrop of crunchy guitar riffs and the crowd chanting along and waving their arms in unison. The closest analogy I can find is this: imagine a TV evangelist singing "Jesus is our lord and saviour" set to heavy metal music and the heavy metal fans going along with it.
I think Kula Shaker are a great band, and they've definitely won a fan with their live performance. If you've heard only a couple of their songs and are indecisive about checking them out, I highly recommend doing so.