Cray out loud
Mr. Jim Pugh isn’t a celebrity. He looks about 70, wears full-sleeved shirts and has a slight comb-over. He is the keyboardist for the Robert Cray Band – the man at the back wearing the blue shirt in this picture – and doubled up as the producer for the band’s last album, Twenty. He’s also the cutest man I have ever seen on stage and if there weren’t three rows of bald pates between me and him last night at the concert, I might have sprung up on stage and eaten him up.
The Robert Cray Band performed in Mumbai last night for the One Tree Festival which has, as of yesterday, become my favourite organiser. There was whisky being sold in one corner and gelato right next to it. No pushing, no shoving – just smile politely and the nice, pot-bellied man wearing a leather jacket on top of his Oxford check shirt would let you go stand in front of him. Most of the crowd was in their forties and fifties, which meant I seemed young and doe-eyed. Compared to the Robert Cray Band, of course, my countrymen around me seemed nubile and, well, almost adolescent.
In the past few years, a fair number of international acts have performed in India and the basic criterion for coming down here is that you have to either be 60+ or look it. Luminaries who have performed here include Bryan Adams, Roger Waters, The Rolling Stones, America, INXS and, most recently, Iron Maiden. Cliff Richard hasn’t come here yet but then again, this year has barely begun. The only exception I can think of to this rule is 50 cent who performed last year and obligingly stripped down to his boxers at the end of show. I’m not sure why.
No need for such exhibition last night. The Robert Cray Band might be in need of dentures soon but these boys can play. Most in the audience recognised this and some were there because… well, who can tell? A random conversation I overheard:
Person 1: This man is the real deal when it comes to blues. Seriously.
Person 2: (Pause) You mean, like he’s black?
Woman: This is music you could make love to.
Man: Definitely. I could thrust for every one of his plucks.
Girl 1: Omigod! Have you seen that guy? He’s so cute!
Girl 2: I know! I love his moves.
Girl 1: I know! He’s SO cute!
Girl 2: Should we try to get a little closer?
Girl 1: Yeah! Maybe I can get his number.
Girl 2: What?
Girl 1: It could happen.
Girl 2: You think you can get the keyboardist’s number?
Girl 2: The keyboardist? I was talking about the guy with the leather jacket two rows ahead of us. (Pause) The keyboard guy is cute though. I’d hit on him if I was, like, ninety.
So, as I mentioned before, the band has a hero in Jim Pugh who, I have decided, is the most adorable keyboardist in the world. He’s funky, has nimble fingers and when he has a solo, the man dances (while staying firmly rooted to his chair). There’s something incredibly endearing about a cool old man. Especially if you’re unfortunate enough to be standing next to the only bunch of 20-somethings in the crowd who seemed to have come prepared for a KISS concert and whose conversation was (roughly) as follows:
Person 1: Dude, man, this is like, what the fuck man?
Person 2: Ya, man. Where’s the action? Where are the amps? He’s just like randomly playing.
Person 3: Maybe this dude is the opening act.
Person 2: But didn’t he say he’s the Robert Cray Band?
Person 3: Maybe he was joking.
Person 1: I got Linkin Park on my iPod. You wanna listen?
This is while Mr. Cray and Mr. Pugh are making some seriously good music. Ok, so Cray isn’t the most electric of stage performers. The most exciting thing about the visual experience of seeing Cray perform was that I realised that for every solo, he played air guitar with his mouth while playing the real guitar with his fingers. So his mouth would contort to mime the sounds that his guitar was making. And that was about all the drama Mr. Cray provided, thus leading to my 20-something compatriot pointing out, “Dude, this guy’s like not there. Like the zone missed him like totally.” I was surrounded by philosophers, as you can tell. What my idiotic companion didn’t grasp, of course, was that while Cray may not be Slash (remember Guns ‘n Roses?) on stage, his fingers make most rock guitarists seem arthritic. Every time he did one of those rockstar moves (you know, like raising the guitar to bring it down to the sound of crashing cymbals), he looked sublimely silly but what the hell? When he played, he was divine. Plus he had Jim Pugh on the keyboards.