The Season of Munchkins!

There are two yearly events that literally bring life in Karachi to a halt. First is the monsoon that comes once a year and floods it to a standstill. The other annual event is not nature-related but is a musical force to reckon with: The Munchkins.

Performing for almost 10 years now, The Munchkins gig is something that you really don’t want to miss if you like live music. Aamir Alavi, Louis John Pinto (Gumby), Ali Jafri and Murtaza Jafar (KV) need no introduction as they’ve been doing gigs for a while now, and the crowd just keeps getting bigger each time. Even with their infamous ‘last gigs’ every now and then, they keep coming back for more.

During these sessions, Arkam Butt (keyboardist) and Khalid Khan (bassist) would also join the band as guest musicians.

Audioslave’s Cochise started off last week’s performance with a triumphant bang. It sort of said (read: hollered) that The Munchkins are back in town. And it was impossible to miss.

Sting and The Police were covered twice with Message in a Bottle and King of Pain, both enjoyable and electric in feel.

Rage Against the Machine has always been a regular for the band to cover, and this time around their cover of Bulls on Parade was much better.

Also a good cover that got the crowd singing along was Michael Jackson’s Beat It — a special highlight of the song was KV’s solo which took the newcomers by surprise. Another Jacko hit that was covered was Dirty Diana, which went on to show that you can’t go wrong covering MJ.

Duran Duran’s Come Undone could have been played better — another Munchkins’ staple track that they almost regularly play at gigs. This time, I think, they could’ve passed on.

Taking things slow, Aamir and Jaffar performed an acoustic version of Stay by U2 with a little help from the crowd. If there’s any band that The Munchkins are known to cover good, it’s U2. This time, besides Stay, they also covered Put on Your Boots and Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me. Both good covers but we’ve seen better from the band as far as U2 is concerned.

The band also covered Jimi Hendrix’s Fire, another highlight of the evening, thanks to some amazing guitar skills by KV and drums by Gumby.

Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight was interesting. But one felt that the band could’ve chosen a different Collins’ track rather than this one — the band’s energy just didn’t suit the song.

The best song of that night, however, was Sex Machine simply because of the way Aamir Alavi channeled James Brown — not only in his singing but also in his stage presence. Humorously, no matter how many times Aamir would sing, “Get up, get on up” the crowd didn’t take the hint.

The PACC auditorium in Karachi is probably the perfect place to hold a concert. The Munchkins’ gigs, after all, are intimate affairs where the crowd really likes to get in with the music. However, the concert organisers/sponsors oversold the venue. According to the band, ticket sales were supposed to be limited to 200 only, but instead nearly 350 tickets were sold which lead to the venue being overcrowded — to add to the mix the air-conditioning was faulty.

A lot of first-timers got to see their first ever Munchkins’ performance. The problem with that is it brought in way too many yuppies and people who wanted to go to a Munchkins’ concert just so that they could say that they’ve been to one, rather than actually enjoy the music.

They seemed more concerned about what they were wearing and checking their BlackBerrys and iPhones rather than take in the amazing music — terribly insulting to a band such as this one. A lot of true Munchkins fans arrived late — some left because it was too crowded, others just stood where they were and watched their favourite band perform.

And if over crowdedness and faulty air conditioning weren’t enough, the band’s gear — which had been meticulously put together just before the concert — was unplugged so that the sponsors could run their own videos.

Why they did this boggles the mind, considering there was reasonably enough marketing done before the gig. Almost everybody had two to three goody bags with them —bags that would be strewn across the floor after it all ended. The only thing it achieved was that the much-awaited performance started late.

The Munchkins are the cornerstone of underground music in Karachi. Even this gig, with all of its faults, was a musical tour de force. The band played their hearts out with each song and thrilled the crowd with every number. But it’s a shame to see the Munchkins — of all bands — get stuck with a concert like this. Unfortunately, the maxim these days is: “In the era of music industry recession, the sponsor is king.”

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