Britpop reached its commercial peak in the mid-90s, and after the runaway success of Oasis’s second album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, labels sought to replicate the achievement. One of the bands that best captured the feeling of the era was Kula Shaker, who brought together the swagger of Oasis, the psychedelic Beatles-esque riffs of The Charlatans, and the retro electric organ sounds of Inspiral Carpets (to name a few), and added their own Indian-influenced sound to the mix.
The band’s 1996 debut album K reached number one on the British charts, and two songs, “Hey Dude” and “Tattva,” scored high on the US modern rock charts. A cover of Billy Joe Royal’s “Hush” (a song made famous in 1968 by a cover by Deep Purple) made the US mainstream top 20 in 1997 after appearing in the soundtrack of the movie I Know What You Did Last Summer. But by then Britpop’s popularity was on the decline, and the band’s 1999 follow-up album Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts, while it went into the top 10 in the UK, failed to chart at all in the US (where they didn’t even tour the album). The band split, and for a long while that appeared to be the end of the story.
But then in 2006, to the surprise of fans, an announcement appeared on the band’s website which stated “Kula Shaker has arisen from the bottomless pit.” The band released their third album, Strangefolk, in 2007, and followed it up with another, Pilgrim’s Progress, in 2010. But while the albums were a success in Europe, the band made little effort at breaking back into the US market. It wasn’t until the release of their fifth album, K 2.0, this year that US audiences finally got the opportunity to see the reunited band. For their first tour here in nearly two decades, there had to be some question of who, if anyone, would turn up. As it turned out, though, the band still has a strong fanbase here, who sold out shows in New York and came out in good numbers here in DC to see what was reported to be an incredible live show.
And the band failed to disappoint. Starting the set strong with “Hey Dude,” which for many in the audience had been one of the songs of the summer in 1996, was a declaration of the group’s return. A cover of Hawkwind’s “Hurry On Sundown” which followed served to prove the band’s psychedelic chops. Watching the band’s performance it was obvious that they are used to playing much larger venues in Europe, but they made the best of the small stage at U St Music Hall, with frontman Crispian Mills jumping energetically around the space that he had available. In a nod to the time of their biggest success here the band’s set was heavy on tracks from K, but proving that the US fans hadn’t left them there, some of the biggest excitement of the night came at “Mystical Machine Gun” from Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts. The band closed the main set out with “Hush” and then returned for a three-song encore, closing the show with “Govinda,” notable for being the only British top ten hit sung entirely in Sanskrit. While the audience might have gone in not knowing quite what to expect from the band after a 20-year absence, Kula Shaker put on a lively, energetic show that will likely rank in the best of the year for many of those present.
Washington, DC psych-pop band The Beginner’s Mynd, fresh on the release of their single “Singing Man,” opened with a set of jangly 60s-influenced power pop.