Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bryan Adams: Live in Nepal

            Few of us ever have the chance to be part of history; a truly extraordinary event or happening that will stand out in the annals of time. Of course, this may be because few of us seize the opportunity when it arises.  But, for me traveling is about forming your own personal history, experiencing the mundane in new ways that will be relived in memories over and over. And then sometimes a confluence of events brings you to a moment when your personal history will involve one of those significant times, such as the first western concert played in Nepal- Bryan Adams: Live from Nepal.
            When I first landed in Kathmandu, billboards and posters touting the Canadian rockers arrival inundated me everywhere I looked. Standing larger than the surrounding Himalayas, Bryan Adams lashed his guitar, inviting everyone with the money to bridge the gap between the West and Nepal. As a reporter in the local paper surmised, western musicians bypassed Nepal for the richer environs of India. Nepali people could not even afford the real CDs, relying on black market copies, much less spend the money on a concert that would make it worthwhile for a multi-millionaire talent to play.
            In celebration of Nepal’s Year of Tourism, organizers convinced Adams to add Nepal as a final stop on a tour through all of the neighboring countries.  Even though we were scheduled to depart Kathmandu for our volunteer assignments, a few of us decided that seeing the man responsible for such middle-school dance classics as “Summer of’69” and “Everything I Do” was something not to be missed.
            The buzz accompanying the concert reached a fever pitch the days before February 19th. The English-language paper dedicated an entire page to Adams, printing an extensive biography, trivia, and the lyrics to one song everyday the weeks before he played. His songs seemed to infiltrate the play lists of every bar we drank at. And, locals seemed to think that every Westerner had arrived especially for the big event. Indeed, I too, thought the same.
            I did not know what to expect. It would be my first big concert in a third-world country. And in all his cheesy glory, I did know what kind of show Adams would put on. Would he make the mistake of yelling, “Hello Bangladesh” or would he have it written on the back of his guitar, as an aging rocker with one too many shows under his belt might?
            As we began the 45-minute walk from the tourist area of Thamel to the national stadium, the crowd joining us grew more and more, but remained calm in its excitement. Our group kept splitting up, but on the whole westerners seem to be much taller than Nepali people. Mitch, a 6’3 white Australian in a white hoody, stood out, much like a 6’3 white guy in a white hoody in Nepal would.
            At the stadium the crowd broke into lines corresponding to their respective sections: Gold, Silver, or Bronze. The tickets for the show, giant embossed and laminated showstoppers, did little to inform which direction to take. Instead, we relied on a few helpful Nepali and shoved our way into whatever line moved fastest. Over 6000 police stood guard throughout the stadium, an impressive number considering only 25000 tickets were issued and it was after all only Bryan Adams. For a little while, I wondered if the Canadian singer might be able to insight a riot or maybe even topple a government.
At the gate water bottles were taken from us and we were patted down for the usual weapons that connect with mellow rock. Inside, giant banners proclaimed, “We love you Bryan but oppose alcohol promotion,” a nice contrast to the hundreds of billboards with Adams’ likeness next to a giant size bottle of McDowell’s #1Whiskey.  Of course, the whole concert turned out to be dry and not in just an alcoholic sense, but a “we got you Bryan Adams and now you want water?”
Getting into our section took even longer than the lines outside the stadium. A large group of police in riot gear formed a barrier to the one small door thousands needed to pass through. To maintain order, several policemen held long poles at about waste level, causing people to perform a type of limbo move to get under and then randomly collapsing down on a poor soul to slow the line. As the pushing and shoving intensified, I felt an angry mood swelling in all of us. For a moment, I considered rushing the tiny policemen, but then the potential for a Lilliputian outcome seemed high. And how do you explain to your mother that you were arrested at the concert of a man that probably played her prom?
            Luckily, a somewhat important looking man signaled for us to come forward, but we weren't spared the limbo move or some convenient grabs the girls later informed me. If any future western rock stars play Nepal, bring crowd control.
            The national stadium of Nepal does not evoke the grandeur of the west, but in its dilapidated form remained quaint and a perfect setting for a smallish stage and 25,000 willing fans. The difference shown brightly, as a stage man walked the cross beam of the stage lighting sans safety equipment. This is Nepal.
            The opening Nepali bands brought a rockus cheer from the crowd when they laid into their hits, though each seemed to be an extremely slow type of music. Including Namaste, which its hoarse voice belted a reggae melody while his band played a form of lounge jazz. Keeping the crowd entertained, the two emcees promised Adams would soon be coming. I found this moment the most telling, considering that in America, such a statement might elicit boos and threats if the performer was not already there, but in Nepal, the reaction appeared more like a mass of children awaiting Santa’s arrival- building excitement.
            When Adams finally took the stage, we were pushed forward in a small wave of Nepali people. The crowd seared with pleasure as he launched into a song featuring Kathmandu (you’ll have to excuse my inept Bryan Adams knowledge). One fan screamed the lyrics of the first few songs into my ears. The screen behind the stage filled with Adams’ image and the stadium erupted as if seeing him again for the first time.
            Not knowing any of the songs, my feet hurting, and my mind and liver still wondering why this concert was dry, I couldn’t say I was really enjoying myself. It was a spectacle all right, but I had only come for moment of it. And then the first chords rang out. Summer of ’69 ignited the Nepali just liked I hoped- ferociously.  Thousands of cell phones dotted the dark venue; many taping, others just the 21-century equivalent of the lighter. I punched a friend’s number into mine and yelled, “this is only birthday present you’ll ever get from me: Bryan Adams- Live in Nepal.”           

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