Kula Shaker | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
British psych-rockers Kula Shaker made long-awaited return to Philly with K 2.0
Twenty years ago, in January of 1996, an eastern-music-influenced, post-Brit-pop psych-rock band called Kula Shaker began to release singles from their debut record K. The singles were massive commercial successes, and the record went multi-platinum, offering fans the promise of a new British rock band with all the talent and the ear for radio-friendly melody of Oasis — and, as a contrastable bonus, a lead singer who wasn’t an ornery, conceited ass.
The band would have follow-up success with a movie soundtrack cover of “Hush” (best known as a Deep Purple song), and a new single for a delayed sophomore record. And then, for a series of sundry reasons, the band announced their split, and faded into relative obscurity.
Since reforming some ten years ago, though, Kula Shaker have released another three studio albums, including this past February’s K 2.0 — a tour for which, finally, brought lead singer Crispian Mills and co. back to a Philadelphia venue for the first time since their heyday. You could’ve done much worse last night than to have spent a Tuesday evening at World Cafe Live with the band, among a surprisingly small but enthusiastic crowd bathed in the deep, bright hues of stage lights, and the screenings and sounds of maximalist mod psychedelia.
Dressed in his green suit, the animated vocalist conducted bandmates with his black-and-white Stratocaster that featured beneath the bridge the icon Om, the ancient Indian symbol of spirituality. It’s arguably challenging for western artists to pull off without pretense an overt infusion of eastern music and culture in their work: if you’re not careful (and if you’re not The Beatles), this can easily descend into the department of the disingenuous. Somehow, though, Mills can sell you on his genuine engagement, as his songwriting and performances will seamlessly hybridize sanskrit lyrical mantras, Hindu mythology and religious imagery with a healthy helping of proficient Hendrix-styled lead guitar work and radio-ready rock melody, often collecting eclectic influences from other genres too along the way.
Opening with “Hey Dude,” Kula’s set last night drew heavily from their 1996 debut, including the hit singles “Tattva,” “Grateful When You’re Dead/Jerry Was There,” “303,” and “Start All Over,” along with deeper album cuts like “Smart Dogs” and “Temple Of Everlasting Light,” and an incredible singalong encore of “Govinda.” They pulled a handful from their second record, too — “Mystical Machine Gun,” “I’m Still Here,” and “Great Hosannah” — and played the same two beloved covers that they used to play, “Hush” and Hawkwind’s “Hurry On Sundown.” They also reached, on audience request, for their popular b-side “Gokula.”
Apart from that, the band really shined a spotlight on their latest release, treating fans to about half the record, including “Love B (With U),” “Oh Mary,” “Infinite Sun,” “Mountain Lifter” and, wedged into their encore, the Americana-inspired “33 Crows.”
Check out a gallery of photos from the show below, along with a setlist and three videos of the set.
Hurry On Sundown
Grateful When Your’e Dead/Jerry Was There
Temple Of Everlasting Light
Love B (With U)
Start All Over
I’m Still Here
Mystical Machine Gun