A.R. Rahman: 11 June 2010 – New York

With ticket prices for the floor hovering near $200, A.R. Rahman’s show at Nassau Coliseum in Long Island was far from sold out. Yet most of the seats (on this stop of his “Jai Ho: The Journey Home” tour) in the upper tiers (tickets approx $50) were packed. The prices might have been warranted to recoup the costs associated with the epic scale of the production. But was the flashy combination of Cirque de Soleil, Fuerza Bruta and Las Vegas glitter worth it when gazing out on vacant seats?

Rahman is the famed, award winning, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, Indian film composer with almost two decades worth of work and sales of over 150 million records. Yet he has probably only become most familiar to the US populous recently for his Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack. On it, he collaborated with M.I.A. (also including her track “Paper Planes”) and he triumphed with “Jai Ho” (which translates to “may victory be yours”) utilized incredibly well at the end of the film and also released to the masses as a cover by Nicole Scherzinger.

When the music began, with the refrains of “O Saya” resounding, Rahman made his way down to the stage (I might be wrong but I think M.I.A. sample was swapped for someone else). The pensive “Latika’s Theme” soon followed with a pair of female vocalists sharing the stage. But theatrics were often the name of the game, as later “Mausam & Escape” played out while dancers engaged with a cage before it split and spun about taking one into the air.

Not all the songs were from Slumdog of course. And frequently, many of those were met with large applause from the primarily South Asian audience. “Barso Re” from the movie Guru was engaging, “Mumbai Theme Tune” was reflective and magnificent and “Humma Humma” was infectious with its repetition. An amusing moment occurred when a vocal sample announced something like “This is the Future” before Rahman strode out wielding his keytar, but a tribute to the late Michael Jackson quickly followed. The child moonwalked, doing a good initiation of the King of Pop, as Rahman sang “Black or White” and others danced on stage. A portion of the night was also dedicated to some more classical Indian songs including one patriotic anthem sung while images of Gandhi floated by. These elegant classical tunes were much more enjoyable than some of the cheesy posturing hip-hop blended songs also performed.

Throughout the night, 3-D light mapping technology played out on the background, evoking water scenes, deserts, the Taj Mahal and more. The “gems” on the back evoked shimmering roses during “Ringa Ringa” and glittering coins during a jazzy cabaret number. Towards the end of the grand spectacle, over two hours long, Rahman performed “Chaiyya Chaiyya” from Dil Se (and also in The Inside Man).

But this all culminated with “Jai Ho”, as jubilant a finale for Rahman at the Coliseum as it was for the film actors. Rahman and his troupe of singers moved to the forefront, raised their hands proudly and proclaimed their victory.