Kula Shaker Goes West in a Very Easterly Direction


Somewhere, Brian Jones must be having a good little chuckle.

Some 27 years after his death, his spirit filled the Whisky on Friday--or at least his image did, in the person of Crispian Mills, leader of the English band Kula Shaker. Not only does Mills share Jones’ blond pinup features, but also the late Rolling Stone’s interest in Eastern modes and mysticism, all wrapped up in an immediately attractive rock ‘n’ roll package.

What really would bemuse Jones, though, is how the Whisky’s air was charged with the hype (including a ringing endorsement from Oasis) that has preceded this Eastern-looking quartet on its first journey west. Like this brand of flower power pop is somehow new? Back in Jones’ era, it was plied by dozens of bands, from the Monkees to Deep Purple, whose 1968 hit version of Joe South’s “Hush” was a key part of Kula Shaker’s hourlong set.

Let’s not even discuss the Beatles--though at least Kula Shaker is saving us the trouble of wondering what Oasis (the, yawn, Beatles of the ‘90s) would sound like if the group, like its ‘60s model, were to pursue Indian inspirations.


Even in the present, to find this rather straightforward, even cliched mix exotic when everything from Gregorian chants to Pakistani qawwali music is commonplace not just on the pop charts but in advertising jingles, is almost laughable. As cool as Kula Shaker’s Hindi chant-based “Govinda” is, there’s much more inventive explorations of this nature on any album Indipop priestess Sheila Chandra’s made in the past decade, or in the bhangra-techno collages of Bally Sagoo.

Yet on Friday, Mills and his mates made a strong case that while Next Big Thing may be a bit of a leap, they’re not merely the latest post-Mod con.

There’s simply no getting around it: This kid is star material.

Furiously shaking his head with blond locks flying as he snapped off a lyric and then backing off the microphone to let rip on a raga-rock guitar riff, he showed no lack of natural stage presence. (He is, after all, the son of actress Hayley Mills.) Right from the start, with the opening anti-materialist anthem “Hey Dude,” he commanded attention.

And, even given the lack of originality in the approach, he does have a gift for instantly memorable tunes and well-turned phrases. Live, the blend of Mills’ guitar, Jay Darlington’s Hammond organ and Alonza Bevan’s at-times McCartney-esque bass had more bite, if less sheen, than on the band’s recent debut album, “K.”

One essential ingredient seemed lacking Friday, though: a sense that there’s some compelling inner force driving Mills. What made the quest for inner peace so fascinating and artistically productive when pursued by a Brian Jones or a John Lennon was the raging turmoil in their hearts, heads and souls. Mills--in his songs, his manner and his minimal, unilluminating song introductions Friday--showed no evidence of that.