Himanshu Suri — freshly back but still jet-lagged from five months abroad in London and Goa — spent most of his set last Friday night trying to freestyle the diaries of Nasreen Mohamedi over live drums and shoegazey guitar.
Let that sink in.
He came on to the stage smoking a cigarette and orated Mohamedi’s writing from a collapsible black iron music stand, the kind you used for after-school marching band practice. He stayed on point through Vijay Iyer–inspired, crowd-dispersing renditions of “Flag Shopping” (with a vocal so fried it brought to mind his admiration for Popcaan) and references to being “stoned at the mosque.” This was a show for the adventurous, or the dedicated, or maybe his friends.
“If I don’t know you, take five steps back, but if I know you, take three steps forward.”
Things had stopped working for him sometime last year, so he dropped what he was doing and moved abroad to be closer to his country and culture. He invented and fell in love with his own private butoh, a self-described mix of yoga, vogueing, and traditional Bollywood choreography. Maybe the crisis was delayed trauma: He explained to us that not only did he have box seats for 9-11, his high school was close enough to the crash site that, in a pinch, it served as a makeshift triage center.
“You can listen to my album on In-Flight Entertainment,” he told us, wearing a knee-length, cornflower-blue coat he picked up somewhere in his travels, “which is funny, because it’s about 9-11, so why would they have it on Delta planes?”
In a breathless freestyle over live drums and 13th Floor guitar, he intoned, meaningfully and repeatedly and blue, “I’m reading Nasreen Mohamedi’s diary, my boss say he wanna fire me.” And it was all there, it smelled right, except like, honestly, who is his boss in such a godless, listless existence? Heems answers to no one; that’s the point of this whole inaccessible exercise. He might not believe the words coming out of his own mouth, but it sure sounds good with a live band behind it.
He emptied half the room, not because he was too wobbly to keep them engaged, but because they blinked first. This was an audience wonderfully and exponentially different from his last at the same venue last August (previously: cerebral, stained backpackers; now: nineteen-year-olds in poly-rayon club tops), but they did not get what they came for. The diehards who stayed got to see half of Heems’s buddies Weekend Money light dollar bills on fire and hear the line “I want a new Porsche” recited over sweet, organic Jesus and Mary Chain guitar lines.
Is Heems Lou Reed in the presence of an audience who wants him to be Ghostface? Seeing him wonderfully, fearfully aligned in what many of us recognize as the Warrior II pose, holding the head of the microphone against the monitors to create violent, high-pitched feedback, one must wonder.
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 31, 2016