While AR Rahman got his first taste of mainstream recognition in the States via his kudo-magnet soundtrack work on “Slumdog Millionaire,” he’s long been something of a rock star in South Asian households around the world — a reputation he’s clearly hoping to further with the aggressively ambitious staging of his latest North American tour, which kicked off Friday night on Long island.
This perf, which stretched past the two-and-a-half hour mark, was undeniably spectacular, but ultimately a bit exhausting, what with a surfeit of special effects that included 3D graphics, multiple film interludes and even a passel of acrobats cavorting high above the stage. More often than not, the sensory overload was engaging, but on occasion, the de-emphasizing of songs in favor of narrative and illustration was a bit frustrating.
Rahman managed to balance multiple roles deftly, acting as both conductor and soloist, producer and featured performer. On the latter front, he took the mic and led a stirring singalong through “Mustafa, Mustafa,” and “Khwaja Mele Khwaja,” two of his better known older songs, and on the former, shepherded an ensemble — keyed by cellist Christine Wu and sitar player Asad Khan — through selections from his earlier films, notably “Lagaan,” “Bombay” and “Dil Se.”
One of the nicer filmic elements was a piece paying homage to past heroes of Indian history, which clearly resonated with an aud dominated by expats. While the venue was peppered with new converts — folks who responded most loudly to the smattering of “Slumdog Millionaire” songs – the house was largely filled with longtime fans who seemed more attuned to classic pieces that reflected Rahman’s Tamil roots.
The Journey Home might have been a bit ambitiously booked — a fair number of empty seats remained — but a smaller hall likely wouldn’t have suited Rahman’s vision, and that conception has served him quite well around the globe.
AR Rahman’s The Journey Home tour touches down at the Forum in Los Angeles on June 27.