It's 9 p.m. on a warm Saturday night. The lounge of the Cook Auditorium is pulsating with energy. Anxious boys and girls are attempting to make their way through the wall of people formed in front of the main entrance. Their frenzy is accentuated by the sudden clang of drums filtering out through the various exits, marking the beginning of the do. Inside things are no different, the restless crowd is about to witness one of the most exhilirating performance of their lives.

This is Ali Azmat of Junoon performing for a crowd that looks up to him like disciples look upto their idol. He comes on to the stage, clad in all black, blending in perfectly with an equally dark backdrop and kicks up one of Junoon's popular numbers. The fans respond with rhythmic claps, the more daring dancing right up to the front. And so begins an evening of a dazzling display of Ali's sonic sorcery (and awkward gyrations) - sweet tunes to the ears of his fans.

As if the earthquake aftershocks weren't enough, this time around we had Junoon to rock L.A.! On May 3rd 1997, the people in L.A. witnessed for the first time an exhilirating live performance by the top Pakistani rock band Junoon. Watching Junoon perform is quite an experience. Ali Azmat, the lead vocalist, has a stage presence and a level of performance that has in all probabililty surpassed all standards of performance by any Pakistani Pop/Rock performer to date. The moment he appeared on stage and established his rule with "Dosti", the audience was spellbound!

Throughout the concert, Junoon continued to drive the crowd over the edge (into the state of junoon ). Especially their rendition of the mega-hits "Saeein", "Jazba-e-Junoon", "Talaash", the ever popular "Allah Hu" and "Shahbaz Qalandar", and Salman's solo spectacular "Heer" sent everyone into a hypnotic trance! Ashiq Ali's mindblowing tabla beats combined with Salman's extensive guitar excursions on "Heer" was the height of their performance!

After the concert, I had a chance to hang out and chat with the band and I must say that one rarely meets such genuinely nice people especially in show business. I could understand after meeting them that the raising of social consciousness issues in the songs of Junoon is no accident and will remain a part of the band's ethos. Talking to Salman helped me realize that he possesses an extremely strong will and desire to succeed and to add to his determination are his genuine talents as a composer and guitar player. You can easily sense a strong cultural and patriotic connection between his music and his beliefs; not to mention his unique wardrobe selection that perfectly blends in with their music.

Ali, who seems totally wild on stage is even more fun to talk to. He's a free soul who wants to enjoy his life and help people enjoy it aswell. He believes that if people go through the trouble to come to their concerts and see them perform then they should definitely get their money's worth and no doubt Junoon does exactly that and much more. Brian, on the other hand has a very mellow personality who will always greet you with a smile. His dedication to his music reflects in his performance on-stage and off. Malcolm's contribution to the band with his marvellous drumming adds a new dimension to the phenomenon known as Junoon and Ashiq Ali on the tabla definitely gives the band its unique mystical touch.

Despite being the numero uno band in Pakistan at the moment, they don't seem to have any hang-ups! All of them are extremely down-to-earth and love to interact with their fans. This was obvious when they were more than happy to meet their fans backstage and hung around for more than an hour signing autographs, posing for pictures or just chit chatting. This is something I've yet to experience in any other Pakistani performers who have performed here. And, I guess this is something else what makes Junoon popular among the masses.

Salman's message to his U.S. fans is that Junoon is a must see act and they wouldn't disappoint you! Although not a lot of people showed up at the concert, I'm sure after reading and listening to the soaring reviews the band rceived throughout their U.S. Tour, they won't miss it the next time around, which I might add will be very soon! According to Salman, Junoon plans to visit the U.S. again this fall with new music in connection with the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Pakistan's independence.

For those of you who are not yet exposed to Junoon, this is a must see act. Yes, they are loud and wild and it helps to listen to their recorded music before seeing them live (and it does require a tinge of appreciation for Rock music in general). But, a band that promotes its latest album by openly stating that "This album is dedicated to all those struggling to achieve the dream of Allama Iqbal and Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah", deserves more than a chance but a real effort to be seen and heard.

The day after the concert, I asked a few of my friends what they thought of the concert and this is the response I got from everyone: "Yaar, I couldn't sleep all night!" This is what Junoon does to you; once you're hooked, you're doomed.

May, 1997