Armenia Dispatch 17: Bambir Concert

BambirGot back from the superb road trip through the Lori region of Armenia. Hope I didn’t bore anyone. As fine a road trip as I’ve done in a while, and in Armenia no less.

So I’m back in Yerevan and am heading out tonight. Coming back to New York on a nasty 4 am flight. But today I did catch the Bambir concert in Yerevan, which was pretty entertaining. Bambir is an Armenian band that I discovered through a couple of friends who are into the Armenian music scene (the photo here is a screenshot from my video camera…this is Narek and Arik before the concert). They come from the city of Gyumri, the city that was devastated, basically destroyed by the earthquake in the mid 80s. The Bambir guys are youngish, in their early 20s, and very funny, very talented, and overall really good dudes.

They play rock and roll, but they have a flutist, Arik, who gives the band a Jethro Tull sound (it’s pretty much impossible NOT to have a JT sound if you have a flute in your band). But despite this, they have a unique sound too. I don’t want to say they copy JT because they don’t.

So before the concert, I headed over to Bambir’s producer’s place (his name is Artyoum) in the late afternoon and found the Bambir guys hanging out listening to the Kinks. I asked them if this was part of their usual pre-concert ritual and they said it was, that their drummer Ashok decides what to play to psyche them up, and that it’s usually some mix of classic rock and jazz. They were pretty relaxed, and hardly seemed stressed out by having to be on stage in a few hours.

I rode to the club in a cab with the lead singer Narek and the bassist Armen, probably the two most talkative members of the group. The club is called the Stop Café and is in the center of Yerevan. It was very typical sort of music club, like you’d find in any big city. There is a big John Lennon painting on the floor and pictures of jazz legends on the walls. A guitar hangs from the ceiling.

There were a few people there hanging out, and I sat with the guys and had a glass of wine, and asked them about their ambitions. I wondered if they had plans to sell their stuff on the Internet to get their music out to the world, and whether their stuff was available on itunes. Turns out they’d never heard of itunes. I explained that it was the place to buy music for your ipod. “What’s an ipod?” Narek asked.

After the sound check, the guys started to play, banging out some of the songs from their second album. I’d seen them rehearse a bit at Artyoum’s house, and I thought they were quite good, but here live they were even better. Narek has a strong baritone and is a talented guitar player. Arik’s flute adds a lively, unorthodox layer to the band’s sound which is, overall, unique and a positive addition.

As I said, even though there are hints of Jethro Tull there, they have developed their own sound, and are continuing to do so. I sat through all the sets, and really enjoyed the music. The club was nearly full with fans of the band and others (including some very attractive groupies), who sat and watched and cheered enthusiastically after each song.

After a while people started to dance and Narek took off his shirt. Arik played some jazzy riff on hs flute that soared over the room. Their bassist Armen sat on the edge of the stage and played, a cigarette dangling from his lips. These guys are real rockers. Even though I was occupied shooting them for a story, I was having an excellent time. Finally they started to play some covers – Satisfaction by the Stones, Foxy Lady by Jimmy Hendrix, and the crowd really got into it.

Sadly, as the night became early morning, I had to leave. It was time to fly home. And so before their final set, I said good bye to the guys of Bambir and wished them the best. I told them I really did like their sound and I hoped they’d soon be successful enough that none of them would have to work in the local CD store (where their drummer Ashok works now). They were very cool guys and they thanked me for being interested in them. Then Narek hit a deep power chord on his guitar and kicked into Mad Dog by Led Zeppelin, and we slipped out the door.