Last night I heard one of the legendary Armenian rock bands, Vostan Hayots, perform at the Rocking Club, previously known as the Downtown Club located on the corner of Sayat Nova and Deryan Streets, although the operator of both happens to be the same person, the band’s leader Hovhannes Kourghinyan. The place was packed with nearly 100 people, which seems to be just over the occupancy limit (although such things don’t exist here in my experience).
The genesis of Vostan Hayots was in 1986, when a small group of guys with musical ambitions started hanging out figuring out ways to play rock, during a time when assembling in any unapproved form could land you into problems. They composed many songs over the length of their career, although the band broke up several times, having three incarnations yet at least two loyalists the entire tenure. But the members all assumed roles in other ventures. I learned that the guitarist arrived from Moscow just to play once again with the band—he now operates a rock guitar school there. I recognized the drummer as the guy who accompanied Artur Meschian in recent gigs and undoubtedly will take part in the shows that will be given next weekend. Vostan Hayots played a week ago at the Stop Club, arguably the best forum for intimate, live performances now, and last night’s show was their last apparently for the time being.
The first set featured their own material exclusively, and the songs were very impressive. The band is obviously influenced by hard rock legends from the 1970s as evident in their style and playing. I had heard only one or two of the songs before. They played about six or seven songs, then the leader announced that it was time for the “ancient ones” to rest. Thirty minutes later they were back on stage—if you could call it that, a short platform barely large enough to hold a small drum kit—and sang about three more original pieces, including one sung by the lead guitarist and a vocal duo, with the leader and his sister, perhaps a unofficial fifth member at one point in the band’s history. The music was really powerful and exciting—I think its great to hear live rock music sung with Armenian lyrics, it’s a rare privilege it seems but it’s wonderful when it happens and you are there to absorb the exhilarating energy.
Then the covers began. They started with Jimi Hendrix’s classic “Purple Haze,” then Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy,” and others. It was not until their rendition of “Smoke on the Water” when I realized I was in deep trouble, far from purple. Kourghinyan has a great voice but it was unable to handle the demanding covered tunes they played. The remainder of the songs from the set were not originals to say the least, and apparently the third set included more covers. I did not bother to stick around, fortunately for me but not unfortunate for the band, as they already pocketed my 3,000 dram and could do anything they pleased, namely perform tunes that perhaps any garage band would likewise. Nevertheless, they should have stuck to their own material.
In any case, it was a splendid, but bittersweet way to spend a couple of hours on a rainy Friday night. It was the second time I patronized the basement-floor location of my former haunt of four years ago, the much revered and still talked about Subway club, a fantastic place to hear jazz music performed by some of the greats in Yerevan, and where at one time I visited at least twice a week. The place has changed quite a lot I would say—the bar and the stage in the same respective places but the atmosphere as well as the vibes have taken on an entirely different audience, adjusting to a dissimilar culture in taste.
Onnik who was also at the show has written extensively about the literally underground rock movement in Armenia, and has even interviewed Kourghinyan, who incidentally has another band called Army of God. Read more about Vostan Hayots here