Notes From Hairenik

Tonight Anush and I saw Armenia's legendary Artur Meschian perform in the Opera House, in Spendiaryan Hall. It was the second performance in a series he will give as part of a comeback tour. 

He was in Moscow a couple of weeks ago playing there in a packed concert hall, and he’ll be off to Los Angeles before long. A second Yerevan show is scheduled for Tuesday night at the Karen Demirchian Sports Complex. He last performed in 2006, having played in Gyumri, Vanadzor and Yerevan at the Opera House once again.

Meschian had his usual band with him, with the superb drummer Levon Hakhverdian, Arthur Molitvin, who is hands down the best electric bassist I’ve heard in Armenia, and Meschian’s disciple Vahan Ardzuni on rhythm guitar playing just beside him. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts Ara Sarkissian was not onstage to play keyboards, and for me at least it felt like something was missing as the last three times I saw Meschian perform Ara was in the band. Very few people, Ardzuni among them, can fully grasp the nuances and intricacies of Meschian’s music—Ara was around when Meschian was writing and recording most of it while he was living in Boston, and Ardzuni of course grew up learning and playing alongside him. The musician standing in for Ara, Madat Avanesov, was certainly capable enough on the synths but it wasn’t a perfect fit, it didn’t always sound right the whole time, often yielding a muddled sound. He is one of these performers who after every 24 bars or so has to dramatically lift his hand high off the keyboard to show that he’s doing something. Ara was missed, but it didn’t detract from the intensity of the performance. At one point I saw two young woman during the show’s second half shouting out the words and dancing in the aisle to the far right of the hall, not far from we were sitting. Both of them were in the zone. They were just doing what the remaining uptight audience members should have been. After all, he’s a rock musician.

The music was fantastic as it always is. His voice sounded better than I have ever heard, very natural and vibrant, and it was obvious that he has been practicing. He stuck to acoustic guitar and left his own keyboards at home—the duels he had with Ara on stage are long gone. Aside from his usual repertoire which he’s performed at the other shows I’ve attended he debuted two brand new, yet to be identified songs to his audience, one of them being a fast tempo blues played in a way only Meschian could. The second song, which closed the show, was as dramatic and powerful as could be expected, with the chorus being a simple blaring, drawn out cry of “Hey!” as if to awaken the world with his message.

It was a remarkable concert for sure, but my favorite is still the one he gave by invitation only at the Gomidas Chamber Hall back in November 2005, which I wrote about on this blog. It was the first time either of us saw him play live. Anush and I were both there, but we didn’t know each other at the time or hadn’t even seen one another. Neither one of us will ever forget that extraordinary, intimate performance.

Of all the tunes in Meschian’s catalog only one of them is a love song. The lyrical themes of his songs are philosophical, even poignant, laced with psychological angst, and, sometimes they issue a plea for caution. “Where Can You Escape From Yourself,” and “The Rest Is For Sale / In This Godforsaken World” are lyrics that come immediately to mind. There’s a tinge of turmoil and certainly a fair amount of dismay expressed his songs—two of his best are titled “I Am Amazed” and “I Am Crazy… Maybe.” And he’s always trying to let his listeners know that something isn’t quite right in the world. When you first hear the lyrics the message doesn’t immediately sink in, it is absorbed very slowly over several years of listening to the music. 

Each time I hear his songs—the same that I have heard hundreds of times—I learn something new, I realize the underlying meaning of a passage that I had previously just skipped over in my mind again and again. And most of his listeners arguably don’t fully comprehend what he is singing about. It’s what makes him a genius of modern Armenian song.

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