Date: September 28, 2014
Venue: Drom (NY)
Concert review by Dawoud Kringle
Kiosk, the pioneer of Iran underground contemporary Persian music, was described by BBC as “stinging political satire hidden within the blues and folksy sound that highlight the paradoxes of Iranian society and the incompetent political system” presented with a unique blend of musical styles. Kiosk is Arash Sobhani (vocals, guitar), Ali Kamali (bass), Ardalan Payvar (accordion, keys), Mohammad Talani (guitar), Tara Kamangar (violin), and Yahya Alkhansa (drums)
The night of their New York City performance, Drom was packed. The audience was mostly Iranian American aficionados of the Persian music scene. There was no demographic concerning age: the people in the audience ranged from those barely old enough to legally buy alcohol to their grandparents. And as the performance went on, all were equally enthusiastic about the band and their music. This is indicative of the existence of an underground of Iranian expatriate intellectuals and artists. The vibe is one of a close knit community that is very protective of its culture, yet open to all.
Kiosk took the stage to enthusiastic applause and catcalls. They began with what sounded to my ears like gypsy music (a heavy, insistent beat, minor key, 1, 4, 5 chords). The guitarists and violinist traded solos; each musician playing in a way that showed off their skills but stayed within the song.
Between songs, the singer spoke to the audience in Farsi (which was too bad because he clearly shared a few jokes with the audience that I didn’t understand). A friend who speaks Farsi was kind enough to explain that the between song banter was mostly jokes about the corruption and incompetence of the Iranian government; things that might get lost in translation.
In fact, all the lyrics Kiosk sings are in Farsi – the band considers lyrics more important than music. It would be interesting to know how this plays within the American music scene.
They continued with another lively song in a similar vein as the opening number. This was followed with a song that began with a funk beat, but went through some unexpected changes; some of which sounded like country music. This incongruous blend of styles was obviously the result of the perception of American music from outside its origins. The effect was enjoyable and refreshing.
The audience went bananas during and between the songs. These guys have a very strong fan base.
The next song was country/Southern rock. The influence of Allman Brothers and others was clear. The vocals were handled in an interesting way; the phrasing and cadences of Farsi would normally not fit in these rhythms; yet they pulled it off.
They switched gears stylistically into a quasi-funk rock song somehow reminiscent of Dire Straits. The vocalist’s phrasing and tone even took on Mark Knopfler’s style.
Finally, the singer spoke to the audience in English. He introduced the next song; a Leonard Cohen cover. The audience sang along enthusiastically with the song. They were actually having a blast, singing and dancing.
The next song was an insanely uptempo dance; something one would expect in a gypsy camp or Jewish wedding. But an incongruous subtext of bluegrass insinuated itself into the song. It was impossible not to get caught up in the moment. It was all great fun.
After another joke in Farsi that I didn’t understand, they returned to the East European/ Persian style that dominated their music. This was followed with a song that somewhat like 60s spy/lounge rock (perfect for a Quentin Tarantino movie). The violinists solo, a sweetly sad melody, elicited cheers from the audience.
They kicked the next song, another Gypsy/Persian vibe, into high gear and had everyone dancing and whopping it up again. The next song began like a Greek wedding song and then drove its point home with dynamic passion. The song ended with a bang. Then, another mad gypsy song played for dear life at breakneck tempo. The violinist careening like greased lightning, the rhythm section racing like a Pakistani cab driver and the singer going on about God knows what filled the air with a fun that was impossible not to enjoy.
The next song could not have been anticipated. This was a slow rock song with a contemplative melody; almost reminiscent of mid period Pink Floyd without the brooding psychedelia. Suddenly, it picked up its tempo, and the vocals returned in the quasi-Knopfler half spoken vein.
The gypsy/Persian vibe reared its head again in the next two song; the later blasting its way once again through an insane gypsy tempo.
An arpeggiated C major chord began a ballad as Kiosk’s love of country music reappeared. They invoked a lot of slow dancing on this song. A passionate guitar solo brought it to a close.
The band left the stage, and the audience demanded an encore. They returned, and began a heavy blues rock song. Nothing could have prepared the casual listener who first encountered their music for this. Again, the audience went nuts.
Then they brought singer Sina Salimi (Iranian singer-song writer from Toronto) on stage to sit in with them. They began a rock song (somewhat reminiscent of late period Clash) that the audience seemed to be familiar with.
Then it was over.
The band is all good musicians. Sobhani plays some nice things on guitar (as is Talani; they compliment each other well), and is an excellent frontman. Kamali and Alkhansa are a fine rhythm section, and play with splendid energy and precision. Payvar held down the keyboard duties well. And Kamangar is an amazing violinist, consistently displaying an astonishing command of her instrument and the music it produces.
As of this writing, I have yet to listen to their recordings, and cannot comment on that area of their artistry. But I can say that Kiosk must be experienced live to fully appreciate what they have to offer.