Like thousands of other Iranians from across Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and other southern U.S. states, on September 3rd, I showed up at Houston's Compaq Center with enthusiasm, curiosity and some level of uncertainty. All I was certain about was that I couldn't wait to see and hear Googoosh for the first time in more than 28 years. After all, the last (and only) time I attended a live Googoosh performance was back in the mid-70's when she performed in a police appreciation event in Shemiran's Park-e Koodak on Zaferanieh Street.
As I waited anxiously for the concert in Houston, I heard from others who had attended Googoosh performances in Toronto or Los Angeles. An acquaintance who attended Googoosh's first concert in Toronto was unbelievably complimentary. He described a sea of Iranian fans on their feet most of the night, screaming and crying, as Googoosh stepped out in her unique style and class, singing with the same (if not better) soft and beautiful voice. My friend spoke of an electrifying feeling of nostalgia that was dominant in Toronto's concert hall. Adding to my excitement and anticipation, my friend concluded that if I was to attend only one concert for the rest of my life, it should be Googoosh's!
There was also negative feedback, which described a less-than-perfect picture of the diva's comeback performance. One who had attended Googoosh's concert in New York, compared the concert atmosphere to a religious mourning session. The author was not at all impressed with Googoosh's fashion, music or her new songs! “This concert, and indeed Googoosh herself, was about women and music and their right to express their sexuality loudly through a microphone in a Thierry Mugler dress and still feel Iranian. It was a collective affirmation of our -Western struck- gharb-zadeh identity,” she wrote.
But I was not about to let someone else's judgment decide whether or not I was going to be a part of this historic comeback. I bought the concert ticket and made the hotel reservations, fully intending to go to Houston, regardless. As days went by, it turned out that many friends and colleagues in Dallas were also planning to go. I wasn't surprised, however, since most of my Persian friends practically grew up with Googoosh's songs.
We arrived in Houston and drove to the Compaq Center to buy a last-minute ticket for a friend. At the box office, we quickly learned that there were still many seats available; that actually the arena was half empty that night! This was a surprise to me, as I expected more people would show up. We followed the growing flow of Googoosh fans up to the building. It felt as if we were all pilgrims — marching toward a spiritual focal point. I couldn't help but notice the mass of Iranian women who were dressed like they were heading to a royal ball of some kind. It also seemed weird that hardly anyone smiled. We passed each other like total strangers, instead of people who had traveled far to convene in a nostalgic ritual with our hearts and minds remembering warm feelings from our youth and childhood.
After a short intro, the diva entered the stage. The crowd of 10,000 went crazy, welcoming her with a standing ovation lasting several minutes. I thought the music was great for what it was — a journey back in time, a walk down memory lane! I think Googoosh's voice has been well preserved and with a couple of exceptions throughout the night, she sounded as I always remembered her. I couldn't really believe that a person who has been smoking for the past 20 years could still sing like that. Maybe because she is older now, or because she was making sure not to give the conservative rulers of the Islamic Republic a reason to block her return home — whatever reason, it was obvious that Googoosh was moving and dancing much more conservatively than we remembered from our past. Nevertheless, you couldn't help but see a certain elegance in her performance and the way she dressed for the two segments of her show.
From where I was sitting, I didn't see much crying. There was a lot of excitement, especially at the beginning of the program, but not many tearful eyes. One thing I can tell you for certain is the fact that once again, Googoosh has raised the bar with the quality of her work. I believe that Iranian fans will no longer be satisfied with unorganized and wishy-washy concerts. Tehrangeles has been put on alert!
There were about 15 people in her band, several of whom were non-Iranian musicians from the United States, Cuba and Venezuela. The lead guitarist, who is also Googoosh's musical director, is Babak Amini. Googoosh has given him a lot of recognition and credit for her new work, keeping him front and center in all her interviews and introductions. It is obvious that she thinks a lot of him. However, comparing Googoosh's 70's music to the songs released on her new “Zartosht” CD, Mr. Amini does not compose or arrange at the level of the Persian Pop masters of yesteryear such as Cheshm Azar, Varoozhan or Shamaie-Zadeh. Don't get me wrong, I thought he played very well, especially his guitar solos, but I was not impressed with Googoosh's new songs — they are all sad and obviously very political.
I think that people need to cut Googoosh some slack. All the talk about the politics involved with her tour and whether or not we should go to her concerts was totally out of place. We should not complicate this matter beyond what it really amounts to. Googoosh is just a popular singer who touches a soft spot in our hearts, because she was and still is so good at what she does and because she takes us back to our youth (for some of us back to our childhood). Googoosh's responsibility is primarily to herself and her own future.
I like Pedram Moallemian's summation of his experience at Googoosh's Toronto concert : “For those who are planning to see her on the other tour dates, here is some advice: If you expect a deep intellectual event, or some political grandstanding, or want to hear some opinionated discussion, stay home. But if you are only seeking a diversion, wish to re-unite with some of your old memories, aspire to be entertained by a master entertainer or just have some fun, you'll enjoy every minute of it.”