Friday, May 4th, 2007 8pm, OK make it 7:30-ish. It was finally time. I walked down the sidewalk of O'Farrell street, on my way to see my first Iranian rock concert in San Francisco's famed Great American Music Hall. My heart was pounding. Past, Mitchell Brothers, took in a sly glance, and now only half a block to go.
Iranians in poncey city black leather jackets spilled out off the sidewalk at the ticket window. A small desk manned by SFSU student volunteers in bright white Beyond Persia t-shirts, checked people off the VIP list, and wristband tightly attached, let them in one by one.
The bands, as important as the moment, were none other than bad boys Kiosk and bad girls Abjeez. Flown in from all parts East and West, Canada and Sweden, for a moment in time that now begs proper recording. Unusual for an Iranian concert where only one headliner is soup du-jour, but completely di-rigeur for those about to Rock. Hard.
But let's take a few steps back. 2 years for me. It was July of 2005 when I wrote a review of the then Iranian underground band, Kiosk's first album, Ordinary Man. Fresh off a 3 article stint expressing tedium and annoyance with the incessant 6/8 drone, we have all come to vomit so well. Later in that year Arash Sobhani Kiosk's founder, made it out of Iran and looked me up. My first question, “Are you safe?” my second question, “When will you play live?”
Fast forward to February of this year. Iran Gradeschool chum, Lale Shahparaki Welsh and her beau artiste Amir Salamat, contacted me about a new concept called, “Beyond Persia”. Being hardcore Iroony, like you, I find it absolutely necessary to get “Beyond” Persia now and then. If for no other reason than simple sanity. I've always said that, “Being Iranian is like having Herpes. You get this huge outbreak of pride and heritage every 4-6 weeks, and it's often socially embarrassing.”
The Beyond Persia concept? Simple, bring the best Iranian artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers to the forefront of common American and Iranian society. Do it in an ultra American-style professional way, and keep dumping cash like gasoline on a fire, when the slightest problem flares up. Brilliant? Only if brilliant means common sense. A welcome departure from the usual incompetence infected Iroony way. A test came this past March, when Lale put on the first Iranian art show at Gallery One in San Francisco. The poster went, “8 Iranian artists, 13 days of NoRooz”. This was, to put it in Lale's accent, “Bloody Genius”!
Toggle forward back to last Friday. After months of planning, scheduling, coordinating, airfare, hotel rooms, bar tabs, ticket sales, Lale and team were ready to blow the doors off a concert unlike any other. Unlike as in, venue. Unlike as in, the kind of artists playing. But possibly most importantly, unlike as in, SOLD OUT!
Fast forward to the opening act. Warm up courtesy of the hilarious, smart, and witty Peyvand Khorsandi who really does need to move to LA as he was told! Abjeez are possibly the cutest set of kick ass Iranian girls you've seen. Sheytoon or sheytoonak begins the description, but I'll add one more metaphor and just call them Gurrlzzz.
Suffice it to say, they came, they played, they conquered. For over an hour, no one sat, everyone bobbed and hopped, as fiery punk-ska-reggae-brazilian-jazz-major-minor and 7s flowed from the lips, eyes and fingertips of Safoura and Melody like Parees pouring deep red, sweaty wine for drunken Sufis at a Maykadeh.
Before anyone knew it, it was halftime. Chances to go and buy the Abjeez album, “Hameh” (Everybody) that they had pretty much just heard in entirety, were not squandered. Abjeez and Kiosk T-shirts were also available.
VIP tickets went for $75, General Admission was $40. There weren't any assigned seats, you just sort of roamed. Which was cool because there were lots of friends to see, and much scoping to be done. Actually, this is perfect for Iranians since, we all like to incessantly scratch that whole deed-o-baz-deed itch.
Having written the Kiosk article, and knowing Lale personally, afforded me possibly the greatest honor I've ever had, which was the privilege of introducing Kiosk at the second set. “How many of you know Kiosk?” I asked. The crowd exploded. And so it went.
The rest was a blur. Alcohol infused with the riffs courtesy of Arash's beautiful red guitar. Second guitar, Babak Khiavchi dished out and took his punishment like a man. The lyrics floated over like bees, ready to sting you, if you bothered them too much.
It was participative sport. Possibly the coolest thing was the sight of the now redeemed son of the filmmaker, Ahmad Kiarostami, 3 people deep in the front row, bouncing like a tight sweatered giggly schoolgirl, as Arash moaned “Eshghe Sor-at” (Love of Speed), the title track of the second album.
Release from the prison of Norm, that being different can be hugely fun, and even better, it can open your mind. Obvious and apparent. The collective psyche of these Iranians was changed in one Friday night. That this could be a desperate first step towards some sort of evolution. Away from the warm and salty machine-gun-bullet-riddled past of repeated pop culture offenses made in the name of the bovine concept of Iranian-ness. A fresh clean sweet and bracingly icy step towards a modern enlightened Iranian. Judging from this concert, it appears that our great national humiliation and shame may well be over.
Prologue: A middle-aged man in utter denial of his age whom we shall call Shahin, moved jerkily across the wooden floor in front of the stage. Smashed, he wore a ridiculous suit, with only enough sense to have lost the tie. He began, hilariously to adapt the decades old quirky 6/8 dance moves, selling off each, one by one, like an obsolete cellphone. First to go, the Baba Karam walk-dance. Next, the dual wrist rotation, quickly abandoned. Then, the raised hands wedding move, dropping arms reluctantly to his side. Finally, with no perceivable 6/8 moves left, he became resentfully content with the final step in his evolutionary journey. One that every nerd must inevitably make, namely the time-honored tradition, the Rock head-bob.