Can the Past be Hip? “Dang Show” in Downtown Los Angeles
On Sunday, March 27th, the Iranian ensemble “Dang Show” performed to a sold-out show in Downtown Los Angeles’ Zipper Hall. Famed Iranian actor Reza Kianian took to the stage to introduce the band, explaining that the music is influenced by past favorites from the musical golden era of the 60’s and 70’s. And, a large portion of the concert was an attempt at revisiting and reinterpreting nostalgia. Taha Parsa does this with his vocals and saxophone, his brother Reza Shaya Shoja Noori with the piano, and Omid Nemati on vocals along with percussions (tombak and koozeh). Two well-known guest musicians joined the ensemble in the rhythm section: Kasra Saboktakin on bass and Leon Darzibashian on drums.
The first few pieces immediately set the tone for the night: nostalgic and familiar. While a few songs into the program Taha Parsa and Omid Nemati began to sing to a poem by Hafiz. The audience was joining in on the performance by clapping and moving along. The level of engagement and rapport that Taha Parsa had with the audience is worth mentioning. At moments, even when the usually musically unscrupulous Iranian-Los Angeles-crowd wasn’t sure if it is OK to clap and move to the music Parsa encouraged audience engagement by snapping and moving along, himself. At one point between pieces he mentioned that clapping along and gher—the Iranian word for moving the hips or dancing—is highly encouraged. Mentioning that he wants to produce “high quality gher’s.” The matter of shame, or sometimes, maybe, the lack thereof, when it comes to 6/8-gheri music is nothing new to the world of Iranian music. Whether one enjoys the rhythm closeted or simply dismisses it as demoralizing trash what must be noted in this instance is, the audience was able to connect to the music and feel joy because of Taha.
The performances of old works were mostly a hit that night but “Ta bahar delneshin”, a song made timeless by the legendary singer Banan, was beyond engaging due largely in part to the brilliant and mountainous vocals of Omid Nemati. In fact, besides only a few instances in which Nemati’s voice seemed to meander in the lower registers, he was the hero of the night. Parsa’s voice was velvety but also broke in a few places. Another successful reinterpretation was the famous song “Ase Ase.” At points the sounds in this piece became so lush, rich, and brassy that I was reminded of an Eastern European wedding band. Another highlight was the piece “Fill the Blank”. The song had a duet between Parsa and Nemati that mimicked the counterpoint and harmonic techniques used in Western medieval music.
A few original songs from their debut album, “Shiraz 40 Year Old,” published by Bamahang Productions, were also performed. But whether the music was from the past or from today the concert fell short of what it could have achieved. Stylistically speaking all of the songs consisted of the same musical form (ABA’B’); beginning with the piano entering along with vocals, building up to the next section with the addition of the other instruments, mainly the bass and drums, and repeating itself again with the saxophone on the same progressions. Represented in most places, as an Iranian-Jazz band the saxophone playing became smooth, smooth-jazz meets Iranian popular music smooth, and the piano musically predictable, even monotonous. As far as the guest musicians less restraint could have been expected from the bassist; a longer solo complementing the drummer Darzibashian’s long solo would have been in order. The past can become hip with young hipster-dressed musicians and “Dang Show” has proven this by performing for audiences comprised of both young and old. Their greatest achievement has been their ability to please both those who would traditionally attend classical Iranian concerts such as, Shahram Nazeri and the younger crowds that would normally be attracted to alternative Iranian music such as Kiosk, Hamed Nikpay, or Namjoo. But what remains to be seen in the future is now that “Dang Show” has managed to garner this fan base will they be able to move beyond oldies, pleasing poetic choices, and into stronger musical territory. Much credit should be given to the talented and reputable manager Samad Taleghani who has managed this project so successfully. The band will continue their tour playing in San Diego’s, Museum of Contemporary Art, on April 2nd and in San Francisco’s legendary Jazz club, Yoshi’s on April 3rd. Go and be entertained.