SunSay concert

(Photo from the balcony)

I am sitting in the small balcony of a photo studio in central Moscow. The room is packed with teen, twenty- and thirty-somethings sitting cross-legged on the floor, all surrounding a small circle in the middle with three chairs awaiting the musicians. This is the extent of the setup. The room is humming with a warm, radiant excitement contrasting sharply the cold, harsh environment outside. I am giddily thrilled, an emotion that, by 30, I should have grown out of or at least be embarrassed about. But I am neither because this is a SunSay concert and I AM HERE.

It was a long time in coming.

A few years ago a Russian friend gave my family a CD with this new band he was really into. At that time we lived in San Diego and didn’t really follow Russian music, having moved to the States in the early 1990’s. But our friend told us to give it a shot, and we did, and soon we were listening to it on our long car trips up and down the West Coast, humming along to it on our way to school and university, chanting bits of it a capella in the shower and during family get-togethers. The miracle of that album was that it was simply two guys with an acoustic guitar. But when you the songs, you could immediately sense the energy, the versatility, the talent. It was the first official album put out by the group 5’nizza, whose lead vocal Andrey Zaporozhets would go on to form the band SunSay.

Listening to that first album, and later to the second, I always felt uplifted because I could sense the creative process through the music. It was as if I could hear them sitting around, humming and strumming the guitar, being like, “Hey, let’s try this” and “this would sound really awesome”… Just throwing ideas around and putting them into the songs. To a creative person it is so inspiring when someone comes up with an idea and then realizes it. It’s an intoxicating miracle every time – when you do it, or when you witness someone else do it. I often painted to their songs, playing the CD not as a pleasant background, but to interact and engage with the musicians, to be side by side doing our thing and building off each other.

Fast forward to 2012. I hadn’t been in Russia for nine years, and resigned myself to listening to Sunsay remotely. Though they had recently recorded a full-length English album, it was unclear if  and when they were going to tour in the States. I had downloaded their previous album Легко (Easy) and again was inspired by the concoctions that it showcased. Though the sound was decidedly different from 5’nizza’s minimalist artistry, the talent and fluid inspiration of the now many musicians was evident. At times I could imagine one of the guys saying, “Hey, let’s put in a keyboard solo with that cool 60’s vibe that sounds like Ray Manzarek from the Doors” or “Wouldn’t a Jimi Hendrix vocal work well here?” And of course there were Andrey’s emblematic melodic tunes and sing-alongable lyrics.  The most notable thing about this album was that it, as its title might have suggested, was easy. Its creation did not seem a laborious, forced process with songs penned to meet deadlines. Rather, it flowed naturally, spontaneously, almost.

In January 2013, by a combination of chance, circumstance, and great generosity, I got the chance to go to Russia and made sure that one of the two days I was in Moscow would fall on the band’s concert evening. The day after I bought plane tickets I emailed the lady in charge of selling tickets for the show, only to find out that it had been sold out before New Years. Now I’m not one to beg, but this was literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I wrote her back, asking her to please let me know if anyone cancels their ticket, and saying that maybe I could just fit in the corner somewhere – it’s okay if I stand, and I don’t take up much room…Within a few hours she wrote back and said she could squeeze me up on the balcony. Would I be alright with that? A resounding “Absolutely!” followed.

And so here I am. Sitting on that very balcony – having trudged through sleet and snow, having gotten lost and almost late, thoroughly sleep-deprived, jet-lagged and elated. I flatter myself to think that nobody in this room traveled this far to see SunSay perform.

Suddenly people in the main room start clapping and out comes Andrey, flanked by guitarist Roman Kucherenko and winds virtuoso Sergey Klevensky. The show gets quickly underway. They perform songs from the SunSay albums, new songs from the English-language album, a few songs folks have not heard before, some “oldies” from the days of 5’nizza. We’ve all clearly done our homework – people can’t help but sing along to almost every tune, and even when gently invited to let the singer do his thing alone, some hum under their breath. There are laughs and dreadlocks and i-phones and good vibrations. Halfway through the show the host hands Andrey a cup of tea, and as the band takes a quick break I realize I have been smiling for the past 40 minutes.

The lasting impression is, as I expected, a very good one. They’re just like on youtube! Only better. The cohesion of the group and the individual attributes of each member are more perceptible live. Also, without sound engineering or even microphones, you realize that the strength of this group lies in the talent of each: in the voice, in the presence, in the flexibility and openness and joy. How can you  not enjoy a concert when it is clear that the musicians are enjoying themselves? You can’t. Perhaps that’s the point.

SunSay

(Photo not mine)

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