CULTURE

Mellow gold

It?s been 15 years since Greece?s young rock fans screamed their lungs out to the lyrics of ?Liomeno pagoto? (Melted ice-cream) — the ultimate summertime anthem for the country?s rock-thirsty generation in the early 1990s.

Being a rock buff down south back then more or less meant that you had to swear allegiance to one of the two Thessaloniki giants: ?Trypes? (Holes) the Yiannis Aggelakas-led band of the more traditional electric-guitar-meets-drums variety, or ?Xylina Spathia? (Wooden Swords), the more experimental electro-rock act fronted by Pavlos Pavlidis. It was a bit like the mid-1990s? Britpop feud between Oasis and Blur — only without the tabloid-fueled spin machine and surreal I-hope-they-catch-AIDS-and-die statements.

Yes, it was a good time for Greek rockers. Up until then, the domestic scene had been as lush as the desert and the two northern arrivals were quickly catapulted into legend status. The momentum lasted well into the 2000s as both groups made good albums (and, yes, people were still buying CDs) and filled venues and theaters in concerts around the country — many of them at the smoke-filled, black-walled Rodon, the cinema-turned-rock club on the capital?s Marnis Street (now the stuff of legend). However, very few bands followed up on the circuit as Greece?s typically opportunistic record labels sought to capitalize on the success of the two northern acts. ?In those days, having a guitar and being from Thessaloniki was enough to get you an album release,? Pavlidis told Kathimerini in a previous interview.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since, and there is no better proof than listening to Pavlidis. The former frontman of Xylina Spathia, who is scheduled for one show, on Saturday, February 19, at Fuzz (1 Patriarchou Ioakeim, Tavros, tel 6985.555.081) with his backing band B Movies, has embarked on a checkered solo career that has brought him a million miles away from the sounds of the Xylinia Spathia years.

His three solo albums — ?Afou loipon xehastika,? ?Alli mia mera? and ?Auto to ploio pou olo ftanei? — have a more mellow, acoustic and melodic flavor than the fast-paced, power-charged tunes of Xylina Spathia. The now-defunct band?s trademark electronic flourishes still filigree here and there, but it is Pavlidis?s melancholic, soulful, image-rich song writing that takes center stage.

Born in Veria, northern Greece, in the early 1960s, Pavlidis grew up in Thessaloniki. His parents lived in Germany as migrants and he spent much of his time in Geneva and Paris, making his living by playing typical diaspora stuff — Manos Hatzidakis, Mikis Theodorakis and rembetiko great Giorgos Zambetas.

Pavlidis?s first brush with fame came in the mid-1980s, when, as a guitarist, he joined Mora Sti Fotia (Babies in the Fire), a high-voltage punk-rock act that sounded a bit like a local version of Billy Idol (to be fair, it was better than it sounds). The band stayed together for three years and as with most rock bands, the break-up was not amicable (the other members have reunited without much success). Pavlidis went on to form Xylina Spathia, where he took over as frontman and songwriter. The band produced a couple of massive hits, ?Xesaloniki? and ?Pera apo tis poleis tis asfaltou,? and their popularity brought them all the way to Athens?s Olympic Stadium where they opened for the Rolling Stones for the iconic band?s Bridges to Babylon tour. That was September in 1998, and the five Greeks found themselves playing in front of 80,000 people (OK, most of the crowd was there for Mick and the other sexagenarians).

Following that mind-blowing experience, the band went off on a more experimental path that put off the mainstream audiences who fell in love with them for the sheer rush of catchy tunes like ?Adrenalini? or ?O vasilias tis skonis.? ?I haven?t seen any other band attack its own success like that. We chose to undo it all. I believe we did very well. It?s regressive to remain preoccupied with one model simply to fill stadiums,? Pavlidis said.

Paradoxically, the more introspective, idiosyncratic musical path that Pavlidis has mapped out as a solo act has expanded his audience base. After all, the enthusiastic 20-somethings that used to fill venues to listen to Xylina Spathia are now well in their 30s and (well, most likely) more receptive to Pavlidis?s softer, warmer and more mature sound.

The year 2008 marked one of the artistic, as well as commercial, peaks of Pavlidis?s solo career, as the artist performed live at the ?Apollo,? the municipal theater on the island of Syros. Backed by an uncompromising nine-member band, Pavlidis surprised critics and fans with stripped-down acoustic versions of past material that kindled a fresh appreciation for the nuances of his older songs.

Pavlidis is not very happy about returning to things he?s written in the past. In fact, he has said he feels ?ashamed.? ?Its like seeing the mistakes you?ve made and which you would not make now or think you would not make now. But, fortunately, we?re able to endure this shame and carry on toward new shame.?

Here?s one singer could easily get away with a little more self-confidence.