Old-school Greek surrealists head for city’s rock haunt

Back in Athens as part of the rock-oriented Gagarin 205 venue’s more diverse musical agenda this winter season, Himerini Kolymvites, the «rebetika surrealist» act from northern Greece, with one of the country’s strongest cult followings, is the latest worthy local act booked to play the club, this Friday and Saturday. Launched by film director and avid rock promoter Nikos Triandafyllidis two years ago, the Gagarin 205 venue (205 Liosion, tel 210.854.7600-2), has this winter season also opened its doors to an admirable selection of domestic Greek musical talent that has steered clear of the glitzier «bouzouki club» scenes. They have included the Larissa-based songwriter Thanassis Papaconstantinou, a reluctant public figure who has seen his previously limited following swell thanks to inspired albums and rare but engaging performances, as well as the committed and popular Athens-based Cypriot artist Alkinoos Ioannidis. By comparison, Himerini Kolymvites, the venue’s latest Greek-music offering, belong in the veterans category but the act’s fresh take on old-school Greek material – mostly «rebetika,» «Smyrneika,» and «cantathes» (serenades) – has managed to continue attracting young listeners. The act has carved out a highly original style, or a jazz-inflected take, on these old-school Greek styles. This bunch of 50-something practicing and non-practicing professionals released its debut album, a self-titled one, in 1981, as a self-financed release after local record companies rejected the material as «old-fashioned.» However, following the enthusiastic response to the album, which now ranks as a classic, the group was signed by the Lyra label. Infamous for their lack of organized commitment, as the croaky-voiced singer and main lyricist Argyris Bakyrtzis often quips during live sets, the seven-member band has found it difficult to gather in the studio, and hence it has produced a limited number of available recordings. The most recent, 1997’s «Ochi Lathi, Panta Lathi,» is a live album. There is no shortage of new material, however, as is often proven at the band’s highly entertaining shows. The riotous frontman Bakyrtzis can always be counted upon for hefty laughter, but, ultimately, it is the music that prevails.

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