Athens concert scene awakens

It’s fall season and if the somewhat encouraging list of concert activity, both qualitatively and quantitatively, promised by local promoters for the coming weeks is an indicator, then pop and rock music concertgoers should start putting away more euros for their winter gig outings than was necessary last year. More shows – at steeper prices, too – seems to be the coming trend this winter. It was approximately this time last year when booked acts already began canceling and postponing shows amid the widespread post-September 11 uncertainty. The collective retreat left the local circuit looking paler than ever before, or ever since a steady supply of rock acts began flowing through the capital from the late 1980s onward, largely due to the arrival of the active downtown venue, the Rodon Club. Worse still, last winter’s musical sterility lasted – with few exceptions – right through the summer. But the thickening pre-winter agenda for this year should garner some interest for assorted pop music tastes and age groups. The erstwhile Smiths frontman Morrissey, New York’s Fun Lovin’ Criminals, French-Algerian Rachid Taha, as well as 1980s rock eccentric Julian Cope, have been booked to perform in coming weeks. Even though he had performed a sold-out show here a relatively short three years ago, the continuing legend surrounding Morrissey and his unique past with the Smiths makes the singer’s return for two nights a highly anticipated prospect. Morrissey’s two shows in Athens, this Saturday and Sunday at the recently launched Gagarin 205 venue (205 Liosion Street, tel 010.854.7600, close to Attiki train and metro station) should draw fans of various ages. Strange as it may seem, Morrissey, who these days is without a recording contract, does not have a manager, nor is he touring on the strength of a new album. But the combined effect of it all has not taken anything away from the appeal of Morrissey, one of indie pop’s most distinctive voices in the past couple of decades. Though the several solo albums delivered since the late 1980s by Morrissey lack the magic of the Smiths, their former frontman has actually managed to draw more fans, particularly in the US, where the Smiths were confined to cult status during their brief, yet wondrous, five-year spell, during which they produced their superb «Strangeways Here We Come» album in 1987. Any attempt to separate Morrissey from his past with the Smiths is virtually impossible. As the band’s charismatic singer and lyricist of melancholic and usually derisive lyrics, he gave unique, instantly recognizable voice and wit to the infectious music penned by Johnny Marr, the Manchester band’s songwriter and guitarist. This inseparability has sustained the reverence felt by nostalgic, 30-something fans of the Smiths. In addition, hordes of younger fans have also emerged in appreciation of the artist’s iconic past. Unlike the older legion, which largely views the artistic results of the Marr-Morrissey collaboration as one-off magic, these youngsters tend to be more appreciative of Morrissey’s solo work. Together, they’ve all established a more extensive fan base for the Smiths. The man may be without a recording contract and manager, but the 43-year-old’s legacy seems to be intensifying with time. In a recent poll, the influential British music publication NME declared Morrissey and the Smiths as the most influential pop artists of all time, with the Beatles placed second. Apart from exciting local fans, the news of Morrissey’s return to Greece has also aroused interest from his vigilant followers abroad. Posting comments in a recent Internet chat room, one frustrated and distressed fan who will miss seeing Morrissey on this tour notes: «Gee, honestly, no offense, but why Athens man? I mean, what about the rest of Europe. I can’t believe it, two dates in Athens, but just one in Paris. What about Copenhagen, Berlin?» A less scornful fan, who had covered the distance to be here for Morrissey’s show in 1999, contributes with: «I can’t believe he is returning to Athens. I wish I was there again, and to think how extremely small the venue is… It will be an incredible night.» Tickets for both shows at the recently launched 1,000-capacity Gagarin 205 club went on sale last Friday, and, according to the concert’s promoter, are still available. Priced at 35 euros, tickets are being sold at Tickethouse (42 Panepistimiou Street, tel 010.360.8366), the Metropolis music store on Panepistimiou St, and at the venue’s box office. Other interesting shows by touring acts in coming weeks include the stylish New Yorkers Fun Lovin’ Criminals on November 12 at a yet-to-be-determined venue. Like Morrissey, the popular rock-rap-soul act had played their debut show here in 1999, as part of that year’s Rockwave Festival. Several days earlier, one of the indie rock scene’s more eccentric figures, Julian Cope, who first emerged with the British post-punk band Teardrop Explodes before embarking on a prolific and interesting solo course in 1984, will be returning on November 9 for a show at the Rodon Club. Eight years ago, he performed a potent solo guitar-and-voice show at the venue. An intriguing figure in his own right, Cope’s solo work has been heavily influenced by the garage rock of Roky Erickson and the psychedelia of Syd Barrett, two of rock’s most notorious figures in the 1960s. Just months after his first performance here, at last summer’s Womad Festival in Athens, the top-selling French-Algerian rai-rock artist Rachid Taha will be heading back to Athens later this month. He is scheduled to play the Gagarin 205 club on October 26. But not before Morrissey takes the venue’s stage for two nights this Saturday and Sunday.