Nikos Papazoglou warms up old and newer fans on chilly Lycabettus Hill

The long-serving yet usually off-the-record singer-songwriter Nikos Papazoglou was obviously glad to see a solid number of fans defy the chilly weather and venture up to the open-air theater at Lycabettus Hill for his customary – but slightly delayed this year – end-of-summer show at the venue last Wednesday night. «These people are real heroes,» remarked a cheery Papazoglou as he peered out from backstage, moments before showtime, to see that the 5,000-capacity theater’s windy stands were about two-thirds full. There is no denying the enduring appeal of this gifted artist’s significant contribution to modern Greek music for over two decades. But considering the evening’s unfavorable odds – adverse weather, Papazoglou’s seventh year without a new album, minimal show publicity, and, last but not least, a coinciding AEK-Real Madrid Champions League soccer match in Athens – the attendance was strong. The combined effect of all these conflicts making little difference. Virtually nothing seemed changed two years after the Thessaloniki-based performer’s last show at the theater, an annual stomping ground for Papazoglou for ages – and that’s not meant as condemnation of stagnancy. Clad in his trademark stage attire of blue denim pants and shirt offset by the customary red bandanna, Papazoglou, now 54, looked and sounded as fans have more or less known him for ages, the only difference possibly being a slightly pudgier face. More crucially, despite time, the songs, culled from several albums spanning 1978’s landmark debut, «I Ekdikisi Tis Gyftias,» to Papazoglou’s most recent effort, «Otan Kindinevis Pexe tin Pourouda,» released back in 1995, as well as some island folk numbers – rung as fresh and vital. The mixed audience of young and aging fans, who savored the close to three-hour show, came as tangible proof of the material’s lasting power. Papazoglou’s older fans obviously found strong enough reason to climb the hill again – some possibly for the umpteenth time – while younger listeners, too, are being drawn to the artist’s work, despite the lack of new material and any renewed publicity this could generate. At this point in his lengthening career, Papazoglou, who emerged as a vibrant new songwriting force and singer endowed with a unique knotty vocal delivery amid Greece’s popular (laiko) scene in the late 1970s, is transforming from «contemporary» to «classic» status. As the man himself has made clear in the past, it has always been his objective to «write songs that will stand the test of time,» an approach that helps justify his slow pace in the studio. Though he has worked at a turtle-like pace for six studio albums in 24 years, Papazoglou has certainly headed in the right direction. His fresh yet respectful take on Eastern-tinged popular Greek music has rendered some of this country’s more potent material in recent times. Remarkably, though Papazoglou has avoided change throughout the years, he has been able to extract interesting ideas from his mostly linear course, one based on old-school laiko and its highly danceable tsifteli offshoot, all injected with an elusive touch and highly recognizable singing voice that make the work uniquely his own. Papazoglou’s quality presence has also helped open the doors for other intriguing, similar-minded younger artists, also from the country’s north, such as Socrates Malamas, formerly a guitarist in Papazoglou’s band, and Thanassis Papaconstantinou. Admirably, and unlike many of his contemporaries, Papazoglou cares little for garnering attention, nor, as in many cases of artistic gluttony suffered by his peers, for being permanently placed under the spotlight. On the contrary, he has been unafraid to remain on the sidelines for lengthy periods of time. While out of the picture, he has either casually experimented with promising ideas or produced work for others at his own Thessaloniki studio. When back at center stage again with a new album, one can almost be certain that Papazoglou has stepped forward with self-respect intact and an appreciation of his new material as worthy of release. To date, his steady cycle of comebacks have not disappointed as reflected by the solid musical legacy each venture has left behind. This aloofness, or more accurately, true-to-the-heart simplicity, is usually also conveyed on stage, as was the case last Wednesday night. Backed by his tasteful sounding eight-member band, Loxi Fallaga, Papazoglou relied purely on the music, musicianship and his voice to get him through the night. If anybody also expected elaborate lights-and-smoke shows and choreographed dancing both on stage or suspended from the ceiling – these seem to be standard concert features for today’s «top-selling» stars – this was not the show to go to! (No qualms about the addition of ambitious theatrical dimensions to modern-day concert performances but we would be interested to know of any truly worthwhile examples on the local front.) Back to Papazoglou. Surprisingly, for the time being at least, the artist, whose authenticity, talent, and «ethnic appeal» would seemingly make him an obvious candidate for integration with the world music circuit, has seen his musical reach mostly limited to domestic audiences. Several years ago, the «Rough Guide» travel book series devoted a feature article to the man in its guide to Greece. But his potential appeal to recently opened world music markets has been subdued, as reflected by the rarity of concerts to non-Greek audiences. Perhaps the material comes across as too Greek for foreign ears but, whatever the case, Papazoglou’s work is of export quality. For the time being, according to his record label, new material, none of which was presented at Wednesday’s show, is being contemplated for release next spring.