Live Review: Gipsy Kings, Karavana Flamenca

15 April 2015 | 4:53 pm | Ching Pei Khoo

"But after playing for a total of just 85 minutes, the evening ends way too soon for their ardent audience."

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It might be billed as a night to celebrate the return of music royalty, but Melbourne-based supporting act Karavana Flamenca could start a revolution.

Early attendees are rewarded with the searing, impassioned vocals of lead singer and flamenco guitarist Miguel Antonio Ovejero. With his Spanish background and a musical talent honed through playing in Buenos Aires cafés and worldwide festivals, Ovejero weaves together the members’ diverse heritage – which includes Turkish, Italian and Australian – to create a lively, faithful Rumba Flamenco atmosphere. Fiery guitars are backed by the Middle Eastern Oud, an electric bass and the infectious Afro-Cuban rhythms of the cajón. Harnessing Moorish, Romani, Latin and Cuban influences, the band deliver honest, unadorned music that captures the real spirit of Spain.  

By contrast, Gipsy Kings seem to have hired a PR with Hollywood production nous: a highly elevated platform in the background boasts two polished drum sets – one a conga kit – multiple keyboards and a bass player. Lead vocalist Nicolas Reyes and lead guitarist Tonino Baliardo arrive on stage last, after their guitar-armed sons, into this highly charged auditorium. Reyes’s much-famed vocals falter initially and he struggles to remain afloat over instruments during the introductory tracks. Even when he is fully warmed-up, there is an undeniable bluntness in his register that remains for most of the performance. The setlist appears designed to allow his vocal cords plenty of recovery time offstage when either Baliardo takes the lead on instrumental items, or one of their sons takes over on lead vocal duty. Happily, the quiet Baliardo’s deft flamenco guitar skills are as sharp as ever, and this gives the audience many chances to sit back and chill out. But the vast majority of us didn’t come to chill out tonight. There are die-hard fans, many already greying (akin to Reyes and Baliardo) but no less reserved when it comes to cutting loose. They bay for the hits and, although Gipsy Kings acknowledge with numbers such as Baila Me, a generous portion of time is devoted to their latest album Savor Flamenco (including the catchy Samba Samba, which just begs to be received in an outdoor setting in summer, with sangria in hand).

The stage suddenly turns dark with only sparse, white uplights. And our momentum and expectations build. Baliardo toys with the strings on his guitar, teasing out chords. Ears prick up and armrests are gripped tighter. The joy of watching a band with 25 years and a dozen albums under their belts plus the mystery of guessing which nostalgic worldwide hit they will pull out next increase anticipation. Half the room leaps up when the strains of Bamboleo fill the air. The band milk it with a quasi-rock-style bridge. Rather cruelly, the band then take bows at the conclusion of this song and disappear off stage. The floor of Palais Theatre threatens to open up a sinkhole with all the feet stamping. Rarely have calls for encores seemed so scary.

When Gipsy Kings do reappear, they shrewdly offer Volare and Djoba Djoba and the climactic satisfaction is palpable. But after playing for a total of just 85 minutes, the evening ends way too soon for their ardent audience.