On Friday night, Slava Vakarachuk and his band Okean Elzy played the final concert in a seven month long tour, and some friends, colleagues and I decided to head out to the left bank and the International Exhibition Centre to take in the show. Now, one would expect after seven months of almost constant performing, the lads might be a bit tired, and I for one wasn’t expecting it to be quite as good as the show in Palace Sport on 3 June which kicked off the tour. However, this assumption of mine proved wrong. Very wrong. For sure, one could hear the strain in Slava’s voice, but you couldn’t expect anything else after so many months of nightly shows, and, in fact, the extra huskiness added an extra rawness to the performance, which I for one appreciated.
There are not many singers in the world of pop-rock who sound better live than in a studio recording, especially in these days of computer generated sounds and vocal enhancements. In fact, Michael Stipe of REM is the only man I’ve heard who’s raw emotion, energy and vocal power can only be truly appreciated during a live performance, and after hearing him live, his studio recordings fall into the category of poor parody. I can now honestly add Slava Vakarchuk to this short list. From the moment he took to the stage ‘til the moment he left almost three hours later (yes, three hours!) he belted out every song with all his might. He and the other lads in the band, despite seven months on the road, gave it everything they’ve got, giving the crowd everything they could hope for and more. There were old favourites mixed in with great songs from the new album Dolce Vita, and they even performed two songs that they hadn’t played in ten years, but as they were selected online by fans, they gave them their all. This concert signified to me everything that is good about Ukraine and its people. Here’s a man with a doctorate in Physics, who writes great songs and yet remains humble and thankful enough to put on the best show he possibly can. And in so doing, he is fully supported by his band, all of whom are exceptionally talented musicians. There is no corruption or greed here, arrogance or the thought that everything should be handed to one on a plate. These are talented people who work hard, and who have an exceptional desire to please their audience. We deal with many a ‘star’ in our line of work, and many who lack talent or creativity cast themselves about as if they were the biggest thing since Elvis. Every single one of them should take a look at Okean Elzy. There is a reason they are the biggest band in the land. Sure, they have talent. But they recognise even that is not enough. Hard work also counts. And they work harder than anyone. Thanks lads! It was a great gig, especially the very energetic performance of my favourite song, Zeleni Ochi!