Gipsy Kings. At the Santa Barbara Bowl, Sunday, July 23.
reviewed by Felicia M. Tomasko
“I don’t understand a word they’re saying, but this is a great song,” announced someone halfway through the Gipsy King’s Bowl appearance two Sundays ago. This sentiment is common in the U.S., where the French ensemble’s crossover popularity is groundbreaking for a non-English language group. Songs are sung in the gypsy dialect of gitane, and the combination of lyricism, driving dance beat, and universal themes of love, life, and loss produces irresistible live shows.
The Gipsy Kings’ current world tour is not necessarily to promote their latest album (2004’s Roots), but for the joy of performing. And even though many in the audience have danced in their performances numerous times — I overheard some say this was their 14th Gipsy Kings show — there’s no dulling the shine of their live “rumba flamenca” performance of indigenous music.
The musicians and singers who make up the group maintain the distinctly gypsy feel to their songs. From ballads to raucous dance tunes, whether they were testing new tunes on the audience or playing standards from their first album, the high energy of their show never faltered. Although lead singer Nicolas Reyes frequently took the mike, the singers alternated, each vocalist providing a slightly different, vibrant vibrato to the lyrics. The simplicity of the stage set allowed the complexity of the music to be featured. Seven guitarists and a bassist shared the stage with three percussion artists and a nimble keyboard player.
Without the encore performance of “Bamboleo,” the evening wouldn’t be able to end. The chart-topping hit initiated the wanderings of the band of gypsy minstrels when their 1987 debut album went platinum, and they have lived up to their name for nearly 20 years, as evidenced by the crowd at the Bowl.