Walking in to the first song, which started promptly at 7:30 p.m., the first thing that caught my eye were the five guitarists -- the two stage right played left-handed guitars, while the three stage left played right-handed guitars. It might not seem much, but the aesthetics created a subtle and pleasant symmetry throughout the evening. And in the middle, Nicolas Reyes sang in his wavering baritone -- rich, captivating and full from 30 years of singing songs of love, liberty and strife on a stage.
That said, the Reyes and the Baliards clans -- the two families who make up The Gipsy Kings (for a backstory of how the band got its name, go here) -- knew how to work a crowd. During the two 45-minute sets, the nine-piece ensemble powered through approximately 20 songs from their 11 albums. And the set ran the gamut from Spanish flamenco, Romani rhythm, salsa, rumba and so on.
The fourth song, “Todos Ole,” was a crowd-pleaser, and after cajoling from Nicolas, the Red Butte Garden crowd began to warm up, stand up and dance. The crowd kept to their feet for the next tune, which I think was “Djoba Djoba.” During the second half of this tune, a young, perhaps 12-year-old, aspiring Flamenco dancer came onstage and danced, thereby inciting smiles, whistles and encouraging more fans to dance.
As stated, several semesters of Spanish in high school and college have obviously not stuck with me. There were those moments, when I would hear “corazon” and feel relieved that I finally heard one word I knew. That said, I do believe that listening to music in another language can help one tune more into the playing of the music -- which The Gipsy Kings do proficiently with the dozens of strings being plucked and the syncopated rhythms -- and out of what could potentially be rather banal lyrics (that is not a comment on this band’s messages, but on popular music as a whole). That said, the music was exceptional, if not lacking a little bit in the heartfelt playing category.
Then, after “Djoba Djoba,” as was often the case this evening, a slow song cooled things down, and was then followed by a more upbeat number. After several more mellow jams, albeit with one picker-upper of an instrumental, the set ended with “Samba Samba” -- a show highlight.
After a 30-minute break, the sparsely decorated stage was illuminated by a modest light show as the band picked back up with an instrumental. For the third song of the set, Nicolas showed of his bassy falsetto a la Frank Sinatra with “A Mi Manera (My Way).” I’m not positive, but following my notes, and that the band was giving away numerous signed set lists for fans who “liked” them on Facebook -- there was even a message about it during the set break -- I think the show went something like this.
Other set highlights included the final two songs of the second set, where the majority of the crowd finally stood up, with hands waving, and moved to the groove. These songs were “Pena Penita” and “Volare.” The last song, as well as the encore, perhaps the band’s most widely recognized song, “Bambaleo” elicited the most crowd reaction -- rightly so, because they were executed with perfection.
While the band did little to interact with its audience during the set, Nicolas did end the evening on an up note. He asked the audience if they spoke French (I don’t speak that, either), and said something in that tongue. He then recited a mantra, of sorts, that could be understood in any language, saying “I love you, I love you, I love you.”