• Michael Bugeja

ENERGY AND EMOTION


"(I have) no words to describe the feeling in the process of coming back to my senses from my very first solo concert". These are of course, Ivan Grech's words, not mine, posted on Facebook the day after his concert at Pjazza Teatru Rjal a few weeks ago. One would think that having fronted Winter Moods, surely one of Malta's most popular rock bands ever, for the best part of 30 years, he would have become accustomed to performances such as this one.

The truth however, is rather different, and it is refreshing to learn that, despite the countless occasions he has had of performing to audiences in their thousands, Ivan Grech was probably the most nervous person in the venue on the night, not least because of the relatively more intimate ambiance of the venue.

This was after all, also his first solo concert, and stepping out onstage with an all-new band behind him will have surely pushed him out of his comfort zone, not that this dented the performance in any way. As had been previously announced in the various interviews Ivan gave leading up to the event, the set list was indeed "a soundtrack to his life"; a collection of songs that have inspired him, given him strength and solace too, when he needed it most.

And perhaps the beauty of it lies in the fact that many of those very songs form part of the soundtrack to the lives of many of those present there too, practically guaranteeing an instant connection right from the very first note that was played. For me personally, this was most certainly the case, given that Winter Moods' Days of my life, the first song performed that night, remains among my most favourite songs by the band ever.

I can't say that all the songs struck me in the same way, with a couple of the covers coming across as either a bit too loyal to the originals for my liking or not packing a mighty enough punch to fully engage the audience. The majority of them however were given a nifty, albeit not overbearing revamp. With a backing band that talented on board, it was practically impossible not to really, and here in particular I must mention not only the sterling work by the band, but especially the subtle intros and codas that were effectively applied for added effect.

As for variety, a selection that stretches from Robbie Williams to Depeche Mode via U2 (of course!), Elvis Presley, Simple Minds, Prince, Black and Marillion amongst several others, is without a doubt as eclectic as they come, but that was what made it so appealing to the very diverse audience present. There was something for everyone, and Ivan's experience in piecing it together, throwing in a few anecdotes of either a personal, historical, humorous (or all of the above) nature with a bit of gusto worked a treat.

The peaks (yes, there was more than one) of this concert arrived midway through the set. Joined by famed international musicians Carl Carlton on guitar and Pascal Kravetz on piano (and with the full band in tow, naturally), Ivan led the way on a mash-up of Robert Palmer's Addicted to Love and I Can't Dance by Genesis, which number evolved into a rousing rendition that saw all the audience getting involved. A seated concert this may have been, but there were several instances that had the audience on their feet, and this was certainly one of those moments.

In complete contrast yet just as enthralling, the stripped-down set Ivan performed with Mro. Dominic Galea accompanying on piano saw the former revisiting his childhood via a set that took in Elvis's Can't help falling in love, Peter, Paul and Mary's Where have all the flowers gone, and Louie Armstrong's What a wonderful world, rounded off with Winter Moods' own Miss you and Gozo band The Tramps' evergreen Xemx. Bearing in mind that talk of solo work from Ivan Grech has been rife in the rumour mill, Mro. Galea's presence in this concert reverberates even more strongly, but that is perhaps something to be looked into at a later stage.

For the time being this is all about this particular concert, and frankly, the gamble Ivan must have felt he was taking with this event (it was sold-out, by the way), turned out to be a success on all fronts, which is why I feel slightly disappointed that we weren't treated to at least one new song; a teaser of what he is presently working on outside of the band. That said, The evening was still enjoyable and entertaining, and of course, our curiosity regarding what next to expect from Ivan Grech is now even stronger.

This article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta's ESCAPE magazine (04 September 2016)

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