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Harborlights Pavillion, September 9

Gipsy Kings reign at Harborlights
Boston Globe September 10, 1998

By Paul Robicheau - Globe Correspondent

The reign of the Gipsy Kings is an anomaly that shows no signs of slowing down. A decade since the group of Catalan Gypsies from the south of France had a dance-club smash in "Bamboleo", which crossed the lines of pop and world music, the Kings are still racking up CD and concert sales.

In fact, the Gipsy Kings are bigger and better than ever, based on last night's triumphant concert for 3600 fans at Harborlights, with closer to a full house expected tonight.

While the Kings' electric backing band seemed too loud in past years, last night's show offered as sublimes a sound mix as one could expect for a group with up to eight amplified Spanish guitars, plus drums, percussion, electric bass, and synthesizer.

The acoustic guitars are played by the front line of brothers and cousins from the Reyes and Baliardo families. Far from growing old, the Kings are cultivating a dynasty.

Singer Nicolas Reyes and guitarist Tonino Baliardo still lead the group, alternating the spotlight across a well-paced, near-two-hour slow that was split as usual into two sets, lessening the rhythmic similarity in the rhumba-flamenco songs.

The husky-voiced Reyes's melismatic exclamations in Gitane (a dialect that mixes French, Spanish, and Gypsy) hit huge, resonant moments with a presence reminiscent of the late qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in songs like the moody "Un Amor" and "Gitano Soy", both featured on "Cantos de Amor", a new CD of love songs. And Baliardo stepped in with brisk, snappy flurries, keeping his leads simple and effective, even when the group turned into strum-driven overdrive for a second-set samba. But there were also plenty of hearty lead vocals from Andre, Patchai, and Canut Reyes (whose soaring lead in "Djobi Djoba" first brought the crowd to its feet), and members shared the credit after each song with sweeping hand gestures. Nicolas's son George has also graduated to the front line on guitar and percussion, his old place at the back of the stage now taken by Baliardo's son Mikael, who also came forward ably to join the guitar attack, and lend a cheerleading bounce to the proceedings. The expanded unit was still incredibly tight, especially in in riffing, multiple-part choruses. Despite the lack of English vocals, and only improved by a more-restrained if everpresent beat, the band and the crowd celebrated on a common wavelength, singing, clapping, and dancing to a feverish pitch on songs like the strobe-flashed "Baila Me", which closed the first half.

The second half took longer to develop, opening with a more acoustic-oriented, partial band lineup anchored by Tonino Baliardo's lyrical guitar work. Canut Reyes gave a romantic vocal treatment to "La Montana" with lilting support, and a breezy "A Ti A Ti" slowly built up crowd response with a cyclical chorus that playfully dipped into welcome low dynamics. Naturally, the Gipsy Kings could afford to ease up during the second half with a finale that included a percussive "A Tu Vera" (with silverhaired elder Paul Reyes sauntering closer to the crowd) and a brisk "Bem Bem Maria" where Mikael Baliardo helped initiate a conga line to fiery solos from drummer Negrito Trasante and percussionist Rodolfo Pacheco. The band members, including bassist Gerard Prevost and keyboardist Dominique Droin, have been with the family for years. And of course, there was the expected encore of "Bamboleo" to cap off the party from a band that's only building on its unique niche.