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Ivo Dimchev At The Hotel Cafe, Saturday February 26th 2022

Ivo Dimchev
Ivo Dimchev

Watching Ivo Dimchev perform makes you ignore the classical conception of performance, i.e., an artist standing on a stage and his audience essentially watching him. On Saturday night, the people sitting in front of the main stage of the Hotel Cafe were definitively part of the show, and Dimchev couldn’t stop questioning his audience between songs: “What is your favorite A-word?” …. “The worst A-word?” … “Anus!” someone screamed… “Oh, this is actually the best!”

During the pandemic, Dimchev became completely uninterested in following the universal trend of streaming performances on Instagram or elsewhere. He took a completely different approach and performed more than 400 private home concerts in his native Bulgaria, playing in living rooms, in front of one person or a small group. Despite the critics – this was not risk-free – it was a generous way to help and fight the terrible isolation due to COVID-19 since the price of a home concert was just the price of a t-shirt. After watching his restless interaction with the crowd on Saturday, it’s easy to understand why he absolutely needed a live audience. “Best thing in life?” … “Sex!” … ”Give me something original, I am writing a musical!” He told us he was indeed doing research for a musical based on these concerts, and, as he got answers – the crowd was more than willing to provide many – he dismissed plenty of them. “Not the obvious ones… something more unexpected!” … “Favorite killing device?” … “Big dick or a great sense of humor?”… “Rich in Russia or famous in China?… Last month everybody was saying rich in Russia and now nobody wants to be rich in Russia!”

The show was part stand-up, part musical performance but don’t get me wrong, it was a real concert. While he accompanied himself with a little keyboard, a friend played the cello, he right away appeared as a flamboyant character, dedicated to his craft beyond expectation: Ivo Dimchev, who is an openly queer artist, was born to perform. Multitalented, he is not only a singer and a songwriter, but he is also a choreographer, a visual artist who has also an extensive background in theater. He has also appeared on the “X- Factor UK” in 2018 and has described himself as a “stage addict” … it shows.

On the stage of the Hotel Cafe, he alternated between hyper emotive songs and campy tunes, some hybrid compositions inspired by Bulgarian folklore with dance beats. However, he sang all of them with intense expressions, grandiose gestures carefully choreographed, and unmatched passion. Wearing a white sports jacket, a black cap, a fake Rolling Stones shirt, and plaid pants, his outfit looked as eclectic as his music; the tattoos on his shaved head added another level of eccentricity while the performance was completely exuberant.

He started with his most emotive songs, showcasing his insanely powerful vocals with intense drama. The music was intensely melancholic, telling heartaches with great sentimentality and the result was simply poignant. Besides the hilarious jokes, his voice was the star of the show, and the range was simply impressive, going from a low baritone to an operatic soprano with emotive tremolos, covering everything in between, going back and forth from male to female, from diva to tenor. His vocal prowess has been compared to the greatest vocalists from Freddie Mercury, to Kate Bush to Annie Lennox to singer Anohni (formerly of the band Antony and the Johnsons), and I will add to this list a bit of Klaus Nomi because of the baroque and theatrical vibe. In any case, his singing was so impressive that you could hear the public react at each one of his vibratos during the songs, bouncing between amusement and awe.

Watching him sing was also witnessing a physical experience as he seemed to exhale the words with his entire body, and theatrical is barely a word that could describe it: it was like noticing a tragedy with the intense exaggerations of classic representations. His voice vibrated like the cord of a real instrument, while the cello added another level of poignancy, but the pathos of these first tunes was in full contrast with the dirty jokes, “Top 3 F word?” Fellatio?”… “20 Minutes of hardcore sex or 60 minutes of vanilla sex?”… or with the insane choices that he was proposing… “A monument of Madonna or Marina Abramovic?” … “Oprah or Rupaul?” … “Lynch or Fellini?” Each time, the crowd was screaming answers.

As an international artist, he wrote a nostalgic aria about the best street in America, “Melrose,” then performed another song about LA (with beats but written in New York) then a song so stupid that “I am ashamed to sing it.” “Clit in the sky” was a funny composition about female masturbation with the most uplifting chorus and strong Balkan/Russian music vibes. It was followed by “Banitsa” a tune about Bulgaria’s favorite pastry dish, then the dirtiest of all, “Halal,” then “Slut,” “Pushkin,” “Vodka,” mixing Bulgarian with English and a few other languages. These songs were the campiest ones of the set, the music had strong Balkan-Russian vibes and very catchy tempos, but one thing was certain, Ivo Dimchev knew how to vary pleasures while pushing all boundaries. He ended the set with the emotional “Traveling Light,” switching once again to a vibrant eerie falsetto.

Ivo Dimchev is someone who refuses to be pigeonholed while he performs with a rare dexterity and a hybrid approach. Sublime one moment, dirty the next, he combines genre and styles and can make people dance or cry in the same setting. From dark baroque to trashy disco, this authentic talent sees no boundaries, and his performance was one of the most originals I have ever seen: bizarre, stunning, colorful, hypnotic, and truly unique.

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