Words and Images: Elizabeth Rushton
It’s been a busy year for Sergey Lazarev. As if taking his live show “The Best” around Russia and other Eastern European countries for more than 100 performances, his appearance as Russia’s entry in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm brought him to international fame and attention. Although his tour isn’t over just yet, anyone familiar with Sergey’s social media accounts (all very fun places to be) won’t be in any doubt as to when we could expect its climax – a sold-out performance at Moscow’s Crocus City Hall on 24th November. With that in mind, I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane to when “The Best” rolled into Petrozavodsk back at the end of September.
Perhaps understandably, my anticipation and expectations for my first experience of a Russian pop concert were high. I’ve had the privilege to have had great exposure to the greats of Russian classical music, but not quite so much to any of today’s legends in the making. And this isn’t just any flavour-of-the-month pop sensation, rather, no less than Eurovision 2016’s “people’s champion”, as the many Lazarev-fan club flags being waved around the room proudly proclaim.
The first thing to say about this show is that it was one of the most full-on live displays I have ever witnessed. The opening itself was dramatic enough, all before the man himself had even appeared on stage. Once the house lights had dimmed, the band started up a grooving, pulsating track, as a screen behind them showed a flashy journey through the cosmos, and the night’s backing dancers march robotically onto the stage. Only then does the man everyone came to see appear, striking a pose at the top of a sparkly pyramid of stairs at the back of the stage. At this point a special shout out deserves to go to the drummer, who consistently waved his arms around and spun his drumsticks around in his hands while playing, almost so much as to make me suspect that he wasn’t actually playing.
Squad goals - and some suspicious drumming
What followed was a true spectacle. When you buy a ticket to see Sergey Lazarev, that is very much what you get: a non-stop 2 hour extravaganza complete with costume changes, crazy graphics, and snappy choreography. Everything is full on, least of all his neon-white teeth, which are clearly visible even from two thirds of the way back in a 620-seat theatre. He sings. He dances. He sings and dances at the same time. Bearing in mind the sheer length of time that this was done for without a break makes even the most lively of British acts seem tame by comparison. But then, Sergey is one of the most seasoned performers on the Russian pop circuit – he’s been singing professionally since childhood, and has pursued his successful solo career following the end of the group SMASH!, perhaps conjuring comparisons to Robbie Williams…
Ultimate pop star achievement - matching wings on your name AND your microphone
Another contrast between Sergey and the normal gig experience in the UK is that it is clear to all present that he is bloody loving it. I think even if I’d been sitting at the back of the room, and without the eye-catching nature of his teeth, I would still have been able to see his broad grin whenever the crowd cheered during a musical break in a song. He entertains not just in the capacity of his performance, taking time to speak to the crowd between songs and thank them for their support. A sweet moment came when he shared a fond memory of having participated in a singing competition in Petrozavodsk many years ago in 1995. It was clear throughout the evening how much it meant to him to see in perspective how far he has come in the 21 years since he last performed in the same room – a touching display of emotion which is rare to see expressed by your average British performer.
If you've never seen the video for "Это Всё Она" you're really missing a trick
The true climax of the evening, certainly for myself and my friends in our little British enclave, was the grand finale to close – Lazarev’s Eurovision anthem “You Are The Only One”. Despite his palpable disappointment at having lost to Ukraine’s Jamala on competition night back in March, he seems to relish announcing the moment all the Eurovision nuts (myself included) had been waiting for, proclaiming with great gravitas into the darknes of the hall «это Евровидение» - “it’s Eurovision”. Although Sergey evidently decided to take a night off from his unforgettable trick of climbing a wall of flashy graphics for this performance, we were still treated to some of the other iconic images from his stellar performance in Stockholm – the epic raven’s wing, and of course his legendary pointing gesture, the symbol of the song that has brought him worldwide fame.
I will never forget this moment Would you just look at that smile?
After all this, he still manages the exceptional feat of collecting a mountain of flowers and other gifts which members of the audience have brought for him. Whilst my friends and I missed the boat on this occasion, the Russian practice of audience members bringing flowers to performances to present to their favourite star is something I am strongly tempted to replicate at the next music event I attend in the UK.
This wasn't even all of them
For British readers, we can only hope that Sergey may borrow a trick from Robbie and bring his show to the UK to return the favour and give us his assessment of what it means to party like a Brit (just a thought). However, to any readers in Russia and its Eastern European neighbours, I would say this: even for those not so keen on Eurovision, with an impressive back catalogue of infectious pop hits that would cause even the most rigid of feet to tap along, and some of the wildest production value on Earth, it is near impossible for you to not be entertained. In short: Sergey Lazarev live is a juggernaut which you will miss at your peril.