On Saturday, Yanni gave the final performance of a two-day run of shows at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami. Billed as "An Evening with Yanni," there was no opener, unless you count millennia of human cultural history. Shout out to Ancient Greece.
Now, he may have shaved off his famous mustache, but Yanni still gives his fans what they want, short of dropping his shorn whiskers on them like confetti during the encore, that is.
"¿Cómo están?" Yanni asked, greeting his fans with a level of respect that the vosotros form does not allow. What followed was nearly two hours of hits like "Plinky Thing with Female Vocalist" and "Enhanced Interrogation Technique."
Yanni plays generally epic instrumental New Age music, synthesizer and string-heavy songs that bridge the gap between the classical and popular traditions. But no one needs to tell you that; his Live at the Acropolis album from 1994 sold more than seven million copies and the video version is estimated to have been watched by half a billion people.
He has fared much better than the other hitmakers from that year. Whither Rednex and All-4-One? We haven't heard much from Jeff Buckley since then. Nor the band behind the other big live release from 1994, Nirvana's Unplugged. They just keep releasing archival material, whereas Yanni has put out 13 new albums since the mid '90s.
Yanni was dressed in a black t-shirt, white track pants, and some kind of orthopedic cosmonaut boots. Though he still, one assumes, dyes his hair, Yanni has trimmed back the mustache, let it go grey and now sports a close-to-the-skin goatee. He frequently ran between his keyboard setup and a piano, often clapping his hands together and bowing to the crowd.
For most of the concert, Yanni played with one hand and used the other to pluck an air harp or point approvingly at one of the members of his 13-piece backing band (not counting the two female vocalists who joined him on a few songs). Standing between his keyboards, he often bounced in place, spun, and made gestures that, had the keyboards suddenly vanished, would have made him look more like the leader of an intermediate Zumba class than a world-conquering star.
In between songs, he would shake his hands as though they were four-barreled smoking guns and make proclamations like, "Too hot!" Speaking to the crowd, Yanni was often out of breath, although this may have been an indicator of some perversion or larger health problem, rather than mere exertion.
"Of all the forces that are exerted on us in our lifetime, the most powerful -- at least for me -- is love," he panted. "This is 'Felitsa,' for my mother."
Greek by ancestry, Yanni now calls Florida home. Many will remember the 2006 domestic violence charges (eventually dropped) after his girlfriend called 911 from his house in Manalapan. Danger is an often-overlooked quality of Yanni's music, though this was on display as the lobby signs warned of "Haze Effects" that would be implemented during the performance. These turned out to be a fog machine that ran fairly regularly on a low setting. It resembled less fog than staying in the shower too long while applying a prescription shampoo.
Yanni and his band seem born for the stage. During the harp or violin solos, the rest of the group would clap along with electroshock smiles, gyrating with the youthful enthusiasm of a child in Pyongyang performing for Dear Leader. His musicians are incredibly talented, as evidenced throughout the night, especially during a bongo solo from a man who in both appearance and talent could quite rightly be considered the Yanni of the Bongos, maybe even Bongo Yanni.
One of two cellists took a bravura solo that concluded with him asking Yanni, "How many?"
"Two!" cried Yanni. The cello player then spun his cello three times and completed his solo.
"He's pretty awesome on the cello, but he can't count," Yanni replied with seeming good humor, although he did shake a finger during a bass solo in possible reprimand for getting too funky.
The most notable of the group's moments, however, came from the drummer. During a solo -- memory fails but flugelhorn is probable -- he disappeared behind the stage risers, only to emerge dressed in a full Santa Claus outfit.
"Have you been a good boy?" he inquired of Yanni.
"What do I get for that?" Yanni countered. But before the drummer could spew a geyser of filth hot enough to scald the faces of the audience, Yanni interrupted: "No! Don't say it!"
Instead, the audience was gifted with a drum solo that more than deserved the standing ovation it received. Aside from hitting his drums many times in varying rhythms, the drummer also tore off his Santa suit to reveal a LeBron James jersey and took a sip from a tea cup.
After the audience returned to their seats, Yanni said, "And he's still alive. What are you drinking? What's in that cup?"
"Florida water," the drummer replied. Cynics might assume that this is a standard exchange between Yanni and drummer, with the name of whichever state they are in that night getting praised for its water-filtration system. (A 2009 EPA study, by the way, ranks Miami-Dade tap water as number 46 out of 100 tested municipal water supplies. Fifty-third percentile, bitches!)
But as with most artists, it is impossible to separate politics from the work, especially when viewed in the context of 2000's If I Could Tell You about censorship in Islamist-led republics, the 1989 tribute to Tamil Tiger leader Niki Nana and 2011's Truth of Touch, a concept album about tickling. In that context, the "Florida water" could be seen as commentary on how global warming is going to drown Florida in coming years and how we must embrace our lives like an interminable drum solo in the waning days we have left.
"I think it's Cuban coffee," Yanni chuckled, an obvious denigration of the porousness in the embargo against Cuba.
At each show, Yanni told the audience, the drummer wears "a different t-shirt or outfit. I'm the only one who doesn't know what it will be. I've told him many times, if he wears the wrong t-shirt, we're dead." Not quite the touring life of Led Zeppelin using sharks as marital aids but a sharp rejoinder for anybody who doesn't appreciate the stakes at hand during a Yanni concert. Death comes for us all, eventually. But as Crossfade noted with keen interest, apparently not at a Yanni concert.
By popular demand -- for Yanni knows no other kind -- the man returned for four encores. At one point, returning to the stage once more amid the cheers, Yanni asked, "You don't want to go home?"
"No!" the crowd shouted.
"Well, neither do we!"
Yanni did not specify if this was because the band wanted to keep playing or because all that waited for them at home was relationship drama and cold Chinese food. "This is 'The Storm.'"
"The Storm" is one of Yanni's most adored songs, right up there with "Bullfighting in Space" and "Skinemax Movie Car Chase Scene." During the number, the band paused to play a thunder sound effect. Yanni wiggled his fingers in a descending motion, not unlike the rain sequence in "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." It was an odd sight to see his fingers used in such a vulgar manner and it shocked us in much the same way that it might if we were to come home and find Stephen Hawking tutoring our kid in long division.
Before the third encore, Yanni proclaimed that "Miami is hot. And you can dance!"
Very little of the audience had been dancing at the concert up until this point, but no one seemed to mind that Yanni knew so much about what his fans do in private. Perhaps the Edward Snowden scandal would have played out much differently if it had been Yanni rather than the NSA monitoring U.S. citizens.
"We live in a little place called Earth," Yanni explained to his fans, many of whom attend his concerts for remedial science education.
"It's this baby planet. It's not getting bigger and it's not going to get bigger."
A hush came over the crowd.
"We grow an enormous speed and we're taxing this baby," Yanni said. "It's something we're going to have to love and share. If we can't learn to love each other, at least we can learn to accept each other. And if we can't learn to accept each other, at least we can learn to tolerate each other."
This received much applause, not surprising because people who enjoy Yanni's music are notoriously tolerant.
"Tolerance may seem like a luxury, but I promise you, in a few years, it will become a necessity," a cryptic assurance, suggesting that Yanni has no imminent retirement plans.
His tours will continue to take him around the world for as long as his fans demand it. Who else but Yanni can introduce a song with a casual anecdote like this one?
"It was 16 or 17 years ago. We were performing in the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. This song was written specifically for those performances and was inspired by a bird which happens to have the most beautiful song."
A parrot that has been trained to say, "Yo mama"?
"The nightingale. This song is called 'Nightingale.'"
Before introducing a final encore, Yanni informed the crowd that no matter where he and his band have traveled, they have never been censored. And while few authoritarian regimes would dare challenge an artist's right to proclaim "dun-dun-dun! oh-ooh, eee! eee! eee!," it's a point worth making and one apparently related to something an astronaut told him once.
"When they are looking at Earth, they have a hard time telling the countries because the lines on the ground do not exist."
Not Italy or even Australia? They're letting anyone be an astronaut these days. Even Lady Gaga is going to space and her only science credentials are that for a brief time, she was part-motorcycle.
"I dream of a day when all lines are erased and we all are as one," Yanni concluded. Small wonder; the guy's Greek and if it weren't for the unity of the Eurozone, Greece would be in far worse trouble than it is already.
"This is 'One Man's Dream'," Yanni said before playing his last song of the evening. But the damage had been done. Outside, a storm called down from the heavens by Yanni's fingers awaited the concertgoers who stood under the Arsht Center's overhang, huddled together in one final act of togetherness before returning to a life in which music is expected to have some sort of appeal or reason for being.
Personal bias: We once tried to teach ourselves Mandarin by reading an English and Mandarin translation of Yanni's autobiography, side by side. It didn't work and not only because we realized too late that Chinese is not read left to right.
The Crowd: If our primary form of currency in this country were pleated trousers, there would have been a daring heist executed at the Arsht by a rag-tag team of French guys and Scarlett Johansson.
Groupie Luv:: Yanni generously invited that lady who'd seen him 30 times up on the stage for a kiss, though it should be mentioned that first, he asked her to step into the light so he could see her. She nearly fell from the stage after the kiss and Yanni remarked, "That was hot. Was it as good for you?" No one ever said that Yanni isn't a cad.
-"Plinky Thing with Female Vocalist"
-"Supplemental Insurance Commercial"
-"Skinemax Movie Car Chase Scene"
-"Enhanced Interrogation Technique"
-"Shopping the Macy's One-Day Sale"
-"He's Got a Bomb, Charlie Brown"
-"Drums-->The Middle Part of Moby Dick-->Drums"
-"Bullfighting in Space"
-"Theme Song from an Unaired Cop Show Pilot Starring Ron Perlman and John Leguizamo"
-"Ride from the Lobby to Floor 32"
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-"Two Other Songs"
-"One Man's Dream"