After getting seats in the Somerville Theater's balcony the first time I saw them, then next time near the back of the Somerville's, er, "orchestra level," tonight's general admission at the First Church in Cambridge Congregational permitted coveted front row center seats (well within the percussions of Alexei's rumbling drum) for my surprisingly "into it" 13 year-old son, my brother and me.
Huun-Huur-Tu took seats in their customary Radik/Kaigol-Ool/Bapa/Alexei left-to-right array on an elevated stage on the sanctuary's alter about 15 feet forward of us and they commenced per custom with "Prayer." Always an immediate litmus as to how the Tuvans are holding up on tour, tonight's "Prayer" showed each man's khoomei in fine form (especially and thankfully Sayan Bapa, whose earth-shaking kargyraa was practically out-of-order for clogged sinuses last time I saw them perform).
That "Prayer" did not immediately segue into "Ancestors" as it has in studio- and live-recordings and in the two previous performances I've attended was one of tonight's very few surprises. Instead galloping into the energetic "Chiraa-Khoor (The Yellow Trotter)," Huun-Huur-Tu mixed fast, slow and solo numbers adroitly in their fine, crowd-pleasing set. Radik provided an early - and extremely entrancing for its sustained ululations - solo Szygt; Kaigol-Ool provided the evening's solo Mountain Kargyraa. Other popular numbers - "Kongurei," "The Orphan's Lament," "Kozhamyk," "Remembering Ulaatai River," "Saryglarlar" - were all breathed new vitality for the new arrangements which they were given on 2010's excellent "Ancestors Call."
The evening's finale certainly provided its highlights by playing to every expectation. Firstly came Huun-Huur-Tu's customary penultimate number, "Odigen Taiga." As magical a song as HHT plays, emulating the sounds of evening's arrival to Tuva's northern forest through the onomatopoeia of the players' instrumental and vocal expertise, tonight's version was not the seeming gentle late-summer sunset that is usually depicted by the band. Instead, the intensity of everything was increased to the effect of depicting an impending storm - the drums rumbled like more local thunder, Kaigol-Ool's bird-calls less like content hoot-owls and more like threatening raptors, the wolves' howl weren't distantly intoned through a horn but violently and menacingly howl-growled by Kolvheig. I could complain that the song's spells was broken prematurely by the bonehead to my left who started clapping as the number wound to its conclusion with intermittent silence amidst hoots and trills, but I'll cut him some slack (his offense was FAR less egregious than that of the douchebag whose unsilenced cell-phone rang during the same coda a few years back...).
Wrapping-up with highly energized versions of "Aa-Shuu Deiki-Oo," and then "Eki Attar" for an encore after a well-earned standing ovation, the band made clear that they had drawn power over the eveing from one of their original and favorite US audiences.
[Note: Beyond recommending the superb, back-to-basics "Ancestors Call" to readers, I encourge both fans and interested newcomers to check out the available excerpts from plushmusic.tv's extremely hi-res, hi-fi "Live at Fantasy Studio" film and also HHT's very recent WFMU "in studio" available at freemusicarchive.com.]