Photo: Ruth E. Kaiser.
Photo: Ruth E. Kaiser

Ivo Dimchev “Top Faves”

Freight & Salvage, Berkeley

Written by:
David E. Moreno
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“The objects of mundane everyday life are mixed with the artificiality and perfection of art. This has complexity, depth, and beauty that a normal concert, even in Carnegie Hall, can never achieve.”
–Ivo Dimchev
         July 5th, that peculiar day when Americans don’t know if it’s still Sunday or Friday when, in fact, it’s already Wednesday evening—especially in the fog-shrouded San Francisco Bay, where the sky looks the same at 10 a.m. as it does at sunset. Thankfully, queer performance artist Ivo Dimchev, Bulgaria’s iconic, against-all-odds singer-songwriter, saved the day, er, night—like a fireworks reprise. Dimchev comes off as part Boy George, part Tiny Tim, singing with an impressive falsetto and then instantly, in his lower range, sounding smooth and silky like Aaron Neville. He’s become a sort of European Taylor Mac, a multi-talented artist taking Queer Pride to a new in-your-face level—defiantly proud yet vulnerable in his grandiosity. Is his platinum coiffure really that perfect, or is it a wig? Halfway through the two-hour performance, Dimchev suddenly whips off his toupee, placing it upside down on his shaved, tattooed skull, wearing it like a spiky blond crown.

         “Top Faves” is a collection of his greatest hits from the past two decades, chosen from a catalog of a hundred songs. A repertoire that ranges from tender Bulgarian love songs to quirky, eye-popping songs about food and, oh, yes, cock sucking…which he sings in English and Bulgarian so no one misses it. No, this performance isn’t for the casual theatergoer, even though he’ll seduce you into thinking it is, as you’ll undoubtedly wonder how the hell he produced these works and achieved stardom in his conservative motherland.

         Throughout his performance, Dimchev randomly chooses questions from a list of 50 on his laptop for the audience to vote on. The questions are loaded with shock value, giving him a skewed sense of his audience but are primarily for his anarchic pleasure. With a show of hands, the audience proudly, shyly, unabashedly picks between “Sex with Putin or with the Dalai Lama?” “Dirty cock or dirty dishes?” “Would you prefer to be in hell with Jesus or in heaven with Trump?”  “Die from war or die from Covid?” These slap-in-the-face pop quizzes get casually interjected between songs, with the audience still reeling from the last one, often surprised that they raised their hand so high in the air. Did their coworker friends sitting behind them notice?

         “Top Faves” is a sit-down comedy with Dimchev on a barstool playing a portable keyboard on his lap and his laptop with prerecorded tracks at his side. “Happy people are annoying…and on medications,” he advises—in case you picked being happy over being wealthy or a genius before he sings a song about tripe soup or one of three songs where the audience is invited on stage for selfies while he sings. “There will be no selfies after the show,” he threatens.

      It’s a wildly eclectic mix of genres, from faux-earnest metaphysical healer accompanied by new-age harp music to a break-out with “Slut,” a club dance track, his cover version of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” and another with Emily Dickinson’s poetry as lyrics. Songs are all passionately delivered with reverence and are frequently, abruptly, brought to an end whenever he gets bored, dismissing them with a flippant hand gesture in the middle of a phrase.

         No, siree, this is no ordinary 5th of July; this is Ivo Dimchev’s, mostly overlooked, Bay Area performance on a night when many are just getting home from an extended weekend; he’s singing about extended organs and asking the big questions, “Big dick, big house, or big sense of humor?”  Be honest. Choose wisely. Your choice is bound to be contrary to his.
David e. Moreno

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