Johnny Azari wore black jeans, a black T-shirt, and a black button-up, his right elbow poking out through a hole in the sleeve. His afro was backlit, and the effect lent Azari a kind of unearthly quality as he opened a memorial concert Monday night for two members of Brooklyn-based band the Yellow Dogs, brothers Arash and Soroush Farazmand, and their friend Ali Eskandarian. The three Iranian musicians were shot to death by an acquaintance in their Bushwick home on November 11.
“It’s moments like these that really make you realize how hollow words are. Our Iranian heritage is so rich with poetry — to be left speechless like this is really devastating,” Azari told the Brooklyn Bowl audience.
Azari talked of working with Eskandarian on a project born out of the Iranian Green Movement. He opened the concert with a song created during that collaboration. The lyrics, originally written as an anthem for the uprising in 2009, took on a different meaning in the context of this particular evening.
How much blood must be shed
On the streets of unrest
We will bleed as long need be
That river will remove you from history
The show, a benefit for the victims and their families, brought together artists from across the musical spectrum — from Azari and Iranian pop ensemble Mitra Sumara to lo-fi girl group Habibi and indie rockers Nada Surf. The lineup featured DJ sets too, by Interpol’s DJ Fancypants and !!!’s Nick Offer, among others. Twenty-two performances in all, each in support of the musicians who lost their lives to a disaffected one-time bandmate.
Earlier this week, the surviving members of the Yellow Dogs released a statement addressing the tragedy.
For the past two years, we’ve lived together, worked together, created together. We were living our dream. We wanted the world to discover us as we were, a community defined by our music, our friendships, our culture and our art. This is not the way we ever imagined the world would learn of our story.
Ali Eskandarian was nearly finished with his memoir, Arash had just received political asylum from Iran, and Soroush was hard at work on new Yellow Dogs material. Everything we had hoped and worked for was finally coming true … the future was so bright.
All of that ended Sunday night. We’re here now, without our brothers, unable to make sense of what has happened to our family. To say we are heartbroken does not come close. These are the darkest hours of our lives.
On Monday, their community came out to offer support, among them were fellow artists, strangers, friends, mentors, and trio of devoted young fans. The latter, who drove the Yellow Dogs to their first gig in Brooklyn, addressed the audience late in the evening.
“We made a surprise video for them; they had no idea we were doing it. It’s to their song ‘Dancefloor.’ Ali, their manager, asked us to do what we like to do at all of their concerts, which is just go crazy while everyone else watches.”
The video was included in a tribute looped on the venue’s television and projection screens throughout the evening: snapshots of the band and their close circle of friends in happier times (practicing together, sharing one massive tropical drink), alongside clips from their music videos, a documentary they were featured in, their own home videos.
Along one wall, a makeshift memorial was set up: oversized poster boards pasted with photos of Arash, Soroush and Ali. By the end of the night, the boards were covered in Sharpie scribbles — little goodbyes, epitaphs, wishes.
“My sweet baby Loo, my hero. I miss you. I love you forever.”
“The Dylan of Berry St.”
“We’ll wake up and forget this big lie.”
At the show’s peak, around 10 p.m., Brooklyn Bowl was packed. 500 tickets were sold in advance, and the venue’s cashier estimated another few hundred more were purchased at the door. But by midnight, the subdued crowd had thinned to a hundred or fewer.
Maybe it was a symptom of spending the evening searching for meaning in senseless violence, but when Nada Surf launched into their jumpy party anthem, “Blankest Year,” to close the evening, even that song felt strangely fitting for the occasion.
I had the blankest year
I saw life turn into a TV show
It was totally weird
The person I knew
I didn’t really know