CONCERT REVIEW: Experiencing Pure Musical Joy with LEONID & FRIENDS, The Moscow Must-See Tribute Band

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In today’s sea of tribute acts, a standout gem is a rare find. There’s nothing wrong with assembling a band to play renditions of the music that inspired you, and probably generations of others, yet I’m personally not too fond of them, with very few exceptions. And today I’m writing about one of them, that I wholeheartedly recommend you experience yourself.

Leonid & Friends is a Moscow-based 11-piece ensemble. Led by the multi-talented Leonid Vorobyev – a musician, recording guru, and even a choir conductor – Leonid & Friends began as a whimsical experiment in 2014. What started as a casual jam session, a rendition of Chicago‘s “Brand New Love Affair” recorded with a group of close friends, exploded into a viral sensation. Millions of YouTube views later, they’ve released three acclaimed Chicago tribute albums, toured extensively across their homeland, and since 2019, they’ve been captivating audiences across the US. Their repertoire has expanded to include iconic tracks by Earth, Wind & Fire, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and a whole lot more, creating a powerhouse live show that celebrates the golden age of soulful classics.

Photo by Joel Barrios

So, what sets these guys apart from the countless Chicago cover bands out there? First off, the level of musicianship is second to none. We are talking about a large group of musicians, playing several different instruments in complete synergy, and you don’t get to listen to a note out of place. Each performance is executed with utmost precision, capturing the essence and complexity of the original track with stunning precision.

Photo by Joel Barrios

But it’s not just their technical prowess that makes them special. These musicians – hailing from Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus – are not simply standing there and playing, there’s a heartfelt display of delight that simply goes over the audience and enacts a celebratory mood throughout their nearly three-hour shows. Leonid’s son Roman (who also takes care of manager duties) truly radiates infectious energy through his heartwarming banter as their master of ceremonies, while the band does the rest in spades, especially saxophonist Oleg Kudryavtsev, whose onstage antics would rival any seasoned comedian. There’s an undeniable sense of camaraderie and festivity that permeates every moment, and certainly goes hand in hand with the electrifying atmosphere.

Photo by Joel Barrios

I recently had the good fortune of catching Leonid & Friends live on three separate occasions: twice aboard the “On the Blue Cruise” 2024, and once on the opening night of their current US tour, aptly named “Only the Beginning.” There were so many great moments during those three sets (despite they featured different set lists as the performances on the cruise were shorter) that it is almost impossible to mention them all, with the common denominator between them being the musical rollercoaster of horn-driven music, one that was drenched with jubilant mood and the melodies of ageless tunes that have been part of the soundtrack of the lives of hundreds in attendance.

Photo by Joel Barrios

From the electrifying rendition of “25 or 6 to 4” fueled by lead guitarist Konstantin Kovachev‘s scorching riffs to the sultry and captivating interpretation of Delaney & Bonnie’s “Superstar” by the phenomenal Ksenia Buzina, each moment was a testament to their exceptional talent. Drummer Igor Javad-Zade‘s extended drum solo during “I’m a Man” had the crowd roaring, as he later abandoned his kit and pounded away on floor pads right in front of the ecstatic audience. And the supercharged final encore with Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” simply got everyone on their feet, clapping, dancing, and singing along.

Photo by Joel Barrios

Leonid & Friends are more than just a tribute band; they’re a force of musical positivity, capturing the energy, the spirit, and the pure joy of the music they celebrate. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of Chicago or simply seeking a very enjoyable night of musical bliss, don’t miss the opportunity to witness them in action, as they continue their current and extensive US tour. You’ll walk away with a smile on your face and a newfound appreciation for the power of music to unite and uplift.

Leonid & Friends Photo Gallery

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