One of my first complaints after having arrived in Israel was that I’d no longer be able to go see bands that I like perform live shows.
It’s the sad truth that the artists I like will, for the most part, never play a show in Israel due to the security situation and because, unlike Europe, the expense of travelling here can’t be offset by visiting nearby countries (“Iron and Wine Live in Damascus”? I don’t think so). As such, these bands will remain relatively unknown in Israel, which in turn means that no one will really know who I’m talking about when I’m asked what I listen to. I guess I can live with that – I’ll always have the Internet to find and listen to new music.
But it turns out that, at least to a small extent, I’m wrong. This summer saw the arrival of indie rock artists Devandra Banhart and the Silver Jews. I was in the States at the time, so I can’t comment on the shows or the audience they drew, but just the fact that the shows were played makes me happy.
I did, however, manage to catch two shows last week – the first two I’ve seen in Israel in a long time. The first was Ziggy Marley. Though not a huge fan, I have two of his discs and I like some of his more upbeat songs. I didn’t think too much in advance of what to expect and as such, I managed to keep a relatively open mind. My first reaction was that the venue (Ra’anana Amphipark) was great – an open air theater-style venue, with floor, pavillion, and lawn sections. It reminded me of Great Woods, Shoreline, and other similar American venues. The crowd was, not surpringly, pretty similar to what you’d see at a jamband concert in the States – a bunch of mostly young, white, dread-locked music fans. The exception was, much to the delight of my anthropological curiousity, the relatively large contingent of young Ethiopian Israelis. It’s rare that these groups mix, not because of prejudice but more because of lack of opportunity, and the result was definitely positive. The vibe in the crowd was mixed, though overall pretty good, and characteristically Israeli (though definitely subdued, as you’d expect at a reggae show). The music was what I expected and was performed well, though it didn’t lend itself particuarlly well to dancing, and the result was a bunch of people standing around on the floor. This was probably because of both the nature of the music itself (Ziggy’s brand of reggae is a bit more aggressive and rock-infused than other types, with various changes in tempo through the course of each song) and because, overall, I think there was a mismatch between the crowd’s expectations and what they received. I’m not sure anyone in Israel has really heard of Ziggy Marley, but they all love Bob, and I think that’s what they were expecting to hear, or at least something similar and familiar. The two encores were my personal highlight, given that they contained the most upbeat songs. I was surprised to hear him play “No Woman No Cry” as the second encore, but the crowd’s delight made up for (what I consider to be) a sellout move. I wonder if he plays his father’s songs in the States, or if it was only to address the crowd’s clear yearning for something familiar. On a final note, I think Ziggy could have done more to connect with the crowd and get everyone more enthusiastic – he barely spoke. I wonder if it’s because that’s just his style or if he didn’t think he could interact with the crowd without voicing an opinion on the current conflict, possibly an opinion that no one in Israel wants to pay 200 shekels to hear.
The second show was performed by a New York Jew called Jewlia Eisenberg (does she spell her first name like that for real?). It took place in a cool new venue on Levontine street in southern Tel Aviv. It reminded me a bit of Cafe du Nord in San Francisco because of its basement appeal, though a lot more grungy and with less history (Cafe du Nord was a Speakeasy in the early 1900s). The music was a shock – I haven’t really heard anything like it, though I guess if I were to categorize it, it’d be somewhere in the punk realm – instrumentation included a beatboxer, a violin, a trumpet, percussion, guitar, recorder, and accordian. Jewlia was full of energy, a clear fan of Israel, and it was apparent in her singing (some of which was, strangely, in Yiddish). The music was strange to my ears in that it was clearly composed, but completely unconventional in style – I couldn’t discern any verses or choruses, any set tempo, or any repeating features. But it was certainly interesting and worthwhile. It made me happy to see that alternative kinds of music are being played in Tel Aviv and that they are well received. It leads me to believe that, if only exposed, Israelis would love a lot of the underground / less-known artists so common in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Ithaca, and elsewhere.
I’ll continue the search for live music in Israel that appeals to me and I suspect that some day I’ll find something I’m really into. In the mean time, I have my MP3s 🙂