Thursday, April 26, 2007

balkan beat box is proof that god wants us to dance,

so we did. their sold-out bowery ballroom show on april 19 was a study in culture as well as in dance moves, only the second time i've ever been at a concert in new york where english is not the dominate language. it was really cool. the last time was when gotan project played summerstage 3 years back, and it was like entering a different city. i've always had a lot of euro-envy, and i felt really privileged to be in such a diverse crowd, even in new york. so when i heard more slavic and middle eastern tongues on delancey street last week, i knew the show was going to be great.

i hadn't really prepared much for the show, beyond my casual obsession with balkan beat box's self titled debut from 2005 (available on jdub records). wikipedia has very little info on bbb, and i really had no idea what to expect. an evolution of the gypsy punk of gogol bordello, balkan beat box has less of a punk aesthetic and is more focused on the native rhythms of eastern europe and the middle east. incorporating elements of gypsy melodies alongside traditional sephardic verses, in addition to myriad other influences, balkan beat box was a great album. i expected the same level of foot-stomping intensity, but i didn't have any clue as to the extent of their live show. even the 'vegan was reporting secondhand. a few videos are on youtube hint at how good bbb are live, but, to be honest, i didn't find time to watch them before the show, so i was a blank slate.

balkan beat box kicked off their current tour at new york's bowery ballroom last thursday. featuring labelmates golem and local sephardic rockers deleon, the show was simply incredible. i took a great video, but it's too big for youtube, and my html skills don't extend to embedding videos, alas. fortunately, my co-author, tearknee, put me on to this video, which i'm inserting at the end of this post.

deleon - these guys were really solid. we didn't know it yet, but their black and red color scheme was going to be par for the night. straight reppin from brooklyn (where else?), deleon opened their set with a sephardic prayer set to music, which set high expectations for the rest of it. singing in sephardi, english, and spanish, frontman dan saks also proved himself adept at both the guitar and banjo. as an extra-special-awesome bonus, deleon gave away free pins to the entire crowd. pretty effing sweet, deleon.

the influence traditional spanish music plays in deleon's sound is palpable, taking the fore in songs like "ochos kandelikas," driving the melody with hip-shaking rhythms underlying the sung language itself. deleon was definitely very enjoyable, the perfect opener for balkan beat box, and i would definitely go see them again. they're unsigned and don't have any songs for download, but you can hear four tracks at their myspace page.

golem - a lot of people i talk to say it's never worth coming early to shows for openers. golem's set at this show proved them all wrong. i first heard of golem when an mp3 of "warsaw is khelm" was distributed as part of the SXSW package. the song was really catchy, and i've posted it below, to urge you all to go out and support (yet another) brooklyn band. it, along with two other songs, can be heard at their myspace. i purchased a copy of their debut fresh off boat (released by jdub records) at this show, and haven't been able to stop listening to it.

golem sounds like the band you wished you could've gotten for your bar/bat mitzvah. golem does not play guitars. golem does not play piano. golem does not use instruments that necessarily require electricity. what golem does do, however, is seriously kick some ass.

fronted by a pantomiming drunk tambourine player named aaron dishkin and annette ezekiel, smart-assed accordion virtuoso, golem calls themselves a folk-punk band, but i'd say they sound more like klezmer-punk. and the punk is generously used there. the songs are sung in english, and, as they dramatically announced to the crowd when they took the stage, yiddish. golem's pride in their eastern-european heritage is something we can all appreciate, especially on songs like "bublichki," which opens with a standard klezmer introduction of a mess of drums and horns, before stopping and re-starting with slow vocals that rapidly accelerate so fast that you don't even realize you've stopped standing still and you're dancing madly. "bublichki," which is mostly sung in yiddish, earned a laugh from the audience on the english interlude where dishkin informs us of the problems of his family, namely that his little brother earns his living from robbing hipsters on the L train.

golem ended their superb set with an called dance (don't ask me which song it was to - i was too busy trying to step left and right at the correct time to listen), and the best part was that ms. ezekiel introduced the band and each member performed the dance in time, even the drummer. dishkin pantomimed drinking six glasses of vodka during one song and stumbled about on stage, and another song featured ezekiel and dishkin flirting with each other to much hilarity. even though i could maybe understand one out of every three or four songs, golem speaks the language perfectly...building on the crowd's excitement from deleon, golem managed to get the crowd dancing , language barrier or no language barrier, with very little work indeed. by the time they left the stage, to much applause, golem had done their job perfectly: bowery ballroom was wetting themselves with excitement for balkan beat box.

and no one went home disappointed. after setting up on stage, bbb disappeared, only to reappear, in masks and all, in the balcony. carrying their saxophones and with two shoulder rigs for drums, balkan beat box jammed their way down the stairs and through the crowd before ending up on stage, the excitement level so high you could actually taste it. balkan beat box is one of those special bands that began as a two-person project and has morphed into a six-person touring lineup. founded by ori kaplan (sax) and tamir muskat (drums and production), balkan beat box now includes peter hess (sax and clarinet), jeremiah lockwood (guitar), tomer yosef (vocals, samples, drums), and itamar zeigler (bass). together, these six men made more new yorkers dance than i've ever seen before.

most of the set was material from nu-med, which had come out two days previous. yosef rocked the mic the whole night, supplying lyrics everywhere they were needed and encouraging the crowd to dance harder. the only nu-med song i've heard is "digital monkey," featuring rhymes by saz, a palestinian MC who has joined balkan beat box, but it sounds good. highlights, for me, were songs from their self-titled debut, because i knew them already. "bulgarian chicks" really got the crowd going, and they jammed on it, really milking the song for all it was worth. balkan beat box takes pride in the fact that their music is hard to describe, blending gypsy, arabic, jewish, and eastern-european elements as they do, so i'm not even really going to try to tell you how amazing this show was - you really need to go experience it yourself. they have a slew of dates lined up, including one in both detroit and chicago, but most of their other gigs are on the other side of the atlantic. the video below gives you an idea of the energy, but it they are honestly one of the few bands whose live show is unmissable.

balkan beat box is currently rocking the east coast on a
tour to support their recent nu-med, which came out on april 17. accompanied by labelmates golem, balkan beat box is shaking asses near you. you can buy nu-med on itunes, where it features "ramallah tel aviv," a bonus track, or directly from jdub.


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