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Balkan Beat Box
Celebrate Brooklyn! at the Prospect Park Bandshell
Saturday, June 16
Better than: Having to fight for the right to party.
Balkan Beat Box have made nearly a handful of fine records, but they’re no match for the power of the party band’s live show. It’s probably a measure of how fusions become more formidable when the blending is less clear, much like when your inner foodie manages to turn a seemingly all-over-the-place shopping list into a gourmet meal. “Take a taste of where I’m from,” Yemenite Israeli MC Tomer Yosef said at the onset of the band’s magnificent show in Prospect Park on Saturday night, probably acutely aware that everything from the accompanying scratch rhythms to his deep set eyes and dark complexion make where he’s from a question-mark at first glance. (He later sang about being profiled as a terrorist on a flight.)
The band is simultaneously from Israel and everywhere (in that order), which breaks down to an imaginary-ville suggested by the music, in which Gypsy brass-bands and dub have long since defied their geographical origins. It’s a sound with a New York backstory that might someday form a chapter in a book similar to author Will Hermes’ recent Love Goes To Buildings On Fire, an unraveling of how cofounding saxist Ori Kaplan made his way through the city’s klezmer and avant-garde jazz scenes before hooking up with drummer-producer Tamir Muskat on the fringes of the Gypsy punk community, spearheaded by the band Gogol Bordello. (Both have at times worked closely with Bordello’s Eugene Hutz.) Yosef came onboard when the two expat instrumentalists realized they needed a frontman, and his background in comedy and radio back in the home country (where he and Muskat are now resettled) goes a long way toward explaining where his charisma comes from.
At several junctures of the show, the rush of Muskat’s rhythms was so fluid that it was impossible to tell what styles his sticks and laptop were syncopating, except to the degree that they had something to do with either the Caribbean, martial patterns or the Middle East. Balkan Beat Box has clearly made luring crowds into their uncategorizable space an obsession; several pieces after the opener, on a drum-and-bass-driven song called “Porno Clown” (from Give, their new album), Yosef again beckoned the crowd: “Come people come, take a taste of where I’m from… come people come, let me give you some.”
If the new disc seems to pull back some from the horn-centered polyphony of the band’s earliest records, onstage Kaplan’s presence is undiminished. It’s not just that they still play fleet-footed globalist instrumentals like “Balcumbia” and “Kabulectro,” but that second reedist Peter Hess helps Kaplan bathe the newer dance grooves in an echoey, spiraling version of what one might call the Bulgarian wedding-band wheeze—a sound that would command listeners to jump around even if they weren’t following the movements of Yosef. The singer’s default flow seems to be Jamaican toaster, though his rasp is adept at belly-dance microtones (“My Baby”) and straightforward rock. As bassist Beno Hendler and guitarist Ron Bunker punched their way through rock-steady reggae, rockabilly tremolos (“Urge To Be Violent”) and a rousing new piece that saw the whole band in a raucously linear rage against the machine (“Political Fuck”), the horns kept up their insistence, linking their resilient new world to the brave old one.
Critical bias: Alternate band name: “Balkan Dub Box”.
Random notebook dump: From what I heard of the tail-end of the Chilean band Chico Trujillo’s punky set of new-jack cumbia, this was an evening folks won’t soon forget.
Taste of Where I’m From
Part of the Glory
Enemy in Economy
Dancing With The Moon
Urge To Be Violent
Look Like You
No Man’s Land