by baad lamb
“It’s just not a party unless people dance!”
I don’t remember when I first heard this, or if I fully believe it, but I do agree with the reverse corollary: If everyone’s dancing, it must be a good party. So Balkan Beat Box threw a great party last Saturday night.
There were two bands at Damrosch Park Bandshell for Lincoln Center Out of Doors on a sticky summer night in August.
Mucca Pazza, the opening act, was entertaining in a novelty way: competent, fun, funny and fully entertaining. Their geeky routine consisted of knowledgeably eclectic musicians wearing high-school band uniforms, playing music and jumping about the stage accompanied by four cheerleaders. If a category had to be assigned them, perhaps it would be Om-Pa-Pa-Klezmer.
Their set was just the right length – ending before enjoyment of their novelty wore off. Most fun (or most gimmicky, depending on your perspective) was an audience participation number where the Band’s “Conductor” directed us, along with the musicians, and we all became his own personal instrument. He literally throws his whole body into this, so we appreciate the effort and play along. And, this being New York, listen as what could be just a single shouted crowd note in other venues becomes a four-note harmonic chord here, even briefly surprising our conductor...
This, plus pix and five live Balkan Beat Box videos after the jump
During this opening set, and then especially between the bands, I stealthily worked my way forward through the standing room section in front of the long rows of chairs, and after a brief time spent about 8 standees away, I eventually landed a spot behind 3 very short women at the exact front of the stage. Wow, this’ll be great, I thought. As short as I am, they’re all shorter still. I’ll have a consistently great view from right here.
In reality, these three “short” ladies proved to be the longest-armed, highest jumping, biggest haired, most multi-braceleted, hands-continuously-above-their-heads (and surely the happiest) people in this crowd, as the videos prove. But no matter, they were there to have fun and so was I, and Balkan Beat Box held my attention for the next two hours. While mashing up some of the most intriguing sounds around, they manage to be political, proficient and pretty.
Do I have to say it? OK. Tomer Yosef is Hot.
When rocking out, he’s channeling Freddy Mercury; when crooning, you can’t help but hear Bob Marley. Enveloped by the band's hypnotic, swirling, repeating riffs, completely capable of mesmerizing even without such an energetic and charismatic MC, the thick and knowing crowd responded. They sang along. They clapped their hands high above their heads. They jumped. And jumped some more.
While I was clearly new to this party, all those around me seemed to be regulars, mouthing the words to impossibly fast rap, singing in a variety of Mediterranean languages, and greeting each other like long separated Dead Heads (are these Med-Heads?) at a Rat Dog reunion.
Yes, Balkan Beat Box put the “whirled” in World Beat. And everybody danced.