The anticipation before a concert is palpable as you prepare for the burst of tangible energy only live music can offer. The iced chill of your evening’s beverage begins to dissipate in your anxious hands. The spot you have staked out on the main floor is ideal for your individual taste. You may like to be near to the action on stage or maybe you avoid the hassle entirely, content to hang back with some breathing room and the ability to move freely. As the other patrons file into place, you observe the flurry of pretense on stage before the concert begins. In the shadows of the performance lighting, the swelling crowd chats anxiously as roadies whirr around tuning guitars and snapping hearty vocal tests in live microphones. Once the commotion has completed, the wait only heightens the eventually eruption of the crowd once the musicians take the stage.
There the headliners stand distant and alluring on their well-lit pedestal, both as heroes of your transported sentiments and hired help to dutifully entertain you for an evening. Despite a room full of adoring fans, live musicians still have to prove their worth via each preening strut as well as precise strum and beat. They work to bridge that distance between entertainer and the masses through soul-bearing displays and self-effacing banter. When under duress of losing momentum, the frontperson can always shout the name of the city in which they are performing and in a burst of squinting brightness and roaring appreciation, all becomes right with the world again.
If this description seems a bit trite, well, because it is. No matter the popular genre, the venue of the performance, or the price of the ticket, rock bands have fundamentally stuck to this formula for decades while audiences seemingly never tire of its predictability. Even in a 21st century high-stakes concert experience where patrons can pay for exclusivity in VIP seating and meet & greets, the professional distance coolly remains. On the other end of the spectrum, small clubs and DIY venues offer an opportunity to position yourself closer to the action while your body and eardrums pay the tax in ringing soreness the next day. Between the battle for position at standing room shows and the malaise of the audience represented through the prism of glowing smartphones, the rock concert experience has needed an affirming shakeup for some time. I am here to tell you that something better exists, something boundless and pure. All of this can be yours with the live performance of Yonatan Gat.
Gat, along with his supporting duo of bassist Sergio Sayeg and drummer Gal Lazer, are not hidden away from the crowd before their performance. All three are often meandering in the audience, blending into with the surroundings like furniture while quietly taking in the local atmosphere and opening acts. Once the time comes, they slowly begin to set up not on stage, but in the center of the main floor where the audience now resides. Some patrons will knowingly give space while the band place their amps and tape down cables while folks new to Gat’s methodology step back quizzically. For all they know, these are misguided stagehands confused by the given instructions. Make no mistake, Yonatan Gat & company know exactly what they are doing despite your understanding of the status quo.
With nary a soundcheck or greeting, Lazer, Sayeg, and Gat launch headfirst into the show. Immediately, the instrumentation these craftsmen bring defies category and structure. They often cite their recent work such as the 2015 album Director, an eleven track furiously-sketched blueprint constructed for their blistering live sets. They begin a song with its riffs and rhythms, then spiral into new and fascinating expressions under their steady and fearless guidance. Like abstract art, the trio blur the lines of convention, taking the essence of the melody as their inspiration and creating something wholly distinct each time they play.
What is immediately striking about the music is, well, the striking. Gal Lazer’s breakneck rhythm is more of a massive heart attack soundtracked by storied jazz drummer Buddy Rich. His lanky frame looms into his sparsely outfitted kit, arms, feet and, sticks in perpetual kinetic state. The influence of jazz, both in technique and freedom, is conspicuous, opening minds up for greater possibility as the pace takes off. The musical structure is firmly cemented by Sayeg’s bass work, more of a tether to keep the guitar and drums attached to the earth. His bass maneuvers are clenched and visceral, like gut punches in a prize fight.
Under the guise of this supporting cast is where the improvisational industry of Yonatan Gat can soar past expectation. His guitar work is more about creation than instrumentation, replete with theatrics and bravado but always impressively meticulous. His foundation is pure rock energy, but the international flourishes are what make Gat truly special. His Israeli background stretches his work out past prototypical six-string showboating. Elements from all over the world, stretching from Afro-funk into Latin flourishes and across Arabic ornamentations, always with technique and showmanship on point.
Despite the trio’s impressive chops and purposeful genre-mashing, the generous act of moving their performance off of the stage is what makes Yonatan Gat and company iconoclasts. Being able to not only observe amazing musicians, but to stand next to them as they execute their feats is as awe-inspiring as it sounds. With this communal act, the patron is not only connected on a level they have not previously experienced but transported to a new realm inspired by the music. No longer in a dingy rock club, Gat’s music places you in a town square in Morocco or a celebration in South America, free from conventional and continental boundaries. Not unlike street buskers, they connect with people because they are on our level, one of the masses sharing their art without artifice. With just instruments, amps, and three modest lights aglow, the trio are not here just to perform and entertain. They are changing hearts and minds, galvanizing new followers in the belief that there is a better way.
Yonatan Gat is always on tour. Check their website often for updates.
Sep 30: The Bell House – Brooklyn, NY
Oct 01: Waking Windows Festival – Portland, ME
Oct 05: L’Anti – Québec, QC
Oct 06: Matahari Loft – Montreal, QC
Oct 07: Coup De Grace Festival – Saint-Prime, QC
Oct 09: Skinny Pancake – Burlington, VT
Oct 13: Barracuda – Austin, TX
Oct 14: Joshua Tree Retreat Center – Joshua Tree, CA
Oct 19: White Eagle Saloon – Portland, OR
Oct 21: Studio Vostok – Vancouver, BC
Oct 22: The Vera Project – Seattle, WA