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Review Mon Sep 21 2015

Yonatan Gat: A Ritualistic Experience at Schubas

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My favorite part about seeing a show at Schubas Tavern is the pristine acoustics of the all-wooden room. The PA is placed perfectly to utilize the warmth of the space and any music you hear there, regardless of genre, takes on an audible glow around the edges. That is, so long as the band is playing from the stage.

Yonatan Gat doesn't roll like that. He and his trio set up their amps right in the middle of the floor and turned Schubas into an overgrown basement shrine to the roots of musicianship. The crowd enclosed them in a circle and for nearly an hour, everyone in attendance took part in Gat and his bandmates' private ritual, worshipping the balance between utter chaos and sensible melody.

I would say that local acts Crown Larks and The Avantist set the stage for Yonatan Gat, but considering that Gat didn't use the stage, the phrase doesn't quite work. Still, both hometown heroes managed to provide the essential function of energizing the audience--but they did so in disparate ways, down to the color of the stage lights for each: blue for Crown Larks and their cosmic debris-rock, red for The Avantist and their vicious punk.

IMG_5970.JPGI last saw Crown Larks in August, and tonight's set felt more avant-garde and primal than the previous one, perhaps in an effort to match the headliners. Singer Jack Bouboushian drawled hypnotically over the oft-droning mixture of his guitar, Lorraine Bailey's mind-invading synth parts, and the measuredly frenetic cymbal-dominated drumming of Bill Miller (who received several cheers of "Go Bill!" from the friendly crowd). What Bouboushian said was far less important than how he said it, particularly on the tour-de-force "Overgrown," wherein he moved from subtle ghoulish moans to impassioned shouts as the tempo and energy of the song vacillated. The music remained diametrically opposed to anything pop, which made the listening experience challenging but promised me reward for wading through the noise. Without that barrier to entry, moments like the ancient rage imbued in the sax solo on "Satrap" couldn't have happened--the complexity contained and restrained the deeper emotions. Crown Larks ended their set with a drum solo-turned-song that sounded like a glitching dystopia.

IMG_5972.JPGThe Avantist, comprised of brothers Fernando, Erick, David, and Luis Arias, came up next and moved the evening in a decidedly heavier direction. There was still some of the spacey element that Crown Larks had introduced, but it came in small doses of Fernando altering his voice with an effects box or David sending a guitar riff down a river valley of psychedelia. For the most part, The Avantist stuck to headbanging punk with varying degrees of pop influence. Drummer Luis kept up a rocketing pace, somehow managing to sing background vocals as he did so, and the other three members of the band moved around as if the stage itself were electrified--such was the intensity of Fernando's jittering. He tossed his long combover about and alternately belted out a Patrick Stump-like pop-punk wail or the intimidating yelling endemic to thrash metal, using the former on the sunny "Isolator," a highlight of the set that made the red stage lights feel warm instead of demonic.

Meanwhile, as The Avantist chugged through their set, I noticed Yonatan Gat and his bandmates milling about the audience, taking in the music. Already they were part of the communal experience, and this became even more apparent when they set up their equipment directly in the middle of the floor. The three men--Gat, bassist Sergio Sayeg, and drummer Gal Lazer--faced each other instead of the audience, and each was illuminated by a single light: blue for Gat, green for Sayeg, and red for Lazer. Each light remained on only while its corresponding musician was playing, making for some visually dramatic solos and only increasing the power of the trio's chemistry when the three blended to create white light.

But far more effective at capturing the milieu of the performance was the movement of each player. Lazer tended his modest drum kit like a master chef cooking the world's best hamburger, his gunshot kick drum booming out under the brashness of his artfully cracked ride cymbal and the never-ending waterfall of snare hits and rolls. When he wasn't pumping out a crazed beat, he was prowling around the fringes of the crowd like a zombified puma, watching Gat or Sayeg solo before hopping right back into the fray. Sayeg tossed his afro about like a seizing man, casting ecstatic shadows on the wall behind him whose movements were matched by the entranced crowd. And Gat, though he remained the stillest of the three, accentuated his playing with side-shuffles, rocking, and the occasional headbang that kept everyone's eyes fixed upon him. I noticed one woman in particular across the circle from me whose wide eyes never left Gat over the entire hour. That was the most expressive example of the way that everyone in the audience felt: this was a ritual self-immolation by the band at the altar of its fans, and such an occasion demanded our immersion and participation.

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The music itself was obviously the centerpiece of this soul exorcism. Gat's fingers flew up and down the fret board, melding the twin influences of jazz and punk to create a tone that could plunk like raindrops or rip open the air like Hendrix. He only used one pedal, a tremolo, and otherwise kept things absolutely raw. From the frantic, Latin-inspired riffing of "East and West" and "Theme from a Dark Party" to the haunting little tunes of "Casino Café" and "Gibraltar," Gat ran the gamut of guitar skills, showcasing the shredding that had helped make Monotonix, his old band, one of the most energetic live acts in the world. Sayeg and Lazer kept pace with Gat the entire time, as did the audience--most of whom was either frozen at attention or dancing like the Greeks at their Dionysian festivals.

As the band finished its set, the audience slowly came out of its reverie to shower Yonatan Gat with applause and nonverbally demand an encore, which he provided on his own. His music is not something you'd ever listen to casually--it's too dense, too complex, too manic. But for those of us who were up for the challenge last night, it opened the mental doors to the place where the formless human spirit mingles with concrete reality and creates the ultimate catharsis.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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