Live Wire A Bit Blast of Indie

Last week's In-D-Negev Festival, one of the local music scene's most important events, was the best this writer has witnessed.

At the site of the festival there were billboards proclaiming "Indiemoment" and urging the thousands present to photograph what they were doing and what was going on around them at the same exact, predetermined times: 3:53 A.M. and 3:53 P.M. After the In-D-Negev Festival 2011 last week, the photos were sent to a pair of artists who will transform them into something that will attempt to capture the spirit of the event during those moments - both personal and collective. Here in a combined photo-text display is a single moment that lasted longer, and illustrates what a fantastic event the In-D-Negev was.

At 3:53 P.M. on Friday, the second and central day of the event - held from last Thursday through Saturday night in Mitzpeh Gvulot, west of Be'er Sheva - I was outside the festival complex in a nearby tent city. In one section of this enclave, an impromptu stage was set up: a sort of alternative to the alternative, the fringe of the indie. Bands not invited to perform at the festival itself performed there, some of them of a rather anarchist and uninhibited nature.

Indie Negev - Daniel Tchechik - October 2011
The 1, 2 Many band at the festival. The boys played biting and catchy pop guitars, the female vocalist sang sharp, sweet and nasty.Daniel Tchechik

On Friday afternoon, a pretty decent band sang, among other things, a cover of a song by Arctic Monkeys, and at 3:53 it went off the stage (well, it stepped off the mat that functioned as a stage ). Someone said that soon there would be a performance by the band Hameshukatzot, and that it was an excellent group; meanwhile there was no sight of it. Suddenly shrieks were heard from one of the stages inside the festival complex; interesting shrieks, shrieks from an artist who wants to convey something and does not want to do so quietly.

When you hear something like that, you have to see what's going on. In this case, you leave the alternative-alternative venue and enter the festival complex. On the way you see an orange sun starting to set over the tent city. The shrieks start to become clearer and understandable. You hear: "I'm just a black cat!"

It could only be Zeev Tene. You approach the stage where he is performing. Playing along with him are Yehu Yaron on bass and Stav Ben Shachar on drums. They call themselves Haluk Had Pa'ami (rough translation: "disposable robe" ) - and they are incredible. Yaron's bass and Ben Shachar's drums together form a strong musical safety net with breathing space that enables Tene to stand on a rooftop and yelp like a crazy dog. He roars with total freedom and clarity about "the day when the joint is finished and we discover that everything we went through, we went through in red." He fantasizes with surprising gentleness about less militaristic days in "Shelo ted'u od tzahal" (a play on words that means literally: "You should know no more IDF" ). Tene sounds more like Hanoch Levin than Hanoch Levin when he sings of "the passage of time since his burial."

Suddenly the woman from the sales stand for festival discs passes among the people. She dances and waves Tene's discs, as if she were selling ice pops on the beach. It is a wonderful sight and this is an opportunity to reward Tene for his terrific concert. "Hey, how much is one? Only 39? Okay, give me two."

Tene leaves the stage, but not before he dedicates one song "to Gilad Shalit's grandchild or great grandchild."

You immediately move on to the center stage and manage to catch the end of Avi Adaki's performance. There was quite a lot of talk about Adaki at the festival; this is the first time I hear him, and he really is great. Very sharp, charismatic, with a good eye, an alert mind - and a shark of a drummer who looks like he may have managed to play the Ramle clubs in the 1970s. Too bad I only got to hear three songs. I must check out a full concert of his soon, I promise myself. In the meantime, two of his discs can be purchased at the stand for NIS 36.

A glance at the clock before the next group starts playing: 4:53 in the afternoon. The past, amazing hour not only made it clear why the In-D-Negev Festival is one of the most important events of the local music scene, but also illustrates why I felt this was the best festival of the four that I've attended (there have been a total of five ).

Last year, for example, I felt the festival as a cultural event was a lot bigger in a way than the music performed there; the concerts just were not good enough. The content shrank in comparison to the atmosphere. This year, too, the festival was larger than the music, but only marginally. Naturally there a lot of bad performances - that is unavoidable at a festival that hosts over 100 artists. But there were also a lot of fine and even outstanding appearances.

High noon

Furthermore, there were a few interesting things that happened. Tiny Fingers is a favorite band of the In-D-Negev Festival. Last year, it performed very late at night, after the main performances; this year, it rightly got an early, prime-time slot: 10:30 P.M. Tiny Fingers played heavy psychedelic rock with touches of metal in the spirit "rage against the machine." Occasionally, there was something too metallic and rigid in their music (I preferred the more relaxed late-night version of last year ), but it was still impossible not to enjoy the all-encompassing and powerful flow of musical rage against the machine.

The performance by Bnei Hama - Ohad Fishof and Ishay Adar's new band - was one of the festival's most intriguing. Fishof and Adar are the opposite of "recycling artists," even though at age 40, they are among the tribal elders of the Israeli indie nation. There were several fine points during their show during In-D-Negev, such as the moving beat of one song where Fishof broke up the word "na-ha-rot" (rivers ), or the old song by Nosei Hamigbaat performed toward the end as a lullaby of sorts - but as a whole, their sound was not exactly new and exciting. The minimalism and the drama, two basic components of Bnei Hama, did not meld into an explosive mix. Perhaps this was not an appropriate venue. (Two years ago, in a small enclosed Tel Aviv space, they sounded better. )

In one of the first songs, Fishof sang, "There is always smoke there and never fire. The singers sing in their sleep," and it seemed that he was mocking the already-sated rock 'n roll culture. But guess what happened a half an hour later, at the height of one of the band's less successful songs? Right indeed: Someone flipped on the smoke machine. That was a moment of sour irony because there wasn't enough fire in the music, so it was hard to enjoy this absurd dimension of it.

The second day of the festival shifted into high gear at 12 noon. The 1, 2 Many band was performing; guitar-bass-drums-singer. The boys played biting and catchy pop guitars, the female vocalist sang sharp, sweet and nasty, and there were moments where I looked at them and thought: Blondie. The cover for the song by the Black Keys was very heartwarming. If the goal of every band performing at In-D-Negev was to attract audiences to their regular performances, 1, 2 Many easily achieved this.

For her part, Ruth Dolores Weiss tried out her new cover project, soon to be released on a double disc, on the In-D-Negev audience. The experiment was a big success. Weiss sang mostly blues (but using a very broad definition of the word, which ranged from old blues singers' styles, to Elvis and Nina Simone and PJ Harvey ), and her band played jazzily and nicely (the guest appearance by Polish guitarist Rafael Rozhansky was excellent ).

The only problem was Weiss' keyboard. It was superfluous, both in terms of the stage show and the musical element: An excellent, unique singer like her does not need an instrument of harmony, stability and conformity.

Three hours later Weiss took part in a musical tribute to Hanoch Levin's "The Queen of the Bathtub," which was full of good intentions but suffered from a problematic performance. The low point was "Chocolate Soldier." If you are going to do weak vocal harmonies, then please do not do it when rendering a song originally sung by such greats as Arik Einstein, Josie Katz and Shmulik Krauss, okay?

Israel Bright, who came on stage after "The Queen" tribute, exaggerated a bit with his tendency to repeat the last syllable of every sentence-tence-tence-tence, but his performance was very good. His song "The Cleaner" from his great and most recent album, momentarily brought the festival back to a place of focusing on reality (albeit in a much more veiled way than Zeev Tene and Avi Adaki ) and his enjoyable "Stars Instead of Eyes" was the perfect dessert for a concert that basically consisted of five songs, but did not seem to be at all lacking-ing-ing-ing.

From punk to dark

After Bright, there was a brief moment in which to return to the alternative alternative stage. Perhaps we might get lucky and catch Hameshukatzot? Indeed! Hameshukatzot are a duo. He plays guitar, she drums - and despite the shocking amps (the singing was really unclear ), it was possible to hear that there is talent here. And focus and taste. The nicest thing about Hameshukatzot is that it is impossible to know what will happen the next second. A song could start as anarchist funk and then suddenly the sound changes and now Hameshukatzot sound like dark singer-songwriters. It's interesting. The In-D-Negev organizers should include them in the official lineup next year.

Back to the main festival complex. The performance by Tree and Uzi Ramirez is pretty good - mainly in the first part, where the psychedelic rock band from Emek Hefer was starring. Ramirez's role is less successful. It seems he specifically chose the not-so-good songs from his debut album. Last year, when this album was about to be released, the choice of Ramirez as one of the key performers of the In-D-Negev Festival was on the mark. This year it was not clear there was a place for him.

The main performance of the second night was by Izbo. They played some of the best Israeli songs of the past decade, and still it was a disappointment for me. Why? Because I found myself in the hated position of a former fan who just wants the band to play his favorite old songs. It doesn't have to be that way. Izbo is about to release its third album and it performed quite a few songs from it. If only I could report that they were terrific, but I couldn't relate! I didn't discern in them the delirious melodies Ran Shem Tov is capable of writing, only this jumpy beat of Izbo. Perhaps they will surface when the new CD is released. In the meantime, in their absence, I just wanted to hear the old favorites, "Kisses," "Sky," "Morning Hero" and all the rest - and I hated that preference. In-D-Negev is supposed to be a festival where you ask for the new, not the old. This year there were many new and good things. Izbo's concert was a local sort of disappointment at the end of the second day of an excellent festival.