Israeli audiences that had gotten used to reheated leftovers for almost two decades have been stunned by the flood of foreign performers appearing here over the past two years. From May to September, at least three performances a month are expected, and promoters are working on more. The price range varies dramatically: In addition to stadium events for which you'll need deep pockets, you can enjoy smaller and less expensive shows.
With the increase in the number of Israeli promoters and an expansion of international concert tours, more and more performers are coming to Israel for smaller shows. Clubs such as Levontin 7 and Barbie in Tel Aviv that once focused on Israeli performers are now also hosting stars from abroad. The smaller audience creates intimacy and Israelis get to hear varied artists, whether in the early stages of their career or at their peak.
Adventurous music lovers can enjoy a golden opportunity to discover new or lower-profile groups. Ticket prices do not usually exceed NIS 200.
Some people will say the season opens with the Metallica concert at Ramat Gan Stadium on May 22, but some interesting shows are happening even before that. On April 29, the American group WHY?, which performed here last summer, will play at the Barbie. The band's leader, Yoni Wolf, is a founder of the alternative hip-hop label Anticon, and was a member of another band, Clouddead. WHY? will arrive in Israel from Istanbul; the performance will be the final concert of its European tour, a month before it moves on to shows in the United States and Canada.
In May, Xiu Xiu will arrive here for the first time for shows on May 19 and 20, appearing at Jerusalem's Yellow Submarine on the first day and at Tel Aviv's Levontin 7 the next. Xiu Xiu has been around for more than a decade and is known for music that moves between folk, electronic pop and techno. Its last album, "Dear God, I Hate Myself," was released by the well-regarded indie label Kill Rock Stars around two months ago. The reviews of the first album featuring Angela Seo alongside the band's founder, Jamie Stewart, were favorable. This may be one of the season's most intriguing shows.
Among other indie performers, singer-songwriter Jeffrey Lewis will perform here from May 23 to 25 at Jerusalem's Uganda, Haifa's Martef 10 and Tel Aviv's Levontin 7. Lewis is coming to Israel with Lail Arad, an Israeli and London-based daughter of designer Ron Arad.
Arad will be the warm-up act for Lewis' three concerts in which his brother Jack will perform with him. Over the last decade, Lewis has been one of the most popular songwriters in the anti-folk scene. Jarvis Cocker, the former lead singer of the rock band Pulp, has called him the greatest American songwriter of our times. Lewis is also a successful comic-book artist who illustrated the poster for his Israel show himself.
As mentioned, the first stadium concert of 2010 will be by Metallica, which is coming to Israel for the third time and will perform at Ramat Gan Stadium on May 22. The band, which has been around since 1981, released its ninth album, "Death Magnetic," in September 2008.
Metallica is at a new stage in its career. After two albums that received chilly reviews, "Death Magnetic" earned largely favorable write-ups. The band has returned somewhat to its older, harder style, attracting some new fans and bringing back some old ones. Rolling Stone noted that the audiences span generations thanks to the group's return to thrash metal.
Before the band from Los Angeles appears in Israel, it will perform in Lithuania, Russia, Northern Ireland, Hungary, Croatia and Poland. The day after the Israeli performance it will appear in France and from there continue to Spain, Poland, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Greece.
Ticket prices in Israel range from NIS 300 to NIS 600 in the stands and NIS 600 to NIS 1,200 on the field - comparable to the band's show in Moscow. In Hungary, Croatia and Northern Ireland, tickets cost just the equivalent of NIS 200 to NIS 400.
Two stadium concerts taking place this summer in Israel are being funded by commercial sponsors. The Rihanna concert on May 30 at Bloomfield Stadium is being sponsored by Orange: Only its customers will be able to buy tickets, in return for four hours of volunteer work. The cellphone company hopes to use the Rihanna concert to link itself with community and social involvement. Apart from a concert at Madison Square Garden, ticket sales for Rihanna's concerts have not been impressive. None of the concerts have sold out.
Elton John, who last came to Israel in 1993, will continue a tradition that started with Leonard Cohen and perform at Ramat Gan Stadium on June 17, under the auspices of Discount Bank. The bank has invested NIS 4 million.
Elton John's European tour starts around three weeks before that and will include Portugal, Morocco, Denmark, Britain, Poland, Serbia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria. Ticket prices in Israel are about the same as in the early stops. For the Romanian concert, for example, tickets are selling for the equivalent of NIS 100 to NIS 800, while tickets for the Israeli show are selling for between NIS 350 and NIS 750.
John's concert is loaded with hits: During a show in Corpus Christie, Texas, this month he performed 26 songs including "Rocket Man," "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," "Candle in the Wind" and "Your Song." Of course, he'll play other hits that anyone who has listened to the radio during the past 30 years can hum.
It seems that whoever buys tickets for one of the more distant loge sections of the stadium will have the experience of listening to Elton on a home stereo system. And apart from one new song, "You're Never Too Old," which was written in collaboration with American musician Leon Russell, with whom Elton is now working on his first new album in four years, the audience can recite all the songs in their sleep.
Rod Stewart, on the other hand, still has the ability to surprise audiences. The British singer will perform in Ramat Gan on July 1, but his world concert tour will open on May 7 in Dubai; the song list is still unknown. Stewart's last album, "Soulbook," is composed entirely of covers of soul classics. Ticket prices for the concert are on the scandalous side, ranging from NIS 550 to NIS 1,000 compared with the NIS 150 to NIS 750 for the show in Vienna four days earlier.
Pic.nic is a two-day festival at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds, though not on consecutive days, perhaps due to the new noise regulations for the Hayarkon Park complex. On the first day, June 5, the keynote performance will be by alternative English rock band Placebo. The group will begin its European tour in Israel and continue to countries including Portugal, Spain, Italy, Britain and Denmark. Most of the concerts will be at different festivals, so it's not possible to compare ticket prices here and abroad.
The festival's second day, June 9, looks more promising. The main show will be by the Pixies, who are arriving in Israel after performances in France, Spain, Holland, Belgium and Italy. Israel is the last stop of this part of the tour. After the Tel Aviv concert, the band will take a three-week break and then appear in New Zealand and Japan.
The Pixies' show will be a dream in many respects. The band is not promoting a new album (the last album it released, "Trompe le Monde," came out in 1991), so the group will only be playing songs from its five albums from yesteryear, all loaded with hits.
The group, which reunited in 2004, has been to all the big music festivals. The reviews say members of the band seem distant and inhibited, and performed the songs very much the way they were recorded two decades ago. Still, the excitement over the opportunity to see them perform live remains strong.
June will end with a concert by Elvis Costello on the 30th at the Caesarea Amphitheater. Another Costello show, added due to high demand, will take place there the next day. Anyone expecting a night of old hits may be disappointed. The performance will revolve around Costello's 2009 album "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane," and the few old songs will be performed in bluegrass versions.
The new album made it to 13th place in the Billboard 200 ratings, Costello's highest place in 29 years. Eight of the 27 songs in the show are from the new album. Reviews of the tour have been excellent. Billboard noted the outstanding musicians accompanying Costello. Elvis and the first-rate team have dazzled capacity crowds in mostly acoustic concerts lasting more than two hours. Ticket prices in Israel range from NIS 300 to NIS 600, double the prices in New York and Britain, where they range from the equivalent of NIS 180 to NIS 327.
So the question arises, does the fact that the selection of shows has increased immeasurably indicate a change? Is Israel on the international concert map, or on its periphery?
The decline in compact disc sales has forced artists to launch more extensive concert tours as an alternative source of income. Neglected areas such as Eastern Europe have turned into prominent destinations; many of the bands that stop there, in Turkey and Greece now stop in Israel, too. It seems that instead of us moving to the center of the map, it has moved to us.