Rami Fortis .
(photo credit: ALEX ROZKOVSKY/MAARIV)
Berale Lehavot Haviva,
By the end of the 1970s, rock music had imploded under its own weight, and punk came along to shake things up. In Israel, the lighting technician for seminal rockers Tammuz would often join the band on stage, to... shake things up.
Tammuz evaporated after one album, retrospectively fêted as alumni Shalom Hanoch and Ariel Zilber attained legendary status. Unbeknown to all, lighting technician Rami Fortis would join them for the ride.
In 1978, Fortis released Plonter (Tangle) onto the unsuspecting public. From the opener, “Dvash” (“Honey”), with its scream-spit vocals, urgent tempos and hey-hey-hey-hey lyrics, a new love-child of Ramones and Iggy Pop was born.
But punk burned out as quickly as it had arrived.
Following years of disillusionment, Fortis spent much of the ‘80s in Europe, in one of Israel’s most successful musical exports, new-wavers Minimal Compact, with Berry Sakharov, his long-term collaborator following their 1988 return to Israel.
Fast-forward 40 years since Plonter, and there is an air of anticipation in the intimate Berale. Lights dim, curtains draw back, Fortis and band launch into the atmospheric “Mador Fiyot” (“Fairy Department”), from the 2017 album of the same name.
The band consists of cellist Noa Ayali, keyboardist Dani Ever-Hadani, guitarists Omer Joe Nave and Guy Fortis, and drummer Ethan Raz. Striking in talent and aesthetic, they swap instruments on different songs.
They all sing, ironically Fortis least of all, weak and buried in the mix.
It doesn’t matter. Cognitive dissonance reigns as the bald, bespectacled Fortis, resplendent in cardigan and leather trousers, prowls the stage, a captivating mix of orchestra conductor and mad scientist. Yet, when he whispers “toda” between songs, it’s with shyness and humility.
Potential nostalgia is dismissed as the band moves into “Meir Ne’elamim” (“Awakening the Missing”).
Fortis apologizes for his hoarseness, having been advised to cancel the show due to illness. Bursting with pride, he adds, “What about these songs, aren’t they beautiful”? Indeed, they are.
The abundant contrasts make for a magnetic experience.
Fortis’s awkward gestures bely a deep audience connection. He is energized by the band’s energy and confidence, as are they by supporting a legend.
We embark on a journey through Fortis’s back catalogue.
The crowd sings along to the catchy chorus of 2017’s “Sannyasi” (Sanskrit for “enlightened stage”) as if it was the soundtrack to a memorable summer, many years ago.
Ambitiously, the band attempts Fortis’s 1978 cult breakthrough, “Red Me’al Masach HaTelevizya Sheli” (“Get Off My Television Screen”). Sadly, the result is unconvincing, as if AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell” had been arranged for Nick Cave.
In the encore, “Na’alayim” (“Shoes”), Fortis lolls on a chair, part dictator, part grandpa, drawing to a close with “Tachana Sofit” (“Final Station”). The music fades out and like a kindergarten story-teller, he sings the last few words a capella, to the biggest cheer of the night.
Fortis is a national treasure, rising above mere genres and eras. His art is an assault on the senses, the elusive zone where artist and audience unite as one.