Comment: Make the boycott go up in Pixie dust

Latest cancellation doesn't mean the music stops.

Picnic Music Festival (photo credit: courtesy)
Picnic Music Festival
(photo credit: courtesy)
Israeli music fans are not going to let some misguided, undereducated musicians ruin their good time.
On Saturday night, more than 7,000 fans crowded the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds for the opening of the two-day Picnic music festival featuring British glam rockers Placebo, despite the last-minute cancellations of support acts, British indie rockers Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System.
In a case of Israeli on-the-spot ingenuity, they were ably replaced by JViewz, who had finished a short Israeli tour and delayed their return to New York at the request of promoter Shuki Weiss, and Rami Fortis, who brought along Balkan Beat Box clarinet player Eyal Talmudi. The show was opened – as scheduled – by the New York-via-Israel bass and drums duo Hank & Cupcakes.
While refunds to the show were made available following the two cancellations, only a handful of ticket holders took advantage of the offer, according to a representative of Mauranne Paz, the PR firm working with Weiss.
Meanwhile, across town at the Mann Auditorium, veteran British singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading was performing the second of two well-attended shows with her crack backup band – the first show having taken place on Friday night at the Shoni Fortress in Binyamina.
Those among the 3,400 people who attended one of the two shows expecting a laid-back offering were taken aback by a rocking Armatrading, showing off her electric guitar prowess many times while presenting a pleasing career overview including the hits “Me Myself I” and “Drop the Pilot.”
Nobody attending either the Picnic festival or one of the Armatrading shows was likely worrying about an increasing movement afoot by artists to boycott Israel. They were too busy enjoying world class music presented by entertainers who were honoring their contracts and agreeing to perform for what were likely very comfortable fees.
That the Klaxons, Gorillaz Sound System and now, the Pixies – who were due to headline the second night of the Picnic festival on Wednesday – decided to join Elvis Costello and Gil Scott-Heron and renege on their signed contract to appear here is regrettable – and totally avoidable.
However, as Weiss pointed out in a statement to media on Sunday, “Events have gotten out of control. Intense pressure is being applied to foreign artists not to come to Israel. This is cultural terrorism.”
Unlike Costello and Scott-Heron, whose clear and above-board left-wing ideology gave them a pre-determined position on Israel, the Pixies have never been known to be a political band.
In fact, the whole philosophy of the band since their regrouping in 2004 has seemed to revolve around one thing – money. Never having cashed in on their cult status while still together in the ’90s, the quartet has done so with a vengeance in their second incarnation.
So why would a nonpolitical band, together apparently only for the money, cancel a big-gate date in Israel? The band’s statement, as released by promoter Weiss, declared that “events beyond all our control have conspired against us.”
If they were really upset over Israel’s actions regarding the flotilla, why didn’t they come out with a clear statement condemning us?
Evidently the flotilla saga is what also caused the Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System to jump overboard, even though neither act came right out and said it. Of course, for Costello and Scott-Heron, who canceled long before the flotilla set sail, it was simply Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians that caused them to bail on their lifeboats.
The factor uniting all the acts that have decided that performing in Israel is worse than aligning themselves with those who would deny Israel’s right to exist is exactly something along the lines of what Weiss called “cultural terrorism.” From the moment a high-profile artist is booked into an Israeli venue, a non-stop barrage of e-mails, open letters and petitions rain down on them like stinging needles, prodding and irritating their consciences.
For example, in March, a group of Israeli self-proclaimed human rights activists calling themselves “Boycott!” urged the Pixies in a letter to cancel their show here, asking, “Are you prepared to perform in Tel Aviv while just under your nose millions of human beings are suffocating under a cruel Israeli military regime, denying them elementary human rights?”
Evidently, that appeal wasn’t effective enough. It took the media coverage proclaiming that the IDF killed nine human rights activists bringing aid to starving Gazans to do the trick.
Artists face the pressure to boycott Israel in different ways. Some, like Bruce Springsteen, have apparently decided not to even enter the argument by not entertaining any offers to appear here. Others have faced dilemmas over whether to perform in Israel or not – but as in the case of Leonard Cohen, those deliberations took place before the date was booked.
Once Cohen agreed to perform at Ramat Gan Stadium last year, he kept to his word. And when the calls for a boycott grew and his conscience grew heavy, instead of canceling, he and his management devised the idea of donating the proceeds to the show to Israeli and Palestinian organizations working toward reconciliation.
Costello also gave serious thought to the issues surrounding his performances here, but instead of reaching the same conclusion as Cohen, he decided to back out totally.
It’s unlikely, though, that much serious thought, aside from the accountant’s perspective, went into the decisions by the Pixies, Klaxons or Gorillaz Sound System to scuttle their shows. It was probably more like a knee-jerk response of “Israel was the bad guy in the flotilla scenario, the good guy human rights groups were condemning its actions, and we don’t want to be alienating our fan base by performing in a place that’s not Amnesty International-fully sanctioned.”
A decision on whether the Picnic festival’s second night – which isalso slated to feature the up-and-coming British rockers the Editorsand stellar local openers Carusella – will, like the first show, go onas planned with last-minute additions has not yet been made by Weiss.
Full refunds are being offered, but if fans really want to make astatement against cultural terrorism, they should ignore the fact thatthe Pixies canceled, and if the show still goes on, they should show upin full force. The Editors are pretty damn good, and they’ll look andsound even better on stage in contrast to the turmoil wrought by theircolleagues.
Rod Stewart may not be much of a consolation prize for the Pixiesmusically, but in an interview on Sunday night, he emphatically statedthat he’d be honoring his appearance at Ramat Gan Stadium on July 1.
With Rihanna and Metallica already having followed suit, and with EltonJohn, Jeff Beck and a slew of other major talents still on the way,it’s clear that despite the pressure and the scare tactics, the musicis not going to stop. Just ask the 10,000 people who saw Placebo andJoan Armatrading on Saturday night.