Concert Review: Balkan Beat Box

BBB is a dish best served in a small, hot setting filled with caring fans who haven’t been out-priced.

Balkan Beat Box (photo credit: .)
Balkan Beat Box
(photo credit: .)

Balkan Beat Box
Hangar 11
Tel Aviv
February 3

It’s a sight seen all too often in the music industry: a band makes a great album or two, gets noticed, ticket prices rise, and the quality of the shows diminish.

Hangar 11 was the scene of a variation on that theme last week, as the cavernous hall at the Tel Aviv port housed Balkan Beat Box (BBB) in a kickoff performance for their third studio release, Blue Eyed Black Boy, and a tour through North America and Europe.
“Move It,” the first single from the album, opened the show and should have set the tone for another performance featuring the band and the crowd feeding off each other’s energy. Instead, the band was doing all the feeding; the largely lifeless crowd of people paid as much as NIS 180 to see Tomer Yosef repeatedly urge them to scream louder and move faster.
At times, the crowd’s tameness seemed to visibly frustrate Yosef and saxophonist Eyal Talmudi, but the band itself never lost the energy that flowed from its instruments.
The show also rang in some changes amidst the band’s repertoire and production, the most notable of which being an increased dependence on Yosef’s stage presence; a platform on the side of the hall coupled with a spotlight served as a private soapbox for BBB’s lead singer on a number of lead songs.
Yosef’s role has grown with each successive release and tour, as well it should – he is one of the most energetic and colorful performers Israel has ever seen. But the repeated singling out of his talents in a band predicated on ensemble performance, where each member feeds off the other’s energy, felt a little strange.
THE GUEST performers also provided BBB fans with some hitherto unseen spice. Two real-life singers from the London Bulgarian Choir provided the backbones of “Bulgarian Chicks” and “Joro Boro,” instead of having their distinctive Balkan harmonies broadcast via turntable.
Shlomo Bar and Habrera Hativeet were featured as well, and the bands’ joint rendition of “Yeladim Ze Simcha” turned out to be one of the night’s highlights.
Balkan Beat Box’s new songs did not disappoint either, as the band’s Middle/Far Eastern blend has survived intact after three rounds of releases.
But one could not help but feel uneasy at the sight of large pockets of space close to the stage, or the people standing and chatting in small circles, or the faces Yosef and Talmudi would make when the crowd didn’t respond to their “eifo atem?” (where are you) beckonings with a roar.
Balkan Beat Box cares about its fans – their own cheers can be heardringing in several songs throughout the first two albums – but as bandsbecome bigger (and BBB certainly is), that partnership oftendisintegrates.
The show proved once again that Balkan Beat Box is a must-see show foranyone who can move his or her limbs (a performance of “Hermetico” onits own is worth the price of admission), but it also proved that BBBis a dish best served in a small, hot setting filled with caring fanswho haven’t been out-priced. Hopefully, the band realized that as well.