Little echoes, big sound

A longtime favorite with Israeli audiences, Belgian rockers K’s Choice return to Tel Aviv with acoustic show.

Ks Choice 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of Frank Clauwers)
Ks Choice 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of Frank Clauwers)
‘People in Israel don’t seem to be getting tired of us, and it’s certainly true the other way around.” K’s Choice’s soft-spoken guitarist/songwriter Gert Bettens was trying to explain the loving relationship that has developed between his band and local music fans over the past 13 years since the tuneful Belgian rockers made their Israeli debut, opening in Tel Aviv without fanfare in front of an unsuspecting audience for American indie band Garbage in 1999.
“We’re really happy we’re so welcomed by the Israeli people, and are thrilled to be coming back again so soon after our last shows,” added Bettens in a phone conversation last week ahead of the band’s upcoming concert on January 23 at the Gesher Theater in Tel Aviv. He was referring to two different musical visits Tel Aviv in 2010, the year the band regrouped with the triumphant album Echo Mountain and a world tour, after spending most of the previous eight years splintered in outside projects.
The mutual admiration between the globally-established band – led by Bettens and his sister Sarah – and Israel was bolstered beyond musical boundaries when, after their 2010 shows, the band’s bass player, Eric Grossman, let loose on artists who boycott the country. He called Elvis Costello, who cancelled a show that year, “an idiot” and wrote “ditto to Santana, Bono, and all the other self-important egomaniacs who think the Israeli people don’t deserve their presence.”
Bettens stood by his bass player, saying that politics and music need to be separated by musicians, even if it’s not always a popular decision.
“It’s definitely taking a stand by coming to Israel, and we’ve had some difficulties in Belgium because of it,” he said. “Some people – not everybody because many people feel the same way that we do – think we shouldn’t be performing in Israel. I certainly don’t agree with the politics of every single country I pay attention to, not even my own. So if I were to not play in a country where I don’t agree with government policy, then I wouldn’t be playing at all.”
Despite his frequent visits to Israel of late and learning more about life here, Bettens said that it’s not his place to give any opinions on said policies.
“It’s very hard for a foreigner to entirely grasp the sensitivities of everything going on in Israel,” he said. “The best we can do when we come is talk to people, learn more, play our songs and move people and make them happy for the night.”
K’s Choice’s show on Monday night in Tel Aviv will undoubtedly make its fans very happy, because it won’t be a regular concert featuring the entire five-piece band.
Instead, the Bettens will be joined by their keyboardist Reinout Swinnen for an intimate acoustic show, featuring stripped down, rearranged versions of many of the songs on Echo Mountain, some of the band’s older tunes, and a few choice cover tunes by a diverse group of artists including Radiohead, Split Enz, Damien Rice and even a playful version of The Pointer Sisters hit “I’m So Excited.”
THE ORGANIC trio even went into the studio recently to record the songs, under the moniker Little Echoes, for a souvenir album to sell during their three-month tour.
The re-imagining of Echo Mountain as dreamy acoustic pop wasn’t such a drastic move for the group, according to Bettens, who said that he initially envisioned some of the songs that way.
“It’s kind of the way the songs were written, if not intended,” said Bettens. “Usually, either Sarah or I will play a song for the band on acoustic guitar or piano, and then they would flesh it out. So it really made a lot of sense to do a tour like this, and record and perform the songs the way we actually wrote them. It’s strange it took us so long to realize we wanted to do this.”
“I don’t see this as a new K’s Choice album, it’s more so the fans can have the music at home if they like the show. But I think it also stands on its own as an album I’m proud of,” he added. Even The Pointer Sisters’ song, which Bettens said he proposed with his sister in mind.
“I knew it was one of her favorite songs growing up. Back then the music I listened to was totally different than what Sarah did. She was into ABBA, disco and groups like The Pointer Sisters, and I was all about being depressed with The Smiths and bands like that,” said Bettens. “I thought she would really love to cover that song, but in a different arrangement of course. It’s such a good song stripped down and we tried to give it our own style a little.”
K’s Choice’s style is what has set them apart from everyone else – think mid-1970s Fleetwood Mac and those great male-female harmonies floating over classic pop melodies, but anchored by a tough beat and an edgy guitar sound. Despite the following the group built during its initial run over 10 years ago, there were no assurances an audience would still be there when they decided to reform. And Bettens, for one, isn’t taking their resurgence lightly.
“We weren’t certain at all what would happen. Over the past decade, Sarah and I have had solo careers, and while she was very successful, after all that time it wasn’t obvious at all that people that used to come to our shows would come back,” he said.
“But apparently they have, and I’m very grateful for people not forgetting us. We’re still passionate about what we’re doing, and it’s cool that people are still passionate about our music.”
It just proves that little echoes can sometimes have very big reverberations.