Lucky seven for K's Choice

The Belgian rockers celebrate their 25th anniversary with another visit to Israel.

Belgian folk-rock band K’s Choice (photo credit: Courtesy)
Belgian folk-rock band K’s Choice
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 Twenty-five years is an eternity in rock and roll dimensions, but the venerable Belgian folk-rock band K’s Choice shows no signs of throwing in the towel.
The brother and sister lineup of Sarah and Gert Bettens have weathered musical trends and personnel changes by sticking to what caught the ears of music fans in the 1990s when they traversed the world as the hand-picked opening act for the likes of Indigo Girls, Alanis Morissette and Garbage – melodic, powerful and personal songs and performances, highlighted by the shimmering harmony singing of the siblings.
“Overall, I have a feeling of gratitude – that we have been lucky enough to play music that we love and experience so many adventures over the last 25 years,” said Gert Bettens in a recent phone interview from his home in north of Antwerp. “Sarah and I started doing this when we were around 20, and we’re still doing it and still traveling the world.”
One regular stop on K’s Choice itinerary has been Israel, where from a debut opening up for Garbage in 1999, the band has cultivated a loyal following that has brought them back six times for 10 shows. Lucky seven takes place on May 1 at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv as part of the band’s 25th anniversary tour. The show sold out so quickly that another date was added the following night.
“Israel is one of the first countries outside of Belgium that welcomed us with open arms,” said Bettens. “We felt so warmly welcomed by the audience when we opened for Garbage that we’ve wanted to keep coming back. I still have very sweet memories of those shows.”
In 2010, the band endeared themselves to Israeli fans when after a performance at the Barby Club, their then-bassist Eric Grossman strongly criticized Elvis Costello for canceling booked shows in Israel. He called Costello, who canceled a show that year, “an idiot” and wrote “ditto to Santana, Bono, and all the other selfimportant ego-maniacs, who think the Israeli people don’t deserve their presence.” [Santana has since appeared in Israel.]
Bettens said that he has always been approached by the usual European liberal suspects who encourage artists to boycott Israel, but he has always resisted.
“Obviously, it’s something that a lot of people think about and talk about. We think about world issues too and read newspapers to try to have a basic understanding about what’s going on in Israel,” he said.
“The bottom line is that I don’t agree with everything the Israeli government does. But I don’t think it makes sense to approach Israel differently from other countries we perform in. I certainly don’t agree with what the US government has been doing in the last year, and I don’t even agree with people in my own government in Belgium on how they’ve been approaching the refugee issue, for example. But if I decided not to play in countries that have a government I don’t entirely agree with, then I wouldn’t end up playing anywhere.”
“Anyway, I think that most fans who come to see our shows – whether in Europe or Israel – have a similar moral compass as we do. If we don’t agree with some of the things Israel does, then most people coming to our shows probably think the same way.”
The band’s last visit to Israel was in 2012, when the Bettens were joined by their keyboard player Reinout Swinnen for an intimate acoustic show, featuring stripped down, rearranged versions of many of the songs off their 2010 album Echo Mountain, some of the band’s older tunes, as well as 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.”
But this time, it will be the full band configuration that will offer a career overview that encompasses their six studio albums and a slew of EPs and side projects. Their most recent album was Live at the Ancienne Belgique, a double album recorded in Brussels late last year during the first part of their 25th anniversary tour. It featured songs recorded with a 240-member layman choir Zaterdag Zondag that added an ethereal quality to their music.
“It was actually the initiative of the people running the choir. Each year they decide on an artist and ask them to participate. They had been preparing for months, but we only got together with them during the sound check. We started rehearsing “Killing Dragons” [off Echo Mountain]. It’s a bit of an emotional song to begin with, but when I heard their voices, I had to stop singing – it was overwhelming,” said Bettens. “We had to remind ourselves before the show to think about some stupid, silly thing during the performance so we wouldn’t start crying, it was so incredibly powerful.”
Having approached the 25-year mark, K’s Choice is still an open book and not necessarily the last chapter, said Bettens.
“Now that we’re being forced to reflect a little, with the anniversary and all, it doesn’t feel like a goodbye, it feels like we’re halfway,” he said. “There’s still a bit of that youthful flame burning that keeps us going and prompts us to continue writing songs and performing them.”
That means Israeli fans can hopefully expect K’s Choice to come back another seven times.
K’s Choice will perform on May 1 & 2 at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv.