After a day full of sirens and rockets in southern Israel, thousands of young Israelis took a break at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Center and swayed to the music of popular British rockers Alt-J, who returned to Israel after three years.The opening act, Los Angeles indie rockers Warpaint, was delightful. “Ma shlomcha?” the band shouted, incorrectly yet endearingly.They played their hearts out, even adding a song to their set because some audience members held up a sign requesting it. “You are a very groovy people,” they said.A little after 9 p.m. Alt-J took the stage, shouting “Tel Aviv! How are you doing tonight? Sababa!” as they opened the show to the cheers of thousands.
The crowd seemed to know every sound in every song. Every drumbeat, every note, every syllable to every song. Even as the band played, rocket and mortar fire continued just an hour to the south.Israel’s Reshet Bet reported that over 180 rockets and mortars were launched toward Israeli civilian areas. When the group began one of their better-known songs, and my favorite, “Taro,” a new barrage was launched toward Israel.Tel Aviv is known to be a “bubble,” cut off from the reality of the country and the chaos which surrounds it in the Middle East. For two hours, the thousands of people in the crowd ignored their notifications and the knowledge that thousands of Israeli were running to bomb shelters at that same moment.They were in their bubble. The Alt-J bubble.The crowd of teenagers and young adults in their early twenties seemed either right before their military service or maybe even soldiers on leave.What would happen if a siren went off? Would the crowd even hear it? Where would they run? Would Alt-J know what to do? They’d likely never heard one in their lives.But even as the red alter notifications kept buzzing, the vibrations from the music were stronger.Alt-J is well loved in Israel, and with good reason. After a two-hour show and before their final song, the very popular “Breezeblocks,” the band said, “We came a few years ago and coming back is beyond belief. Let’s do this again sometime!”The crowd roared.To a crowd that has become accustomed to musical artists dropping out of shows because of boycott pressure, this was more than the simple promise of a further show. It was an assertion that Israelis will not be forgotten and that Alt-J, at least, will not be swayed by politics. “We love you. Sababa! Goodbye!”
Alt J performs in Tel Aviv at the Yarkon Park, May 29, 2018 (Tamir Mosh)