Reality Check: Even when it comes to rock legends, Israel has to be different

The difference between Kaveret and The Rolling Stones lies in their music and effect on society.

Mick Jagger 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mick Jagger 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When The Rolling Stones took the stage at the Glastonbury festival earlier this summer, they played a two-hour rock and roll set that belied the four-man band’s average age of 69, recapturing the vigor and energy of the band’s early years some half a century ago.
They rocked the festival. There were no concessions to age. A pumped-up Mick Jagger sang and swirled around the stage non-stop, his body as thin as it was back in the 1960s, and while Keith Richards’ hair might have turned gray over the years, his guitar playing was edgy and powerful and his stage clothes as “Pirates of the Caribbean” as ever. Although they were playing their back catalogue, this was no sentimental occasion – the Stones were out there to blow the other bands away. Which, by all accounts, they did.
Here in Israel last week, Kaveret took their final bow, 40 years after first entering the Israeli consciousness. In two sold out performances at Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park, the legendary Israeli group also played their greatest hits, but there the comparison ends.
First of all, Kaveret showed their age.
Lead singer Gidi Gov joked about the amount of metal inside his body while the infirm Yitzhak Klepter, Israel’s greatest rock guitarist, had to play the entire concert sitting down. The other members of the band, all dressed in black shirts to help hide the kilos that have piled on over the years, had the look of bank clerks readying themselves for retirement, with only guitarist Danny Sanderson retaining his impish quality of old.
But the real difference between Kaveret and The Rolling Stones lies in their music and effect on society. Whereas the Stones’ rhythm-and-blues infused rock is sexual and primal, even when performed by 70- year-olds, Kaveret’s is melodic, with lyrics centering on the local grocery store.
Kaveret also never challenged the establishment in the way the Stones did; in terms of their personal image, Gov and Sanderson were always regarded by Israeli mothers as the sons-in-law they wished they had, something that could never be said about Jagger and Richards.
And Kaveret performances are not just about the music; their concerts are interspersed with humorous skits that have the effect of turning a rock concert into a scout show. Indeed, the Tel Aviv show I attended had the atmosphere of a Tzofim (Israeli Scouts) summer camp, although one which straddled the generations.
Grandparents were there with their children and their children’s children, ready to sing along to every song and recite every word of Gov’s monologues.
As the clearly frail Klepter sang his one solo, the whole crowd joined in, wanting to energize him with their love.
AND IT was this feeling of togetherness that made the concert so special.
Kaveret, with their Sipurei Poogy (“Poogy’s Tales” – the name of their first album) are part of the wider Israeli consciousness, handed down from the 1970s generation to their children and grandchildren.
Unlike the Stones, Kaveret never sang about “Sympathy for the Devil,” they wrote funny lyrics, even when including references to the electric chair (check out the first two verses of “Yo Ya,” the seminal Israeli rock song, with which Kaveret finished their first encore).
Looking around the crowd at Hayarkon Park, one saw a certain snapshot of Israel. While the audience certainly wasn’t representative of modern-day Israel – there were no haredim or Arabs – it was perhaps reminiscent of Israel of the 1970s, when Israeli society was (the Black Panther Mizrahi protest movement excepted) more unified than today. Knitted kippot couples sat side-by-side with their secular counterparts, all swaying and clapping in time with the music.
This was the Israel of old, out for one final celebration before Gov, Sanderson, Klepter et al depart the stage for good.
And so the performance was not just a show, but a communion between the band and the audience, all connecting to the unique Israeli togetherness that Kaveret represented and which, Shlomo Artzi aside, no longer exists in Israeli music.
And as the 50,000 people simultaneously left the concert, there was no pushing or shoving – a most un-Israeli-like trait – just a stream of people happily humming to themselves.
In the end, Kaveret’s greatness lies not in their music – they could never match the Stones as a rock-and-roll band, at any age – but in the fact they could bring whole sections of Israeli society together.
As Israeli culture becomes more and more fragmented in a multi-channel, multi-ethnic world, their disappearance from the stage will become even more strongly felt.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.