Music, Went There

Yonatan Gat @ AS220


“Oh my god, what was that? I’m gonna go throw my guitars in the river. I’m done.”

I’ve struggled with how to describe the experience of a Yonatan Gat show, but that — paraphrased from the AS220 crowd’s post-show reaction — just about sums up the near-alien, mind-blowingly talented display seen on the 18th. Yonatan Gat formerly fronted Israeli band Monotonix, once called “the most exciting live band in rock ‘n’ roll” by Spin magazine. The project he lends his name has most definitely taken up that mantle in the last year. The international trio is made up of Gat, playing rhythm and lead guitar simultaneously, Sergio Sayeg, laying down the groove on bass, and Gal Lazer, flailing like a possessed Keith Moon puppet on drums. Home is New York City. Genre is… well, over the course of the night, it covers everything from danceable beats to twisted Indian ragas to brutal thrashing. You never quite know what you’re gonna get next.

The set at AS220 was slightly abbreviated due to drummer Lazer’s illness, but still managed to create its own universe of psychedelic sound. The band stands in a small circle in the center of the room, with the audience surrounding them. The in-the-round setup allows for a tight connection between the three musicians; one twitch from a bandmember’s eyebrow and we’re sent sailing off into a new beat, a new melody, maybe a heart-pounding drum solo. Yonatan Gat’s sets are almost entirely improvised, making the musical telepathy even more impressive. The music is very much a living, breathing, organic thing, even as Gat breaks off into highly ritualized movements recalling hieroglyphs, with sparse vocals like sung Hebrew prayers. The music and performance are at once very modern, with a punk sensibility and heavy free jazz influence, and unspeakably ancient. The ritual feel of the show is augmented by the audience; the in-the-round format allows you to observe other’s reactions across the circle, letting you feed off their energy and vice-versa.

The set drew mainly from the band’s new album Director; no song exactly replicated, but overall following the recorded version’s world-music-meets-punk-drops-acid-and-party-hops vibe. The band came equipped with three spotlights of different colors, which the members switched off as they stepped back and allowed the others to take center stage for solos. Gat’s guitar sound is vast, complex and unpredictable. He will often strum a chord and allow it to reverberate around the room, lifting his hand like he is both releasing the music into the world and blessing the audience. Lazer’s lightning-fast afrobeat-inspired drumming is absolutely visceral; his eyes frequently roll back in his head and sweat pours from his body (though some of that may have been the apparently horrible fever). Sayeg unfortunately did not get much of a showcase at the AS220 set; an opening set for of Montreal a few months back, however, gave him as much time in his individual spotlight as the others, laying down complex, funky basslines in his shamanistic all-white outfit. Director was apparently recorded in less than a day; it’s easy to see how that was done, with the level of connection and sheer skill on display.

The set ended on a quiet, hypnotic solo by Gat, who then switched out his light and walked out of the circle. There was vocal disappointment from the audience; I think we would have been happy to live in this psychedelic world for an eternity. But, alas, it was time for the band to go home, and for the rest of us to go and swear off making music for forever (or at least until tomorrow morning). Yonatan Gat’s current tour is not taking them to Boston — while you’re waiting for them to come back, you can listen to their two albums, Director and Iberian Passage at Keep an eye out for future dates — you do not want to miss out on this.

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