Yonatan Gat’s Transfixing Show at Seattle’s Sunset Tavern

Yonatan_Gat-8Yonatan Gat’s set at Seattle’s Sunset Tavern last week was a surprise musical miracle. Gat was a member of underground garage rock band Monotonix from Tel Aviv, Israel. I was clueless about Yonatan Gat or Monotonix prior to the show, a fact about which I feel a healthy dose of shame, especially considering that the latter released material via Drag City and recorded with the legendary Steve Albini. But hey, I stay pretty busy, and you can’t win ‘em all. I showed up at the Sunset Tavern last Wednesday to see Calvin Johnson (of Beat Happening fame) doing a DJ set, spinning some 45s.

Yonatan_Gat-11It makes complete sense that Calvin Johnson, being the purveyor of odd yet completely original and captivating music that he is, would be friends of Yonatan Gat. Johnson played a solo set of songs with the Israeli trio in Olympia two nights later. During Seattle psych pop band the Pharmacy’s set, the three members of Yonatan Gat wandered through the crowd holding their instruments. As soon as the Pharmacy finished, the trio began setting up their instruments in the middle of the club’s floor rather than on stage. The guitar and bass were amplified, but no microphones were present.

Yonatan_Gat-9As the set began, the three members wandered throughout the club, clicking percussive woodblock-like instruments, approaching concertgoers, even walking outside the club’s door for a moment, all the while chanting in Hebrew. Eventually, the trio reconvened in the middle of the club and launched into a sonic barrage of bouncing bass lines, distorted guitar, and blistering drums. These thunderous outbursts congealed into grooves, and sometimes slowed back into minimalist percussion backed by chanting. The trio occasionally made their way back into the crowd, sipped from crowd members’ drinks, stole and then donned ball caps, and engaged in general lighthearted mischief.

Yonatan_Gat-2Gat’s songs followed structures, but clearly incorporated a great deal of improvisation, as the members remained locked in on each other as they navigated shifts and changes. To highlight individual members playing alone, the band turned on and off basic clamp lights, which served as rudimentary spotlights. Artistic and primitive, the performance was interactive, arresting, and transfixing. By eschewing traditions of live music performance, transgressing spatial norms, and incorporating improvisation, the show stands out as one of the most captivating and convincing I’ve seen in years.

Yonatan_Gat-6Friend of Pop Press INTL., Robert Matthews, with whom I saw the band in Seattle, had the fortune of being in San Francisco just a few nights later to see the band again and reports that the show was even more interactive and magical, due in large part to a more participatory crowd. Matthews says, “The crowd responded to the band coming into its space with an engaged excitement, sparking a cooperative effort that began with hand instruments like shakers and eventually led to most of the drum kit moving into the crowd where it was played frantically by both crowd members and the drummer. It was jubilant chaos.”

Yonatan_Gat-7Recently Rolling Stone published a ludicrous list of the best acts performing live music right now. Unsurprisingly, that list seemed to correspond closely to what I imagine are the country’s top ticket sellers. Now, I’m sure that Elton John is amazing, and I know for a fact that Kanye West is riveting (both of which were on the list), but the idea that none of the acts on that list would be culled from the tier of bands playing small shows is laughable. Some of those stadium circuit acts deserve to be on there, primarily, Nick Cave, Arcade Fire, and Bruce Springsteen. But the intimacy and excitement of a small show that obliterates the boundaries of live performance should have a presence, especially in light of the fact that the experience is made magical without millions of dollars or impressive lighting shows. Heads up: flashing lights don’t make the band a great live act.

Yonatan_Gat-3When I raised this complaint to friends and cited Yonatan Gat as a prime example, several people expressed similar sentiments: well, if Rolling Stone wasn’t at that club…if they haven’t seen that band… or bands like that… This, my friends, is the root of the problem. If a publication is claiming to be on the cutting edge, if they feel brazen enough to publish a list of the best live music acts, shouldn’t they have done their homework more thoroughly? Beyond the question of who is the best, this issue becomes one of personal politics. If you want to help Rolling Stone continue building the boring paradigm that dominates modern rock music buy those $100 dollar stadium tickets, but if you want to see a truly moving live show, see Yonatan Gat.

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About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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