New Scenarios with Yonatan Gat at Hotel Vegas

Yonatan_Gat_013115-2After being converted by the gospel of Yonatan Gat last summer, I’ve been telling everyone I know that they’re the best band touring. There might be some caveats for bands with huge, entertaining stage shows like The Flaming Lips and Arcade Fire, but on an equal playing field, Yonatan Gat takes the prize without a doubt. Incorporating Middle Eastern melodies and riffs along with African rhythms, this trio blends traditional sounds with the distortion and fury of garage and punk. The resulting music wins fans of all varieties with each new performance. The group’s show at Hotel Vegas provided yet another amazing show, replete with unexpected and exciting developments.

Yonatan_Gat_013115-16Guitarist Yonatan Gat and his musical cohorts, drummer Gal Lazer and bassist Sergio Sayeg, didn’t finish setting up until almost 12:20, and one last band set to follow them still had yet to perform. The group sets up on the floor, forsaking the stage and immediately breaking down conceptions about live music formats and audience behavior. Three standard incandescent work lights, bare bulbs with chrome shades, sit on the floor and spotlight each of the members. These illuminate or go dark, determined by which members are playing or soloing, manned by the members themselves. As onlookers surround and engulf the trio, the energy builds intensely before first note is even played. I recognize some faces from the last time the band played in town, and it’s clear that the legends of their epic show have spread.

Yonatan_Gat_013115-10All three members begin emitting sound; everything is loose and disjointed like fingers searching the dark for some mystery item waiting to be grasped. The bass finds the drum beat. The guitar begins to follow along. But drummer Gal Lazer doesn’t play it safe as the drums change and evolve, feeding the mix with ever-increasing energy, building to a frenzied chaos. Someone behind Lazer pumps his fist and holds up a middle finger in punk rock reverence. The guy shakes his beer and sends it spraying all over the band and the crowd. Some jostling ensues, and then in a split second, without me being able to tell exactly how, the punk rock beer sprayer is sailing into Lazer and his drum set, sending both bodies, beer cans, and all the drum parts sprawling across the concrete floor of Hotel Vegas. Lazer jumps up and then lunges onto the guy still laid out on the floor. The crowd separates them and sends the guy out of the venue as Lazer angrily staggers into the encircling onlookers and then begins to set his kit back up. Gat and Sayeg don’t miss a beat; the guitar and bass play on.

Yonatan_Gat_013115-8With drums (more or less) reassembled, Lazer pounds them with a new and unhinged fury. Splashes of beer glint in the warm incandescent light. Cymbal and their stands teeter as Lazer pummels them relentlessly. The show ends with Lazer reaching back into the crowd while drumming with one hand, grabbing Jessica Alexander (drummer for opening band The Harms), and pulling her into his lap. He drums over her as she laughs and cheers. This is what Yonatan Gat is all about. Even when an instrument gets dismantled completely mid-set, it becomes part of the performance. This new energy fuels the show, makes it exciting, fresh, and distinct. Improvisation is the beating heart of Yonatan Gat, and Saturday’s show had them improvising in the extreme. What band puts themselves in a position where this sort of thing can occur? Yonatan Gat’s music and their show puts them out on the proverbial limb, and if ever it breaks, they surely shimmy up again to find another branch.

Yonatan_Gat_013115-15I track down Gal after the set. He’s sitting on a wooden picnic table top, his feet up on the bench, hands clasped in front of his mouth, staring straight ahead. I cautiously approach him, but he immediately breaks out in a grin, and I know he’s not quite in the “fuck the world” mood I feared. I put my arm around him and shake him vigorously. “That was fucking great!” I tell him. He laughs, and says, “I’m glad you thought so.” I ask if he spent the whole show frustrated. “Just pissed,” he says. I tell him that it actually fed the set and made it truly incredible. Yonatan walks up and joins the conversation as we discuss the relationship between improvisation and unexpected events such as tonight. “Yeah,” Yonatan says cooly, “we had some new scenarios tonight.” For him, this is all just part of exploring new terrain. Making it up as he goes along. Keep moving, and see what happens. The band will be back for SXSW, and you’d be silly to miss them.

Big_Bill_013115-1After Yonatan Gat, Big Bill launched directly into their weirdo, garage pop songs. Charismatic frontman Eric Braden drives the live show’s vibe as he stalks about the stage dishing out oddball rhymes in his nasally growl. Bassist Jennifer Monsees and guitarist Cody Braden chant background lines over Alan Lauer’s drums. The band is like a fresh take on a blend of tendencies seen in music from the B-52’s, Beat Happening, and DEVO. They’re like a garage rock Talking Heads. With increasing amounts of positive praise and a new EP streaming now, Big Bill is the city’s most talked about band for good reason.

The_Harms_013115-1Earlier in the night, all female three-piece The Harms kicked out a set of rockin’ garage tunes. Chase Frank leads the group on guitar as Jessica Alexander provides uptempo rhythms and Jennifer Monsees, who pulled double duty for the night playing in Big Bill, handles bass responsibilities. The songs are lean and direct but offer enough in the way of melodies and guitar hooks to give them texture. Check out photos from the night below.

All photographs © Bryan C. Parker & Pop Press International; all rights reserved. Click any image to open set in slideshow viewer.

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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