A Smelly Night of Anxious Punk and African Boogie

Monday night. It is a bitter, black hole for fun. You’ve got the whole work week ahead of you and a good amount of work to do. Lucky for you I abandoned my responsibilities on September 28th and saw Yonatan Gat, Media Jeweler, Michael Vidal, and Awesome Tapes From Africa at the Smell. What a mouthful.

I stroll in like the punctual young man that I am at 9:02, in time to watch opening act Michael Vidal hit the stage with just himself, a guitar, a drum machine, and a dream. Slow and melodic, Michael doesn’t hold my attention for long, but it’s not his fault; he’s making beautiful music, but outside the pleasant California air is calling my name.

As I stand and chat with my buddy Zora as she smokes a filthy and immoral cigarette, a short man with a serious look in his eye approaches us. He calls Zora a princess, which in retrospect should have been a bigger red flag. He has a knit cap with the word “SECURITY” emblazoned across the brim. He asks us to buy him some food and we oblige the man. I only have $3 in the bank account so I get to skip out on payment. We head back to the venue and part ways - this dude is obviously not security.

Media Jeweler takes the stage and begins their brand of nervous rock music, upbeat, energetic, and idiosyncratic. The guitar frantically works its way around a changing set piece of bells and trumpets and synthesizer, conveying a sense of constant motion and energy. The guitar will occasionally interrupt itself with quick staccato iterations of the same melody. On their track “Untitled” they repeat the phrases “looking back” and “looking glass” until confusing new phrases of repetition emerge: “back loss back glass back loss looking back.” Media Jeweler is characterized by abrupt changes and motifs that build upon each other, creating a dynamic and memorable live show.

If Media Jeweler plays nervous rock, Yonatan Gat plays anxious, yet driven and thematic psychedelic punk. Instead of playing on the stage they play within the crowd, and instead of facing outward the trio gathers around each other; a collaborative effort that showcases the group’s far flung influences which are tedious to list: Brazilian pysch, punk, Afrobeat, jazz, Congolese soukous, the list goes on. Gat himself is former guitarist of Monotonic, a group renowned for their live performance, a legacy he does well to honor. On drums is Gal Lazer, influenced by the drumming of Afrobeat and an absolute rhythmic madman. At times Gat and bassist Sergio Sayer struggle to keep lockstep with him. A look of fury crosses Gat's face as he hastens through riffs to catch up.

As they play I imagine the trio at a dinner table with a bevy of thematic food to choose from. They gorge mightily on this feast, rabidly going about the table and picking their favorite riffs and touchstones, not bothering to wipe their faces. Occasionally a member will drop out to breathe and have a sip of water to clear his palette, as the remaining members improvise as a duo until he rejoins - an aside in a larger musical conversation. At one point Lazer bangs his drums so hard that a nut falls loose - Gat slides away from the locus as if to avoid the spill. The room has been heated considerably just by the group’s frenetic, constant movement. Finally the set is over. The room feels like a vacuum now, in the absence of sound that filled the room and consumed it.

As the crowd begins to peter out and my anxiety over homework begins to return, I remember why I came to the show. A DJ from the Awesome Tapes From Africa label begins to put his boogie down and we stick around a little longer to dance. There are only like 3 or 5 people left at this point, so we get to converse with the expert aficionado and inquire about his various tapes. “You can only get this one if you actually go to South Africa.” I laugh and leave. Crate digging never changes, it only gets more obscure. 


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