Sunday, August 18, 2013

Shlomo Artzi, Ashdod Amphitheatre (15/08/2013)

Shlomo Artzi tok to the stage flanked by a tightly rehearsed nine piece band. 

I'm fairly new to the experience of seeing stadium sized concerts by sixty something rockers, which means, fairly or unfairly (probably the latter), my first thought is to generalize and find a way to lump them all together.  The plot certainly seems familiar, as an example, consider Leonard Cohen's hugely successful world tour.  An aging music star wants to assemble a stage show that will be worthy of the ambitious arena and stadium tour he has planned.  He puts together an impressively sized band, complete with brass, strings, and other odd instrumentation as he sees fit.  He hires attractive background singers and musicians to inject some youthful energy into the proceedings, because nobody wants to buy tickets to see a traveling circus of senior citizens.  The staging and lighting are reserved, tasteful, and not too complicated, because huge LED screens and flashy graphics would look like a ploy for trying to appear younger and more contemporary.  All in all, the show is clearly centred around him and higlights him as the star, while at the same time not requiring him to do all that much.  He plays and sings at all the key moments but knows when to step aside and leave his capable musicians and singers to their extended solos, intros, and filler parts in order to fill out the whole of a two plus hours long concert.  This isn't meant to be a putdown of Leonard Cohen (I didn't get to see him in concert but heard recordings and saw many video clips of his last tour, which was more than deserving of the praise it received) or anyone else.  Concerts and tours are long and exhausting, and performers of any age or experience should be taking all steps to show off their strengths while simultaneously hiding their weaknesses.  

Most of this is also true of Shlomo Artzi.  Except that nobody told him that he's supposed to step aside and lets his backing band do the yeoman's share of the work.  From the first minute to the last of this nearly two and a half hour concert, Artzi was in total command of the stage.  His still strong voice dominated nearly every moment that of the show, and his remarkable energy is what drove his band, not the other way around.  His tireless work ethic was the key difference between a near pantheon level show and just another greatest hits set by a guy who could live comfortably off playing greatest hits sets for as long as he wants. 

It's partly because the people with him on stage are more than just capable hired hands.  It's more of a family affair, with his son Ben, his drummer of more than 25 years, and a pair of brass-playing brothers.  But can you show me another 63-year old performer who can sing a nonstop train of lyrically complex hits for over two hours (there was a teleprompter but he barely glanced at it), dance with audience members, act as the joke telling emcee, and generally entertain a mixed crowd of literally all ages (everyone from teenagers to their grandparents were there) while doing so?  I'm not sure I've ever seen an artist connect with his audience as well as Shlomo Artzi connected with the crowd in Ashdod.  The connection was almost telepathic, people stood when he wanted, sat when he wanted, danced when he wanted, sang along when he wanted, and while some of that can be chalked up to setlist pacing and song selection, you mostly have to chalk it up to Artzi's incredible charisma as a performer. 

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