You have to admire Mark Gardener for the effort he put into making this evening happen. His originally planned visit, a supporting slot on a bill with Dean Wareham, was cancelled over the summer due to Operation Protective Edge. Most of the time, musicians' schedules don't allow for cancelled gigs to get rebooked. But Gardener seemed determined to deliver more than just your ordinary gig. This was more like the Mark Gardener Experience, a unique and intimate evening with a man who will shortly be playing arenas and headlining sold-out festivals. This seated concert was to be his last show before the long-awaited Ride reunion.
Living on the isolated fringes of Europe and Asia has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to international touring artists. Most of them don't bother coming through Tel Aviv -- the market for their music isn't large compared to the major European cities, and high travel costs make for an expensive one-off show that often isn't worth it financially. That's the disadvantage. The advantage is that when people do come, many of them go out of their way to experience the country, travel around meeting and talking to people, and do something special at the actual gig. The evening started out with a nearly hour long on-stage sit-down interview with Israeli author and musician Yaheli Sobol (lead singer of the popular band Monica Sex). Sobol focused mainly on the sound and structure of the first two albums, with a musician's eye for detail in speaking about how advances in studio technology have changed how they approach the studio. Somehow he avoided asking the more obvious questions, which for me, first and foremost would have been "in your opinion, why has shoegaze had such amazing staying power and even gained in popularity and influence over the years when every other microgenre of 90's British music proved to be a passing fad?"
Many artists feel compelled to comment on the political situation these days, which is in one sense unfortunate (stick to music, please) but also interesting because you get a better feel of who they are as a human being. Gardener spoke about the boycott calls but felt it wasn't right because even though he disagreed with the direction of the country, he disagreed with the direction of a lot of countries. Taking this to its logical conclusion, there would be no place left to play, and fortunately that's the attitude that most musicians have. He was taken to a Heartbeat Foundation gig in Jerusalem the night before and even invited one of the singers, a young woman who went by the name of "Russia" I believe, to be his spur of the moment opening act. He'd heard about Heartbeat after Neil Young donated money to them following his cancelled gig this past summer, and was so moved by what they were doing that he decided to donate money himself after spending an evening with them. Heartbeat is a perfect example of how Western journalists and musicians want to see Israel -- young Arab and Jewish musicians working together to write songs about "the occupation" -- rather than how it really is, but what can you do. As a slight aside, here is my first and last comment on the boycott situation -- there's no justifiable reason for it and it's a problem only when the artists want it to be a problem. Macy Gray turned the matter over to her fans and it descended into a shouting match. Gray would swoop in and declare "oh it's so complicated!" and it makes artists feel like heroic soldiers leading the charge for hope and change when all they're doing is traveling to a perfectly safe Westernized country to play some music. On the other hand, when Mark E. Smith got harassed by fans four years ago over The Fall's upcoming concert, his response was roughly "fuck all of you, we're playing" and that was the end of it.
Gardener told a funny story about Ride getting signed by Creation. They had a support slot for five nights on the Soup Dragons' UK tour. Alan McGee followed them from show to show and would sit with them afterwards. There was one problem -- his Glaswegian accent was so thick, Gardener couldn't understand what he was saying. He figured it's OK though, at least one of the others would understand him and they'd piece it all together later. So he asked the others later on and they all said "we didn't understand a word he said either ... but I think he wants to sign our band?!?"
As for Gardener's set, it was transcendent. He struck a good half and half balance between Ride songs and his solo work, the latter of which was dominated by his soon to be released collaboration with Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins. Playing with just an acoustic guitar and a loop effects pedal, he would loop his riffs and backing vocals to create a swirling, shimmering miasma of sound, which is exactly what you'd want a Gardener/Guthrie collaboration to sound like. You would expect "Vapour Trail" and "Twisterella" to translate well to an acoustic performance, based on their original arrangements. But Gardener particularly shined with some of his more ambitious adaptations, such as "In a Different Place" and "Polar Bear". His voice is in top form too -- stronger and more refined than in his Ride days.
The whole night felt like a VIP-only performance from an artist poised to make a big comeback in the next couple of years. Those of you were tickets to the Ride reunion shows are in for a treat.