Balkan Beat Box, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA – 6/10
Gorgeous, flawless summer days in the City by the Bay are so cherished due to their infrequency that the desire to take full advantage of them is universal, and met by all those capable of doing so. Early June came bearing such weather-based gifts, and residents responded by fleeing their apartments and migrating to the best patches of greenery to swallow up sunrays. While opportunities abounded city-wide to accomplish this, few spots offered a more unique afternoon than Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where Balkan Beat Box delivered an invigorating set of globe-trotting tunes to cap off a daylong celebration honoring the Jewish faith but welcoming anyone looking to celebrate life.
Balkan Beat Box, with their decidedly unique brand of politically-driven, Middle Eastern-rooted electronica, brought a sense of urgency to the stage from the start, and did plenty to keep those present engaged as they unleashed a barrage of hard-hitting anthems and danceable beats. Leading the charge was front man Tomer Yosef, who rarely took a second to breathe as he bounded vigorously around the stage, spewing his inciting lyrics with conviction and even shifting over to a slam on some percussion at times for further support.
While Yosef was most immediately noticeable in activating the crowd with his rallying cries, especially seen in such numbers as “Urge To Be Violent” and “Political F**k,” what gives Balkan Beat Box their identity is their mixed bag of influences. Strongest of all, as should be expected, two saxophones (one manned by BBB founder Ori Kaplan) blared sonorously to establish the gypsy-like flavor that’s so characteristic to Middle Eastern music styles. But the international influences didn’t stop there, as other songs dabbled in bass-driven reggae and dancehall, punk bordering on thrash metal, and even some touches of old-school hip-hop. Bringing it all together was an array of electronic beats, samples and hooks that were always evident, but more prominent in the overall sound at certain spots than others (e.g. one track that sounded something akin to “Hava Nagila” getting a glitch-hop remix treatment, easily one of the top moments of their set.)
Hinging primarily on selections from their most recent studio effort, Give, and bringing non-stop bursts of energy to the eclectic audience made up of so many different types, the most notable track of the day was the upbeat, uplifting “Part of the Glory,” which proclaimed, “We are part of the glory, part of the fame/Part of the story, part of the same.” Of all the many calls for celebration this day, including the amazing weather, this one was for each other.