Asaf Avidan is one of the voices that comes along only once in a generation. The Israeli folk-rock singer-songwriter, and former front man of Asaf & The Mojos, brought his singular voice to the stage of the 9:30 for an intimate evening of heart-wrenching songs and humorous commentary on human nature and the nature of the universe. Whether he is holding a note at top range for nearly half a minute or holding a conversation with himself about a cheating man, Asaf Avidan is one of those artists perfectly suited for the stage.
The wonderful thing about Mr. Avidan and his music—aided by a cast of five other dynamic Israeli musicians—is how accessible and familiar it seems while being totally his own. Comparisons are often made between Mr. Avidan and singers like Leonard Cohen and Billie Holiday. These are apt, but in the live setting one can hear so many more vocal overtones in Mr. Avidan’s golden, shadow- voice. There is the gravel and heart-wrenching wail of Janis Joplin, the nostalgia of Jackson Browne, the seductive, swung drawl of Amy Winehouse, growl of Tom Waits, the soul-searching, road weariness of Bruce Springsteen, the deep timbres and evocativeness of Nina Simone, and the all-out powerhouse range of Robert Plant.
Musically, Avidan’s band channels the same music that backs many of the above singers, but channeled and combined subtly to make one potent musical mix. What makes Mr. Avidan’s band members just as remarkable as him is how they layer and construct each of their parts to seamlessly lock within each other’s. Every note, every lick, and every melody is tight and compact, there is no excess fat on these musician’s output. Even more impressive, and refreshing, was the range of sounds and effects that these musicians employed to build the sonic potency of Mr. Avidan’s set. While percussionist Michal Bashiri’s xylophone was quite refreshing to hear in the 9:30 Club and Liron Flora Meshulam’s keyboards ranged from soaring gospel tones to prog rock sweeps, the real secret weapon of the night were the cello bows employed by bassist Dan Bernard Zaitun and guitarist Zohar Geinzburg on the haunting, mid-set “Labyrinth.” The two musicians elevated their instruments to symphonic levels, shaking the rafters of the 9:30 Club with their eerily disturbing yet comforting sound.
As serious as Mr. Avidan and his band are about their music—at one point in the show, Mr. Avidan thanked the audience for putting up with him, explaining “What I do is very intimate and mysterious and egotistical – I do it for my own reasons. But you’re making this more than just a little guy crying his little heart out. You’re taking it with you and molding it into your own experiences and I love that”—he proved that he can also be quite the raucous comedian with a razor sharp wit. Between riffing on audience members declaring their love for him, cracking one liners about himself, and holding a full conversation with himself during a song intro, Asaf Avidan showed how a great front man should act on all fronts.
On Superbowl Sunday, as crowds flocked to the bars of U Street, a few hundred gathered in the 9:30 Club to hear and share in the heart-wrenching, superbly crafted songs of Asaf Avidan and his band. What they didn’t expect to get was his impromptu physics lecture: “It’s a ‘super ball kind of day so I’m gonna do a “super ball” lesson. We’re all little somethings that make up a big nothing – it’s like they teach you in physics, quantum theory and all that shit. They teach you how the universe is filled with dark energy and dark matter and all this dark shit…Shut up, I do have a point. If you ever find another something to latch onto, hold on to it.” Hold on to Asaf Avidan: He is a one of a kind voice and a one of a kind performer.
To learn more about Asaf Avidan visit www.asafavidanmusic.com