July 12, 2011
Was I in Los Angeles last night? Or was I in a Syrian discotheque?
Omar Souleyman is a machine. He's been performing a mix of traditional Syrian folk and dance synth for 17 years, producing over 500 albums. This effort, while long, has not gone unrecognized; he's built up an international cult following. This show, for instance, was completely sold out. The floor was packed with people, shoulder to shoulder, and a line down the street waited patiently to see if they could still get in. Despite the density (or maybe even because of it), last night was a nonstop dance party.
he crowd pulsated on the very first beat. These beats were relentless: pounding, thudding, deep. From outside, it sounded like a rave! Through these bass anvils, Souleyman's musicians wound delicate habban (like a bagpipe) and synth lines. Traditional drums rattled along, filling out the spaces left by the main booming beat.
Souleyman's voice was laid over all of it. It slid poetically, rhythmically, around the music. He has a curious stage presence, moving around the stage with posture straight as a board. He punctuated his Arabic with little hand gestures. He clapped to the beat, and the audience followed; he frequently made a motion like he was beckoning people onstage, with a little flick of his fingers. Before long, a few people heeded this call -- small groups danced their way onto the stage, where they locked arms and moved around in a circle behind Souleyman.
The crowd was warmed up by Moon Pearl, Orange County locals. They did what they do best, which is messy noisy indie rock. This 9-piece band, complete with horn section, always veers on the edge of chaos. They would play a small hook, and with a yelp from one of their two singers, or a crash of cymbals, that hook would evolve into a fat stream of noise. Through it all, they remained melodic, and above all, fun.
Moon Pearl claimed that they wanted to end their show terribly, so they wound down slowly, throwing silverware and tambourines into the crowd before they landed on one last quiet peal of trombone. Souleyman, on the other hand, exited the stage with the same pounding dancebeat that brought him in. Like a train.
It might have seemed a strange pairing: a young garage band that turns small refrains into rambunctious jams, and an older international professional who reigns in his relentless dance music with a clean voice. Yet there's one thing that they both had, their common tie -- energy. Positive energy fueled the entire show, and you could feel it in the bodies dancing up against you.
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Critic's Bias: I love to dance. I hate being the only person dancing. Nobody did not dance. Excellent.
The Crowd: Diverse! Aging hipsters, college students, Angelinos, weirdos, and a significant Syrian/Arabic speaking population -- scattered groups of friends could be heard singing along.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Ariel Pink is here!" Also spotted in the crowd: Alan Bishop of Sun City Girls, and Henry Rollins.
Random Notebook Dump: Next door, queercore band Limp Wrist tore up The Echoplex alongside queer rapper Big Freedia. At the end of the night, people were pouring out of both venues sweaty and exhilarated.