Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Natacha Atlas at B.B. King’s, NYC 11/11/08

Early in the show, Natacha Atlas’ piano player Harvey Brough congratulated the crowd on the past week’s “historic event.” In the past few days, during a round of media interviews, “It was more exciting to talk about the election than it was to talk about the cd that just came out,” Atlas noted, more enthusiastically than sardonically. Perhaps feeding off the still-palpable excitement in the audience, she and her six-piece band delivered an often spellbinding mix of classic Lebanese film music, cabaret and what by any other word would qualify as psychedelia. In concert, Atlas comes across as witty, insatiably curious and quintessentially urbane, qualities all inherent in the former Transglobal Underground singer’s most recent work, particularly her excellent latest cd Ana Hina (I’m Here), reviewed here recently.


In addition to a marvelous three-piece pickup string section, a percussionist and Brough ably doubling on keys and acoustic rhythm guitar, the bassist had brought along a giant 8X12 cabinet, something you usually see only at big stadium shows. The reason soon became clear: since he was playing only by tapping on the frets, he needed all the amplification he could get. The band hadn’t brought along an accordionist, so he had a melodica perched precariously on the body of his bass, blowing into it through a long black plastic tube, often playing both instruments at once. Impressive, needless to say, especially considering that the tube was flopping all over the place when he wasn’t using it.


They began with several lush, haunting, sweepingly beautiful romantic songs much in the style of Fairuz, who’s clearly the main influence on Ana Hina. Onstage, Atlas displays considerably more lower register, and more bite, than she does in the studio, several times going into long melismatic passages that were very warmly received. They also ran through a bouncy noir cabaret number as well as a long, well over ten-minute, absolutely entrancing cover of Black Is the Color. Atlas and Brough explained that at their previous show on the West Coast, there had been some confusion over the origins of the song, and since Atlas had learned it from the Nina Simone version, she dedicated it to Obama, to a big round of applause. They delivered it slowly and hypnotically as a suite, the bassist providing a long, psychedelic chromatic harp solo in the middle before they brought it down to practically silence and then back up again where the violinist set it ablaze.


The highlight of the show was a soaring, plaintive version of Beny Ou Benak Eih, an iconic Hafez song that also appears on the new cd. They closed with a remake of an ancient, stately melody from the 1500’s whose original use was as a vocal exercise and a rousing Levantine dance number that finally provided Atlas, petite and inscrutable on her chair all night, with the opportunity to get up and bellydance and that predictably got the crowd going. They encored with an impressively dark rearrangement of the old Broadway standard What Lola Wants, What Lola Gets, the theme to the recent Nabil Ayouch film. The crowd, clearly more familiar with Atlas’ dance music catalog than the traditional material in the set tonight, was completely won over.

November 12, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , ,

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