Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review from the Archives – Alabina at Manhattan Center, NYC 7/31/99

[editor’s note: one of the things we inherited from our predecessor e-zine was a massive book of over a thousand, mostly previously unpublished concert reviews dating back over a decade. This was one of them. We’d post them occasionally to keep the front page fresh – this was back in the day when we weren’t getting 500 emails a day from bands and publicists. We plan to resurrect the feature soon. Til then, here’s Alabina…]

Tickets were expensive: almost forty bucks to see the Madonna of the Middle East, as the media has pegged her. Unsurprisingly, 99% of the audience were well-dressed Arab kids in their late teens and early twenties, most of them together in small groups. This may have been a sit-down show, but there was no lack of dancing, especially at the front of the stage. Everybody had come out for the party, and Ishtar and Alabina, her band of gypsies didn’t let anybody down. At their worst, they sound like the Gypsy Kings in an inspired moment; at best, they’re the creme de la creme of Arab dance-pop, with a decidedly traditional, acoustic edge. They played for about an hour and fifteen minutes, encore included: while Ishtar had a very good female backup singer to help her out (the Moroccan-Jewish frontwoman is in her late forties now, though it hardly shows), she still did all the lead vocals and wailed, though not as spectacularly as at her recent appearance at Central Park Summerstage.

They opened with a terse version of their self-titled hit Alabina, then played mostly new stuff including a cover of the Animals’ Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood which fortunately didn’t venture into Santa Esmeralda territory (a bit of trivia: they were the gypsy disco band from the late 70s who scored a minor hit with an interminable, seemingly 20-minute version of the song). They also played another hit, El-Salaama, without any spectacular vocal solos, though Ishtar did one furiously fast vocalese triplet on another number that left the crowd spellbound. The keyboardist played most of the songs’ chromatic motifs on string synth, although on a couple of slow ballads he used cheesy, lite FM-style, mid-80s DX7 settings. Fortunately, the strength of the melodies and Ishtar’s singing covered for the lameness of the textures. For the encore, they played the long version of Alabina, then Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and El-Salaama again, Ishtar belting fetchingly and masterfully, shimmying all over the stage. She’s in amazing shape. While it would have been nice to have seen this in a setting better suited to a contagious party vibe, it was still an excellent show.

July 31, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments