Technology with attitude

Balkan Beat Box and the Very Thrilled Showbox

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Imagine that bands existed in specific universes, the same way that there are universes for Marvel Comics, or the Happy Days spin-offs. That is, a certain connectedness between the players, common laws of physics, some harmony. I put it to you that Balkan Beat Box inhabits a specific universe. Their universe is populated with acts like Ozomatli, Firewater, Public Enemy, Lee “Scratch” Perry, and Charlie Parker.

By the end of the Balkan Beat Box concert the Showbox at the Market this past Tuesday, the sizable audience was fully committed to dancing, clapping, and making BBB feel welcome. By then, the concertgoers had seen a Klezmer band in Orkerstar Zirkonium, and an electronic afro-Cuban group in Palenke Soultribe. (Both of these bands exist squarely in the Balkanverse as well, by the way.) Palenke reminded me of an inverted Nortec Collective. Nortec is live brass on top of electronic beats, while Palenke is live drums with sequenced vocals and backing tracks. Some songs were more successful than others, but who doesn’t love a cumbia? These bands were engaging, and worthy lead-ins, but the real show was BBB.

Musically BBB is all over the place. The Klezmer sax fits exactly correctly over a clave beat, and the dub bass line make their songs fit right into a category you didn’t know existed. Now that you’ve heard it, you can’t believe you never thought of it yourself. The sax parts are all back keys, or near them. It’s like they never hit a specific note as much as cry their hearts into their instruments. It’s moving melodies lifted from centuries of weddings and funerals, melodies that hit you square in the pleasure centers of your brain. Sometimes it’s just stabs that sound like something Terminator X would spin, sometimes it’s sweet, sometimes funky.

No wonder the Showbox was full on a rainy Tuesday. Balkan Beat Box make music that coerces even the least jolly among us to nod approvingly and toe-tap. They did take an odd turn during the encore, going political and aggressive when everyone in the audience just wanted to jump and hold hands, but then, encores are victory laps, and all rules are off.