Yula Beeri and the eXtended Family at Santos Party House. Bill Kotsatos.
ISRAEL, USA | Daniel J Gerstle, with videos by Yula Beeri and the eXtended Family, and photos by Bill Kotsatos, May-June 2010
Listen to this glowing tune called “Kriss” while I tell you about the most seductive world traveler music I’ve heard in a long time...
A friend got in the mail a thing that made him happy happy
Going out he started shining bright;
It’s nice to be surprised like that it makes you go around like that
To get a thing that you forgot about;
Learn to be happy for the people who love
Learn to rejoice in their joys
If they can fake it baby baby fake it til you make it
We learn and we fail and we learn
I. Yula Beeri, a sultry, spiritual young punk angel from Tel Aviv, and I have been meeting for coffee at Variety on Graham in north Brooklyn. She told me the reason she was one of those rare Israelis who have seen war but refused politics was best described by the story in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s book, The Fools of Chelm.
According to Hebrew legend, when angels populated the Earth, one ran into a mountain and inadvertently spilled all the idiots in one place, Chelm. Singer’s version of the story tells how the head idiot calls a meeting to solve hunger, only for the effort to result in wars with their neighbors.
Ultimately, a party of women resolves the mess by telling the men that all their politics have brought is more trouble, and now it’s time to just shut up and live peacefully. Yula’s pre-incarnation may have been the leader of that party of women.
Of course, Yula’s brief allusion to Chelm only compelled me to accuse her kindly of being apolitical for political reasons. After all wasn’t she becoming a powerful cultural force, what we had titled her the last time we had coffee, the “Romantic Punk from Falafelstan”?
Amid Yula’s yearn to live Bohemian love and peace in New York, and to leave behind all the arguments in her native Israel, she was becoming a rally point for other romantic punks who loved her dearly, who traveled to see her in New York or Austin, who waited, bated, around the US and Israel just to hear her when she came to town.
II. Yula’s an extraordinary singer and performer I’d describe as an Israeli-punk hybrid version of Kate Bush, Fiona Apple, and Tom Waits, with a rare, light version of Eastern Mediterranean humor.
Beyond Race’s Lauren Casselberry wrote that “Yula’s theatrical flare brings her more cabaret-infused songs to life. Her grandiose gestures and eccentric, self-assured, movements exude a charismatic, edgy aura."
Yula’s hive say they are an “all-embracing, breathing, ever-morphing poetic tribe.” The group is centered around Yula and her tall, thin, sweet-as-pie and dreadlocked boyfriend, and drummer, Isaac Gardner, but also includes a round robin of the following menu of players: Stefan Zenuik of the experimental Latin brass band Gato Loco on sax, Kevin Taylor, and Kate Campbell. Also, joining in are Taylor Gallasi on cello, Yoed Nir, Alex Asher; and filling in the hive are Kriss Marchena, Roee Zach, TJ Olsen, Mornography, and many more.
Yula’s young booker, Kriss Marchena, the namesake of her new single and an impressive force of charm and eagerness for a man his age, will nail down a concert date, and whoever among the hive are able to come are the band for the night. It’s a freestyle jam collective that is oh so rare these days.
Nevertheless, the hive not only premiered at Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village in February 2009, but has since played a residency at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, rocked the South by Southwest event in Austin (along with other HELO performer friends Lachi and The Boxer Rebellion), and toured the southern US and Israel.
After her big solo premiere at Le Poisson Rouge, one new fan going by the name of TellTaleMse responded to the eXtended Family’s Youtube concert clips with: “The first time I ever heard her stuff, I seriously had my mouth open throughout the entire song, ahah. Call me stupid or say I’m exaggerating, but I mean it. I was really blown away by her stuff.”
Although Yula’s played with the near-mythical World Inferno / Friendship Society, the Star Fucking Hipsters, and Nanutchka; ran in the same circles as cult favorite Amanda Fucking Palmer and pop starlet Regina Spektor; and already in her mid-twenties carved out a deep following; she claims that she hardly listens to music herself. What influences? She’s too busy making music, trying to pay rent, or trying to carve out time with her friends to listen to music.
Only now, just on the precipice between going broke making music, or actually making it as a singer, she’s starting to be discovered, by hundreds, now thousands. And that was exactly how being vocally apolitical became a political act, I told her that day over coffee. She disagreed, and we fell into debate.
Before you come to your own conclusions about whether music culture itself is political, aside from any hidden messages or socio-lyrical statements, take a step back and get to know Yula Beeri and the eXtended Family with me, the way they celebrate life with their audience through songs of apolitical social commentary. The story of how I met her begins, bizarrely enough, in her bed.
III. One morning I awoke to find myself transformed into a twenty-something Israeli pop singer named Yula Beeri. I sat up alone in a tornado of pillows and a bronze-colored douvet to look around the room: Headphones, with squiggly wires all over the place, microphone cables, candles, books with Hebrew titles, a compendium of Walt Whitman poetry: Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling..., a top hat, figurines, and a closet full of lady’s clothing I dared not see for fear my libido would explode.
At this point I remembered my morning dream, the usual dream I had in which I was looking for love in some apocalyptic war-scape. It reminded me that I was actually an American war and peace journalist, the struggling editor of HELO Magazine. Definitely not a young woman leader of punk angels, as much as I might have wished to be, ha, ha!
My cell phone buzzes. I pick it up. It’s Yula, calling from the road in the south. She, her band leader slash boyfriend Isaac, and hive have been traveling by van from New York to the South by Southwest festival in Austin. Now she was coming back home suddenly, and I would have to move out.
We had met when I responded to a Craiglist posting for a room. I was waiting for my new place to open up in north Williamsburg, and she had a perfectly-timed sublet period for her flat on Graham. The morning she and her group left for Austin, she handed me the keys and gave me a big hug. I did sense that she had that tractor beam that people of charisma have, but I wrote it off as a factor of it being six in the morning, and all I wanted to do was cuddle up and go to sleep. Her group took off, and I found myself in her apartment alone. It dawned on me to go to her website.
Climbing into her bed that morning, I typed in www.YulaBeeri.com. White screen. A little bumble bee leaps out of nowhere and smashes a guitar with the sound of a high hat crash. The site opens and leads me to a few YouTube videos. The first one I hit, “Thumb Cinema,” reveals her sitting at the piano at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge. Here it is, just press play.
IV. “Magical,” Yula's flagship tune and the second song I heard [linked below], is one of those songs that is so complex that one has to listen to figure it out, then it becomes addictive. "On and on, life goes on, you and me are magical..."
At a relatively early age, Yula and her band contributors have transcended four-bar, four-chord, refrain songs so common among young bands, particularly those with punk roots, and reached a high-level of melodic maturity. From the first shake of the rain stick in "My Cane" to the final bass slap on "rlc," Yula travels the entire length of human vocal range in a sweet and spicy collection of tunes she calls romantic punk.
"We learn we fail and we learn," refrains the upbeat, mandolin-backed single, "Kriss." In "Crazy," Yula tells of discovering oddity on the beaches of LA. "My favorite was an old drunk man playing an acoustic piano on the side walk, a little piano tied to his leg with a rope like a dog. Did he think the piano would run away sniffing other pianos?" The chorus rings out, "I love when all the crazy people call the other crazy people crazy."
The only cover song, the Spanish tango, "Silencio," reveals Yula and layers of backing Yulas warming the heart like a young Cesaria Evora in the intimacy of your living room. Buy the album and listen to this one; your eyes will water.
Live at the eXtended Family’s premiere of its new album The Dark Side of the Bee at the Santos Party House on April 23rd, Yula Beeri and the eXtended Family were energetic, tight, and truly engaging. Yula had the kind of stage presence that made you want to watch her closely. HELO Photographer Bill Kotsatos captured one of these moments; see the story lead photo above.
“We have to check the sound,” she says as she takes the microphone in the red light of the stage at Santos, “so tell us, what do you need more of, what do you need less of?” The small crowd of devotees screams a hundred things at once. “More what?” A few voices crystalize.
“Ahh?” Not sure what to say, she smiles and moves on. “Well, thank you for coming to celebrate with us. We have this new album which was recorded in just twenty-four hours, so now we are celebrating with you it’s birth.”
Picking guitar strings, she premieres the album with her song, “Come to Think of It,” singing, “There’s no force in the world that can keep me away from you...”
One moment she’s with top hat on bass, then joking in the mike, then asking a friend to come up and sing, and finally she settles at the piano, launches into a quick number, the brass joins in, she kicks off her top hat, her hair falls wildly around, and all the men and lesbians in the room swoon while the others dance.
The crowd was full of those lovely misfits who are fans of earth, harmless, and full of passion; punks, nerds, “none of the above”, and even a number of mainstreamers. Most knew the words to her songs only weeks after the release.
V. No band is perfect, right? Perhaps she’s wooed me with her hugs and coffees, and “my dears”, and sultry gazes, sexy performing, and Cesaria Evora slash Kate Bush stage presence. Maybe I’m too smitten by the tunes to tell you objectively who this singer and her band are behind the good tunes, but I try.
If you doubt Yula and the eXtended Family, stop whatever you’re doing and play this clip below. And if it touches you in the least, buy her album, load your iPod and play it while you’re driving across the horizon. Then, if you’re still not a devoted fan, you can say I’m full of shit.
In the meantime, I’m going to read up about the fool’s city, Chelm, and the party of women who finally brought the peace.
Yula Beeri and drummer Isaac Gardner at B-Side after the Santos show (and yes, that's editor Daniel J Gerstle in the blue on Yula's right). Bill Kotsatos.