The opening band is the Kinder surprise egg of the music world. For the benefit of our American readers, a Kinder surprise egg is a chocolate egg that has a bonus toy inside. A kid choked on one once and your government decided they were more dangerous than automatic weapons and banned them. Sometimes you get a disappointing four-piece puzzle, sometimes a little figurine, but once in a while you get a really cool and innovative toy. The Buttertones fall into the latter category.
I felt like I was watching Joy Division and Nick Cave taking a moonlit drive listening to the soundtrack of a Quentin Tarantino film. I guess with members named Modeste Cobian, Dakota Bottcher and London Guzman, you’ve got to have some intrigue. They mash together a stylish mix of doo-wop, punk, alternative and goth into a surprisingly cohesive mix. They were surprisingly playful and pulled off the great feat of connecting with a crowd that wasn’t there to see them.
The main event was a man I’m surprised isn’t a household name. When you hit the scene with a debut produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, you’ve got to expect big things on the horizon. When your music starts appearing on hit television series like Californication, Suits and Gotham, you’re primed for the big time. So why is he still playing small venues half a decade later? I honestly couldn’t tell you. The only thing I can think of is that his name, Hanni El Khatib, doesn’t exactly scream raunchy rock n’ roll. I for one applaud his decision to honour his Palestinian roots and sticking to his birth name, unlike so many others who’ve adopted stage names.
El Khatib hit the stage with a huge smile and immediately started shredding his guitar to “Baby’s OK” from his latest Savage Times Vol. 1. His skill with a guitar is instantly apparent on this fast-paced garage rocker. I’ve always thought of him as Jack White’s understudy and the comparison holds up live.
He’s a rock historian. He plays his cover of the 1945 Louis Armstrong classic “You Rascal You,” then hits 70s style disco-infused “Paralyzed” and follows it up with “Dead Wrong” where you can almost hear Del Shannon’s 1961 hit Runaway. He visits grunge by way of blues. He does all of this while staying true to his sound.
You can tell he loves playing music. It shines through not only in his playing but his crowd banter. He invited people up on stage, asking them to sing if they could. He even challenged people to sing along as he played Ja Rule’s “Always On Time” on guitar. He came out into the crowd to jam and solo on “Family.” He was walking around the crowd posing for selfies without missing a beat.
It was 90 minutes of straight rock n’ roll and then he came out and had drinks with the crowd, seemingly appreciating their presence as much as they appreciated his performance. And it was a great and energetic crowd for a Monday night in the upper plateau. Next time he’s in town, don’t bother reading my review, go check him out for yourself!