Concert review

Alt-pop star Noga Erez brings synthesized sound and politics to Jerusalem

Often called the the ‘Israeli answer to Björk,’ the Tel Aviv singer and producer melds electronic dance music with complex, thought-provoking lyrics

Jessica Steinberg

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Singer Noga Erez performs at Jerusalem's Hutzot Hayotzer fair at Sultan's Pool, August 23, 2022 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Singer Noga Erez performs at Jerusalem's Hutzot Hayotzer fair at Sultan's Pool, August 23, 2022 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Singer Noga Erez strode out on Jerusalem’s Sultan’s Pool stage Tuesday night for the final performance of her “Kids” album tour, which has sent her worldwide and now brought her back to Jerusalem.

“Hey there, Jerusalem,” called Erez, lithe and elegant in a boxy white jacket and black sports bra, her dark brown hair rolled into several buns on her head. “I don’t know if you’ve been at one of our shows, but you don’t sit.”

With a roar, the crowd rose to its feet, from those on the grass near the front to those sitting way up in the bleachers.

For the next two hours, Erez, often called “the Israeli answer to Björk,” strode across the stage, singing, rapping, moving with her troupe of 24 black-bucket-hatted dancers, jamming with her work and life partner Ori Rousso on the sampler and synthesizer.

Erez’s eclectic songs — composed with Rousso — are often short, heavily electronic in their swirls and turns of synthesizer and sampler, punctuated by electronic drums, but always sharp in their tone and messaging, once you catch the rhythm and wording.

She sings only in English, and has said that it’s hard to rhyme in Hebrew and besides, she wants to reach audiences outside of Israel.

It’s easy to grasp why this 32-year-old Israeli vocalist is drawing audiences globally, appearing on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and NPR, playing at Madison Square Garden, and getting an audience of 6,000 Jerusalemites — middle-aged and young, hip dads with babies strapped to their chests, men with tzitzit and women with covered hair tattooed folks — up on their feet as they jigged, moved and lip-synced along to Erez’s complex lyrics.

This unlikely blend of electronic dance music and pop has won a huge audience the world over. Erez has said that music is her way to process the issues that bother her and she takes it all on, from government surveillance and the media to sexual assault, social media, Israeli security and politics.

In “Kids,” the title track for her 2021 album, Erez sings:

Speak now, no bullshit-talking, gotta be now
No preconditions, gotta move fast
Take a seat, grab a pan, spread the map out
Do it now, big time
It’s your big time, remember ’67? Now forget that
Remember 9-fucking-11? Now restrain that
Get your head-fact sharp around the present
Speak now, speak now

In “Fire Kites,” she presumably sings about the incendiary balloons sent by Gazans into Israel, but she’s clearly not rooting only for Israel or for the Palestinians.

“I sleep on enemies and friends. If you were me, well, won’t ya? Whatever works, be sure it’s kosher – kosher. We don’t need bombs. We got fire kites.”

Ditto for “Dance While You Shoot,” an agitated, tense but eminently danceable tune about living a safe life just miles away from areas of extreme Palestinian conflict that helped win Erez a lot of attention when it was used in an Apple Music ad.

Erez has said in interviews that she’s been advised not to talk about what’s happening in Israel, particularly outside the country, but she’s clearly not paying much attention to that advice.

Instead, the Jerusalem Academy of Music-trained singer uses her music to talk about what it’s like to be Israeli, and her local audience turns wild with excitement about the possibility of having this cool, succinct figure up on the global stage, releasing thoughts and ideas similar to their own, to the world at large.

“There’s an amazing ability that music has to combine and reflect the duality of life,” said Erez in a 2017 Times of Israel interview. “We live in this duality, life on the surface can just be ordinary but under the surface there’s always something that exists that is not ordinary and not normal. That kind of gets into our lives in different ways. It affects the energy in which we live. I think music is the perfect kind of platform to express that duality.”

Erez brings that duality to her performances, where she belts out full ensemble pieces with her dancers, sits cross-legged onstage for a soulful new piece “from the pit of my stomach” and romps along the front row for a face-to-face sing-off with an audience member.

Noga Erez (left) and audience member Diana sang together at the singer’s August 23, 2022 concert in Jerusalem (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

She’s more polished now, with a record deal at Atlantic Records/Neon Gold, upcoming US tour dates and a vision about what works onstage.

Still, there was a certain kind of local flavor and familiarity to Erez at this Jerusalem show, part of the annual Hutzot Hayotzer craft fair.

Here in Sultan’s Pool, Erez could speak in Hebrew to the audience in between songs, without any explanation at all. At this show, Hebrew was the common language and everyone understood exactly what Erez meant with her lyrics.

And when she asked if she could “take this as hardcore as it gets?” the crowd roared approval. Noga Erez, industry baby.

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