The Black Eyed Peas — will.i.am, apl.de.ap, Taboo, and new member J. Rey Soul — performed at Jerusalem’s Pais Arena Monday night, the first major international show in Israel since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
It was an appropriate choice for the long-awaited return to the concert stage, with group mastermind will.i.am a longtime friend of Israel, from his Jewish lyrics and friends to investments in Israeli technology. This concert, in fact, was partially sponsored by Israel’s IMPROVATE innovation conference, which featured him as a panelist earlier in the day.
During the show, will.i.am gave a shout-out to producer Yonatan Goldstein as an example of his “mishpocha” (family). Goldstein co-wrote or co-produced much of the Black Eyed Peas’ latest album, and produced their collaboration with Israeli musical duo Static & Ben El Tavori, “Shake Ya Boom Boom.”
will.i.am extended that family feeling to the concertgoers, calling the Israeli crowd his mishpocha, lauding Israeli soldiers and front-line COVID workers, and expressing his desire to play for Palestinians, before launching into the Black Eyed Peas’ massive hit “Where is the Love?”
Ahead of the concert, the BDS-supporting Artists for Palestine UK released a statement calling on the Black Eyed Peas to cancel the show. “By acting in accordance with the wishes of an occupied and oppressed people, you could show the world where the love is,” the group said.
At a press conference earlier in the day, will.i.am explicitly rejected calls to boycott Israel.
“I’m a musician and a tech enthusiast and people like our music,” he said “Do I turn my back on people that live here because of politics? No, that’s not the way we were built. So, you know, there’s beautiful people here as well as beautiful people in Palestine. And one day we want to go there too.”
On Monday night, will.i.am tried to show that he’s got enough love for everyone. He and Taboo made love hand gestures when speaking about Israel and the Palestinians.
Before their next song, the wildly popular “I’ve Gotta Feeling,” with its Judeo-friendly lyrics — “Fill up my cup (Drank)/Mazel tov (L’chaim)” — will.i.am told the crowd about performing the song in Muslim-majority countries such as Malaysia and hearing tens of thousands of fans chanting “mazel tov.”
Flanked only by drummer Keith Harris, guitarist George Pajon, Jr. and backing tracks, the group ran through some of their biggest hits — “The Time (Dirty Bit),” “I’mma Be,” “RITMO (Bad Boys For Life)” — and it was noticeable how the progressively electronic, futuristic and utopian elements of their music mirrors will.i.am’s own deep dive into tech.
Since their first few albums that were immersed in alternative rap and r&b, the Black Eyed Peas have almost exclusively been making party music for party people — save for the 2018 throwback hip-hop album “Masters of the Sun Vol. 1” — and the lion’s share of Monday night’s performance was in that vein.
Throughout the show, concertgoers were heaving their phones at the performers, hoping to get the shot from the stage for their personal photos or their Instagram stories.
It was an enthusiastic crowd that knew the words to their biggest hits, and showed their affection with love hand gestures and by getting up to dance.
The Black Eyed Peas later had the crowd hold up the flashes on their phones, which flooded the arena in a sea of white dots.
The Pais Arena, with a capacity for over 15,000 people, was mostly full and attendees were required to present their Green Pass to order to enter. Despite the growing concern over the Omicron variant, many people took off their masks once inside.
AP contributed to this report.
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