Omar Souleyman / Basketball Bar None, Vancouver BC July 5
Published Jul 06, 2011A stroke of inspiration put Basketball and Omar Souleyman together on a bill. Both acts are little known outside of the home bases, Vancouver and Syria, respectively, and both perform worldly hybrid styles of dance-friendly music.
Basketball have an interesting sound, to say the least, incorporating Middle Eastern instrumentation, trilingual vocals, tribal techno, broken beats and speed garage bass lines into an overall dance-punk aesthetic. Granted, the four-piece aren't the tightest band ever, and frontman Tome Jozic can't carry a tune all that well, but they pull it off more often than not (not being when their songs overstay their welcome and succumb to numb repetitiveness). Their rhythm section propelled the beat, while Jozic scrambled around working the crowd. They created some nice moments in sparser sections, shifting to a more campfire folk mood when Jozic picked up a guitar and the warping lower frequencies dropped out.
Souleyman took the stage like someone who didn't want to be recognized, wearing his sunglasses at night and standing stiffly by his keyboardist. Souleyman is a legend in some circles. His catalogue allegedly boasts somewhere around 500 studio albums and live recordings, all amassed since the mid-'90s. Part of the charm of these recordings is their extreme lo-fi nature. Most of his work was only released on cassette, and the quality assured that no matter how good the system playing his music may be, it still sounds as if it's coming from '70s taxicab speakers, with an essential tension of Souleyman attempting to push those speakers into the 21st century.
Keeping with the recordings, Souleyman's live vocals are spot-on, maintaining the same delay and reverb-drenched timbre on every track. Yet, the keyboard presets and largely pre-programmed songs came through a club sound system with disappointing clarity, while the duo's lack of stage presence helped bring into focus how little they were actually doing for their performance. Few seemed to notice, though, as the crowd overtook the stage two songs into the set and formed dance circles, much to the bouncers' chagrin and Souleyman's increasing awkwardness. But Souleyman has to be doing something right to invoke such a mini-riot.