ELIEZER BOTZER (center) and his Botzer Project. Photo: Brian Blum For over 30 years, the name Botzer has been synonymous with the founder of the Livnot ULehibanot (To Build and be Built) work-study program that began in the Old City of Safed. So it was a bit perplexing when posters began appearing around Jerusalem advertising the performance of Botzer at the Yellow Submarine music club. It turns out that the Botzer in question was not program founder Aharon but his son Eliezer who, at 32, is trying his hand as a fledgling rock star. Botzer the band plays an exuberant mix of religious rap and rock, with soaring guitar solos balanced by passionate ballads that sometimes call out directly to the heavens and, at other times, in the best Song of Songs tradition, play out on multiple levels: evocative poems lingering on the love between a man and woman, with the never-far-from-consciousness hint of God lingering in the background, like a hidden camera in the Big Brother house. Botzers song Mi Atah (Who Are You?) is a good example. The video clip is filled with scenes of urban America and birds soaring through clouds; the lyrics can be easily read both as individually contemplative or religious allegory. Again you are afraid to deal with the unknown, with yourself, putting on a face, as if youre in control of whats happening. Another era of denial. Botzers eponymous lead singer is a beast of a man a hulking giant at well over six feet tall, dressed in an all-black suit thats a couple sizes too tight, a black shirt and charcoal grey tie, with a velvet black kippa perched high on his head betraying the Breslov hassid he still is. While many ultra-Orthodox religious men sport some kind of peyot (sidelocks), Botzers are a wonder a cascading wall of hair that, if he didnt turn around to reveal a closer-cropped back story, one would not be entirely mistaken in assuming was the long hair of an 80s metal rocker. Add to this a long pointy beard and various scraggly bits and Botzer is, well, a bit scary on stage. First impressions aside, Botzer clearly has a talent for communicating his lyrics are multifaceted with infectious rhymes and he frequently sits himself down on a tall stool to tell stories between sets, mostly of a religious nature. Then hes back on his feet whirling like a man about to have an epiphany, epileptic fit or perhaps to reveal himself as the Messiah. The crowd at Botzers Jerusalem concert was, with a few rare exceptions, entirely religious. That suggests that, in at least its current form, the band isnt going to be attracting the same audience as, say, rockers Erez Lev-Ari or Ehud Banai, both of whom appeal to secular fans as well.
This weekend the pier is to host Way Over Yonder, an inaugural two-day roots-music event connected to the venerable Newport Folk Festival with performances Saturday and Sunday by Neko Case, Conor Oberst and Calexico. And Oct. 19 will bring the comedy-based Festival Supreme, assembled by Jack Black and his mock-rock band Tenacious D. The shows are part of what pier official Jay Farrand called “a larger effort to get people to take a second look at the pier to think of it not just as somewhere you take Grandma from Kansas.” But for Frank and Fleischmann whose respective companies, Spaceland and Rum & Humble, put on concerts at the Echo and the Hollywood Bowl, among other spots the activity also reflects their desire to establish a new home for music on the Westside, where a dearth of large and mid-sized venues intensified with the closing this summer of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. PHOTOS: Unexpected musical collaborations “People here need a place where they can gather in large numbers for music,” said Fleischmann, who pointed to high rents and restrictive permitting as reasons the Westside generally lacks such spaces. The century-old Santa Monica Pier, an instantly identifiable but historically significant landmark, makes for a complex solution to that problem. Jay Sweet, who supervises the Newport Folk Festival, said the pier appealed to him for Way Over Yonder because it’s an “iconic place that’s not a traditional music venue” similar to Fort Adams State Park in Rhode Island, where Newport has taken place since 1959. “There’s an overall vibe there,” said Cliff’s manager, Ernie Gonzalez, who added that the pier attracts an audience more diverse than at other venues. “I went to a show recently at the Greek Theatre with an artist who’s been around for as long as Jimmy,” he said. “And it was kind of the obvious demographic. But at the pier it was all across the board.” Yet there are also structural limitations the stage for Way Over Yonder had to be designed according to load-bearing considerations and the long-established reluctance of arty Eastsiders to travel west. Brandon Lavoie, who until recently worked as a talent buyer at Santa Monica’s Central Social Aid and Pleasure Club, remembered “literally going to the Echo on Monday night and begging the opening band to come play a headlining slot on Friday.” Still, Frank and Fleischmann say that turnout at this summer’s Twilight shows along with strong advance ticket sales for Way Over Yonder suggest that the pier is meeting a need, one they hope to cultivate with even more concerts in 2014. Farrand said he hasn’t yet decided how many gigs is the right number for a location that, unlike a club or theater, caters to a varied clientele.