Hanni El Khatib At Fig At 7th, Friday August 11th 2017
‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ screamed someone in the crowd during Hanni El Khatib’s mini concert at Fig at 7th, a shopping center downtown Los Angeles where summer concerts take place. ‘Yeah, Rock ‘n’ roll, the genre of music no one is listening to anymore’, joked Hanni. Does Hanni El Khatib really play rock ‘n’ roll? Sure he does, but it’s a bit more complex and subtle than straight rock ‘n’ roll of course. The first time I heard about him, he was releasing his 7” debut featuring a famous Louis Armstrong’s cover, ‘You Rascal You’, and the fire and energy he had put into the song immediately triggered my interest for this rocker with an exotic name. Since that time, he has released 4 albums, and his last work, ‘Savage Times’, is one of my favorite 2017 albums, it’s diverse, surprising and it covers multi backgrounds and influences from old school rock and soul to modern electro dance floors captured with an hip hop vibe. Yes it’s rock ‘n’ roll for the modern times, for these savage times, violent and tender, raw and desperate, bringing a disco ball when you would expect a knife fight.
So this person wasn’t wrong to scream ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ I guess, because ‘Baby’s OK’, the song he started the show with, is a a pure and euphoric rocking charging bullet song with its foot-tapping and bright guitar assaults, even when Hanni sings self-deprecating lines, ‘I’m a failure, I won’t lie/I am a failure but I try’.
On Friday night, he did plenty of songs of this last album, like the in-between-genres and desperately ironic ‘Gonna Die Alone’, but after the loud and chaotic fuzz of ‘Mangos and Rice’, he went further in his catalogue with older songs before exploring more of the diversity of ‘Savage Times’, The crowd was as diverse as his songs, although very young, enthusiastic and entirely devoted to the singer-songwriter – I spotted quite a few ‘Savage Times’ shirts around me – all singing, clapping and dancing. Hanni El Khatib can be a bit serious and an uncommunicative performer at first, truly absorbed by his music, but he loosened up little by little and started to smile much more, in particular during a guitar fight with one of his bandmates. He even jumped from stage during a song and joined the crowd who stayed very nice and disciplined, despite one drunk girl. I must say I had seen Hanni at one of these Echo Park Rising nights, and the crowd at the time was in fury, I almost broke a leg or at least tore a ligament, when it got stuck in a barricade which got pushed away by the very rowdy crowd…. Yeah, Hanni can certainly start a riot, but that was not the case this time.
If his performance had not the eccentricity of some punk rock acts I got to see recently, he is a hell of a guitar player, navigating between genres, and inviting everyone to dance during the funky disco dance party that ‘Paralyzed’ turned to be… these kids were more dancers than rioters and that was all right for once. However, a smell of danger and a real nervousness surfaced again during the loving rage of ‘Loved One’ and the road clap of ‘Pay No Mind’ ending into loud psy-distortion. During these last songs, El Khatib became really alive, totally in control of his music, breaking a few molds and performing ‘Family’ (We are family, family till the day we die’) with an urgency reflecting our anxious times… he came back for an encore with ‘Miracle’, one of my favorite songs of his album and the funky retro-dancefloor ‘Two Brothers’.
‘I have always dreamt to play at the top of a H&M’, he said at one point, just to remind everybody we were at the top of a mall, downtown LA, but that was alright, a mall crowd, safe and sound, enjoying a nice outdoor concert performed by one of Los Angeles most talented songwriters.
Gonna Die Alone
Mangos and Rice
Till Your Rose
This I know
You Racal You
Pay No Mind
More pictures here