Hanni El Khatib At Santa Monica Pier Twilight Concert Series, Thursday August 8th 2013
The first time I saw Hanni El Khatib, he was playing at the small club the Echo, just accompanied by a drummer, but on Thursday night he was headlining one of this free Twilight Concert Series at the Santa Monica pier with a full band, in front of a very large crowd. I had rarely seen such a crowd over there, and when he and his band took the stage, the pit was full of VIP/special guest people who obstructed my view despite the excellent front row spot I had found.
Khatib is quite the star right now, he didn’t speak much during his performance, but delivered his raw bluesy compositions like a pro. I immediately spotted a young guy close to me who was wearing a ‘Black Keys’ t-shirt and I thought that his recent collaboration with Dan Auerbach on his ‘Head in the Dirt’ album may have brought him an even larger audience. In any case, he didn’t need any of this, on stage he had the stature of someone who knows what he is doing, a presence that doesn’t need any artifice, and he plays his songs with new arrangements and extra guitar solos.
A few girls on my right were really into the music, dancing and singing along, and when they had the occasion, they jumped over the barricade to join the VIP crowd in the pit, soon followed by a bunch of other guys. The security came a little late to prevent this, but it sure demonstrated a real passionate fandom,… I have to admit that Hanni El Khatib is quite good looking, with a lock of dark hair in his forehead and tattooed forearms, he has the look and swagger of an all-time bad-boy and uses his guitar like a roaring vintage motorcycle.
However, the concert didn’t start as I expected. May be it was because I could not recognize any of the first songs he played on Thursday – is it possible he has so many new songs? – may be it was my constant struggle to see above the people’s heads who had crowded the pit, may be it was Khatib’s voice which sounded a bit strained from all his recent touring, but I couldn’t totally get into the music. But he suddenly announced a song by the New York band The Cramps (‘Human Fly’), then I recognized a few songs I had heard many times, and we got in full rock’ n’ roll mode with beach balls bouncing back on our heads. The serious head banging around me started a little bit later, and a wave of danger was floating around.
During his famous rendition of ‘You Rascal You’, he was trashing all over the place, and it seemed there was no limit to the possibility to stretch his songs… However, Khatib had more than one trick in his hat and he could also produce these less aggressive bluesy songs, but as poppy and catchy as ‘Penny’, without losing any sex appeal. ‘Loved One’ started with a long country-bluesy jam before these sonic explosions and echoed vocals. The band played a lot with the anticipation behind a few stop-starts and these songs sounded really great live, with people stomping their feet on the distortion of ‘Fuck it You Win’ and bouncing all over the place during the doo-woop-y ‘Dead Wrong’. They closed their set with an encore and the song ‘Family’,… ‘We are family, family until the day we die’, sang Khatib and he disappeared… he said he hadn’t played in Los Angeles for a while and hearing the young crowd’s enthusiasm when he left the stage, I can tell they had missed his raw and powerful sound. One thing is certain, now that he has teamed up with Auerbach, nobody will be able to accuse him of ripping off the Black Keys,… unless Jack White hear about him. Watching him playing guitar like a wild maniac, Khatib should actually watch his back, since White could well accuse him to be a ‘copycat asshole’ too!