Beats Antique pulled out some special treats for their sold-out show at Oakland’s Fox Theater this past weekend. The glitz, glamour, and expansive performance could be credited in part to the fact that it was a hometown gig kicking off an extensive national tour, but the extra niceties were probably more due to the filming of their first-ever live DVD. Whatever the impetus for the powerhouse production, the opulence of the Fox Theater coupled with the sensational stage show, replete with a dozen dancers and special guests, made for a live music spectacle that was utterly captivating in its reach.
Immediately upon getting to the venue just as the band struck up their first song, I knew my height (5’3) was going to be a liability if I didn’t find a spot where I could actually see the stage pronto. I was getting so agitated trying to peer over all the heads in front of me on my tiptoes in the hopes of catching a glimpse that I could barely pay attention to the music and kept sloshing my drink all over myself. Finally I collected myself, physically and mentally, enough to make my way down to where the crowd opened up a bit and the heads cleared enough for me to steal an unobstructed view of the decadence that was unfolding on the stage. From there, I was treated to a performance that fused together dub-step and belly dancing, Balkan strings and glitch, horns and gypsy accordion, churned out by an ensemble cast of musicians and dancers for two-and-a-half hours beneath the grand high ceilings of the Bay Area’s most majestic music venue.
Beats Antique is the brainchild of producers David Satori and Tommy Cappel, who formed the project in 2007 and began to collaborate with belly dancer and producer Zoe Jakes, and the three work with a cast of supplemental musicians and dancers to bring their live show to its dizzying full potential. Beats Antique is also known to take their music to the laptop and DJ without the full assembly behind them. But it’s these fleshed-out shows that propel Beats Antique beyond the static scope of many of their contemporaries to transcend the limitations of mere one-dimensional music and performance art.
Sure, Beats Antique has developed their own hybrid of sounds and styles, making theirs a distinct flavor of music, but beyond the disparate ingredients that make up their sound what is perhaps most notable is how charged their performances are. They imbue their concerts with a production value that is intensely nuanced and well-delivered; it must have taken them weeks (if not months) of rehearsals to nail down this particular live show. Each song had completely different instrumentation, from string quartets to horn ensembles to drum successions (to those as distantly ethnic as tambur and glockenspiel) and they matched nearly every song with its own choreographed dance and costuming. Beyond the sensational and seductive belly dancing that accompanied more than a few of the tracks, they also brought a spectacular blend of cabaret, circus, and carnivalesque visual elements to the performance: Among them giant animal masks and dripping jeweled headpieces and surrealist folklore imaginings, raiments of expression and color and depth, each expressly selected and tailored to the fusion of sound it was meant to theatrically represent.
The high mark of Friday’s show (as mentioned, captured for posterity on DVD) is a testament to how far this group is willing to go to make an impact on their audiences. Moving beyond mere performance, Beats Antique marries distinct pieces of the wonder that can be found in music, art, and mystical foreign cultures and brings it all to the stage. So put on your comfy dancing shoes and find a spot where you can see… your eyes and ears are in for a treat.