Review by Kitty Drexel
(Somerville) Asaf Avidan is compared to Janis Joplin and Billie Holiday. The timbre of his voice has similarities to that of the Joplin rasp and the warmth of Holiday, Avidan’s voice is vulnerable and striking in a way uniquely his own. Joplin and Holiday were distant from their audiences whereas it appeared that Avidan sang as if he wished to become one with us through his music.
He is expressive like Rufus Wainwright at approximately two octaves higher. His lyrics are poetry like John Cameron Mitchell’s. Avidan’s bluesy, folksy glam rock is reminiscent of Bowie. Although the names of others are used to describe him now, one day his name will be used to describe the style of others.
In his concert on Sunday, Feb. 22, Avidan voiced the thoughts of his audience, “why does he sound like a girl?” Avidan doesn’t sound like a girl. He sounds like a countertenor; a vocal category with a centuries of rich history and infamy. Countertenors replaced the castrati when castration for musical purposes was made illegal in 1961. You see, boys weren’t allowed to reach full physical maturation. Mr. Avidan, as indicated clearly by his lyrics and presence, has. His naturally high voice makes him singularly distinct. He’s a vocal unicorn.
The concert featured selections from his latest album Different Pulses and other fan favorites. I highly recommend listening to his album on iTunes or Spotify. One should also check out his YouTube channel as the CD tracks do not capture the voluptuous virtuosity of his live performance. In concert, he was able to procure genius using a harmonica, kazoo, percussion and a guitar that he strummed like a lover.
There were occasional moments when an audience member could get jarred from the performance zone. Avidan’s passionate shrieking sometimes spliced the air like a bird of prey on the prowl. It wasn’t his musicality but the formant of his voice that disrupted the performance. His voice is resonant and could be disarming to the untrained ear. It is not unpleasant, merely unexpected.
Comparing Avidan to female-vocalists (or any vocalist really) does him a disservice. As his voice, in all its factions, is his own. His is a full-throated instrument with a vulnerability that pierces hearts and minds all the way to the back row. Avidan asked the audience several times if we were having a good time. Mr. Avidan, we were silent because we were in awe. Basking takes a lot of energy and focus.