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JMR Concert Review: All New Miami Experience II

If you missed the second all new Miami Experience, fear not.  The first thing that struck me as I walked into the auditorium was the video cameras.  I counted five of them, including a really big one mounted on a really big pole that must have been twelve feet high.  Clearly there is another Miami DVD in the making so if you weren’t able to make it to Brooklyn College last night, don’t worry.  You may have missed an enjoyable evening but it looks like this one will be coming to your local Judaica store sooner or later.

The doors to the auditorium didn’t open until 7:30 PM, so when I got to the hall, there were plenty of people milling around and there was lots of schmoozing going on.  Someone made a serious effort to keep the ticket process organized.  When I went to the will-call line to get my tickets, a gentleman there asked me my name, and instructed me which window to go to, but did not allow my daughter, my date for the evening, to go with me to the window.  With only one person at a time being allowed to go near the four will call windows, picking up tickets was a smooth and orderly procedure.

The concert was scheduled to start at 7:45 PM, but clearly that wasn’t going to happen.  By 8 o’clock the lights were dimmed slightly and the audience was treated to a double feature from the night’s sponsor, Pomegranate.  Both videos were reruns from MBD’s Kulam Ahuvim concert, the first titled “The Pester Rebbe Goes Shopping”, showing Yoely Leibowitz making the trek from nowheresville to Pomegranate.   Shockingly enough, people actually sang along with the second video, which featured the bizarre yet catchy Pomegranate song that debuted at the Kulam Ahuvim concert.

At 8:07 the seven band members of the Shirainu orchestra came out, the lights went down and emcee Yoely Karr came onstage and introduced  the first act, the stage debut of talented singer Yoni Zigelboum.  While Zigelboum didn’t seem like he knew what to do with his hands, he certainly knew how to wow the audience.  This guy has such a  mature, rich voice that it is hard to believe he is still a few years away from being legally allowed to purchase alcoholic beverages in the state of New York.

Zigelboum’s first song was Avraham Fried’s Hesech Hadaas, from Yossi Green’s 8th Note, and he was energetic, enthusiastic and really got the night off to a rocking start.   He dedicated the next song, Miami’s Sunshine in memory of his grandfather who was niftar less than two weeks ago.  This song really gave Zigelboum a chance to show just how beautiful his voice is.  His last number, Miami’s Nikadesh was also nice and it is clear that Yoni Zigelboum is on his way up.  Whether or not he makes the jump from wedding singer to solo artist remains to be seen.  If Zigelboum hooks himself up with the right people and gets the right songs, I can see hearing a lot more from him.

I know that this was a Miami concert, but I think that Shloime Gertner was just as big a draw as the boys choir.  (While emcee Yoely Karr announced that this was Gertner’s first performance in New York, ask any boy who was in Camp Rayim last summer and they will tell that Karr was sadly mistaken.  Gertner’s first New York concert actually took place in Camp Rayim, last summer.)   Gertner came out, bekeshe unbuttoned, waving to the crowd, looking very much at home on stage.  He began his first song Nissim the title track of his debut album, with the English part of the song and by the time he actually started the song at the beginning, it was clear that the crowd was loving what they were hearing.  Gertner is one of the few performers who sound just as good live as they do on an album and he just got better as the night went on.  He followed up with Hashomayim and Ashrei Mi from his new album, Say Asay, and when he finished, someone screamed out “Happy Birthday” from the balcony.  Gertner told the audience that today was actually his wife’s birthday and his is tomorrow and he offered the audience a choice – first singing Irving Berlin’s traditional Happy Birthday but then he sang  the Happy Birthday part from the song of the same name on his album, then changing the lyrics to “Happy Pesach”.

Gertner’s last song was Kodesh from his first album, and it was truly beautiful.  I am wondering if Gertner’s daughter, for whom he composed the song was in the audience, because unless my eyes deceived me, he blew a kiss at someone in the audience when he was done – something I don’t think I have ever seen before.

Next up, Miami Boys Choir.  The boys took the stage among swirling lights, directed at the audience, making it very hard to see anything – a technique that was repeated several times during the night and quite frankly, was a little disturbing.  A new concert series means new costumes, this time French blue shirts, black pants and silver ties with a black design.  By my count (and it is hard to count boys that keep moving), there were 23 boys.  Many new faces, some of them quite young and adorable, with ery few older boys, probably not more than five or six.  Sadly, while he did make an appearance, Yoshi Bender, the heart and soul of MBC in recent years is no longer part of the choir.  It is clear that a core group of boys who have been a major part of the choir have all gotten older and moved on and that Yerachmiel Begun is going to have to spend some time cultivating this new crop of boys.

The boys started with a medley of oldies:  Shiru Lo, The Simcha Song, Bisyata D’shmaya and Shabbos  Yerushalayim, then they followed up with Me’im Hashem.   The sound sounded a little off to me and during many of the solos, in particular, the sound seemed to come in waves, where first you could hardly hear the soloist and then the microphone seemed to kick in.  This problem seemed to go on the entire night and while at first I thought the boys just weren’t holding the microphones properly, I don’t think that was the issue as the problem seemed to plague the more experienced soloists as well.

After that, Begun took a few minutes to tell the audience that Ultimate Miami, a collection of all of Miami’s English songs, is expected to hit stores somewhere around Lag B’Omer through Shavuos.   Clearly Begun is trying to drum up excitement for this album as there were numerous English songs sprinkled liberally through the concert.  Even more exciting was the  news that Miami is expecting to release a new album sometime between Succos and Pesach next year.  Begun introduced a new song from the album, Hatov, a pretty slow song, with nice harmonies, that was classic Miami.  The next number, Ayom V’Nora from Yovo was done by only 16 of the boys, clearly the ones who had been there longer and knew the choreography.  The really cute little ones were all noticeably absent.

This was not a short concert and it was clearly time for intermission, a chance to grab a drink, stretch your legs and see who you knew in the room.  Lots of music people in attendance, including superstar Lipa Schmeltzer, producer Avi Newmark and composer Elimelech Blumstein, just to name a few.

I was hoping to hear more of Yoni Zigelboum after the intermission, but it was The Alumni (minus one member) who took the stage next,  singing Klal Yisroel Together, followed by a new song, Avarcha, with Menachem Klein on the piano.  A new song?  A new Alumni album?  Other than the concert poster, this is the first I am hearing of this.

Shloime Gertner returned with the title track of his new album, Say Asay, which was very, very good, even if Gertner came on stage a few beats late and started in the middle of the song.  Once or twice during the song, there were moments where I wondered if he lost his place because he seemed to be ad libbing, but that could just have been a way to try to keep it interesting. By far the best part was when Gertner ended the song.  The music died out, but Gertner kept going, a capella.  It seemed to me like he was hoping the audience was going to help him out and sing parts of it with him, but they didn’t.  It was Gertner singing alone, and without the band, it was so clear what a simply beautiful voice he has.

Gertner took a minute to thank Begun for inviting him to appear in the show and went on to thank his producers, Yossi Tyberg and Gershy Moskowitz for all their work and acknowledged his good buddy, Lipa Schmeltzer, who was in the audience with his wife.  The same heckler called out “Happy Birthday” from the balcony, but Gertner didn’t sing the song instead, choosing to say “Happy Pesach” and move on.   Gertner’s final song was Im Ein Ani Li Mi from his first stage and the audience was truly sorry to see him leave the stage.

Would the night have been the same without another Pomegranate video?  Apparently not.  This one featured the choir wearing Pomegranate shirts and hats, dancing to Yovo all over the store – at the freezer case, up and down various aisles of the store, in the produce section and even dancing at and on top of the check out lines.

Indeed, both the boys and Begun showed up on stage for the next number in their Pomegranate attire, with Begun the proud owner of a Pomegranate jacket and cap, as they launched into Miami Moshiach.   After that, Begun pulled up a stool, thanked Pomegranate for their sponsorship and introduced a Kiruv medley, which the boys apparently sang as well earlier in the day at Great Adventure, which was rented out for the day by NCSY.  Is it good for the boy’s voices to be doing two concerts in one day?  Unknown.

Anyway, back to the music.  Boys dressed in white shirts with yellow cumber bunds and matching bow ties wandered out onto the stage, each singing a few lines, first of the 1978 Miami Song, I Want To Know, followed by One By One, from 1995.  At the end, Begun introduced most of the boys on stage, who in the spirit of Kiruv turned out to almost all be related:  the Hershkowitz, Jacobson, Ayal and Abramowitz brothers.  The other boys on stage were clearly the best voices in the choir and if memory serves me correctly it was Yair Kenig, Moshe Yaakov Braun and Yehuda Gorkin.  While Kenig and Braun are both older and are probably in their last performance, it seemed to me that Yehuda Gorkin could potentially be the new face of Miami.  But I don’t see that really happening as despite his small stature, Gorkin is already 13.  Who is the future of the new MBC?  Only time will tell but it is clear that the choir is in a state of transition and that Begun is going to have to work with this current crop of boys to get them where he needs them to be.

The next number was a fast song called Melech from the upcoming album and from what I heard last night, I am hoping that Begun can wave his magic wand and give us another solid album that is vintage Miami.

Begun came back on stage, this time seated at the piano,  with Shloime Gertner returning to the stage.  They sang the old Mihayra which was beautiful, though it seemed to me that Gertner’s timing was not quite the same as Begun’s.  From there, they moved into Mihayra from Yovo, and the choir came out on stage again, still wearing the bow ties and cumber bunds, but with the addition of black jackets.  Gertner sang a slower rendition of Say Asay, which was pretty, though nowhere near as good as the song at its original tempo, with some light ooooh’s from Begun and the choir.  Yoshi Bender came out, dressed to match the choir, amid cheers from the crowd, and Begun asked Gertner to sing the Miami song with the words “Say Asay”, the beautiful P’sach Libi with Bender joining him in a duet for a few lines.  As was common during the night, the sound on Benders mike was not up to par and you never really did get to hear much of him, though his presence on stage was definitely a plus as he seemed to really galvanize the choir, making it seem somehow fuller and more imposing.

More English songs to whet our appetite for Ultimate Miami:  We Need You, (with the crowd chanting for Lipa???), followed by the 1991 song, originally sung by Gershon Veroba, The Hand of Hashem.  Finally after a very full concert, the boys did the t’chiyas hamaysim thing again, which always freaks me out, laying down so that they could be resurrected by the very exhilarating Yovo, one of my personal favorites.  Again, Yoshi Bender joined the choir and there is no question that anytime that kid walks out, he positively owns the stage, even if you could hardly hear him sing.  By the end of the song, Begun came out on stage, this time wearing his hat, as he exhorted the audience to get on their feet.  Clearly everyone was enjoying and they did just that and the concert ended at 10:42, on a high note, with everyone clapping and singing along.

What would Chol Hamoed be without a Miami concert?  I hope we never find out.

[Review by Kol Isha for JMR]