Political or Not, Useless ID Brings Israeli Punk to Brooklyn
Left to right: Guy Carmel, Yotam Ben Horin, Yonatan Harpak, Ishay Berger
Photo by David Cameo
Following sets from obscure punk bands that wouldn't be known on the international stage, Israel's most famous punk export performed in front of about 20 people without a stage. Haifa-based Useless ID is touring the U.S. for the first time in years, and with little promotion for the show, their set at Brooklyn's Party Expo on Tuesday was rocking and fun but not much of a spectacle. Between the graffiti-covered, corroded walls of what was apparently once a party supply store, Useless ID blasted their pop-punk with the amps turned up to 11.
The U.S. is familiar territory for Useless ID. They have recorded their last four albums here and released the last five on U.S. labels. Singer Yotam Ben Horin, who frequently straddled into the pit while rocking out on bass, acknowledged that he was born in Brooklyn. He pointed out that he had attended grade school in Brooklyn with audience member David Cameo, who said that the school was then known as Yeshiva Rambam.
The eight songs played from Useless ID's 2008 album The Lost Broken Bones made up the majority of the band's set. "Night Stalker," from that album, featured an awesome guitar solo. "Turn Up the Stereo" and "State of Fear" (from the 2005 album Redemption) were very catchy.
On a day when Israel announced more housing would be built in East Jerusalem, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in the region meeting with leaders, and both Israel and Syria announced they would be pursuing nuclear power, I couldn't help but read a political message into some of the Israeli band's songs. Useless ID opened with "Mouse in a Maze," which includes the lyrics "We've fallen out with the world. Get used to the feeling." They ended the set with "State of Fear," in which Ben Horin sings, "State of fear, an explosion right outside my door. Well, it seems there's a lot of profit to be made from war." And in the middle of what Ben Horin called "three pretty fast songs in a row," the band played a political punk gem, "Misconception":
Our lives, one minefieldDespite my impressions, Useless ID does not portray itself as a political band. The band did not talk about the meaning behind any of these songs while performing. When I interviewed guitarist Ishay Berger in 2008, he said that the band is not overly political and that "Misconception" was the only political song on The Lost Broken Bones. Last night, he added, "I think it would've been smarter for us career-wise to be outspoken like that, but it's not natural for us."
There's more to this than two nations burning up
No one can save us once it's done
They've got an urge to ruin
Every step they're taking leads to worse
It's time we all take action
Because every word is a misconception
Out! Keep the soldiers out
The enemy is wearing a suit and tie
Doubt what they preach about
We heard it all and see it now
Resist! Our nation
Hides the past and makes the same mistakes again
We didn't vote for war
It seemed that Berger did not want to agree with several of my suggestions. I asked if Useless ID had more fans in the U.S. than any other country besides Israel, and he said he didn't know. I asked if he thought that American Jews might embrace Useless ID because they're an Israeli band, and he replied, "I don't think we're that much out there for the Jewish community to be aware of it." He said that they certainly aren't against playing for the Jewish community but that they haven't pursued that approach.
There was at least one issue where Berger and I saw eye to eye: vegetarianism. The band's members are all vegetarian, and they've said on multiple occasions that they are fueled by falafel. He didn't have high expectations for falafel and hummus in the U.S., which he had tried on previous tours, but he is greatly enjoying American veggie burgers and burritos on the current tour.