Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I Hate Myself for Loving Hanni El Khatib

I've posted about my complicated feelings about Hanni El Khatib before, but they just keep getting more complicated. If you weren't paying attention you could mistake his deal for the same kind of flavorless, self-satisfied blues rock wood shedding of The Black Keys or the senseless blues flatulence of John Spencer's Blues Explosion. And while Dan Auerbach did produce the new track below, Hanni is much more interesting than that guy.

I saw Hanni El Khatib play not long ago at The Knitting Factory and it was fucking fascinating. He plays songs inspired by raw blues and maybe a little rockabilly and a lot of them are about fucking and loving and hating with lyrics like "do the knife fight" and you want to him to totally freak out and tear the roof off and he just doesn't. He plays a great show but his approach is so controlled and cerebral, you start to wonder if he's doing it to torture himself or the audience.

If he just got up there and performed the songs and then left, it would be boring, but that's not what he does. He engages the music fully. He's intent and focused like the audience isn't even there. It's like rock 'n' roll is a model car he's carefully painting or a really nice girl that he doesn't want to screw things up with. He puts his whoops and ad libs in at just the right (and expected) moment. The whole time I was just thinking, what are you doing man, and why? So, you know, he definitely had my attention the whole time.

What if he can't freak out? That's a kind of awesome negative capability in itself. I want to be like "dude you are doing it wrong. It doesn't have to be so elegant and stylized like that. You can do it for real. It's not a dead language." But, I can't, because he's actually really good just the way he is. He writes these really well-designed and, more importantly, well-aimed little museum pieces that stop just short of kitsch. And then there's this current of real feeling that always comes through, seemingly in spite of himself. This new one, for instance, is kind of killing me.

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