Ilhan Erşahin’s Istanbul Sessions + 6 Hometown Heroes’ Greatest Gigs


There are certain concert experiences featuring hometown heroes that are widely considered baptismal for local fans. Think the Stones at Wembley, Fugazi at Fort Reno, or Iron Maiden at, er, some soccer stadium in South America. For Istanbullus, Ilhan Erşahin‘s now-and-then gigs at Babylon may not be quite in the same league, but these “Istanbul Sessions” definitely come close.

Although born in Sweden and based in New York, Erşahin’s Turkish roots are foundational to his music. In particular, the musician/composer champions a border-blurring vision of late-night cool that reflects Istanbul’s unique position astride two continents. This legacy of cross-cultural contact informs Erşahin’s aesthetic, which shifts seamlessly from downtempo and dub reggae to bossa nova and acid jazz, with Anatolian melodies often lurking just below the surface.

The main forum for Erşahin’s sonic vision is at his East Village club, Nublu, which hosts intimate live shows behind an unmarked door on Avenue C. However, Erşahin makes frequent visits to Turkey, where he gathers for “Istanbul Sessions” alongside a potent trio of Turkish musical heroes. This crack squad includes Alp Ersonmez, the bassist for Tarkan, Turkey’s biggest global star; Turgut Alp, drummer for the Queen of Turkish Pop, Sezen Aksu; and masterful percussionist Izzet Kizil.

Last weekend found the foursome in top form, as they wound their way through two hour-long sets of dark textures, complex rhythms and tightly leashed jams in front of a sold-out crowd at Babylon, one of Istanbul’s best live-music clubs. The rapturous response from the hometown crowd, which eventually spilled out onto the narrow streets and ancient cobblestones of the Beyoglu neighborhood, elevated the show to a plane somewhere above an ordinary Saturday night. This got me thinking — what are the quintessential hometown gigs? As usual, YouTube makes a few convincing arguments, but I know there are others. So how about it: What are the world’s best band-venue combos? Here are a few contenders.

1. Iron Maiden – “Run to the Hills” (Rock in Rio, 2001). Bruce is still louder than a quarter of a million screaming Brazilians. But just barely.

2. The Roots – “You Got Me” (TLA, Philadelphia, 2008). These Philly heroes are definitely best experienced anywhere but a liberal-arts college campus.

3. Fugazi – “Repeater” (Fort Reno park, Washington, D.C., 1997). DC’s best band, playing in a public park for free. The only illumination is a street light.

4. The Misfits – “Hatebreeders” and “Braineaters” (Plan 9 Records, Lodi, NJ, 1983). Live at Danzig’s record label in Jerz.

5. Björk – “The Dull Flame of Desire” (Langholtskirkja, Reykyavik, Iceland, 2008). Björk in an Iceland church is my idea of a religious experience.

6. Joy Division – “She Lost Control” and “Shadowplay” (Altrincham, near Manchester, 1979). Super 8 footage from a youth club in a Manchester suburb (since demolished). Posted by Ian Curtis’ widow?

In New York? Catch Erşahin at the Nublu Jazz Festival with I Led Three Lives (feat. Eddie Henderson) on November 6th and as part of the Wonderland quartet on November 14th.