Controversy is this Israeli bands cup of tea

Kobi Oz might have made headlines with a song called “Push the Button,’ but pushing his buttons is not easy. The frontman of the Israeli band Teapacks can be the picture of calm, especially when taking in the panorama outside his Tel Aviv apartment window.

That is not to say he never gets angry. He’s mad about the state of the world. He’s mad about Kassam missiles endlessly pounding his hometown of Sderot. He’s mad about global warming.

Bay Area fans will catch some of that heat when the band performs two local shows, one Sunday, Oct. 14 at S.F. club Ruby Skye, and another the following evening at U.C. Berkeley’s Pauley Ballroom.

Instead of pitching a fit, Oz channels his righteous anger into song. That’s what he did with Teapacks’ anti-war anthem “Push the Button,” which stirred controversy last spring when it became Israel’s entry in the annual Eurovision Song Contest.

Eurovision is roughly equivalent to “American Idol” in terms of pop-culture impact in Europe.

Considering the lyrics too inflammatory, contest officials at first disallowed the song. But the band stood its ground and won the right to perform it in Helsinki. The song didn’t win the competition, but it put Teapacks on the map. And it earned the venerable band some much-deserved respect.

“It was very strange for us,” recalls Oz. “Eurovision is like a bubblegum competition. For them [the song] was like a Molotov cocktail. We didn’t want to fall back into the image of a compromising kind of provincial Jews trying to please the world with nice music and lyrics. We took a stand and they folded. So for us it was a victory.”

The controversy heightened the band’s international profile, leading to 1.5 million hits for the “Push the Button” video on YouTube. It was the world’s introduction to Teapacks’ fusion of Middle Eastern pop, rock and what the group calls “dirty-disco flavor.”

In Israel, the band is an institution. Together since 1988, Teapacks was one of the first Israeli ensembles to incorporate Arabic musical styles. Seven albums later, band members are pop heroes in Israel, with both Arab and Jewish fans.

“We are very pluralistic,” says Oz. “We are very proud to have this dialogue in music. Israel’s music should be in the center of the world because we are in the center between Europe, Asia and Africa. If the music resembles too much the European style, we would bore ourselves to death. It doesn’t go well with the heat.”

Oz certainly knows about heat. He hails from Sderot, just a short Kassam rocket ride from Gaza, in southern Israel. Though the town routinely makes the news these days, when Oz and his bandmates were growing up, they had the sense most of Israel paid little attention to Sderot.

Yet a thriving music scene emerged there. Now, it breaks Oz’s heart that his hometown is under attack. He even organized a rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, drawing 40,000 people protesting the barrage. Despite it all, he does not allow himself to hate the Palestinian attackers.

“The big success of Jews all over is the ability to forgive — not to forget, but to forgive. We forgive a lot of evil stuff that happens. If I have something to wish for the Palestinian people, they would do the same. If they would have some forgiveness and less vengeance, they would live better.”

Meanwhile, Teapacks keeps doing its part to make the world a better, funkier place. The band completed its first album meant for an international audience, with several songs performed in English. The Bay Area dates are part of an extensive U.S. concert tour that also takes Teapacks to Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Washington, D.C., Boston and Philadelphia.

The local shows are co-sponsored by the Israel Center of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, The Hub of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay, Berkeley Hillel and JIMENA.

Wherever they go, Oz promises, Teapacks will rock the house and stir the soul.

“This is not music you can play in coffee shops,” he says. “We are more like rock ‘n’ roll Afro beat with a punk influence. It’s noisy and you can dance to it.”

Teapacks performs 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14 at Ruby Skye, 420 Mason St, S.F. Tickets: $10-$30. Also 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15 at Pauley Ballroom,

U.C. Berkeley. Tickets: $5-$25. Information:

(415) 512-6203.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.