Arts, Culture & Media

Israeli Rockers Red Band More Than Raunchy Muppets

The core of Red Band is made up of three guys. First there's Red, the lead singer, who has fluffy hair and big sad eyes and a killer, 1970's mustache. He's also purple.

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Then there's Poncho, who has a soul patch under his lip and is usually wearing sunglasses. He's yellowish-orange.

And finally, there's Lefty, with his bushy beard, thick eyebrows and a receding hairline. He's blue.

Red and Poncho and Lefty are puppets. They're made of felt. They only play covers, and they're really raunchy.

I met the Band before a show in Tel Aviv. I wanted to hear their back story. Hear how they went from street performers to having their own popular television show.

I wanted to hear how they were able to convince some of Israel's biggest pop stars to perform with them. But the problem was, the guys behind the puppets, Ari Pepper, Michah Duman and Ami Weisel wouldn't talk to me out of character.

It wasn't until weeks later that Ami Weisel, the guy who plays Lefty, sat down for a real interview, as himself.

Ami told me that he and the other two guys met while they were students at Tel-Aviv University. The Band started informally, like these things often do. Guys getting together to play some music. And then they began hand-making their own puppets, and started performing with them on the streets of Tel-Aviv in 2005.

One day they were messing around with the puppets and playing that famous Country Joe McDonald song, "The 'Fish' Cheer / I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag". ("One, two, three, what are we fighting for").

During the song, a woman came up to them, offended by the anti-war song, and she started fighting with Red. She was yelling at the puppet, not the puppeteer.

"I remember how powerful it was that she was only confronting the puppet. Not confronting us. The shield was working, Ami Wiesel remembers."

Soon after that, the guys moved from the street to cafes. And that's where a couple of well-regarded television producers, Aviram Buchris & Li Yardeni, saw them play.

"They came up to us and said, we like this, we're TV producers, let's talk and we did. We met the next day and immediately the code words were Spinal Tap and South Park. That established the combination of having something that's unreal but that's pretending to be real. And the South Park part was about the language. The combination of sophisticated humor with dick and fart jokes," said Wiesel.

A year later, the show, also called Red Band premiered on Israel's Hot Network.

The concept is that the band is reuniting in Israel, after a 30-year hiatus. They're back to relive their supposed glory days as rock stars. The show is shot expertly in mocumentary style.

Red Band ran for two seasons. And Ami tells me there's probably more to come.

One of the reasons the show has become so popular is that from the beginning, they were able to attract the biggest names in Israel rock and pop to perform with the band on the show. The first episode featured Shalom Hanoch, kind of the Israeli Bruce Springsteen.

I think the most compelling thing about Red Band, more than the music and comedy, though, is just how fluid the puppeteering is. The way Red grabs the microphone off its stand or the how he looks back at Poncho during a guitar solo, you almost forget he's a puppet.

During the live show, the puppeteers wear microphones and do all the singing live. They're backed by a full band.

The television show has catapulted Red Band from street performers to actual rock stars. Now they're selling out clubs in Israel and playing shows all over the world.

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