I saw The Klezmatics at Town Hall on 1/20/18. You might remember I did an interview with Lisa Gutkin this summer - - she had co-written the music for the Broadway play *Indecent* and has been a member of the Klezmatics since 2002. You can find my interview with her on my site under the INTERVIEWS tab.
The concert was a fun mixture of straight up klezmer music and what I would classify as other genres (folk, jazz, neo classical) with a klezmer flavor. The audience was enthusiastic and adoring.
One of the things I loved the most was the clever overlapping of the musicians in the group - - the bass player also played hammered dulcimer, the clarinetist also played saxophone, flute, and bass clarinet, the trumpet player also played keyboards, the accordion player also played piano, and everyone sang. This gives a lot of flexibility in instrumentation, with only six people in the core group.
They had a few guests: pianist Fred Hersch is a poetic jazz pianist, a beautiful, inventive player. He played on what was my favorite song of the night, a ghostly waltz from *The Dybbuk,* a play by Tony Kushner for which the Klezmatics wrote the incidental music.
The second guest artist was Holly Near. Her name was vaguely familiar to me, I have the feeling she played Madison back when I was living there. She totally fits the profile for Madison, she's a strong, ebullient folk singer with a fierce sense of social justice. She sang a song that she introduced as currently being more or less about Puerto Rico. The song was called "Are You Kidding Me?", and the refrain was:
Are you kidding me?
Are you kidding me?
Are you kidding me?
Or are you just losing your mind?
She added "Mister President" to the last verse, which got applause from the lefty audience. But not from one guy, who started heckling her when the song was over. He, in turn, was heckled by his surrounding audience members and it turned into quite a heated exchange. Holly Near laughed from the stage and said, "This is the sound of democracy!"
The final guest was Natalie Merchant, who I know best as the lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs. I listened to *In My Tribe* NON FREAKING STOP when it came out, so it was a special joy to hear her live for the first time. She did a song that she had recorded with the Klezmatics on her *Leave Your Sleep* album. They had never performed the song live, so it was a special occasion for them, too. It was a lovely song about a dancing bear, and she sang it beautifully, danced around a little bit. She's lovelier than ever, she has long, long grey hair down to her waist and was wearing a beautiful dark grey dress with some kind of folk element happening on the skirt.
She did a song from the Klezmatic's Grammy-winning *Wonder Wheel* album, "Gonna Get Through This World." The song is tricky rhythmically and Merchant got derailed a little bit in the first verse. She stopped singing but the band didn't stop playing. She said, "Help!" and Lisa walked up to her microphone and picked up the vocal line. Merchant came in and Lisa sang the rest of the song with her, gently supporting her. I think Lisa may have stopped singing altogether by the end of the song, when it became clear that Natalie felt secure in what she was doing. They neared the end of the song and Natalie hurried offstage before the song was over and didn't come back.
I felt bad for Natalie, I know how devastating it can be to screw something up in performance. But it didn't bother me at all to see her do it - - if anything, it added a special poignancy and humanity to the song, and I was touched that Lisa responded so quickly to her call for help. On the day of the Women's March, it was a beautiful show of sisterhood.
They did a few other songs. I think Near came back for one last song. And let me tell you, they are a KILLER band when it comes to high intensity, manically fast klezmer music. Lordy, you feel like you're being thrown right into the cosmos.
I'll leave you with a video of the title song from their new album, *Apikorsim.*