Sunday, February 8, 2009

Yiddishe Cup at the Ann Arbor Ark

The Yiddishe Cup in actionLast night my wife and I had a nice treat. The wigglers were being happily baby-sat and we were on the town, Ann Arbor, Michigan to be specific. Yiddishe Cup*, the clown princes of klezmer, were back for their annual circus, and that is not something to miss. Yiddishe Cup is a delight to see live. Their stage show chronicles and fractures the history of Jewish music in America, mixing pre-war European klezmer melodies with postware Yinglish Borcht Belt show tunes, 1950's Jewish Latin-craze Mambo's, and 1980's world-beat fusions, all in an off-kilter, good natured, get-the-back-row dancing melange that Mickey Katz would have loved. Have you ever seen a group of hora dancers break into an Irish jig? A straight up klezmer tune with a Hawaiian lap guitar solo or a Tuvan throat singing intro? I saw all that an more last night. Definately a show to remember.

And Yiddishe Cup is generous with their stage. Band leader Bert Stratton not only had his son Jack playing drums, a regular occurance as I understand it, but gave Jack stage time for his own band, hastily named "The Boychicks" just before show time. The Boychicks had time for two fine pieces, the first was well played but a bit stiff, focusing on the interplay between Jack's drums and clarinetist Jeff Simon's melodic runs. The second song loosened up and lept out, giving the foursome (which included Justin Douglas on guitar and Chris Hagar on bass) a lot more room to stretch and explore. I talked to the Boys during the break and am hoping to get a recording of that piece into my next podcast. Loved it. In addition to the Boychicks, Yiddishe Cup invited the excellent lap steel guitarist (and Ann Arborite) Gerald Ross to join them for the Hawaiian numbers and invited commedian Seymour Posner for a bit of Catskills Jewish humor. Posner, in particular, stole the show and left us in stiches.

I do have a few minor complaints about the show, but these fall into the 'your milage may vary' category. While I enjoyed the performance thoroughly, I also felt that it never quite came together. I'm not sure if it was the audience being too polite and concert-hallish (though there was some great dancing going on) or the guys taking a while to loosen up or the particular configuration of the band last night (the trombonist doubled on violin, often leaving the band a bit thinly supported by a rhythm section of just drums and keyboards). Whatever it was, I left the show wanting more in both the sense of wanting the show to go on another hour and in the sense of wanting it just a bit tighter. Like I said, though, your milage may vary. There were an awful lot of happy faces on the way out of Ark last night and a lot folks (including me) who were already looking forward to next years show.

You can find out more about Yiddishe Cup, including their tour schedule, their available CD's, and booking information at the Yiddishe Cup website, CD Baby, and iTunes. There are also a couple of funny videos chronicling Yiddishe Cup playing at a Jewish weddings at YouTube (Video 1, Video 2). Check 'em out.

* I got into a discussion with a couple of people about the origin of the term Yiddishe Cup. While I don't know the story of how the band adopted the term, here's an explanation of the term itself from Postitive Anymore, a blog on American dialects and Yiddish:
"yidisher kop," (it varies slightly in different dialects, and "yidish kop" is one such dialectal alternative) which literally means "Jewish head," and figuratively means "innate intelligence." There is a related expression, "goyisher kop," (gentile head) that means, not surprisingly, "innate stupidity." ... Don't be too shocked by the overt bigotry of these phrases; every culture on Earth has at some point decided that it is superior to all others; why should Jews be an exception? You don't have to like bigotry, nor, of course, should you, but our outrage at the presence of bigoted sentiments in the traditional stock phrases of a given language should be minimal."

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