Sunday, October 18, 2009

Daniel Kahn & Painted Bird w/Psoy at Temple Israel

Daniel KahnWhew. It's 12:30am I've got to get up for work in the morning, but I'm too wound up from seeing Daniel Kahn and Painted Bird to go to sleep yet. In case you've missed my previous mentions of Khan, he's a Yiddish folkie, with a strong mix of Brecht-influenced cabaret and klezmer mixed in. He's a solid songwriter with an outstanding band. And when not singing from the Yiddish socialist/anarchist revolutionary songbook, he spins tales of whiskey and parasites (both the human and the animal types). What's not to love.

Tonight was my first chance to see him live, though I may get a chance to see him again on Tuesday at the Ark in Ann Arbor. The show was at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, MI, a huge Reform synagogue. How huge? Kahn was cranking, the crowd was cheering, and we still managed not to bother the wedding on the other side of the synagogue. That huge.

It's easy to sing Kahn's praises. He's the front man and lead songwriter, right? But I want to make sure I give credit to the rest of the band too. They gave the music a depth and verve that was joy to listen too. They swung easily from moody theatrics to military march to New Orleans jazz, all while holding the dark klezmer feel intact. About half-way through the set my wife went into trombone bliss, and looked up with a far-away look in her eyes "I love that instrument." Yeah. I'm with you, sweetie.

Here's a video of Daniel Kahn and Painted Bird (a slightly different line-up) playing the title track of his new album.

Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird - Parasites

PsoyFor the last couple of songs, Kahn and Painted Bird were joined on stage by "multilingual poet-singer" Psoy Korolenko, who recorded with Kahn and Oy Division on the recent album "The Unternationale." I'd never heard of, or heard, Psoy before but I was blown away. He has a formidable voice and presence. Best of all, he's currently an Artist in Residence at the UofM, so I'll be able to meet up with him and see him perform a few more times this fall.

Sympathy For Whom? After Mick Jagger, by Daniel Kahn, Psoy & Yana Ovrutskaya

After the show I was able to grab a few minutes of Kahn's time to chat about Jewish music. My question, which I'm starting to ask the Jewish musician's I meet, is whether or not they feel like they are part of a Jewish music scene. From my vantage point on the side lines, there seems to be a scene developing where different strains of Jewish music are starting to intertwine. I was fascinated, but wasn't surprised, by the complexity of Kahn's answer. First of all, Kahn was a bit put off by the question. It was clear that he'd been involved in way too many abstract and personal discussions about Jewish identity and authenticity to really want to get into it with me tonight. (Also, to be fare, the guy had just finished a tiring set and was chatting with me while packing his gear). He's a guy who doesn't feel particularly religiously Jewish, but was drawn to a klezmer and Yiddish folks for the funky music and politics they represent. At the same time, his experiences living in Berlin prompted him to start writing songs that examined and presented his Jewish identity if, for no other reason, to stop having to explain it to everyone individually. So no...he doesn't feel part of a Jewish music scene. He happily plays with other Jewish bands or musicians at festivals or when it seems like a good idea. Some of his band members are Jewish and others aren't. He also happily plays klezmer shows, folks shows and cabaret shows and what ever else seems like a good idea. He sits at the intersection of a number of scenes, but not a general Jewish scene.

All of this, by the way, is a fine answer to the question.

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