Of course it is past my bedtime but my dad asked if I could sew his torn pants for shabbos tonight and they are in the drier as we speak (still torn) so I have some time to share thoughts.
Music. The Jew-music that is, at worst not horrible, and at best AMAZING. Do not expect to see any oyoyoy here, I don’t do that kind of thing.
The first band that gave me hope that there could be a brighter future for jewish music was The Briskers…they aren’t around anymore and later became The Blue Fringe Band, which quickly morphed into Blue Fringe, which is probably THE big name in semi-mainstream decent jewish music. Ok, The Briskers was really just Dov Rosenblatt and a bunch of his yeshiva buddies (their shanah bet, I think?) who got together and recorded a demo-type cd and who played at the infamous YESHIVA BATTLE OF THE BANDS…yes, this was the BOTB that girls were NOT allowed into, but planned on chilling outside and listening to the music. I THINK it was supposed to be held at the now defunct Holy Mountain Pub but the location changed at the last minute so that the girls couln’t find the place.
Anyway, The Briskers were funky with their Dovid Melech that morphed into Dave Matthews and then back again, and of course the song that made Blue Fringe famous – Flippin’ Out. I will now here admit that the first hundred times my friends and I heard the song, we thought the line “pritzus city” was really “Pizza City” and sang it as such. Almost 7 years later this is not as embarassing as it once was.
By the way, my copy of The Briskers CD – Seven Hours Later, is all scratched so if anyone has a copy out there that they are willing to make me a copy of, I will be SO GLAD. Specifically, the Lost in Time track is so dead that I only hear fuzz.
I happen to think that the guys of Blue Fringe are quite talented (yes, some people say its canned music but frankly I think they have expanded from this. Darnit, who cares, its catchy anyway.) Fave cd – Seventy Faces. Fave song – Shir Hashirim. They jam the heck out of that one and I love it.
Moving on, the next band that followed them in my journey to decent jewish music discovery was Aspaklaria. Now,I had heard them once incedentally in concert in my youth and enjoyed it but I didn’t really pay attention. Post shanah aleph, my friend got ahold of their cd and something sounded familiar and even though the recording quality was sort of ghetto and the dude’s voice was not your typical smooth sound, I liked it. Fave track was Mi Adir which of course everyone wanted sung at their wedding. Aspaklaria actually went through two incarnations, the second of which doesn’t really fir chronologically here but I will stick it in anyway. The band went through a major overhaul, everyone except the lead singer was replaced, and they put out a newer and much better second album. At my advice (I know, how influencial am I?) they put a website together and actually had a fan list and everything before the band-members got bored and quit. Bummer. So their stuff is still floating around in record stores but probably won’t be forever so snap them up quickly.
After Aspak (“spin the aspak!”) I OF COURSE have to mention Matisyahu. My friend heard him play at Penn State before anyone had heard of him, and called me from the concert SCREAMING. I looked him up online. The ‘Hasidic Reggae Superstar’ spelled “chassidic” in a funny sort of way but his music was so good I couldn’t tell it was jewish. And when I finally got around to listening to the lyrics, I was BLOWN AWAY. He is blessed with AMAZING writing ability, and he uses it to make a kiddush Hashem, which is really the best way to use his talent, after all. I had his demo cd and FINALLY made it to a concert – the first concert he gave after his wedding was the day after they finished sheva brachot. It was a double show at Joe’s Pub in the city, and my friend and I hitched a ride with some random people, intending to go to the first show but it was GASP! Sold out! So we got tickets to the second concert later that evening.
My friend had never heard of Matis OR his music, she was totally trusting me, which is impressive because our musical and stylistic tastes rarely match. And yet when we left, she had her “that was the coolest thing EVER!” face on, and talked about it for ages afterwards. What struck me at the time was:
- The crowd was the strangest and most random group of people ever. Around 43% were your typical lubavitchers, in frummie frummie gear, except for a few random lubav dudes in t-shirts (I remember one guy in an orange shirt who was dancing up a storm and was probably either one of Matis’s yeshiva buddies or a REALLY REALLY enthusiastic fan. He was cool though. ) Then there were like, 11% random frum people (more M.O. style, and then there was me) and then everyone else was either not frum or not jewish. I thought it was soooooooo bizzare. I had never heard of the Carlebach phenomenon before (you know, when non-jews get into jewish music) so I just thought it was REALLY REALLY ODD…which brings me to my next point…
- In between sets, when Matisyahu was talking to the crowd, at some point, he said to the audience, “so, I just got married last week…” and someone in the back (it was either orange t-shirt guy or one of his cronies) yelled out “MAZAL TOV!” and all of a sudden all the guys in the room, frum and secular together, grabbed him and started dancing him around in a ‘huge’ circle around the room. And all of the girls, even the ones in their little tanktops, intuitively slinked back against the wall and stayed put until they got Matis back on stage. I thought that was funky as all heck.
- Above all else, what struck me MOST was this. I don’t know if he still does this because sadly this was the first AND LAST Matisyahu concert that I was able to attend, but…you know how at most concerts, when the lead singer is introducing the band, he’ll stop for a minute and stand there, kind of glancing over at the band member of the moment(BMOTM) while BMOTM has his/her solo and waiting for the spotlight to be back on them? Well, when Matisyahu was introducing his bandmembers, and as each of them would have their solo, Matis would introduce them, then sit down on the stage facing whoever was playing in that moment, with this look of sheet admiration and appreciation on his face. The man is HUMBLE. I realized that he DOES that which he is singing about, and that made the whole experience so much more meaningful.
Anyhow. Fave cd – Live at Stubbs (His first CD just lacked that energy that he had live, it was a real disappointment when it came out, and Live at Stubbs totally made up for it. Though Youth is a close second.) Favorite song – a toss up. I really liked his OLD version of Close My Eyes but that version could only be heard with quicktime on the internet years ago (*sniff*) and is now nowhere to be found, he totally killed the tune on the album version and every one since then and since it is unlikely that neither you nor I will ever be able to hear that song again, I go with Aish Tamid, its got that little beatboxing/performance poetry moment that I love so much.
Now of course, once I am mentioning Matis, I also have to mention the OTHER jewish reggae music that I discovered, although I have not yet been able to get ahold of the CD anywhere (see what happens to French Jews? They go missing!) The artist is Kayama and the CD is called Mussareggae and you can listen to snippets of it here but please do not make me miss the opportunity to buy it by beating me to it if they get ONE MORE in stock. I like Kayama even though he has a totally different flavor than Matis, more mellow and less expansive in his musical style but I appreciate it in its glorious simplicity.
Now here is where things get kind of fuzzy on the chronological front, as everything sort of started to meld together to a certain degree.
First of all, the Meditations CD by C Lanzbom of Innosense/Soulfarm is amazing, its soothing and makes excellent pre-shabbos or pre-tefilah/meditation music. My mom wanted to buy a gift for her anti-religious cousin, and for some reason I convinced her to get this CD and anti-religious cousin lady loved it and is apparently OBSESSED with it. She called my mom to say that she has it on repeat in her car and NEVER wants to shut it off EVER. Soothing instrumental, if you want to know what we’re talking about here.
After that comes Beyond Eden. Now, I heard of them when the dude from the band e-mailed me on Frumster ages ago. We never ended up going out, but I did end up with a new favorite band. Of course, they are disbanded too (how many jew bands stay together? Its not so easy to make a living that way, and its hard to make the music a priority when you only have a tiny fan-base. Three concerts and you’ve played to all of your fans and now need to start working on new material again. Its very hard to sustain, I would imagine.) A lot of people have challenged me on this one, but I think Beyond Eden is one of the most musically and lyrically brilliant bands out there, again one of those situations where you wouldn’t know it was ‘jewish music’ if you did’t listen to the lyrics, and certainly I think they were good enough to have made it in the mainstream music scene, but they weren’t around long enough. (Yes, I know, run-on sentence alert. What can I do? I get enthusiastic!) They have a really eclectic sound, with funk and rock and punk and just…everything. Its all good, there is something for everyone, I think. Fave song (I can’t comment on my favorite cd since the only one I have been able to get ahold of is “On the D”) is Battle in Exile, with Three Steps Back as a close second, and Better Days as a third.
Shortly therafter, I was thinking back to another Jew band I used to be into (Yad, good, not amazing in my POV but why not give it a listen? They have a couple of entertaining if not musically fantastic songs, like “It Only Takes a Minute” and the dude from the band is REALLY NICE. I mean, REALLY REALLY nice. He GAVE me a cd for free just because I asked to buy one. ) and I remembered reading something in the liner notes about a band called SkaKotel. Now, I like puns, I like ska music, and I thought that conceptually the band MUST be brilliant. When I first heard of them I had gone on a mission to find the band. The only lead I got was a guy who e-mailed me telling me that there were no CDs and maybe one guy has a tape somewhere but “I have no idea how to get in touch with him” so that was the end of that. But last year, I decided to look again, and – TA DA! I found one of the dudes. I think they were at Yeshivat HaKotel in ’97-’98 or something when they put the band together. Now they’re all off and married with babies and stuff so they don’t play music anymore. But the dude GAVE me 2 tapes for free. That was really nice and the music was good and he also e-mailed me a few MP3s so if you want to hear that music be in touch and I will hook you up. Hello, the album is called Me’ein Olam HaSka!!! HAHAHAHA! I especially like the song “I Wanna Be a Tzaddik” (“I wanna be a tzaddik, wanna give out mussar left and right…I wanna be a tzaddik, I wanna know the Shas in my sleep. I wanna be a tzaddik, and Hanoch Teller will write books on me…”)
Its late. To be continued….