VMAG (Northampton, Massachusetts)
, December 1999
"In September, a close friend of mine somehow convinced me to schlep all the way to Somerville to go to a club and see a band. No mean feat, given my recent track record of avoiding even the Valley's much-lauded-and-beholden-to-a-lone-booking-monopoly night life. So, you think I would caravan all the way out to Somerville? Well, my friend begged me in a most distasteful manner, so schlep I did.
Thankfully, all my bitching about the drive came to naught when I heard Klezperanto, the band in question. Klezperanto appears to be another band riding the current crest of the klezmer revival, but not really. Because they rocked.
Klezmer has always been a tough call for me. While I am fairly open to so-called "world" music, I have a fairly short attention span for much of it. I like reggae and I like polka, two kindred forms you'll find lumped in the same "world" bin in some stores, and both avoided by the teenaged customers, but even with these I won't last a whole concert or CD.
The same goes with klezmer. While I generally will love a klezmer tune, after about three or four songs, I'm kind of yaidle-daidled out. While it helps that the hora is about as jiggy as I get with it on the dance floor, even the user-friendliness of the associated dances wears thin with me. There is a plethora of klezmer bands out there, particularly in our blessed valley, and they are all fighting the good fight of preserving the traditional tunes. Still, I just can't imagine getting down with many of them for an evening on the town.
Enter Klezperanto, which managed to rock at Johnny D's Uptown in Somerville. Perhaps Eclectperanto or Ritalin Shmitalin would have been better names for this band, because they managed to at once excite and soothe my short attention span. The band starts from a base of klezmer, kind of like a pizza starts with tomato sauce: but, oy, the toppings. The disparate elements of klezmer, jazz and rock combine in such a way that I falter at describing their sound. Think of klezmer without the cheese, think of jazz without the blahblahblah esoterica, think of rock without the I'm-too-hip-to-have-fun stance. The unifying theme of this gumbo is the incessant desire to dance that it creates.
At turns loaded with melancholy, moxie, piss and vinegar, the band ran the gamut of styles - rock, gypsy, jazz - enough to keep my ADD-addled pate humming. There's more history here than you standard middle-school-educated rock critic can assimilate. In particular, the combination of surf guitar and a klezmer flourish had me mesmerized, or klezmerized, thanks to the talents of a certain wizard of the strings named Brandon Seabrook. Maybe I've led too sheltered a life, but I've never seen a man play a banjo with a wah-wah pedal before. Cool. Also holding my attention was accordion player Evan Harlan. Admittedly, I'm an easy sell for the accordion (as certain street musicians know), but what he could squeeze out of that baby!
Not being your standard four-guys-and-a-chick hand, they offer nothing in terms of vocals, which aren't missed (though there's a clear desire for some sort of verbal fun in a band which announces songs with titles like "Goodbye to Pork"). The sole chick element in the band is offered by yiddishe jumping bean and clarinet player Ilene Stahl, who apparently was presented with a clarinet in the bassinet, born with it attached, or married to it in some secret occult ritual in the Catskills.
Sadly, the group doesn't have a CD out, so outside of my kvelling you'll just have to wait till the powers that be get a whiff. Or even better, get the band out hear for your wedding or bar mitzvah. Hell, schedule your own briss if you have to, but have a listen."