Lucid Culture


Isle of Klezbos at the 12th St. Garden, NYC 6/9/08

From the street, two female forms with horns were visible in the sweltering dark, silhouetted eerily against the blackness of the garden. Drums clattered from some invisible source within the thick shrubbery as the horns rose in a mysterious invocation. A shadowy, seated figure, holding what sounded like an accordion, painted little rivulets of blood against the night air. The song they were playing was called Intrigue in the Night Market. This was witchcraft. If this had been Wyoming – woops, colonial America – the coven raising a racket tonight in the thickets of the 12th St. Garden would have been run out of town, even hanged. Especially since what they were playing was Jewish music.


The leader of this shadowy organization, drummer Eve Sicular has two bands, Metropolitan Klezmer and this group, Isle of Klezbos, the world’s only (mostly) all-female, (semi) lesbian klezmer band. The two bands share drums and a horn section; what differentiates them is that IoK is a smaller unit, plays more originals, jams more and doesn’t have quite as encyclopedic a repertoire as Met Klez. Tonight was such a great show on so many levels: a triumph of sheer endurance, with the darkness, the creepy-crawlies in the garden and the unrelenting heat; an often pyrotechnic display of extemporaneous virtuosity, and a rare chance to hear IoK delve into the Met Klez repertoire with strikingly different yet equally captivating results. Tonight’s show, courtesy of a well-spent municipal grant to celebrate the kickoff of gay pride month, harkened back to another era in the East Village. The difference was that ten years ago, those who found themselves in the grip of this strange and captivating music would have found themselves powerless to walk away. Tonight, several tourists drifted into the space only to turn away or be pulled back to the sidewalk by their fellow suburbanites, mystified by the strange and often troubling tonalities wafting through the night air. 


First-time listeners, especially non-Jews might call what they play gypsy music. Much of it basically is: those haunting snakecharmer tonalities can all be traced back to the Middle East, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Roma. As they reminded tonight, Isle of Klezbos are at their adrenalizing best when they play their jazziest material, although several of their quieter, more atmospheric numbers were equally good. The dark, stately Revery in Hijaz was even more gripping than the version on their myspace; a nocturne by their reed player Debra Kreisberg was equally terse and intense, as was the East Habsburg Waltz, a gypsy-flavored tune by Sicular.


But ultimately this was a party night, Isle of Klezbos triumphantly reclaiming their own turf, a community garden dating to the early 1970s, when the whole East Village was one big shooting gallery. It makes a striking contrast with the sterile, sheetrock-and-plastic luxury condos pushing out the neighborhood’s remaining working people and retirees. Perhaps because of the garden’s centrality among these people, even as the party grew more lively, there were no complaints or vegetables being hurled from the windows above. For this gig, the band had Saskia Lane from the amusing cabaret satirists the Lascivious Biddies sitting in on bass, swinging the changes effortlessly yet looking like a cat stalking her prey, waiting for the chance to pounce on the melody and twist it around by its tail. Kreisberg, a purist clarinetist with impeccable taste and a love for dark, plaintive melody showed off a surprisingly playful wit when she played alto sax. Guest accordionist Patrick Farrell (from sensationally good gypsy rockers Lumiscent Orchestrii, and gypsy improv monsters Ansambl Mastika) played his usual darkly glimmering lines and trumpeter Pam Fleming (who also leads the excellent jazz group Fearless Dreamer) soared and pushed Kreisberg into some serious dueling. New vocalist Melissa Fogarty was at the absolute top of her game, cutting loose with a wail that was as sultry as it was clear and pure. Sicular led the crew through some pretty wild, extemporaneous versions of the Molly Picon classic Abi Gezunt (Be Well), as well as the coy Muzikalischer Tango from the 1940 Yiddish film The Matchmaker, wherein a guy apologizes to a girl for his lack of interest. It’s all subtext: a muzikalischer, i.e. somebody who sings in or enjoys musicals, is code for “gay guy.” Plus ca change, huh? But the song was written at the time when nobody, especially an orthodox Jew, could come out as gay. When they finally closed the show with a furious freilach, the remaining crowd was finally forced to confront the hundred-degree heat and swarming instects that Isle of Klezbos had seemingly vanquished throughout their over 90 minutes onstage.


Metropolitan Klezmer are also playing a free midday show (half past noon) at St. Mark’s Park, Second Avenue at Ninth Street on Thursday June 19, a great way to re-energize yourself if you work in the neighborhood or closeby. 


June 10, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews


  1. Yeah, Wyoming was always noted for its pogroms (/sarcasm).

    Comment by FrankTireur | June 11, 2008 | Reply

  2. yay Wyoming, where if you’re gay they gang up on you, beat you to a pulp and leave you to die tied to a fence

    Comment by delarue | June 11, 2008 | Reply

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