by Kyle Sandhage
It was getting late; the green light of the dashboard clock pierced the cold dark of the evening. The engine revved and my car lurched as I rushed my way down Oglethorpe. Aside from the occasional hum and woosh of other cars on the road, a spell of silence held sway over the vehicle – neither my friend Lauren nor I spoke. Scraping the front fender of my car on the humped cement curb in the Hendershot’s parking lot, we parked and entered the coffee shop/bar/venue. As the glass portal opened, we were greeted with a rush of warm air conditioning and the slow flutterings of a clarinet sputtered out a lethargic melody. “I like this already,” Lauren remarked. I concurred. My opinion only changed for the better after a tight performance by the Athens local band Klezmer Local 42.
The concert had started at 8 p.m., and I had just walked in a little after the band had started their first song, “Husidl No. 1”. Although no cover charge was advertised in Flagpole, a boy guarded the doorway into the bar/music area imposing a five dollar entry fee to anyone who tried to pass. Once inside, the atmosphere was nice and relaxed; couplings of two to maybe four people sat at tables arranged in front of the stage. It was an older crowd – most of the other audience members were sporting gray manes and an overabundance of wrinkles and laugh lines that only come with age. However, despite the relaxed feel to the setting – there was an unexpected sense of energy. I arrived exhausted and had ordered a beer, but found myself surprisingly awake. This – I later recognized – was due to the nature of the songs and the great instrumentation employed by the band.
Klezmer music traces its roots back to the jewish culture of Eastern Europe – specifically with a strong influence from traditional Romanian folk music. The closest thing I’ve experienced to this in popular music would be the gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello or indie group Beirut. All of the instruments (violin, clarinet, upright bass, guitar, bongos, and a standard rock drum set) could easily be picked out on their own. Strong melodies spewed from the clarinet, violin, and sax as the rest of the band provided a great mixture of rhythms. The sound was full and bittersweet. Lyrics were sung in Yiddish, German, and English. In spite of my exhaustion, my feet wanted nothing more than to get up and dance. As I sat and listened, the minor tones and sharp changes in tempo flooded me with a complex amalgamation of feelings – waves of melancholy and joy rarely felt so well suited for each other.
During the first song, the saxophonist had issues with his instrument and wouldn’t return to the stage until the sixth song of the set. His bandmates continued on without a hitch as they played through “Husidl No. 2,” “Oy Tate,” “Der Rebbe E.,” and “Tantz, Tantz Yid.” Around 9 p.m., Klezmer Local 42 took what was going to be a “quick break”, but turned out to be more along the lines of a lengthy intermission.
The band started back up around 9:20 p.m. and played straight through until 10. They finished their set with “Mosh Emes,” “Ot Azoy,” “Flatbush Waltz,” “Freyt Aykh, Yid,” “Araber Tantz,” “Rabbi Yarr,” (a fun little mixture between sea shanty and klezmer), the Mos Eisley cantina theme from Star Wars, and a medley of traditional jewish wedding songs.
This is definitely a group to check out live. They have a few tracks available for listening on their facebook bandpage. Their recordings feature a stronger, more confident sounding fiddle on tracks like “Oy Tate,” and “Der Shaboz Oirech,” but the vocals sounded less energetic in comparison to their performance on Sunday.
A unique sound in the Athens scene, Klezmer Local 42 delivered a great performance. The instruments complemented each other well – all sounding unique enough to be heard while providing a full sound without sounding like a chaotic wall of noise. The band also displayed a high level of proficiency and talent with their instruments while supplying enough energy to the music to bring a couple of the women in the crowd to dance (and I mean full on grooving). Even I stood up to dance during their waltz, which is not a usual occurrence. It was a fantastic show and I would highly suggest this band to anyone seeking something a little different than the typical Athens indie rock show.