New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars

The Mermaid Lounge

July 03, 2004


The Klezmers are Generation X’s answer to Astral Project or The Radiators. They grew up when I grew up, so if I had to send one king band to represent the city, it would probably be them.

The Klezmers have been together for thirteen years, and even though they only play occasionally, they proved Saturday night at The Mermaid Lounge they’re still tight and energetic. They were talented, irreverent, reverent, and cynical—yet they smiled and enjoyed themselves on stage. At first, I thought the New Orleans in front of their name was a marketing ploy, but these contradictory goofballs earned it. The band was guitarist Jonathan Freilich, drummer Dave Sobel, bassist Nobu Ozaki, violinist David Rebeck, clarinetist Rob Wagner and accordionist Glenn Hartman.

The band played klezmer numbers that were rarely completely traditional. The group mixed in a waltz, some funk, and a stuttering, trippy song. Their eccentricity and ability to mix genres was what made them so unique and enjoyable. The band threw in bits of “The Wizard of Oz,” “It’s A Hard Knock Life,” and Kool and The Gang’s “Celebration.” Wagner blew like a fiend, and Rebeck turned out some very fast and melodic solos. He broke a string! He was rockin’ the violin, y’all!

It was a rainy, Essence-filled July 4th weekend, so it was no surprise the show wasn’t well-attended. I missed all the Klezmer-heads with their weird dances. The lack of dancers and energy from the crowd affected the band. They conversed for lengthy periods between songs, and when it became painfully obvious the band was ignoring the audience, Freilich explained that instead of entertaining them showbiz-style, the Klezmers were about the music—and a little talk. Their music was on-target for two hours, but the band/audience symbiosis normally found at a Dragon’s Den gig wasn’t there(that’s the best place to catch them).

I still came away from the show with a good feeling because the music was quality, and I partially sympathized with the band’s antics. It must suck to have a low turnout. They need to book a Dragon’s Den gig today.

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