Hooray for Hanukkah at the Hideout & Diamana Diyu at Women and Children First
After Sept. 11, I was fighting a feeling of no hope. As the holiday season approached, it got worse. The manufactured retail sell of Xmas couldn't cover up my attitude of gloom and cynicism and right now it still can't. That 'don't worry be happy' crap still ain't flying with me (go read a daily newspaper and you know what I'm talking about). Last year's cure was to indulge in several off-kilter holiday shows, none more remarkable than the annual Hooray for Hanukkah blow-out.
Cruising into its fifth edition, H. for H. has a balance of solemnity, joy in tradition, ribald humor, and low-down rock 'n' roll punch that makes it unique. I can't tell you much about being Jewish or what Hanukkah is, but I can tell you that this shindig renewed my appreciation for the holidays while allowing me to approach religion/faith with a stronger sense. After all, Sept. 11 was about religion.
Crammed into the Hideout with a buffet of eggrolls ('...because you can't have a Jewish party without Chinese food'), this decidedly Jewish crowd got an evening of ribald cheer. What I can fit into this space;
1. The Ellen Rosner Band. E.R. in an adorable curly cut threw a tantrum of rowdy, sloppy, scathing rockers ('Got a Little Something for You,' 'Hanukkah Child') with her band in furious form. E.R. went for the throat. Staking the stage, raging non-stop, curls in a tailspin, I wondered why she doesn't attack the blues more often.
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2. The John Greenfield Band. Yeah, he turned up in a wrestling outfit to sing an homage to the wrestler 'Goldberg,' but 'Rock and Roll Hannakah' was what I came for. Dippy but respectfully charming, Greenfield was so sweetly sincere that this open-hearted proposition to a Yenta was endearing, innocent, and lusty.
3. Eric Roth and the Silver Schmatzes. Roth is a smartass, a big one and he knows it, which is what makes him a blast. The S.S. are an acid jazz/funk band with enough flexibility to embrace Sun Ra, Frank Zappa, and Marky Mark. 'Do You Wanna Touch My Hanukkah' was as lurid as the title suggested; but thoroughly charming for it.
There was more, much, much, more (Asian rockers Kim ripping it up, John Hasbrouck's cover of Allen Ginsberg's 'New York Youth Call Enunciation,' Twang Bang's eerie take on 'Nature Boy,' Al Rose's ironic Dylan cover 'Gotta Serve Somebody,' a dead-perfect Neil Diamond tribute band), but after all, abundance is what the holidays are all about.
At the invitation of my friend Anne-Marie Akin, I went to check out Diamana Diyu. D.D. is a women's collective of drummers specializing in music from North Africa, specifically the Melenke tribe. Though the idea sounds limiting (a concert of drums?), I found them wholly refreshing and ironic. Led by organizer and focal point Amy Lusk, D.D. not only presented the music in a passionate light but ironically made some pointed comments about America and what's wrong with it.
Traditional songs about welcoming workers home and nurturing the young women of the tribe predominated, but what really came across was a collective investment and sense of community. A slap in the face to 'family values,' according to the Christian Right, D.D.'s focus was on a cultural tradition of actually caring about who and where you live. More than a few members of the audience commented on how living in a metropolis like Chicago lacked D.D.'s homey inclusiveness and with good reason. These obscure and old songs pointed up that maybe we have become too crowded /big/fast and that we're losing more than we think in our technological age.
But D.D.'s sound: intricate percussion (all those drums DO sound distinct), un-modulated harmonies, and call-and-response choruses sound unique by our filtered standards. To be honest, I didn't expect to be enlightened and entertained at the same time.