Holy nights

Chanukah pop comes of age with the LeeVees and Matisyahu
By IAN SANDS  |  January 17, 2006

The Maccabees, the Holy Temple, the menorah that burned for eight days straight — all of these went unmentioned during JDub Records’ Chanukah celebration at the Paradise on Tuesday night. Not even G-d received a nod from the LeeVees, a band formed ostensibly in tribute to the holiday. Of course, these weren’t exactly shocking omissions. Judging by the ever-growing population of secular Jews in this country, Judaism hasn’t been about Him in quite some time. "We’re more about food and fun," declared LeeVees cofounder Dave Schneider (of Zambonis 2), as if he had to explain away a night that brought with it an abundant helping of the latter. (Schneider’s more famous partner, Guster’s Adam Gardner, couldn’t attend due to a death in the family.) With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the band delivered a tribute to Joey — sorry — Jewy Ramone on the punky "Gelt Melts" followed by a hilarious Ladino ditty during which Shank Bone Mystic (keyboards) twisted his body into shapes that would have made his Lord cringe. In a bid for inclusiveness, Schneider delivered a hilarious and heartfelt ode to Gardner’s goy (gasp!) replacement, guitarist Jon Aley — declaring him a member of the band and a Jew by association.

If ever there was a vehicle to bring disaffected secularists back to the synagogue, it’s Hassidic reggae/rap wunderkind Matisyahu (also on JDub), whose mix of Old Testament scripture, hip-hop swagger, and rolling reggae riddims, delivered the night before at the Paradise, was as intoxicating as it was jarring. How did a one-time Phish follower, originally from White Plains, New York, acquire such prodigious skills on the microphone? Well, live in Crown Heights long enough and you’ll pick up a thing or two — like how to rock a party when you lack the proper equipment (human beat boxing) and the art of getting an audience hyped (call-and-response, and lots of it). If you looked out from the balcony during "Chop ’Em Down," you could make out stray Rasta beanies rising and falling in tandem with yarmulkes (which would have been hanging on for dear life to the tops of those heads, had it not been for the good sense of their owners to bring clips). Then, just when you were convinced that you were witnessing a big ol’ Brooklyn house party, Matisyahu squashed the crowd’s energy with a lengthier-than-usual sermon on the subject of candles. He should know by now that the reason he’s selling out venues is not because people yearn for a lesson in liturgy — if we did, we’d be at grandma’s for the annual holiday get-together — but instead for the sweet beats.


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Ian Sands: isands[a]phx.com

Related: Holiday cheer, Unorthodox Jews, How Jewish is it?, More more >
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