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Klezmatics give Boston wonderous "Wonder Wheel"

band photoThe Klezmatics came to Boston tonight, for the first time in years, and gave an incredible performance of new music to a sold out crowd at the Museum of Fine Arts.

You don't go to a Klezmatics concert to hear golden moldies, or the old sounds in slightly different containers. You go to hear incredible music, much of which will be entirely new.

Almost all of the material tonight was from the two new Woody Guthrie albums, including the Grammy-award-winning "Wonder Wheel." As I've said before, the Klezmatics have made Woody's words come alive in ways that reflect both the Americana that he represented, and their own Eastern European Jewish musical roots. They also selected wisely—the performance included not only the personal songs about Woody's kids, by and for Woody's kids, but also some of his Hanukkah material, more general material, and a couple of his anti-fascist songs, as well. As Lorin Sklamberg, vocalist and keyboard player pointed out, it was 50 years later and they weren't dated.

The band was joined by a couple of folks who helped out on the Wonder Wheel album: Susan McKeown singing, and Boo Reiners on guitar and banjo. Both were superb. Relatively new violinist/vocalist Lisa Gutkin was excellent. Also superb was Richie Barshay, now touring with the band on drums. For the first few songs I found myself thinking, "this isn't David Licht. It doesn't sound right," and then I found myself thinking that, actually, the drumming was just different, then it was "different and damn good" and finally it clicked that it was the same Barshay who anchors the sound of Khevre (he sounds entirely different with the Klezmatics), which segued into a more general sense of how grateful I was that 20+ years on, the Klezmatics aren't playing just the same old music (you better believe that there was still a bit of klezmer and that they brought out "Ale Brider" on the encore). Rather, they continue to explore new types of music, and to find projects worth doing, and then make those projects insanely great and worth hearing.

The Woody Guthrie stuff is as moving, to me, as their collaboration with Chava Alberstein (The Well). I am hopeful that the Grammy, and the fact that, for a change they are singing in English, gets them a wider audience. And then I want to hear what they do next. It's going to be killer.

As for Boston, after months of dullness, there is a rush and a wide variety of great new music before Passover, continuing this coming weekend with Brave Old World, in Newton. Stay tuned.