The NYC Invasion of PunkTorah
Photos by Daniel Sieradski
Last night, CAN!!CAN performed at JDub Records' Purim party in New York City. Seeing a concert is good enough for casual fans, but it doesn't hold a candle to total immersion in the band's experience.
After leaving Atlanta, Georgia, at 10 a.m. on Friday, Patrick Aleph, Josh Lamar, and Mary Collins from CAN!!CAN arrived in Astoria, N.Y., around 2:45 a.m. on Saturday. Thanks to a massive snowstorm, there were no parking spots readily available in my neighborhood. Armed with only a bucket, a garbage can that broke, and a relatively small shovel, the three band members and I spent an hour carving out a space for their small yellow Chevy Aveo. By 4:15 a.m., the band was settled on a sleeper couch and an air mattress in my living room and I went to sleep.
CAN!!CAN's travel schedule prevented Patrick from attending a Shabbat service on Friday night, so he suggested that we go to a shul or minyan on Saturday morning. This was his first New York City Shabbat experience, so we agreed that we might as well show him something special. I gave him a list of options that included Romemu, Darkhei Noam, and Kehilat Hadar, and we decided on the latter: a traditional, egalitarian, lay-led minyan that meets in a church's basement on the Upper West Side. Patrick had packed for a rock show and not a Manhattan Shabbat service, so I gave him a shirt and tie to wear. I didn't want to pressure the founder of PunkTorah to adhere to dress codes, but it seemed like the right thing to do. Patrick is happy to defend his Jewish-themed tattoos, but even he seemed to find value in covering them up this time. When I asked him if he had ever worn a tie before and knew how to put it on, he allayed my concerns: "I own one suit. It's for going to weddings and going to court."
I had the pleasure of sitting between Mr. PunkTorah and a JTS rabbinical student at the service. They offered helpful but different insight along the way. At the kiddush afterward, it was exciting to walk around with Patrick as he mentioned to other people that he was in town to reinterpret the megillah and perform with CAN!!CAN at JDub's party.
We went out for vegetarian Indian food afterward. Naysayers might point to the fact that we used money (and rode the subway) and say that we weren't observing the laws of Shabbat. We discussed quite a few interesting topics related to Judaism, music, and, of course, Jewish music, though. As Patrick would put it, it is important to remember Shabbat (zochar Shabbos) even if we are not shomer Shabbos.
Before any bands performed at the JDub show, Patrick took the stage to give his unique spin on the Purim story. Contrary to what he told a woman who would be reading the megillah at Kehilat Hadar, he ultimately decided against taking a shot every time he said Haman's name. Patrick had rehearsed the speech in my living room earlier in the day, but as he spoke on stage, it was quite the spectacle when he cursed like a sailor, compared Haman's hanging to that of Saddam Hussein, and explained that King Achashverosh's edict (to kill the Jews) was like a big Facebook message.
CAN!!CAN had the heaviest set of the night and played a lot of new material. They put on an engaging stage show, in which Patrick sang, jumped, danced, convulsed, and stuffed a microphone in his mouth. I look forward to getting to know a lot of the new songs better when their next album is released. CAN!!CAN shared the bill with the Shondes and Steve "Gangsta Rabbi" Lieberman, both of whom I'd seen previously. It was probably the biggest gathering of Jewish punk bands since the Hanukkah tour I covered in 2006.