Volume 17 • Issue 29 | Dec. 10 -16, 2004


Downtown Express photos by Jennifer Bodrow

Adam Miller, left, jammed with Mark “Marky” Fletcher, his friend, of Sham-poo at a battle of the bands contest Saturday night organized by 14 Downtown synagogues. Sham-poo took the top prize.

Jewish teen bands rock the Knitting Factory

By Tyler Pray

“Can I throw keepas? Anyone in class know if I can? If I throw two is it a mitzvah?” asked emcee Molly Kane to a group of chatty high school students gathered at the Knitting Factory to swoon over three young, competing Jewish bands. She threw the keepas or yarmulkes to the winning raffle ticket holders before announcing the next band.

The event brought Jewish students, friends and parents from all over the city to watch three bands compete in the 2004 Battle of the Bands, the first event of the Downtown Kehillah, which consists of 14 synagogues in Lower Manhattan, including the Battery Park Synagogue, The Downtown Synagogue and Synagogue for the Arts.

“It’s to get the youth out to see who’s in their community,” said Rabbi Jonathan Glass, who will soon celebrate his tenth anniversary with the Synagogue for the Arts. “It’s the hippest synagogue this side of the Mississippi,” he said from the colorful Tribeca stage. The Knitting Factory, one of Downtown’s premier venues, usually reserves their main space for professional bands.

The Battle of the Bands was designed for Jewish teens who normally do not participate in youth groups to come together in a secular venue with minimal Jewish content. It is the first of many events, which will involve all of the Downtown Kehilah.

“The youth groups haven’t been so successful, so we’re trying to motivate Jewish teens without the corny icebreakers,” said Shirley Politzer, the event coordinator. “These are kids actually at a club listening to each other play.”

The motivation worked. People packed every foot of the main space at the Knitting Factory, and they cheered loud and screamed, “He’s so hot!” when the bands took the stage.

The first group, 21 Questions, demonstrated talent beyond their age. Lead singer Gabriel Zucker, 13, filled the room with his vocal chords. Will Glovinsky, 14, deftly soloed all up and down the neck of his electric mandolin while Zane Smith, 14, on bass and Zack Karson, 13, on drums kept a tight beat before settling into the crowd to watch the other two bands after a successful set.

“Get up on your feet,” yelled Mark “Marky” Fletcher, 14, as his band, Sham-poo, stormed the stage. He traded guitar and bass duties with “Mr. Jonah” Wolf, 14, both of them playing hard-hitting riffs and dominating the stage with their long, silky hair, swinging microphones and fast paced, dead on punk rock. Michael “Chewy” Chew wooed the girls with his dynamic drumming and guest guitar player Adam Miller joined in for a rumbling finale, a “classic, about when we did our history project.”

“The slam dancing was good, but now I want to see crowd surfers,” Fletcher called to the crowd, but everyone was already too busy going crazy jumping at the base of the stage to lift anyone up on a sea of hands. The band has experience rocking the crowd from playing places as big as CBGB.

The final band, Robbin’ Spectre, received loud cheers before settling things down with a soft and slow jam mix of originals and covers. The audience sat down and enjoyed the grooves of a long-time favorite.

“I’ve known this band since sixth grade,” said an 11th grade fan. “They’ve been around for a long time.” Indeed they have, for all them being 16-years-old. David Fell leads the band with a very mellow guitar style. Frans Mernick on bass boasts a beautifully robust voice. Edward Grupper on piano, Victor Sheldon on drums and Jesse Berger on lead guitar laid down a solid musical foundation.

In between bands, while judges Moshe Weidenfeld, a local pianist, composer and music teacher, and Joel Diamond, a composer, arranger, producer and performer, deliberated, new Hasidic Reggae superstar Matisyahu made a surprise guest appearance.

With a full beard and a yarmulke, Matisyahu doesn’t look like the average performer. He simply asked for the mic to be turned all the way up and began with a slow chant. Soon, mysterious drumbeats accompanied the tune and continued growing more and more complex until the crowd started dancing to a full-blown dance mix – all from Matisyahu’s beat-box voice. He finished, “I’m done,” without even a plug for his debut album “Shake Off The Dust…Arise.”

Alas, the results came in. The three bands lined up on stage to receive their prizes. 21 Questions took home 3rd prize, “Moses is my Homeboy” T-shirts. Robbin’ Spectre took second and received free tickets for the whole band to see a show of their choice at the Knitting Factory. Sham-poo slapped hands with each other, cheered and flung their hair around when the emcee announced they won and are automatically entered in the next Battle of the Bands on Saturday night, April 16.

More events are in planned for the future and if they go as well and are as popular as the Battle of the Bands, the Downtown Kehillah can expect a dramatic rise in interest from the youth of Lower Manhattan. After the show, everyone continued hanging out and talking about the show. On her way out, a high school girl commented, “That was a fun time with friends from my synagogue.”

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