Arts & Culture

Concert Review: DeLeon at The Variety Playhouse (Atlanta, GA)

It’s unusually cold and wet for an October night in Atlanta, GA. The goths are out tonight for the Little Five Points Halloween festival and their cyber-punk hairstyles are coming apart like last week’s sukkah decorations under the oppressive humidity. … Read More

By / October 30, 2009

It’s unusually cold and wet for an October night in Atlanta, GA. The goths are out tonight for the Little Five Points Halloween festival and their cyber-punk hairstyles are coming apart like last week’s sukkah decorations under the oppressive humidity. Cute bleach blonde account-executive-types from the rich side of town are slumming it in their not-too-naughty Halloween outfits, comprised of leopard print skirts, leather thigh high boots and Josie-and-the-Pussycats-style cat ear headbands.

 

Leave it to a group of Jewish educators, activists and entrepreneurs to skip all this fun, cutting through the crowd like knives through butter to make their way to the Variety Playhouse. Why? To witness the greatness that is JDub Sephardic rock stars DeLeon.

A quick jump through the will call line and we find ourselves in a near-empty auditorium, blue and white lights shining on stage as Dan Saks embraces his electric guitar and begins to channel the spirit of Jeff Buckley and Kabalistic philosopher Moses Deleon to belt out Spanish cantorial folk-rock spun elegantly with guitar virtuosity that the World Music hippies and 20-something Jews in the audience are clamoring for.

The audience is chill. The Variety Playhouse is a seated auditorium and from the looks of it, everyone is doing their I’m-stoned-on-a-Friday-night impression. At the end of their second song, Saks softly encourages the audience to get up and dance. "Oh, shit", I think to myself, "he just pulled a major faux pas in this city. You can’t tell audiences to get out of their seats. They’ll murder you."

Shockingly, they got up. And danced. It was glorious. New York beat Georgia, for just one moment.

A few songs through and I feel sucked into the world that is DeLeon. Mystical Judaism and old world yearnings pour over me and I feel like my spirit is being lifted. It takes a real music genius to know how to make each person in the audience feel like they are being sung to directly. And DeLeon pull it off, magically. And as I turned around to see how the rest of the audience was doing, I noticed that our crowd of thirty had grown to over one hundred. I smiled and said a prayer of thanks to HaShem that went something like, "Lord, I’m sorry I’m breaking Shabbat to go to a concert. I appreciate you not taking it out on the indie rock band".

The band is touring as a three piece, with members rotating between minimalist percussion, quirky melodica, xylophone, and the backing tracks of a laptop providing the groove. But at the center of it all is Dan Saks: his finger picking banjo and delicately crafting guitar melodies that make the otherwise jaded Atlanta audience swoon.

I was sad when the last song, "Yodukha Rayanai" (the first track on their self-titled album), was over. But I’m crafty. My date for the evening (the lovely Jennie Rivlin Roberts from ModernTribe) and I swam through the massive crowd behind us, sneaking out the door to find the band by the merch booth. We chatted about music, Atlanta, Os Mutantes (the band DeLeon is supporting) and my upcoming trip to New York. I have to say, the band members were very nice, grounded people. And they can hold a conversation, a skill most artistic people never master.

But it was somber. As the sound of Os Mutantes came through the venue doors, I felt this weird conflict. Was I supposed to go back in, I wondered. After what I just saw, could I honestly watch Os Mutantes?

I tried. And three songs in, I bailed. It just wasn’t worth it. Sometimes in an evening, you peak. You hit that moment where there’s nothing else that can move you any more than what you’ve experienced. And doing anything other than emotionally cuddling in the afterglow of electric prayers just seems like a lie. No offense to Os Mutantes–but it is what it is. I took my DeLeon t-shirt and signed album and went home.

So thank you, DeLeon, for giving me the best Shabbat I have had in months. And I will see you soon.