Every Time I’ve Seen Golem Live

All Photos by Christopher Duggan Photography

Golem at my wedding (Photo by Christopher Duggan Photography)

I included a recap of the 25 times I’d seen Golem in Punk Rock Hora, but I’ve seen them twice more since the book went to print, for a total of 27 times! Here’s the recap of my first 25 shows for this klezmer-rock band with a punk edge, plus their Hanukkah 2018 and Purim 2019 shows. I’ll update this post with future Golem shows; I suspect I haven’t seen them for the last time!

I’ve seen Golem on both coasts—indoors and outdoors, at synagogues and conventional concert venues, at Hanukkah celebrations and a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. I’ve seen them at my wedding, a fake wedding, and a strangers’ wedding. I’ve seen them every year since my first Golem concert.

The first time I saw Golem kept me coming back for more, and I was especially moved by the hora. Many of the shows I’ve been to since have been chasing after and trying to repeat that joyous experience. The shows I traveled several hours for in Virginia and Washington, D.C., were special—and more than worth the trip. They were the band of my dreams at my wedding, and it seems unfair to compare that to other concerts.

I’ve danced—the hora and otherwise—and had a great time doing it. I’ve spoken with band members at many of the shows and enjoyed our conversations. Golem might not be a punk rock band, but I’m grateful that they’re the band under the Jewish punk umbrella that I’ve gotten to enjoy the most times.

December 2006 (The Independent, San Francisco): I was in town covering an unrelated Hanukkah tour for the Forward. Golem happened to be playing near my hotel on the night before the first night of Hanukkah. I felt a powerful Jewish connection to the strangers around me during the hora. “All hell broke loose when they played the hora, which got half the people in attendance to dance around the room while Golem’s ‘Hanukkah Horas,’ singer, fiddler, and drummer showed off underwear with Hebrew lettering,” I wrote on heebnvegan.

December 2006 (Sixth & I Synagogue, Washington, D.C.): About a week after my first Golem show across the country, I saw them at a “Jewltide” concert on the night before Christmas Eve. I danced in front of the bimah, but because of the seats in the synagogue’s sanctuary, not as many people were dancing as at the San Francisco show. I came away thinking that a fun Jewish experience wasn’t something I should have to travel several hours for, bolstering the argument that I should move to New York.

April 2007 (Art-o-matic, Arlington, Virginia): I saw Golem in Arlington, which, conveniently, was where my brother lived. The show was at an art festival, and most attendees weren’t there to see Golem. I connected with the other people in the front row who came for Golem. I had a euphoric high listening to their performance. It reminded me of my college days when I’d see Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys play and appreciate their sense of Irish pride and culture but wish that I could connect to a band like that as a Jew. Golem filled that void.

October 2007 (Capital Ale House, Richmond, Virginia): After working a full day in Norfolk, I drove up to Richmond to see Golem play on a Friday night. This was an Oktoberfest show at a bar. One of the band members flirted with a friend of a friend and invited us to an after-party, but we didn’t go.

September 2008 (9:30 Club, Washington, D.C.): After I saw Golem open for The Walkmen, a friend puked in my car.

November 2009 (Cake Shop, Manhattan): I saw Golem play with CAN!!CAN. It was “the first time in three years that I’ve seen multiple Jewish punk bands at the same show,” I wrote on heebnvegan.

June 2010 (Sixth Street Community Synagogue, Manhattan): Golem played a fundraiser for Punk Jews. “Golem’s highly danceable sound was the turning point that got the party rocking and got the audience enthused,” I wrote on heebnvegan. I added, “Toward the end of Golem’s set, multiple horas broke out in the middle of the pit. I have to admit that I enjoyed causing a bit of chaos when I tried to get a bunch of casually hora-dancing punks who’d been circling to the right to circle to the left instead. Somehow it all worked out.”

June 2011 (Cameo Gallery, Brooklyn): Golem played right after gay marriage became legal in New York. Singer/accordionist Annette Ezekiel Kogan told the audience that their wedding business was about to increase, so straight or gay, if you wanted Golem to play your wedding, you should book them now, far in advance, even if you haven’t found that special someone yet! I considered it, but seeing as how I was single, it seemed too hard to pick a wedding date.

March 2012 (BAMcafé, Brooklyn): A friend was approached by a woman he didn’t know, and they did a spectacular dance together on an otherwise empty dance floor.

April 2012 (Glasslands Gallery, Brooklyn): Toward the end of Golem’s set, I called out to a friend, “We’re starting a hora!” We succeeded.

September 2013 (The Green Building, Brooklyn): I crashed a wedding to see Golem! I didn’t know the bride or groom. Annette told me about the wedding, and it was part of my research for Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk. I got a feel for how Golem typically played relatively little of their klezmer-rock repertoire at weddings. When I told some wedding guests that I was writing a book about Jewish punk, they didn’t make a connection between what I said and the music they were hearing.

October 2013 (Hunter College, Manhattan): Golem played a mellower-than-usual concert for the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene.

May 2014 (Joe’s Pub, Manhattan): I went to the Tanz album release show and got in on the press list.

December 2014 (Dante Park, Manhattan): When I arrived at the Lincoln Plaza Christmas tree lighting, it was packed and I procured a press pass for special access. When the token Jewish band played a pair of 45-minute sets in less-than-ideal December weather, the crowd thinned out. Singer Aaron Diskin quipped that after the performance, it was customary to “eat the tree”! I danced the hora, in the rain, in front of the stage.

Golem at Lincoln Plaza (Photo by Michael Croland)

Golem at Lincoln Plaza (Photo by Michael Croland)

December 2014 (Pioneer Works, Brooklyn): I got my mom to go to her first Golem show at this holiday season concert.

March 2015 (Drom, Manhattan): I got my now-wife, Tamara, to go to her first Golem show. Litvakus, featuring Golem bassist Taylor Bergren-Chrisman, opened.

June 2015 (Joe’s Pub, Manhattan): I saw Golem as part of Kulturfest. I was sitting in the front row, adjacent to the stage.

December 2015 (92Y, Manhattan): Golem played at a Beer + Latkes Chanukah Celebration. I definitely danced the hora in front of the stage at this show. It was the first time I heard Golem play the new song “Tzadikim.”

May 2016 (Penn Plaza, Manhattan): This free outdoor show was a 10-minute walk from my office. Whereas I schlepped far and wide to see Golem when I lived in Virginia, this was the most convenient Golem show I’d attended! Annette called me up to the stage and asked me to talk about Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk.

Golem

Golem at Penn Plaza (Photo by Tamara Croland)

August 2016 (Bryant Park, Manhattan): Golem played to a large crowd at the Accordions around the World Festival. I was one of three adults dancing in front of the stage for most of their set.

March 2017 (Drom, Manhattan): Golem played a fake wedding. Aaron, in his role as fake rabbi, explained that the four sides of the chuppah were the right side, the dark side, the wrong side, and New Jersey.

chuppah

Golem’s fake wedding (Photo by Aleksandr Grinberg)

June 2017 (Tappan Hill, Tarrytown, New York): Golem played Tamara’s and my wedding. They had a varied set that was great whether the tempo was fast or slow, the songs familiar or unfamiliar, the language English, Yiddish, or other.

Golem at my wedding (Photo by Christopher Duggan Photography)

August 2017 (Kensico Dam Plaza, Valhalla, New York): Golem headlined the Westchester Jewish Music & Arts Festival. From the stage, Annette noted that in addition to concerts and festivals, Golem plays weddings, and she acknowledged Tamara and me. She then asked how many times I’d seen Golem. This was #23!

October 2017 (Congregation Kol Israel, Brooklyn): Golem played at the “Golem in Brooklyn” art exhibit. This was one of their best shows because of the crowd energy. A lively, engaged, dancing group of artsy Jews in Brooklyn was the perfect audience. It didn’t hurt that the band and concertgoers were surrounded by visual artwork about golems in an intimate space. Annette explained that when she was choosing a band name in 2000, she had a golem statue on her desk from a trip to Prague. She chose a name that described a “monstrous approach to Yiddish music, but with respect and a good heart.” She later said, “It sounds good in here surrounded by all these golems—and all you golems.”

Photo by Tamara Croland

Golem at Congregation Kol Israel (Photo by Tamara Croland)

June 2018 (Central Park SummerStage, Manhattan): Golem opened Yiddish under the Stars with a four-song set. At the end of the evening, Golem and the show’s other musicians came together for a rousing finale, with the Klezmatics’ Frank London seemingly at the helm. A closing medley began with “Ale Brider” and got people dancing. One woman initiated a hora-like dance in front of the stage. When I tried to join hands with both the leader in the front and the person in the back, the former waved me off. She didn’t want it to be a circle dance, so I’m not sure it technically counted as a hora. Regardless, it was fast-paced, frenzied, and wild. Dozens of people joined this fun, anarchic would-be hora. At one point, people in different sections were high-fiving each other in the aisle. For a little while, the dance turned into a conga line!

Golem

Golem at Yiddish under the Stars (Photo by Michael Croland)

December 2018 (Drom, Manhattan): Golem headlined a Hanukkah concert with Zion80. As I wrote for Hevria, “Of course they played ‘Freydele,’ which is about a meydele named Freydele who plays with a dreydele (dreidel). They had the ‘world premiere’ of a Hanukkah song discussing miracles and eight days. For the encore, Golem played the classic Yiddish song ‘Rumenye.’ Singer Aaron Diskin always includes a manic rant in the middle of the song, where the first half ends with the word ‘minor’ and the second half ends with ‘major.’ In honor of Hanukkah, Diskin screamed about how darkness made him feel minor. Then he noticed ‘little Hanukkah candles’—there was a menorah on a monitor—that mesmerized him. He said they were destructive, as if they wanted to consume the whole world. The flames made him feel major!”

Photo by Jonah Schrogin

Golem at Drom (Photo by Jonah Schrogin)

March 2019 (Drom, Manhattan): Wearing Purim costumes, Golem started off playing amidst the audience. A few days before Purim and the night before St. Patrick’s Day, Annette said, “Both holidays, I believe, it’s a mitzvah to get drunk.” Before Golem played their hora medley, Aaron quipped that there was limited space available, so people should go online to see a map of areas appropriate for dancing the hora. The lack of space didn’t stop the crowd. A rambunctious hora broke out from the start of the song, with dozens of people joining hands and moving around with frenzy and jubilation. We weren’t arranged in a circle or even an oval, and different segments of the group crossed paths and sometimes ducked under other people’s arms. Except for the horas at my first Golem show, the fake wedding, and my wedding, this might have been my favorite Golem hora.

Golem at Drom (Photo by Alina Gofman)

Golem at Drom (Photo by Alina Gofman)

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