Dan Kahn and the Painted Bird tonight at Barbes

Tonight at Barbes in Park Slope, a rare US appearance by the soon to be superstar Dan Kahn and his band The Painted Bird. If you’re not familiar with the novel which inspired Kahn’s project, I’ll tell you it’s the only book my parents ever forbade me from reading. They didn’t keep me from reading Anne Frank’s diary in fourth grade, or even taking out the book about Mengele in 7th. But Kozinski was beyond the pale. Gey veys. Go figure.
The Painted Bird (the novel) is an incredibly dark portrayal of life during World War II in Poland. It questions our very ability rise above our animal natures. It’s material is the grotesque and the grotesque as a reflection of life.
The Painted Bird, (the band), is an outgrowth of Dan Kahn’s travels as an American, and a Jew, in Central and Eastern Europe. (He’s been living in Berlin the last two years). It asks what it means to have an inheritance of victimhood but not be a victim oneself. And what does it mean to be the grandchild of perpetrators when one is not guilty of anything but being born into a troubled national legacy?
From his recent album Dos tsebrokhene loshn (the broken tongue) Kahn’s song Son of Plenty takes up the question:

Speak not of your righteousness/for though you might be true/ the tree of evil might just have its seed inside of you/ waiting for the proper time to bloom
We the chosen children of this martyrdom must learn/ that martyrs turn to murderers when tables have been turned/ and history repeats its bloody tune

This theme of the pathology of martyrdom and revenge shows up in a new song Kahn has been performing all over Europe and now here. It’s called Nakam and it’s about the aborted plan, devised by one of the leaders of the Vilna Partisans, Abba Kovner, to take revenge on the Germans, after the war, by poisoning the German water supply and extracting an equal number of German victims to match those who were sent to their death in the camps.
It’s a strange, uncomfortable and incredibly compelling story that challenges our ideas about healing, history and victimhood. As Dan told me, while his relatives here in the States have encouraged him not to perform it here, it’s his most popular song in Germany and Poland.
The music is part cabaret, part wine cellar, in yiddish, german and english, and leans heavily both on Tom Waits and Brecht. With the most important new Jewish clarinetist under 30, Michael Winograd, the band takes Jewish music to a whole new level. And while the subject matter is heavy, they’ve also got some of the funniest material I’ve heard in a long time, especially the new English verses for the classic Yiddish love song, Borscht, written by Dan and Moscow blues guitar legend Vanya Zhuk.
So don’t miss this rare show- Tonight, Barbes, at 8 pm.

One thought on “Dan Kahn and the Painted Bird tonight at Barbes

  1. I caught their show in Boston last weekend. It’s hands down the most provacative and aesthetically resonant contemporary Yiddish music i’ve come across (and looking for this stuff is pretty much my job these days). Dan is one of the few people who can write and perform song translations without them being overbearing and cheesy; so even if you don’t understand Yiddish you’ll still get most of the material (but will avoid the squirmy awful feeling that happens when most peole try to sing translation). The ‘Lid Khurbn New Orleans’ is not to be missed.
    a gutn shabes, ale.

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