Snobs love to romanticize yesterday’s lowbrow. There are, for example, haughty connoisseurs of things like punk rock and comic books. Likewise, some Yiddishists (enthusiasts of the Eastern European Jewish cultural legacy) dismiss anything but the “golden age” form of Klezmer, the bustling, clarinet-driven party music mastered in the first half of the past century. A Yiddishist might view modern Klezmer as a Southern American sees the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. “Where’s the soul?” they ask. “And what’s with all this artsy-fartsy meshugoss?”
Some aspects of Forverts! are sure to offend purists. Traditional Klezmer has no drums, and this debut from Wisconsin’s seven-piece Yid Vicious not only sports a beat but sometimes flaunts it. A trumpet leads the clarinet throughout the album, lending a feel that’s less Klezmer than off-kilter, Tom Waits-inspired marching band. Most radical among the album’s sixteen tracks, though, is the Arabesque “A Glazele Vayn” (“A Glass of Wine”), with its psychedelic electric guitar and “Be My Baby” boom-ba-boom-bam beat.
Unlike the academic-sounding formality of much Klezmer-revival music, Forverts! sounds good and drunk, a virtue for a style of music that wouldn’t exist if not for weddings. The album has the kind of seasoned sloppiness only excellent musicians with lots of heart can truly pull off. In other words, Yid Vicious has chutzpah. No, the band doesn’t recapture the anguish and passion of the shtetl or the lower east side — gone forever to imagination, through genocide and gentrification — but if Forverts! can’t change the minds of die-hards, it should at least get them dancing.