by: Yossi Zweig
Photos by: Shmulie Photo
Last night the Chelsea Unplugged series kicked off with a bang, featuring Benny Friedman and special guests 8th Day. When people heard ‘unplugged’, they honestly didn’t really know what to expect, except that it would be different and fun. The shul was packed, the lighting turned low when Bernie of Dove Productions made his way to the stage. He introduced the Shai Bachar Band. Now personally, I never heard the Shai Bachar Band. Boy was I in for a surprise. The Shai Bachar Band is; Shai Bachar (keys), Greg Wall (flute, clarinet), Mitch Stein (guitar) Rich Stein (percussion) and Fima Ephron (upright base). This wasn’t your run of the mill concert or wedding band. There wasn’t a drum set, not sax or trombone either, and I have never seen an Upright Bass in any kind of setting. They were jamming so tight and the sounds were familiar yet so different. After their opening number Bernie returned to the stage and asked, “Do you want to hear some Benny Friedman? “Yeaahhhhhh!” was the crowd’s response. Benny approached the stage together with his cousin Bentzy Marcus from 8th Day. After his few words of welcome, Gut Voch, they started with some motzei shabbos niggunim including; Eliyahu Hanovi and Laneir V’livsamim. The atmosphere was almost magical. This wasn’t what we expected. Add to that the setting lighting and sounds, well it was kind of overwhelming. When the tunes winded down, Benny told us that tonight with the Alte Rebbe’s yahrtzeit and in honor he will sing the famous “Keli Ata” that the rebbe composed. By the time the song was almost finished the whole place was singing together with Benny “Elokai Aromemecha” and smiling along.
8th Day, Bentzy & Shmulie Marcus, made their way to the stage among chants of “8 th Day, 8th Day”. Shmulie retold how most of our parents/grandparents came here from a broken Europe to try and make homes and lives for themselves and their family but wanted to keep them “Yiddish Country” so we should definitely start with that song. Benzty was on acoustic guitar, backed by the band. Their vocals blew people away. The whole setting of the night was so intimate. I didn’t hear one person say that he couldn’t see or hear. Next they played the song, 8th Day, to which everyone joined in. Bentzy asked the band to sit out the next song, it was just him and Shmulie and they performed “Rain”. Shmulie told how he composed the song while flying back from Russia after visiting family and was thinking how there are so many people in bad situations today. We all need our Miracles and Iy”H they should come soon. After taking it down for Rain they came back strong with Manhattan, which people went crazy for. They then sang the world famous Tracht Gut.
Benny Friedman came back and he asked us to join him singing a song that the words are really easy to remember, No Lyrics. Towards the end of the song Benny asked the band to stop playing and it was just himself and the crowd singing “Di bada bada badom” over and over. It was a moment that words cannot express. Benny continued his set with Elokai, Batuach Ani and Letova. Greg Wall on flute, sax was amazing! He was dishing it out like a world class jazz player and the crowd and Benny were loving it. Did I mention that all the arrangements of the evening were done by Shai Bachar himself, special just for this evening? Benny was telling the story of how Avi Newmark sent him a song to listen to and he just had to sing it tonight. He said the song reminded him of a story he heard from a friend that was in the Israeli army. His friend said there was only two times that he was scared for his life; the first time when he had to fly J and jump out of an airplane and the second, when they had to walk through a mine field. When the soldiers were walking through the mine field they sang a song “B’shem Hashem elokei yisroel mimino michoel…” That they were being watched over by malachim. Benny said that when he got this demo with these words and yet another haunting melody to it, he had to perform it tonight. He then asked Yitzy Spinner who was sitting in the crowd to join him on stage for this song. Yitzy strummed on the acoustic guitar and Benny started. If you closed your eyes when you were there and just listened to the two of them singing this brand new song, it was like you were transported to this special place where everything was magically better and everything was right with the world. After that very uplifting song Benny sang a song NOT on his album, but still very popular, Malachim by Chaim Yisroel. Just being in Mumbai, India, Benny was telling us of his trip there and singing for the kedoshim that were brutally murdered. He encountered that right after the tragedy, Yitzy Spinner composed a song that was sung by him, Yitzy, and Yisroel Werdyger entitled Chasoif. Yitzy Spinner was again invited on stage to perform this heartwarming song with Benny. Their two voices blending together was awe inspiring. You heard Yitzy’s choir on Benny’s album but this was nothing compared to that. When the song was done they received a standing ovation. 8th Day came on stage and sang the song that Shmulie composed for the kedoshim of Mumbai as well called “Yiddishe Mame of Mumbai” with just Bentzy on guitar and that was something to behold.
Benny and Bentzy Marcus were up next with Kol Hoalam Kulo in Hindi and Hebrew just as Benny did in Mumbai a short while ago. You could not finish this concert without Benny’s “Moshiach”. There were bochurim dance in the aisles and people clapping along and singing that they all want this golus to end.
Being that Bentzy Marcus composed 2 songs on the album you couldn’t have them in the same place without doing a number that was on Benny’s album, so they performed “Yavduco”. Then 8th Day and Benny Friedman finished the evening with “Moshiach”. Everyone had a great time. It was just so different from what you’ve come to expect from a concert, the price was very reasonable and the music was amazing. I can’t wait for the next event of the Chelsea Unplugged Series. The event was produced by A Dove & company, Avi newmark, Avram Zamist, Sruly Meyer. Big kudos to them for a truly inspiring and classic event. For more info check out chelseaunplugged.com .
Fima Ephron (upright base)