In the creatively roiling world of radical Jewish music, singer/songwriter Daniel Kahn stands out as a multifaceted force.
Based in Berlin for the past decade, the Detroit native has toured widely with The Painted Bird, a punk/klezmer/cabaret combo that performs mostly in Yiddish. Rather than trafficking in nostalgia, Kahn has honed a politically charged body of originals and what he calls “tradaptations,” translations/adaptations of songs transformed by his Yiddish arrangements (like a version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” that’s garnered nearly one million views since he uploaded it on YouTube two years ago).
After his involvement with several theater projects, Kahn recently reassembled The Painted Bird to record a new album, “The Butcher’s Share,” a collection of tunes that makes disturbing historical connections. Originals like “Freedom Is a Verb” and “99%” march alongside “Arbeter Froyen (Working Women),” an anarchist Yiddish labor song from the 1890s.
Kahn makes a rare Bay Area appearance Thursday at Palo Alto’s Oshman Family JCC with klezmer reed master Christian Dawid, Yiddish fiddle virtuoso Jake Shulman-Ment, bassist/composer Michael Tuttle, and drummer Hampus Melin. Also a respected poet who writes in English, German and Yiddish, Kahn plays accordion, keyboard, guitar, harmonica, banjo and ukulele.
“We call the new music ‘revolutionary anthems for the apocalypse,’ or ‘apocalyptic anthems for the revolution,’” says Kahn, who last performed in the Bay Area at the 2009 Jewish Music Festival. “All our shows have supertitles in English, and we also project images by Eric Drooker, the Berkeley-based artist who’s done a lot of covers for The New Yorker. Besides that, we’re really trying to create an arc in our set. We often challenge people up front with songs that pose provocative questions, then bring it down and sing some dark and sad ballads. At the end, it gets wild and dancey.”