More than half a century ago, the English poet Philip Larkin suggested that without widespread religiosity, our churches are fated for ruin: ‘Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky / A shape less recognisable each week / A purpose more obscure.’ Evocations of decay and obsolescence are always appealing, but in 2022, Larkin’s prediction does not seem a likely one. Why neglect a building when you can transform it? Paradiso, the music venue at which I just saw the Amsterdam Klezmer Band, is housed within the walls of an old church. Where rows of the devout once sat, there is now a dance-floor; where the altar once was, there is now a stage. The stained glass windows are intact; but their upper sections are partially hidden behind the stage-lights.
It was one of those concerts where the audience have dressed themselves in imitation of the musicians, which in this case meant: waistcoats, blazers, floral shirts with the top buttons undone, an astonishing variety of hats. The mosh-pits, when they broke out, were unexpectedly restrained; a far cry from the stupid gladiatorial stuff I have seen at previous events. I was watching the concert from the second floor, where there were many seats but few people using them. The Amsterdam Klezmer Band do not make music to be listened to sitting down.
If I had to compare them to another artist, it would be The Pogues. Their music shares a franticness, a certain crowded urgency. But there was no identifiable frontman in The Amsterdam Klezmer Band. Over the course of the night, several of the band members took the microphone and delivered a song. When it was Alex Kopt’s (a man who was born in Odessa, under the Soviet Union) turn to do this, the stained glass windows behind him began to glow with the colours of the Ukrainian Flag. In the intervals between the songs, other band members would respond to applause by raising their instruments like trophies.
The concert ended abruptly, but barely thirty seconds had gone by before the band was struggling back through the curtain for an encore. It was during this encore that the stage became flooded with people from the audience, and I can honestly say that the extent to which the invasion was welcomed by the Klezmer Band is unclear to me. Most of the band members seemed to hardly notice the host of young women that were floating around them; the music continued to be played without any hint of disturbance. Jacob John Shale 16th September 2022
Photograph by Tessa Posthuma de Boer