Hanukah Rocks – The LeeVees
Reprise Records 49498L’Shanah Tovah. In Hebrew that means happy (belated) New Year. But, if you didn’t already know that, you’ve probably stopped reading this review anyway. If the previous line succeeded in evoking memories of long Fall days spent under the Sukkah, then read on 'cause the LeeVees have wrapped a Hanukah present way better than that pair of white socks.
A rather clever concept, half-baked by Guster’s Adam Gardner and the Zambonis’ Dave Schneider, Hanukah Rocks is an album of joke-jams aimed at a narrow audience which, in reality, accounts for the majority of both group’s rather wide audiences anyway. As the story goes, Garder and Schneider, henceforth known as Adam and Dave LeeVee, came up with Hanukah Rocks while on the bus before a show during their band’s recent joint tour. Naming themselves after Adam’s childhood Rabbi, the duo pieced together a series of tongue-in-cheek alternative holiday anthems full of the same Jewish humor which has kept our people sarcastic since the days of Moses (or at least Larry David).
Since both group’s incorporate a heavy dose of comedy into their live set anyway — the Zambonis sing exclusively about hockey while Guster has opened for themselves dressed as redneck goyims — Hanukah Rocks manages to come off as a somewhat serious effort, or at least a serious attempt to create a joke. The breezy “Nun Gimmel Heh Shin” even seems to barrow a few sound collages left off of Guster’s latest release, Keep it Together. Like a clever Onion headline, the jokes are in the song titles: “At the Time Share,” “Applesauce Vs. Sourcream” and “Goyim Friends,” are particularly inspired bits of Jewish folklore. Hanukah Rocks also attempts to address such age old questions as “How do You Spell Chanukah?” and manages to earn my mom’s favorite holiday dish, “Kugel,” its first nod anywhere on Jambands.com (sorry Matisyahu you missed the Manishevitz on this one).
To the LeeVees' credit, the duo manages to flesh out its sound with the indie-pop craftsmanship characteristic of a later day Guster record. Small, subtle time changes mark each song, including the bouncy, almost jam-like bassline “How Do You Spell Chanukah?” of and the bright, harmonies of “Kugel.” While in Florida for family dinner, the LeeVees dip into the Early Bird Special beach sounds which make the Sunshine state a little less sunny each visit. Nodding some other famous tribesmen, the LeeVees also ponder Madonna’s recent Kabala conversion and evoke the spirit of famous Jew Joey Ramone with the surprisingly punky “Gelt Melt.” Taking a cue from They Might Be Giants, the LeeVees also compliment their bouncy rhythms with equally clever rhymes (“We will march on with General Tsangs”) and alliterative observations (“Jewish Girls all shapes and sizes"). During “At the Time Share,” David’s mom also stops by to add a layer of good natured Jewish guilt.
While not as anthemic as Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song,” Hanukah Rocks is full of good natured chuckles which will last longer than it takes Guster to record its next album (so far the group is averaging three years between discs at this point). They may not be doctors but girls take note, the LeeVees are a great catch.