Firewater’s first album, 1996’s Get Off the Cross, We Need the Wood for the Fire, introduced the public to an agitated blend of world music and the sometimes brutal sense of humor of Firewater’s founder, Tod A. Firewater is a collective of random musicians; Tod A. is Tod Ashley from New York, who once played in the punk band Cop Shoot Cop and is now homeless and says he prefers it that way. The music? A mashup of gypsy, Middle Eastern, and rock that is heavy on the Eastern European. For lack of anything better, call it punk Klezmer.
Klezmer is a strange and ripping contrast of happy and sad, illuminated by heroic instrumental soloing. Tod A. may have been first to combine it with punk, but I was first drawn to Firewater by Tod A.’s mind rather than his music. Later I came to appreciate Firewater for its effect much in the way one might depend on a coffee and a smoke first thing in the morning.
I also thought Todd A’s politics were dead-on. When George Bush won the re-election, the singer-songwriter moved to the Middle East with his laptop and guitar, a microphone, and his clothes. During three years abroad he recorded The Golden Hour, and he kept a blog going titled “Postcards from the Other Side of the World” in which he wrote Bruce Chatwinesque hip little observations of culture. “I experienced a Clint Eastwood moment as I came through the saloon doors,” he writes of an evening spent in a bar in Ze’elim, Israel. “Conversations seemed to stop as everyone in the place checked out the new boy in town. Even ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’ [Scorpions], which was blaring from the sound system, seemed to momentarily stop, like a saloon piano in a cheesy western film.” Like Chatwin, Tod A. is a paradox unto himself, alive in his own world, making it up as he goes.
FIREWATER, The Casbah, Sunday, June 8, 8:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $10.