On the first night of Hanukkah, two disco balls rotated overhead, paying homage to the Festival of Lights in New York. Onstage at the Marlin Room in Webster Hall, the four members of rock band Bulletproof Stockings—Perl Wolfe on keyboard and vocals, Dalia Shusterman on drums, Dana Pestun on violin, and Elisheva Maister on cello—were dressed in attire befitting to their music: motorcycle jackets, worn-in Chucks, skirts and sheitels. The crowd—there to hear the band play their debut album, Homeland-Call-Stomp—whooped. It was the band’s first stop on a U.S. tour.
“Sheitels rock!” yelled a concertgoer.
“What’d you say?” asked Wolfe, flipping her own sheitel like Marsha from the Brady Bunch. “Sheitels rock? That’s our new name,” she laughed, enthusiastically. “The Talking Sheitel Heads!”
This was, in fact, the Bulletproof Stockings’ big night; the very performance they’d been preparing to play for over a year.
In August 2014, the band sold out Arlene’s Grocery on the Lower East Side, a landmark New York music venue, in a girls-only show. On this particular night, they played another boys-banned gig, abiding by the Hasidic law of Kol Isha, meaning “a woman’s voice” in Hebrew, which prohibits men from hearing women sing.
“People think about having a women’s thing as something limiting, but G0d forbid, it’s totally the opposite,” said Shusterman.
Though the crowd was comprised of all women, their diversity was evident: Jews and non-Jews, observant and non-observant, friends and fans, artist-types and students. Presumably, each had contributed to the band’s successful Kickstarter campaign, which raised, through 422 backers, over $37,000. (Their goal was $36k, or “two times one thousand times chai.”) This money was used to produce their first full-length album.
For Shusterman, a mother of four who has a mean internal metronome, and Wolfe, who can belt out a tune like nobody’s business, forming a Hasidic alternative rock band was a no-brainer when they met four years prior. “We saw right away that this could be something really, really, really big,” Wolfe said backstage before the show. Since then, they recruited a cellist (Maister) and a violinist (Pestun), catapulting the duo into a full-fledged rock ‘n roll band.
There’s a sense of “deeper meaning” that drives the band forward. Shusterman and Wolfe said their meeting each other was nothing short of bashert, meaning “meant to be.” Said Wolfe, “This is like our life’s work… It must be what Hashem wants.”
It’s impossible to pigeonhole the band into one genre. Their musical influences range from punk and pop, to jazz and blues. VICE likened their sound to “somewhere between Cat Power’s You Are Free and Fiona Apple’s When the Pawn.”
And, man, can Bulletproof play, each member boasts mad chops whether they’re riffing on a Hasidic nigun or an original track off of their new album.
Being Hasidic rockers, listeners can expect little lyrical gems. “This next song’s also a Chabad nigun, a Chabad melody,” Wolfe announced before delivering a breathy rendition of “V’chol Karnei.”
“Mind Clear,” a track off their new album, sounds like an underground punk club anthem, with female swagger. “Don’t dance near the ledge they told me,” Wolfe croons, her voice unraveling with husk that echoes and fades into the chorus: “Go out and face the crowd / I made up my mind, dear / I’ve got my mind clear.”
“I’m excited for people to hear it,” said Wolfe. “Hopefully, they’ll dig deeper each time they listen to it and come back, hear little hints and secrets, and find things in the lyrics that they didn’t notice before.”
One reveler, Maayan Zik, a Hasidic mother of four, lives in Crown Heights and came out for the performance. “This is mommy’s night out,” she said, laughing. “Quite a way to start the Hanukkah holidays.”
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Tess Cutler is an intern at Tablet.