Watching Hasidic Girl Band “Bulletproof Stockings” Play A Women’s Only Show At Arlene’s Grocery Was Strange

August 8, 2014 | Marina Galperina

Bulletproof Stockings, the self-professed “alternative rock” band from Crown Heights, played an early show on the Lower East Side last night in front of Oxygen’s reality TV show cameras and an exclusively female, mostly Hasidic crowd. I realize now I don’t know exactly what “Hasidic” means.

The hype hubbub began outside Arlene’s Grocery, with half a dozen TV people running around the news van and the production vehicles, a few music journalists standing by after being rejected entry over their camera equipment and some uncertainties about capacity.

It was packed inside. I surveyed the edges of the giddy crowd on why they were there. About half responded as neighbors and friends. A few read about it in the news; one saw it “in The Post, but I don’t really read the Post, it’s awful about those teachers.” A few heard about the show “around the community and thought, oh wow! They are Hasidic? And they play rock music? And we can go see them at this place? I have to see this.”   

A 50-year-old woman who loved Rock ‘n’ Roll (“Oh my god, Billy Joel!”) helpfully informed me that while men were allowed to play for mixed-gender audiences, women weren’t allowed to play for men. “It’s modesty. You can’t have someone up there, just singing these songs, and the audience to get… infatuated, like these girls with Justin Bieber and One Direction, you know?” I asked what “guys” were “mad” that the lead singer was talking about up on stage, and specifically, what did the men in her family think of her being here. “Well, we only found out about this 24 hours ago…” she skidded, and I suddenly felt myself slipping inside this seemingly tame but apparently controversial secret by omission. I wanted to confirm if the presence of women who may be “infatuated” with other women performing was specifically un-Hasidic, but the band got started.

Bulletproof Stockings — named with a currently disconcertingly militaristic reference to a thick Hasidic undergarment — has been around enough to amass a local and online following. The band has previously played at community and college-based functions. They don’t play “alternative rock” in the sense of Pearl Jam or Oasis — more like an unclassifiable rocky-bluesy-ish mix, with the violin and cello thrust into hard country rhythms by a very committed, cathartic drummer. The lead singer was doing a Vanessa Carlton thing at the keyboard with mythical, vaguely Led Zeppelin-like lyrics about travel, cold cities, faces, feelings, with the most risque line being about “penetrating… their hearts, like their fathers did.” This song appeared to be a favorite and was played twice for Oxygen’s excited crowd shots.

The lead singer smiled like a beauty queen, flipped her incredibly realistic, Hasidic-dress-code-appropriate wig and chatted mildly in the three-to-five minute pauses between songs. No one seemed to mind that any energy the band managed to thump up by the end of the song would drop each time, like a cartoon character who just looked down. They were all just really, really, really happy to be there, exchanging knowing, (heterosexually) furtive glances. Half of the “first row” was occupied by young girls smiling for cellphone cameras to the backdrop of the playing band and for three consecutive songs, a cluster of women chatted about who got married to who recently.

They didn’t have too many songs to play and the producers cut the encore short, so that the room could be turned over for a different show around 9pm. But there were a few experientially poignant moments during the six short traditional nigun songs they performed in Hebrew. They would tremble and rise into the ceiling, the way that Arabic and Hebrew canalizations in prayers do, echoed very enthusiastically by a few singing people in the crowd who couldn’t help themselves.

As the crowd was slowing being moved out, a line formed up to the drummer, singer and Oxygen cameras. A Times of Israel reporter accidentally started interviewing me about how this women-only event was different from the ones I’ve been to before. Thinking of that one great moment artist Ann Hirsch got completely naked while performing at an all-female-identifying event at a Transfer Gallery in Brooklyn, I knew I was generally not fond of them, particularly in the concept retaliatory exclusion. “It’s much less diverse?” It was also mandated by a severe and isolated religious community. Somewhat mandated. A loophole, perhaps.

I caught one of the band members near the bar afterwards and attempted to continue an earlier conversation. If it’s just men who aren’t allowed to watch them rock out, aren’t men the ones really missing out here? She smiled a little and said, “Well, they made the rule, so…”

As if to comfort myself, I found no pro-military Gaza campaign memes posted anywhere on the band’s Facebook page, just links to Kim Gordon talking about women in the music industry, some photos of Muslim and Jewish metal bands hanging out and links to Haaretz articles about the “hidden lives” of women like those in the audience. To my personal taste, the concert was a pale affair. To them, it was an awesome holiday. I remember everyone getting really excited about these lines:

Though it’s taken me quite a while
It’s better to be outside looking in
Than to be inside looking out.

I have no idea what side they were singing this from.

(Photos: Marina Galperina/ANIMALNewYork)