SAN FRANCISCO -- "Mosh" sure sounds like a Yiddish word. And with born-again turntablist Perry Farrell behind the wheels of steel as "DJ Peretz" and revelers dressed in costume in honor of the Purim holiday, the mosh pit certainly resembled a Jewish celebration Monday at the Great American Music Hall.
And, well, it was.
The annual Purimpalooza show, a raucous night of drinking, dancing, singing and storytelling, was organized by Rabbi Josef Langer, a man who, with his baseball cap and long, red-brown beard, could pass for a member of blues rockers ZZ Top. Langer is also spiritual mentor to Farrell, the former leader of Jane's Addiction and Porno for Pyros who co-founded the pioneering summer package tour Lollapalooza.
Revelers of all faiths got down and boogied in the pit at the show named in mock honor of the summer festival and hosted by honorary Jewish hippie clown Wavy Gravy (born Hugh Romney).
"We just came from two synagogues and they were nothing compared with this," said Marco Borash, a Jewish man from San Francisco who was here with Yael Kadosh. The two gentlemen did not plan to stay to hear the DJs spin, but Borash's teenage daughter Adi said she hoped to hang around long enough to hear Farrell add the "palooza" to Purim.
The bacchanalian Purim holiday, celebrating the deliverance of the Jews from an adviser to the king of Persia (now Iran) who sought their destruction, found celebrants dressed in traditional and untraditional costume -- in this case, as clowns, cowpokes, witches, fairies and even nuns. Those without costumes were provided with paper sacks and strips of colored cloth with which to make huge, puffy hats.
The evening went a long way to update Purim traditions.
For the uninitiated in the ways of techno, blonde-dreadlocked DJ Mars explained that turntablism sought to elevate people to a higher level of spirituality. He then spun a web of techno-klezmer, mixing in Middle Eastern tones and rhythms with his ambient beats.
The Purimpaloozan revelers never held back, stomping up a storm well past midnight, in spiritual celebration of recurrent Jewish and human victory over impending doom.
The evening began with a reading of the Purim story -- the Megillah -- in Hebrew, from weathered scrolls by straight-out-of-Brooklyn, N.Y., Rabbi Meyer Berkowitz. Clowning by neo-vaudevillian Mr. Yoowho followed shortly thereafter.
Those attendees with special tickets dined in the Music Hall's red velvet and gilt balcony on a buffet of hummus, lox, pita breads, roasted red peppers and hamantaschen -- triangular, fruit-filled cookies central to the holiday.
Psychedelic klezmer rockers Mozaik quickly amped up the tone, doling out long, rhythmic folk jams with electric guitar, upright bass, fiddle, keyboards, flute, drums and percussion. The crowd, which had been mostly seated for the reading of the story, rose quickly to its feet, and the tables of the ornate hall were pushed aside as partiers of all ages linked arms to form huge, spinning dance circles that whirled around the floor.
Before the night was through, with the remaining die-hards screaming his name, the Jewish-born Farrell, whose given name is Perry Bernstein and who has remained active in Judaica causes, stepped to the turntable, accompanied by Greg Anton, of the Bay Area jam band Zero, on congas.
Farrell, billed as "DJ Peretz" at this show, has been making late-night appearances at San Francisco raves recently, spinning records to the delight of club kids and Jane's addicts alike.
Wearing a rainbow-striped patchwork robe and a floppy velvet hat, Farrell began to chant low, Hebrew melodies into the mic. Looping his own chant into a rich echo, he spun searing sounds reminiscent of the guitar work of Jane's bandmate Dave Navarro around Anton's driving rhythm. Farrell added a good dose of sampled techno-thump, weaving a hypnotic sonic tapestry for the dance crowd.
Rabbi Asa Spiegel, a singer/guitarist from Jerusalem, kept the Hebrew hoedown hopping before Farrell took the spotlight. With the help of drummer Anton, and second guitarist, clarinetist (traditional in Eastern European Jewish folk music) and percussionist, Spiegel played an Israeli analog of American country music, with galloping guitar rhythms à la country legend Johnny Cash providing the foundation for slithering, Eastern desert melodies.
The crowd sang along to the familiar Hebrew lyrics while clapping, stomping and dancing feverishly in circles.